Interview with Ben Galley

Ben Galley is an award-winning fantasy author from the UK. He is the author of the epic Emaneska Series, the weird-west Scarlet Star Trilogy and the brand new standalone The Heart of Stone. When he’s not dreaming up lies to tell his readers, Ben works as a self-publishing consultant, helping fellow authors to self-publish and sell their books at www.shelfhelp.info. He joined me recently on Fantasy-Faction to chat about his latest release. Here’s what he had to say!

The Heart of Stone (cover)

Thanks for joining us, Ben!

Firstly, congratulations on your latest release. The Heart of Stone has met with praise across the SFF community – including right here on Fantasy-Faction! For those who’re unfamiliar with the book, can you tell us a little bit about it?

Thank you for having me! The Heart of Stone is a new grimdark standalone centred around a non-human protagonist – a golem called Task. He’s an ancient war-machine that has been bought by the losing side of a civil war. As well as being an unstoppable, nine-foot lump of stone, he’s a complex creature who has spent all his 400+ years serving the whims of humans and winning their wars for them. To put it bluntly, he’s pretty fed up of us, and just wants to get on with the ugly business of battle. However, a waif of a stable girl has other ideas for him.

Let’s talk about Task, then. What made you choose a golem to be the hero of your story? (Also, who would win in a three-way fight between Task, Smaug and Wun-Wun the giant?)

First of all, I needed something pretty formidable for the battlefield. A golem seemed to fit that role very well, especially as they rely on brute strength and their composition to break things, rather than magic or spells. They’re also exclusively man-made, which gives them a bond to a creator or a master. That gave Task his leash, so to speak, whereas with demons or dragons or any of the beasts I’ve used before, it’s hard to bind them to us lesser mortals in an entirely convincing way.

The other reasons was due to the intrinsic humanity that’s prevalent through all golem mythology I researched. There is a fragility to a golem that comes not only from their in-built weakness and ownership but from the fact they are always one step away from being human, and yet can never quite take that step. Because of this, there’s an internal struggle within a golem, and that suited Task’s mindset perfectly.

As for the big old fight, of course I’m going to say Task. He’d sit by and let the giant and the dragon go at it until Smaug turned Wun-Wun to cinders. Then, being stone, Task would endure the old drake’s fire until he was all out. At that point, Task would most likely go and snap his pompous little neck.

Ha! Now that reminds me – I’m a huge fan of Shale, the playable golem companion in Dragon Age: OriginsStone Prisoner’ expansion. Unlike Task, Shale enjoys crushing things… especially birds, mages and anyone who tries to give it orders. Which fictional depiction(s) of golems had the most influence on creating Task’s personality?

Sadly I’ve yet to play Dragon Age, so Shale wasn’t an influence during the book’s creation, but it’s now firmly on my to-be-played list thanks to you! I actually struggled to find a huge number of golems in fiction, so the characters I looked to instead were Ben Grimm/The Thing from Fantastic Four, and the rockbiter Pyornkrachzark (yeah, I had to look that up) from The Neverending Story. Both these characters struggled with loss – be it their freedom, their strength, or their humanity. Physically, they were what I initially imagined for Task – big, imposing beasts of thick and gnarled stone. However, as I got further into the book, and started working with my cover designer Shawn, I realised Task should look more refined than this, perhaps a little more like Gort from The Day the Earth Stood Still remake. And so, the personality of Task stayed, but the outer shell changed to fit with the cover. I’ve never done that before, but the artwork was so good it retroactively inspired me to make those changes.

The Heart of Stone (detail)I remember the buzz surrounding the cover reveal last year; it was incredible, as is Shawn Kings design. How much influence did you have in the cover-creation process, Ben – and how far do you think The Heart of Stone’s cover has impacted its overall success?

Whenever I’m giving advice to fellow authors, I always say that professionalism and quality are paramount. The book cover, almost always being the first port of call for a reader, is arguably the most important aspect of a book. For my first standalone, and for what I believe to be my best work yet, I knew I had to pull out all the stops. Shawn King’s work had already caught my eye, and I knew he would be the perfect artist for the job. He completely understood Task, and he nailed his physical appearance, as I mentioned above. That’s definitely been a huge help in building buzz and getting the book noticed. Everybody that’s seen it has been so impressed with the artwork, and I don’t think as many early readers or reviewers would have said yes without it, despite its concept and protagonist. Here’s hoping the innards of the book are equally as impressive!

It’s clearly very different in style from your earlier work. Speaking of which…

Emaneska by Ben GalleyYou have two completed series under your belt. What led you to begin work on your debut, The Written? How would you describe the Emaneska Series – and would you recommend it as a starting point for new readers?

The Written was as much a foray into fantasy as it was a career move for me. I’d had the idea of writing a grimmer sort of high fantasy for a few years, and one night, watching BBC’s Merlin, I got so enraged at the pre-watershed nicety of it, I decided to plan out a book. I had the idea of a mage with a spell-book tattooed right into his back, making spells intrinsic but brutal on both the caster and unwitting victim. And so, Farden the Written mage was born that night. His story, and the world I built around him, led me on to write a four book series. It also marked the point when I decided to jump into the publishing industry, and make a grab for my dream of being an author. As well as Farden, that goal was what helped me to churn out those debut books.

Would I recommend it? Absolutely! I’m very proud of the Emaneska Series, but there’s a part of me that can’t help but cringe over it now that my style and skill have progressed. It’s definitely me being too close to my own work, however, so I still frequently recommend it to readers who are interested in dark, epic fantasies that span decades and continents.

Bloodrush (cover)Your best-known book is (arguably) Bloodrush. Now, I can’t help but notice that reviews of this novel – and the rest of the Scarlet Star Trilogy – often tend to include the word ‘weird’. How would you describe this series, and who would you recommend it to? (In other words, is ‘weird’ an insult or a compliment?)

Definitely a compliment. I think it comes down to the trilogy straddling a few genres, and so calling it weird is probably easier. First of all, it is described as “weird west”. At the same time, it’s also an alternate history series, set in a twisted 1867. It’s also a little steampunk, and the eponymous magic system is quite… out there. So yes, it is weird, but weird is good in my book (badoom tish).

I’d recommend it to any reader who wants a fantasy series that’s a little closer to the real world, or who enjoy a younger protagonist and a wide range of POVs. It’s also very fast-paced, with lots of intertwined mysteries, and also very magic-centric.

Small wonder it did so well in the inaugural Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off! (As readers may already know, Bloodrush reached second place, missing out on the top spot (which is determined by average score, and went to Michael McClung for The Thief Who Pulled On Trouble’s Braids) by just 0.25.) Ben, how did this affect you at the time? And in what ways has it impacted you since 2015?

For starters, I prefer “vice-winner”, and I shout the name of Michael McClung from the rooftops at least once a week, Kahn-style…

Of course, I jest, and in all seriousness, it was a fantastic opportunity and a pleasure to be ranked so highly. Bloodrush got a huge amount of visibility from it, and fantastic reviews from reviewers that might not have reviewed me without being in the competition. It also boosted the sales of the sequels, and other books too. It’s all about little steps when you’re marketing your own books, but the SPFBO felt like one big step to me, and in a great direction.

Speaking of steps, you’ll no doubt be aware that the SPFBO2 is in its final stages. Which authors (if any) have caught your eye? (Are you rooting for anyone in particular?)

Oho, that’s a toughie, as I’m honoured (and occasionally disturbed) to know a good number of the finalists. Currently, I’ve got my eye on Paternus, The Grey Bastards, and The Path of Flames.

You’re not the only one!

If there happens to be a SPFBO3 . . . how likely is it that we’ll Task in there, fighting to claim the top spot with The Heart of Stone? (EDIT 23/5/17: there is! And he is!)

He’s got his sights set on that top spot, as he’s keen to embarrass Merion from Bloodrush. Golems also don’t come second.

Regardless of contests or rankings, I have to say congratulations on living the dream as a full-time, self-published writer. Having managed to make a successful, self-sufficient career from self-publishing, I guess you could say you’re the ‘model’ self-published author. I’m sure you’re tired of people asking this, but… why self-publishing?

Thank you! That means a hell of a lot.

Over the years, I’ve distilled it down into the answer of, “because I bloody love it”. I’ve always been an independent person and somewhat of an entrepreneur, and so self-publishing fits me perfectly. I get to control every part of the polishing process, and then decide how a book’s going to be published. Not only that, I have more flexibility and agility in the meantime. Is it better than the traditional route? No, not better, but not worse, just different. The point is that authors now have the choice, and I will forever be grateful for that.

Shelf Help by Ben GalleyIn addition to being pretty prolific, you also help others find success through your business as a self-publishing consultant. How is it that you manage to put in all this extra work *and* produce quality, full-length novels on such a regular basis? What’s your secret to your success, dammit?

The ultra top-secret secret is basically a 12-16 hour working day, during which I’m flitting between writing, marketing and admin, normally in that order. I always put writing first. If I don’t get my words down for the day, I won’t do any marketing or admin until I have. It also takes a bit of discipline, such as knowing where to spend your time, and making sure you structure your day accordingly. That’s why every morning I ask myself, “what’s the most important thing to me today?”, and then plan around that. That, and being surgically attached to an iPhone and iPad also helps, as I can work anywhere at any time. Before I left work to focus on books, that’s how I got my writing done – either writing on my phone or emailing myself snippets. I actually wrote most of The Written on my mobile when I worked behind bars.

I’m going to go ahead and assume that when you say ‘behind bars’ you’re not talking about the cylindrical iron kind. If you don’t mind me saying, you definitely come across as more of an accomplished geek than a hardened convict . . . Which reminds me: Marc Aplin recently published a (somewhat controversial) article about the importance of social media in which he declared that author ‘branding’ on social media is just as important as (if not more so than) the actual quality of their writing. What are your thoughts?

That’s another tough one, as I believe the whole publishing game, both indie and trad, comes down to how you make the reader feel, page by page. Yes, quality covers, professional editing, marketing and a brand all have a part to play, but the writing is still the core part of success. It doesn’t have to be the most excellent writing (cough, 50 Something, cough) but it simply has to evoke emotion. I’m not saying I’m a fantastic writer whatsoever, but I spend a lot of time crafting my plots, worlds and characters to ensure they do this, then I bundle it all up inside a professional, branded package. Saying that, from a discovery point of view, you’re not going to know a book’s worth without being convinced to have a read. That’s where the brand and social reach come into play, and that’s why I agree with a lot of what Marc wrote.

Our Overlord is wise indeed, and I certainly agree that ‘discovery’ is one of the toughest aspects of self-publishing. That said, would you consider taking a different publishing route in the future? Small-press? Traditional? Owl post?

I make it a rule to always consider anything that adds to the success of my books, or for me as an author. Although I’m a huge proponent of self-publishing, I hold the fantasy imprints and houses in high esteem, and it would be great to work with them at some point in the future. There are aspects of the self-pub route that traditional publishers are just better equipped for. However, it would have to be a good deal, or for a book (or books) that I’ve written with traditional or small press publishing in mind.

Ben GalleyBack to your books, then. You’ve made it quite clear that The Heart of Stone is a standalone. However, you’ve also dropped cryptic hints on social media about your current WIP, Chasing Graves. Can you give us a clue as to what sort of story it is? (Also, is there *no* chance at all of seeing more Alabast and Lesky in the future?)

Chasing Graves started life in December as another standalone, as the single-story bug bit me pretty hard after finishing The Heart of Stone. A few months on, and as you might have seen from social, it’s now stretched into another trilogy of books. I can safely say it’s got nothing to do with Heart of Stone. Instead, it’s a new world with strong Egyptian influences, all about a society that revolves around the enslavement of the dead. It’s a concept that’s been rattling around my noggin for a few years now, and I had to get it out.

As for Task, I will be writing a few short stories based in the world, exploring some of his formative years, and I think I may do a few for Alabast and Lesky too, set after the climax of the novel. As for an ETA on those, it will most likely be after Chasing Graves is done and dusted in May/June.

Finally: if you were a golem, what material would you be made from, and why?

The flesh of my fallen enemies. Or perhaps gold. That would be gangster.

It . . . certainly would. Thanks, Ben!

Ben can be found being loquacious and attempting to be witty on Twitter (@BenGalley), Facebook (@BenGalleyAuthor) or at his website www.bengalley.com. The Heart of Stone is available to buy RIGHT NOW.

 The Heart of Stone

Interview with A.F.E. Smith


Author Photo: AFE Smith (Darkhaven)A.F.E (aka. ‘Afe’) is celebrating the recent release of her third Darkhaven novel, Windsinger. Published by Harper-Voyager on 23 February 2017, Windsinger continues the tale of dark magic and darker political conflict that began in Afe’s previous novels: Darkhaven, and Goldenfire.

She writes for Fantasy-Faction; she’s just published her third full-length novel; she’s a part-time robin and a full-time editor; and she’s currently also rearing two children. How does she do it? Why does she do it? I tracked down this elusive author (who, by the way, assures me that the initials ‘A.F.E.’ hide a dangerous secret that can never be revealed) and settled down for a chat with the beautiful mind behind Darkhaven.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

(LMH): Thanks for joining me, Afe, and congratulations on the recent release of Windsinger! (Which, as you know, I absolutely LOVED.)

How does it feel to have not one, not two, but THREE of your own books released into the wild?

(AFE): In all honesty, I don’t know quite how I feel about it. It’s a lot like having children, I suppose: a mixture of the very good (pride, amazement, satisfaction at having created a fully formed being independent of yourself) and the very bad (terror, stress, constant guilt that their imperfections are your fault, a helpless frustrated misery every time someone doesn’t like them).

That’s not a very upbeat answer, is it? Let’s go with … great. It’s great!

Your Goodreads bio ever-so-casually states that you ‘happen to be a robin some of the time.’ I have to ask: why only *some* of the time? And why a robin? It’s too small to be your Changer form. Is it your spirit animal? Your animagus form?AFE Smith: robin

I can’t be a robin all the time because they’re not very good at typing and they don’t like chocolate. So I mostly stick to being a robin online and leave the real world to my human form.

I think it’s probably more of a daemon than an Animagus. Which probably means I’m a witch, because bird-daemons tend to belong to witches. Yeah. A witch who blushes a lot, so has the most embarrassed-looking bird possible as a daemon. Makes sense.

(Can you tell I’m super excited about the recent announcement of Philip Pullman’s new book?)

I would never have guessed. 😉laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Robins are always busy doing something. Flitting around, building nests, eating snacks, looking colourful… How do you manage to balance your writing career with a full-time day job AND two small, dependent humans?

With immense difficulty. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing too many things to be good at any of them. The writing gets done in lunch breaks and after the children have gone to bed, so it’s very patchy. I’m usually short on sleep and my house is a mess.

Why do I do this? I don’t know. Half the time I don’t even enjoy it. But you know how it is: if you’re a writer, you write. You write on the backs of receipts. You write in the shower. You write inside your own head. You just do.

I have to admit I’ve never written in the shower. But yes, I know how it is. Also, my house is a mess… and I don’t even have kids!laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

You work as an editor in your day job, right? Do you feel like this helps (or hinders) your own writing process?

Yes, I’m an editor. I think my job hinders my reading more than my writing. I’m so used to reading words slowly and carefully at work that I find it hard to sit back and get swept away by them when I’m reading for pleasure. Not like when I was a teen and inhaled books through my eyeballs. And if there are typos, my work brain kicks in straight away and the moment is lost. That’s when I find myself mentally editing the book instead of reading it, which isn’t what anyone wants.

Why do I do this? I don’t know. Half the time I don’t even enjoy it. But you know how it is: if you’re a writer, you write. You write on the backs of receipts. You write in the shower. You write inside your own head. You just do.

When I’m writing, though, being an editor is both good and bad. Good because I’m pretty sure the manuscripts I turn in are as clean as they can be. Also good because I understand the editorial process, so I don’t get precious about making changes. But bad because my instinct is to word everything perfectly in the first draft. I have to force myself to go with the flow and not trawl back over every line to make sure it’s correct.

Sounds to me like you’re an editor’s dream!laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Can you give us a brief insight into how you came to be traditionally published? Was it, as they say, a matter of luck? Or was it pure talent? Hard work? Magic?

It’s magic, isn’t it?

I would say a mixture of all of them. There’s no denying that luck plays a key part in any author’s career. You and I both know there are far more good books out there than slots on a publisher’s list, so a lot depends on the subjective opinion of whoever happens to read your manuscript. Having said that, most people can’t get far without at least some hard work and talent, either. They’re like the other two corners of the triangle.

(I find questions like this hard to answer, because I’m always afraid that in reality I’m pretty talentless. Somehow I believe every bad review and none of the good ones … er, except yours, of course. Impostor syndrome is real and living among us in the form of a robin.)

There’s no denying that luck plays a key part in any author’s career. You and I both know there are far more good books out there than slots on a publisher’s list, so a lot depends on the subjective opinion of whoever happens to read your manuscript. Having said that, most people can’t get far without at least some hard work and talent, either. They’re like the other two corners of the triangle.

The actual story is that Voyager were holding an open call for submissions, back in … 2012? And I submitted – that was the magic part, I guess, because I had a months-old baby at the time and something must have kept him asleep long enough for me to do it – and the rest is history.

That’s incredible! (Also, please let me assure you once again that you are the opposite of talentless.)laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

As co-judges in this year’s Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off, you and I are both aware of the ups and downs of self-publishing. With that in mind: what, for you, has been the biggest advantage of signing a *traditional* publishing deal?

Weeelll … semi-traditional. I’m digital first, which means some of the more obvious benefits of traditional publishing don’t apply to me. Having books in physical stores, for Darkhaven by Afe Smithinstance. Or marketing budget (though I believe not many authors see much of that, these days).

So the biggest advantage was really the validation it gave me. Which sounds a bit stupid; I know some of my self-published author friends would scoff at it. But I’m never convinced that anything I’ve written is good enough (see also: imposter syndrome). If I hadn’t been picked up by Voyager, I’d probably still be tinkering with Darkhaven, and Goldenfire and Windsinger wouldn’t exist.

(You might argue that Darkhaven could use a little extra tinkering. But there’s nothing to say it would have been the right sort of tinkering, if I’d kept on doing it myself, so on balance it probably worked out better this way.)

Definitely. Darkhaven is very, very good, but Goldenfire is bloody brilliant. For me, part of the enjoyment was in seeing you evolve as a writer throughout the series.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

For readers unfamiliar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about it?

What is the one question every author has to be able to answer in a concise and compelling way that makes their book sound like the best thing in the world, ever? This one.

What is the one question I always find the hardest? … Yeah.

Yeah, sorry about that… Why *do* you think it’s so difficult?

I think it’s because each of the books is about one thing, and the series as a whole is about something slightly different. The books are kind of fantasy mysteries, I suppose. Darkhaven is your straightforward whodunit, except that the murder victim is the overlord of a small country and has the power to shapeshift into a large dragon. Goldenfire is about preventing an assassination plot. Windsinger focuses on the need to uncover a traitor before war breaks out. Each of those stories has a defined beginning and end within the confines of a single book, so in theory you could pick up any one of them without reading the others.The Darkhaven series by A.F.E. Smith

The series, on the other hand, is about the tension between tradition and progress; about the conflicting demands of loyalty – to yourself, your family, your country, your god; about technology versus magic; about revenge and justice and whether they can ever be the same thing; about love. It starts off small, but it gets bigger as it goes along. And I think the same can be said for the characters themselves, metaphorically speaking. Each book is set several years after the previous one, so there’s plenty of scope for growth.

Or for future books set in between, perhaps? 😉laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Many elements of Darkhaven – unusual magic, hidden identities, shady assassins, kickass characters – put me in mind of the excellent V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.

Who would you say are your main influences? (And are there any authors whom you dream of being compared to?)

My influences are pretty much everything I’ve ever read. I think that’s true of all writers. We can’t help but pick up bits and pieces of the things we encounter and fit them together to form something new. Like decorator crabs.

Authors I love: Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Carey, Patrick Ness, Juliet Marillier, Katherine Addison, Neil Gaiman …

But recently I read The Curse of Chalion (I know, late to the party), so now when I grow up I want to be Lois McMaster Bujold.

(Note to self: read The Curse of Chalion. It’s been sitting on my shelf for years. Save me some breadsticks at the party, okay?)laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Back to Darkhaven: which character in the series do you feel you identify with the most? And was he/she your favourite character to write? Why?

I don’t know that I identify fully with any of my characters. I think there’s a danger that if you create a character too much like yourself, you’ll end up wanting to give them all the best lines and never dream of killing them off. No-one likes a character who’s basically an author insert.

Having said that, there are bits of me in all the characters. Of course there are. Ayla got my stubbornness. Tomas, my apparently contradictory traits of paranoia and a desire to believe the best of people. Ree is the part of me who thirsts to prove herself, and Penn got my social awkwardness (poor Penn). (LH: I love Penn!)

My influences are pretty much everything I’ve ever read. I think that’s true of all writers. We can’t help but pick up bits and pieces of the things we encounter and fit them together to form something new. Like decorator crabs.

The most fun character to write is always Naeve Sorrow, who is the most unlike me: capable of anything, takes no shit, and doesn’t need to prove herself to anyone because she knows she’s awesome. I guess that’s why it’s fun. She also happens to be the character who everyone seems to like best, which confirms my melancholy suspicion that my imagination is way more interesting than I am.

Or that Naeve Sorrow is your superhero alter-ego lurking deep down inside…laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

It occurred to me quite recently that the premise of book one, Darkhaven, has similarities to the tale of Rapunzel. In particular, Ayla Nightshade bears every sign of embodying the ‘damsel in distress’ trope. The books are otherwise quite progressive in terms of themes and characters; why did you choose to portray her in this way?

There are two possible answers to that. I think both are true.

The first is that when I wrote Darkhaven, I hadn’t really found my voice as a writer yet. I’d been absorbing all these tropes without realizing it (I’m not sure I even knew tropes were a thing), so it was natural that some of them would find their way into my writing. I think we all go through that stage. Tropes are tropes because they appear regularly in the media we consume, and if you’re not aware of that, you simply internalize them. It wasn’t until after I wrote Darkhaven that I really started thinking about this kind of thing. (You could say, in a meta kind of way, that this is another example of the tension between tradition and progress that the series tries to grapple with. But maybe that would be pretentious.)

Tropes are tropes because they appear regularly in the media we consume, and if you’re not aware of that, you simply internalize them. It wasn’t until after I wrote Darkhaven that I really started thinking about this kind of thing.

The second, which is perhaps fairer to myself, is that I think it would have been unrealistic for Ayla to be any other way, given her upbringing. At the start of Darkhaven, she’s basically been trapped in one place her entire life. She’s grown up with a father who shows her no affection at all and forbids her to do much except prepare to be a future mother ofGoldenfire (Darkhaven #2) by A.F.E. Smith Nightshade heirs, and a brother who she loves but who she’s going to be forced to marry against her will (yeah, the Nightshades aren’t the most functional family). And maybe her mother would have been a counteractive influence to all that, but her mother is dead. So although she’s angry and determined, she’s emotionally stunted and lacks the skills to get much done, on a practical level. Perhaps it’s unfair to call her altogether a damsel in distress. She wants to fight, and she does keep fighting. She’s just not very good at it.

I guess all this goes to show that you can have a good reason for the presence of a problematic trope. Whether it’s sufficiently good is up to the individual reader. Still, I hope it’s clear that I don’t think ‘all women’ are damsels in distress. I have my wise-cracking, kick-ass female characters too (hello, Naeve Sorrow). And Ayla herself changes a lot over the course of the series, as she grows into herself and her abilities and leaves her father’s legacy behind.

Absolutely, which is another reason I’d encourage readers to proceed with the series.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

In Goldenfire (book two) you introduce Ree (one of my favourite characters). You could argue that the ‘woman overcomes odds to prove she can fight like a man’ trope has been used many a time before. What makes Ree’s story different?

I think the interesting thing about Ree’s story is that it forces her to confront her own prejudices as much as other people’s. Often, implicit in a ‘woman proves she’s as good as a man’ narrative is the belief that it’s better to be like a man, to be strong in traditionally masculine ways. Being ‘feminine’ (or rather, possessing what have typically been considered feminine traits) is seen as a weakness. And that’s exactly what Ree believes, to start with. The flip side of her desire to prove herself in a man’s world is her belief that only a man’s world is worth being in. So when she encounters a girl who giggles and dresses in lace and uses her sexuality as a tool, she automatically despises her. But, of course, that makes Ree just as guilty as the boys whose mockery she’s fighting against: first, because being pretty and flirtatious isn’t mutually exclusive with being a warrior, and second, because choosing to forge a path that typically isn’t taken by your gender doesn’t make you somehow superior to someone who chooses a more traditional path. Equality isn’t about replacing one set of constraints with another.

Well said!laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Afe, there’s a strong emphasis on identity in your novels. In particular, Goldenfire uses romantic relationships in order to foreground issues of sexual and personal identity (to the chagrin of some of your readers).

Furthermore, your books feature several gay protagonists – which is still (sadly) somewhat revolutionary in a series that appears to target Young Adult readers – while Windsinger also introduces an asexual character, who suffers shaming and abuse from his father for his ‘abnormality’.

Were any of these aspects a result of conscious decisions on your part, or did they arise as a natural part of the characters’ development?

Oh, certainly a conscious decision. I think writers have a responsibility to make a conscious decision about the gender, race, sexuality, etc. of their characters. Because if you don’t make a conscious decision, you make an unconscious one. You default to whatever you’ve learned to think of as the ‘norm’.

I think writers have a responsibility to make a conscious decision about the gender, race, sexuality, etc. of their characters. Because if you don’t make a conscious decision, you make an unconscious one. You default to whatever you’ve learned to think of as the ‘norm’.

The odd thing about sexuality, in particular, is that portraying people of different sexualities is often seen as somehow a political decision, whereas making everyone heterosexual isn’t. And I think that’s because of the default position I just mentioned – if you’re not making a conscious decision, you don’t realize it’s political. But the truth is, not questioning the default is as political a position as anything else, because it’s only those of us who conform to the ‘norm’ who can afford not to question it.

The other aspect of this, though, is that I didn’t want sexuality to be the focus of the series. Books about what it’s like to be LGBT+ in a society that isn’t fully accepting of that are valuable and important, but I think it’s also valuable and important to have books that present diverse sexualities as an accepted and unremarked fact. Because if you can offer a world where straight isn’t the ‘norm’ but just one way of being – as intrinsic and irrelevant to a person’s character as eye colour – then maybe we can start to question our own norms. I think both kinds of book are needed.

The odd thing about sexuality, in particular, is that portraying people of different sexualities is often seen as somehow a political decision, whereas making everyone heterosexual isn’t.

Having said that, you correctly point out that Lewis’s asexuality results in shaming and abuse. But that’s a result of the family he comes from and the expectations he’s under. Most ordinary people in Mirrorvale would have just as little reaction to asexuality as they do to any other kind of sexuality, but among wealthy families who expect their children to marry and procreate for the good of their bloodline … well, again, it’s that tension between tradition and progress.

Exactly, and it’s pretty clear to the reader that Lewis’s father’s behaviour is not only unjust but also illogical.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Your novels are wonderfully diverse. One of my favourite aspects of both Goldenfire and Windsinger is the way you empower sexual and racial minorities by ensuring that they’re represented with nuance and compassion.

Reading Windsinger, I felt particularly strongly about Zander, the immigrant who finds himself isolated and displaced when his adopted country descends into war with his country of birth. Why did you choose to explore this theme?

Again, there are two answers to this. (I’m terribly indecisive, can you tell?) (LH: Never! :p)

Windsinger (Darkhaven #3) by A.F.E. SmithThe first answer is that I wrote Windsinger at a time when I was struggling with myself and with the world. I was sinking in and out of depression, trying to keep my head above water even though half the time it didn’t really seem worth it. (Depression is great at making everything seem pointless.) And, you know, there was a lot going on in the world that contributed to that. Still is. It feels as though in many countries, people have descended into the mindset required for war: the one that labels whole groups of human beings as other. And I think one of the frightening things about that – and this is something Zander experiences – is how close to the surface that mindset turns out to be. We do it with people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions. Different genders and sexualities. We’re perfectly capable of labelling every single person who doesn’t support our own political party as stupid, unworthy, lesser. We mistrust anyone who isn’t like us – when if you cut the categories fine enough, we all end up in a category of one. Anyway, it preyed on my mind enough that it found its way into the book.

It feels as though in many countries, people have descended into the mindset required for war: the one that labels whole groups of human beings as other. And I think one of the frightening things about that – and this is something Zander experiences – is how close to the surface that mindset turns out to be. We do it with people of different ethnicities, cultures, religions. Different genders and sexualities. We’re perfectly capable of labelling every single person who doesn’t support our own political party as stupid, unworthy, lesser. We mistrust anyone who isn’t like us – when if you cut the categories fine enough, we all end up in a category of one.

The second answer is that a lot of what happens in Windsinger is a natural result of what happened in the previous two books. War has always been on the horizon for Mirrorvale. And the seed of people’s attitudes towards Zander was there in Goldenfire. So it’s the logical next step for the character and the plot. I think exploring themes only works if they come out organically.

I agree, and I think Windsinger is a must-read in today’s climate – it’s eye-opening, for sure.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

I admire and respect the fact that you explore social issues in a way that highlights the problematic aspects – the barriers, as it were – as well as the ultimate ideal. (You touched on one example earlier when you talked about Ree fighting against the sexist, misogynistic attitudes of her male competitors, yet unconsciously inflicting that same scorn and prejudice on her fellow women.)

Going forward, are there any other issues that you intend to tackle in a similar manner?

The thing is, I don’t really set out to tackle issues. They just emerge from the plot. I think if you set out to write issue-based fiction it can become kind of preachy. It’s the difference between “I’m going to write a book about prejudice!” and “I’m going to write a book about war, murder, kidnap, airships and flying unicorns that also happens to touch on what it’s like to be discriminated against because of where you were born.” I hope very much that I fall on the right side of that line.

So the answer to your question, I guess, is that I don’t intend to tackle any issues. But I fully expect them to emerge, because characters are people, and people are messy and interesting.

Agreed, and I for one look forward to seeing what emerges in future!laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

If there was a single message you’d like readers to take away from the first three books – what would it be?

Hmm. That’s a tricky one. Do my books have messages? I guess there are one or two buried in there. The importance of trying to understand other people, maybe. Of approaching them as individuals, rather than categorizing them by the ways they are different from you. Of continuing to have faith in people, generally, no matter how misplaced that faith may feel when the world seems to be going to hell …

To paraphrase, I guess Tomas Caraway has it right: “Anyone can hate. It’s love that requires courage.”

Spoken like a true hero!laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Now for one or two lighter questions before we wrap things up…

First – I’ll admit I was surprised at the minor role Ayla’s shapechanging ability plays (in the first two books, at least). What made you want to write about shapechangers and not, say, dragons?

I tend to write my magic small. By which I mean, I’m not really interested in spectacle so much as people. What’s interesting about shapeshifters is that they’re basically humans who have an extra ability. A superpower, if you like. But the thing about being a human with a superpower is that your powers are only as strong as you are. So, for instance, it makes sense to me that in the first book, Ayla – who has barely been allowed to use her power due to her father’s dislike of the form it takes – wouldn’t automatically think to wield it, even in a dangerous situation. Her natural instincts have been suppressed. But you see as the series continues that over the years, she becomes more and more comfortable in her own skin, and therefore more and more able to wield that power effectively and listen to herself. You can read that as an analogy to whatever you like. She’s every person who’s ever had part of themselves suppressed by a disapproving upbringing.

I tend to write my magic small. By which I mean, I’m not really interested in spectacle so much as people. What’s interesting about shapeshifters is that they’re basically humans who have an extra ability. A superpower, if you like. But the thing about being a human with a superpower is that your powers are only as strong as you are.

But the point is, if I’d written about dragons, they’d be dragons. Powerful and alien and not at all subject to human frailty. Which is of course excellent, in its own way, but not what I was interested in writing about.

While we’re at it, then: what’s the significance of Ayla’s Changer form?

Within the books, it represents a break from tradition. The discovery that an impure/hybrid form might actually be more powerful than the handful of pure forms historically preferred by the Nightshade line. (You can read that as a comment on the importance of opening yourself up to new influences and new ideas, if you like. I think it’s clear by now which side I tend to favour in the battle between tradition and progress, though I wouldn’t come down fully on either side.)

Outside the books … the significance is pretty much golden winged unicorns are awesome.

‘Golden winged unicorns are awesome’ is also an excellent message for people to take away from the books.laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

You’ve said about the robin… Changers, however, are HUGE. What would your changer form be, and why?

OK, so the five pure Changer forms are Firedrake, Unicorn, Hydra, Phoenix and Griffin. And there are hundreds of hybrid forms as well, many of which don’t have names (see: Nightshade desire for purity). I’m kind of shy and grumpy, so I’d probably be a Unicorn/Hydra hybrid. Which I imagine as one of those horses you get in heraldry where it has front legs but then the body turns into a snake. What’s that called? *Googles* Apparently, a hippocampus. A hippocampus with a unicorn horn.

(After I wrote that, I had the urge to create a cheesy ‘What’s your Changer form?’ quiz. And since it’s always advisable to listen to one’s urges, I went ahead and did it. So if you’d like to find out what your Changer form would be, you can do it here. Turns out, according to my own quiz, I’m a Feathered Serpent. So there you go.)

Hieracosphinx

Move over, hippocampus lady – I’m a hieracosphinx!

And finally… what can readers expect to see next from A.F.E. Smith? Do you have plans for more Darkhaven goodness? Or something entirely different?

I have plans for four more Darkhaven books. However, whether or not those plans ever come to fruition depends entirely on whether the first three sell enough to make it worthwhile for my publisher to contract me for more. Publishing is a business, after all.

Authors I love: Diana Wynne Jones, Terry Pratchett, Jacqueline Carey, Patrick Ness, Juliet Marillier, Katherine Addison, Neil Gaiman …

But recently I read The Curse of Chalion (I know, late to the party), so now when I grow up I want to be Lois McMaster Bujold.

In the meantime, I’ve been working on another project, a young adult fantasy series, the first of which is being considered by an agent right now. (One of the downsides of my route to publication was that I bypassed finding an agent, which I wouldn’t recommend if you’re at all interested in getting into – and staying in – traditional publishing. So I’m trying to rectify that.) The new series is quite a complex beast, so I hope it will find a home.

Well, I wish you the best of luck in both endeavours. Whatever happens, I look forward to seeing more of your stuff. Thanks so much for taking the time to chat . . . and congratulations once again on the new book!

laura-m-hughes-green-dragon-swirl-para-break-divider

Windsinger is the third book in A.F.E. Smith’s exciting Darkhaven series, and you can order it NOW.afe smith robin

Interview with John Gwynne


John Gwynne’s novels have been nominated within all three categories at the David Gemmell Legend Awards. Book one, Malice, won the Morningstar Award for Best Debut in 2013, and since then the series has received more and more praise with each instalment. John joined me over on Fantasy-Faction to celebrate the recent release of Wrath, the fourth and final novel of The Faithful and the Fallen.The Faithful and the Fallen quartet by John Gwynne

(LH): Firstly, congratulations on wrapping up your first series! How does it feel?

(JG): Thank-you, Laura. Finishing WRATH, and with it, the whole Faithful and the Fallen series, has been quite a moment for me. There are a lot of emotions tied up in it. It feels exciting, fantastic, a Author John Gwynne, accompanied by dogs and axeslittle bit terrifying. And very strange to not be thinking about the next part. Bittersweet is a word I’ve used a lot when thinking or talking about finishing the Faithful and the Fallen. It’s been a part of my life for over fourteen years.

Getting to write Wrath was like present-opening time. When all those threads and scenes I’ve had in my head for so long finally happened. I loved that – writing scenes that I’ve been imagining for soooo long. But writing those scenes was also a bittersweet experience, because it meant it was THE END, and that meant saying goodbye to characters that have become possibly a little too real to me!

Bittersweet is a word I’ve used a lot when thinking or talking about finishing the Faithful and the Fallen. It’s been a part of my life for over fourteen years.

In saying that, it’s not out yet, so saying goodbye to a series in this publishing world is a staggered, lingering, drawn out goodbye. You finish the first draft. Then comes the edit. After that the copy-edit. Then the proof read. And eventually publication. And now finally we’re here. It’s definitely not a clean-cut ending, which in this case is a good thing. It eases the blow a little.

Readers are already saying that Wrath is your strongest work to date. From Malice to Wrath, to what extent would you say your writing has evolved as the series has developed?

The short answer is I don’t really know. I hope that I’ve become a better writer, I’ve certainly strived to. Malice was the first thing I’ve ever written, creatively – up to then the sum total of my writing career was all essays and a couple of Dissertations – so four books later I really hope that I have become a better writer. It’s probably best to leave that up to you and the readers of the series to decide. I would say I think there’s less padding in my writing, now. A little more confidence in seeing a scene clearly and just getting on with it. 

As a reader, I agree wholeheartedly. I found Malice (and to some extent, Valour) lacked the sense of straightforwardness and urgency that characterises the later books. Ruin was utterly gripping, and Wrath is even more so!

Malice by John GwynneFor me, it wasn’t the reviews that persuaded me to read your books. It wasn’t even the blurb. No, it was the glorious sight of Malice adorning the tables at my local Waterstones. Even in paperback, it’s simply gorgeous!

How did you feel when you first saw Malice in print? (Admit it: you had a major ‘Gollum’ moment, didn’t you?)

It really was like that. The magic of receiving author copies of a book never goes away, I love it, but that first time, it really is special. I remember my editor Julie Crisp – now a fantastic literary agent, by the way – sent me a single copy before I received my box of official author copies. She was so happy with how the book had come out and wanted me to have that moment of glee as soon as was physically possible! Opening that box and seeing the shiny hardback of Malice with that awesome red-hilted sword was utterly amazing. It was definitely a ‘wow, this is a real book,’ occasion. There have been a few ‘dance-a-jig,’ moments along the way, and that was one of them.

Marc Turner said something similar when I interviewed him. Seeing your first book in print seems to be *the* universal ‘milestone’ moment!

I’m sure others will agree that you struck gold regarding your covers. In fact, your books are amongst the most beautiful I own. It’s no coincidence that I voted for Paul Young in the Ravenheart category at this year’s Gemmells: just like the others, Ruin’s art is subtle yet epic, and the design is simply stunning.

How much influence did you have with regards to cover design?

I’m so glad you like the covers, Laura. I LOVE them. Paul Young at Pan MacMillan has done an amazing job on all four covers. To me they really are the perfect fantasy cover; simple, with classic weapons, a sense of gritty history as well as epic fantasy, and the backgrounds, subtle but saying a whole lot about the story. Whenever I see them my eye is drawn to them, and I don’t think it’s just because they’re mine (precioussss).

Opening that box and seeing the shiny hardback of Malice with that awesome red-hilted sword was utterly amazing. It was definitely a ‘wow, this is a real book,’ occasion. There have been a few ‘dance-a-jig,’ moments along the way, and that was one of them.

I don’t know how much influence I’ve had on the cover art. It’s a dialogue, and there has certainly been a lot of that between myself, Julie Crisp and Bella Pagan at Tor UK. Concepts, ideas, attempts at setting the tone of each book, and a multitude of images, all are emailed back and forth. I have to confess it is one of my favourite parts of the publishing process, and seeing what Paul Young and the design team at Pan Macmillan put together is always glorious.

They really are beautiful… and, of course, preciousssss.

John, you’ve spoken on many occasions about the late David Gemmell and the great influence he’s had on your own writing, which subtly emulates many features and themes of the Drenai saga. Arguably, the most distinctive of these (aside from the writing style itself) is the ever-present sense of light amongst the darkness; the hope that good will push back against evil, no matter how grim the situation may seem.

The similarities are obvious. But what would you say are the biggest differences between your work and Gemmell’s? (Did you consciously try and ensure that there were differences?)

David Gemmell is one of my favourite authors, and it’s true that a disproportionate amount of my teenage years was consumed by his books. Legend was the first book that I stayed up all night to read, because I just had to know what happened next! When it comes to comparing my writing to Gemmell’s, though, I have to say I’ve never thought about it in terms more detailed than I love Gemmell’s work. Much like you are what you eat, I suppose, there is an element of you write what you read!

Waylander by David GemmellOccasionally I will receive an email from a budding writer asking for tips and advice. I don’t feel overly comfortable in dishing out advice, but the one thing I can say is what worked for me. Write what you want to read. That’s what I did, and I guess the writers that you love to read will have an influence upon what you create. I loved Tolkien’s epic-ness (is that a word?) Cornwell’s historical grittiness (and no-one writes a battle scene like Cornwell) and Gemmell’s flawed, human characters who still manage to say something about courage and heroism. When I sat down to write I made no conscious decisions about similarities or differences from my favourite writers, but I suppose I hoped I might capture something of those elements that stand out to me. Epic and intimate was my mantra, what I strove to create. By epic I mean sweeping, grand vistas and a conflict that rose above border disputes or politics, and by intimate I mean connecting with characters, caring about what happens to them.

A tough balance to strike, but somehow you make it look easy!

Just one more Gemmell-related question:

Your agent is, of course, John Jarrold. I’m curious to know what he first said to you all those years ago. What was the main reason he gave for him scooping you of all people from the top of the pile? (Is it a first-name thing? It is, isn’t it?)

John is a complete professional. He’s worked with just about everyone in the business, whether as editor or agent. He has a lifetime of knowledge and a terrific reputation in the publishing world, and I was over the moon when he took me on as a client. I won’t put words into his mouth, but loosely paraphrasing he said something along the lines of this. To take on a new client, firstly I have to love the manuscript on a personal level. Secondly, I have to believe that it has commercial legs, that it will fit well in the current fantasy market.

Also, he only works with people named John.

I knew it!

Switching the focus to the future: eighteen months ago, you announced that you’d re-signed with Pan Macmillan for another epic fantasy series. You’ve since announced that the first book in this series will be titled Dread (which is VERY cool). When can we readers expect to get our grubby mitts on it? (Also, which drawer do you keep your super-secret manuscripts in? Asking for a friend.)

DREAD is finished. Well, the first draft, anyway. That means there’s still the edit, copy edit and proof read to go. I haven’t been given a publication date yet, but I would guess at the latter half of 2017. But don’t quote me on that.

The manuscript is locked in my office drawer, watched over by a stuffed crow who may or may not shout STEALER at anyone brave enough to open the drawer!

 Nice! Bet it’s no match for Craf, though. 😉

John, you’ve also confirmed that the new series is set in the Banished Lands, aka. the same location as the Faithful and the Fallen. What else can you tell us about it without giving too much away?

Yes, indeed. I couldn’t quite prise myself away from the Valour by John GwynneBanished Lands! DREAD takes place 130 years after the events of WRATH, and is really about how the world has changed as a result of those events. It also explores parts of the Banished Lands that we didn’t see so much of in The Faithful and the Fallen. And of course, not everything is rosy…

Sounds ominous… but not entirely unexpected from a book titled Dread! Speaking of titles… Malice, Valour, Ruin, Wrath, and now Dread. How long do you plan on continuing the tradition of kickass one-word titles? And what happens when you run out of cool nouns to use?

I’ll carry on with one word titles until I can’t think of any more, or I have no more books set in the Banished Lands left to write. I think all ‘Banished Lands,’ Tales should have one-word titles. It’s a little strange, because the original title of Malice was ‘So Deep a Malice,’ which is part of a line from Milton’s Paradise Lost. I still like that title, but Bella Pagan at Tor UK suggested the shortened version, for multiple reasons – the punchiness of it, plus the marketing perspective – back then books sales were shifting towards thumbnails, which has only grown, and so presented another set of criteria to consider in the complex science that is book covers. I have to say, Bella was right, Malice and the continuing one-word titles feel perfect fits for the series.

They’re certainly very striking!

Now, you’ve also written one or two short stories based on characters from the Banished Lands and featuring in anthologies such as Blackguards and Legends II. Do you plan on writing more? Enough for, say, a Joe Abercrombie/Sharp Ends-style collection?

I loved that book! I’m writing a short story set in the Banished Lands at the moment, a tale about how Balur the giant became Balur One-Eye. Because I’m a bit weird and think of the Banished Lands as a semi-historical reality, there are endless stories to tell. It’s a bit like plucking moments from history! So, yes, I think the short stories could go on indefinitely. A bit like Tolkien’s Silmarillion, I suppose. I do have some short stories set in other worlds in the pipeline, as well.

The Banished Lands feel so real – I’m not surprised you (and your readers!) think of them as semi-historical. I look forward to eventually glimpsing these other worlds and characters, too. But for the time being: if you could choose one character from The Faithful and the Fallen to take on a spinoff adventure, who would it be and why?

Alcyon, the giant. He’s got a story that has a lot of room for exploration, and he’s a character that has really grown during the series.

Also Craf, Brina’s talking Crow. I think he’s got a lot to say, and is very good at getting himself into awkward and potentially entertaining situations.

Craf is great! I actually laughed out loud earlier today at one of his scenes. I was reading Wrath on the train, and got one or two funny looks…

You’ve been asked many times before about the writers who influenced you, most frequently listing David Gemmell, Bernard Cornwell and J.R.R. Tolkien in your responses. Are there any other authors who’ve made an impression on you more recently – or even influenced your writing in any way?

Oh, absolutely. I’m always reading something and thinking, “They’re fantastic, I wish I could write like that!” When it comes to prose amongst contemporary fantasy writers I Wrath by John Gwynnedon’t think you’ll find anyone better than Mark Lawrence. There’s a sparse poetry to his writing that is beautiful. Joe Abercrombie is a genius with character, where you can tell who’s who just by reading a sentence of their dialogue. Bernard Cornwell’s mentioned above, but he’s still writing, and reading his work is like viewing a masterclass. I love Christian/Miles Cameron’s books, both his fantasy and historical novels. For me he has that elusive balance in his writing, where everything comes together perfectly. Adrian Tchaikovsky’s Shadows of the Apt is a great series, and I love Sebastien de Castell’s Greatcoat’s books – a wonderful blend of rip-roaring pace, loveable rogues and action. Another historical novelist whom I admire greatly is Robert Low, who has written the Oathsworn series about a hard-nosed band of Vikings. It’s fast-paced and fantastic, with prose that I wish I could emulate. Also, Conn Iggulden, what a terrific writer that man is!

I don’t feel overly comfortable in dishing out advice, but the one thing I can say is what worked for me. Write what you want to read.

So many others – Robin Hobb, George R.R. Martin, Brian Ruckley, Giles Kristian, Manda Scott, Justin Cronin…

I think I might be getting carried away here!

 No, no – I love your enthusiasm! That’s quite a list, however… so let’s narrow it down. If you could pick any 3 living authors to blurb your books, who would you choose and why?

Any of those mentioned above! Actually, I’ve been fortunate enough that some of those mentioned above have read my books! Conn Iggulden read Malice and posted his review on Amazon, which blew me away. When I first saw it I just thought it had been written by some imposter, or unlikely namesake, J but as time went on it gnawed away at me – was it THE Conn Iggulden??? Eventually I messaged his agent, asking them to put me out of my misery, and it turned out it was the real Conn Iggulden. That really made my day!

I’m always reading something and thinking, “They’re fantastic, I wish I could write like that!” When it comes to prose amongst contemporary fantasy writers I don’t think you’ll find anyone better than Mark Lawrence. There’s a sparse poetry to his writing that is beautiful.

Also, Mark Lawrence is quoted on the front cover of WRATH, and Christian/Miles Cameron has been heard to say kind things about my books! Thinking about it, that’s pretty awesome!

That really is something! I imagine having established authors praise your books (particularly without being solicited to do so) must feel like a stamp of validation – not to mention an enormous confidence boost.

Though actually, when it comes to praising your work, some of your keenest supporters can be found under the same roof. Anyone who has ever spoken to you – either in person or via social media – knows that you’re a proud husband (to one) and father (to four).Ruin by John Gwynne

In fact, you’ve said before that your family is the reason you write. Is it true that you would never have started writing The Faithful and the Fallen without their (rather forceful!) encouragement?

That’s absolutely true. Caroline, my wife, has said for more years than I can remember that
I should have a go at writing a book. I’m not even really sure why she used to say that. Maybe because of the bed-time stories I’d tell our children. I used to tell her stories, too, but mostly snippets from Lord of the Rings or the Silmarillion – this is back before the films had been made. I do recall telling her the tale of Beren and Luthien while we were sat having a coffee whilst out shopping. I remember she cried – though at the time I thought it was because she wanted me to stop, or her bum had gone numb, or something like that!

Ha! So romantic…

I made the definite decision to have a go at writing in 2002, when we all came back from seeing The Two Towers at the cinema. We were all sitting around the table having dinner, and Caroline voiced again that she thought I should write a book. Of course my children all added their voices to that. Initially I told them what a silly idea that was, and gave a few reasons. Some quite important ingredients were missing, I said, such as plot, character, and a significant dose of talent. But the wave of opinion could not be silenced so easily, and after a while I thought, ‘Why not? I’ve been thinking about a hobby I could pursue from home,’ (my daughter, Harriett, is profoundly disabled. I used to teach at my local University, but stepped out of it to help Caroline in caring for Harriett. So I found myself largely at home 24/7, and was thinking about some kind of a hobby, a bit of me-time.)

So I thought, ‘Okay. Let’s give this writing-a-book malarkey a go.’

We were all sitting around the table having dinner, and Caroline voiced again that she thought I should write a book. Of course my children all added their voices to that. Initially I told them what a silly idea that was, and gave a few reasons. Some quite important ingredients were missing, I said, such as plot, character, and a significant dose of talent. But the wave of opinion could not be silenced so easily, and after a while I thought, ‘Why not?’

That was only the beginning, of course, and starting a book is one thing, but finishing it (especially when it just won’t stop growing!) is entirely another! The support of my family, particularly from Caroline, made writing Malice possible, and without her or my children’s support I am certain that it would never have seen the light of day.

Sweet! And now (fourteen years later!) it must be incredibly special having children who’ve essentially grown up with your series in the same way you did with Gemmell’s. Am I right in saying that two of your sons are particularly devoted followers of Corban and co.?

Yes, you are, although, to be fair, they haven’t had much choice in the matter. My eldest son, James, managed to escape much of the madness by becoming a responsible adult, getting a job and moving out. He’s a dairy farmer, works all hours but I have still managed to suck him in! It was his farm field where my author-photo was taken, and he can be spotted wielding a sword in the photos, though he is covered in a lot of blue woad!

A traditional Gwynne family portrait

Awesome! And the other two?

Edward and William weren’t so lucky. I must confess to reading chapters of Malice to them as bedtime stories, and plot twists would often be the topic of conversation around the dinner table. There was no escape for those two, bless them. William has an amazing memory and eye for detail – I think he’s a budding proof-reader – and often pulls me up about errors and inaccuracies I’ve made (hopefully before the books went to print!), and Edward has been my companion throughout the series. My first reader (rule of thumb, if Edward cries, it’s working) and shieldman to every convention, event and book launch I’ve attended. It has made a lot of great memories – stand out amongst them is catching them re-enacting battle scenes from the books! I can tell you, that makes a fantasy-writing dad very proud!

That sounds phenomenal! (No, I’m not crying. YOU’RE crying. *sniff*) Do you think that having your family so closely involved with the writing process affects your stories (in terms of language, plot choices, character arcs, etc.)?

Yes, most definitely. When I started writing my family were my audience, the only people that I was certain would ever read my scribblings. My rule of thumb has always been, ‘write what you want to read,’ but of course I hoped that they would enjoy it, too.

The support of my family, particularly from Caroline, made writing Malice possible, and without her or my children’s support I am certain that it would never have seen the light of day.

The Faithful and the Fallen is not a series of children’s books, but it never became too graphic in its adult-ness (though some of the battle-scenes in the last two books may be pushing that a little!). I’ve never thought of the Faithful and the Fallen as a sermon or preachy morality tale, but it does show characters in dark situations, and hopefully highlights how important individual choices are to our lives. Not just the big events, but the small choices that no-one sees except us. The famous quote by Edmund Burke is wrapped up in The Faithful and the Fallen – “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men to do nothing.”

You know, I actually noted down a quote from Wrath that sums that up really well. Corban tells the Jotun leader, “If you choose not to fight against Asroth, then you have already chosen him.” Pertinent, and brilliant.

Is there anything you (or your sons!) would say to anyone who hasn’t yet read your books?

I would say, if epic fantasy with a historical twist and a large dose of betrayal is your thing, then give them a go. What have you got to lose?

Ed: If you’re looking for a series with characters that you love like your brothers-in-arms, or hate like they’re your worst enemies, then this could be for you.

Will: Make sure you have some free time if you start reading the Faithful and the Fallen, because once you start, you won’t stop.

*I will be paying Ed and Will handsomely for these spontaneous quotes!

 Spontaneous, perhaps, but both accurate summations!

Before we finish, I have one or two super-serious questions. For instance, who would win in a fight between a draig and a velociraptor?

Oh, a draig, probably without breaking sweat. Think, giant Komodo Dragons, bigger than a horse, on steroids and with anger issues. A pack of velociraptors might have a chance, or at least draw some blood, but one of them! Nope.

Eek! Move over, Godzilla! Speaking of whom…

If you had to pick just one of your characters to defend the world against Godzilla, who would you choose and why?

Maquin, no question. His focus and lack of ego, combined with his all-round badassery, of course, would single him out as the man to get the job done.

Now THAT’S a fight I’d pay to see. Thanks for taking the time to join me, John. Congratulations again on completing the series, and good luck with the next one!

Thanks so much, Laura. It’s been a real pleasure, and thank-you for thinking of me and taking the time to make this interview happen.

Always a pleasure!

Wrath, the fourth and final book in John Gwynne’s epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen, is available to buy RIGHT NOW. Check out my review here.The Faithful and the Fallen quartet continues

Interview with Marc Turner

Marc Turner (header)(Note: ‘Marc Turner Interview’ first appeared on Fantasy-Faction on 21st September 2016.)


Marc Turner is the author of the epic fantasy series The Chronicles of the Exile. I had the pleasure of interviewing him for Fantasy-Faction  in September to celebrate the release of Red Tide, the stunning third novel in this ongoing series.

Good morrow, Mr. Turner! To start, I’d like to mention that I’m rather fond of your work. I picked up When the Heavens Fall because reviewers compared it (favourably!) to classic fantasy series such as The Malazan Book of the Fallen and The Black Company. I certainly wasn’t disappointed, and I went on to enjoy your second novel, Dragon Hunters, even more.

How do you feel about the (inevitable) parallels that readers draw between your work and others? Are there any unlikely comparisons that have surprised you?

'When the Heavens Fall' by Marc Turner (cover image)MT: “Since When The Heavens Fall came out, I’ve been compared to so many different authors, I’ve lost count. One reviewer compared me to nine in a single sentence – and five of those I’d never even read before!

“Comparisons can be flattering, but I think they are also dangerous things because they create (sometimes unrealistic) expectations in the reader. I never compare myself to any other author. I can say which writers have most influenced me – Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie – but the degree to which readers see those influences in my books varies greatly.”

You might find this hard to believe, but there are a LOT of people who have yet to dip their toes (eyes?) into the Chronicles of the Exile. With that in mind, could you perhaps give us a quick rundown of what new readers can expect from the series . . . and what the rest of us can expect from book three, Red Tide?

MT: “Readers can expect to laugh, to cry, to wear out the edges of their seats, and ultimately to finish each book in the series with an overwhelming urge to buy the next.

“As for Red Tide in particular, there’s not much I can say without giving away spoilers. But it features an entire nation of pirates, a man who can make his dreams manifest in the waking world, and perhaps a sea dragon or three. It’s my favourite book of the series so far, and the response from readers has been very positive.”

It has indeed – with very good reason!

Following on from that, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what I like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Who, by the way, is currently picking between his rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto his elevator.)

No pressure…

MT: “If I had to describe the Chronicles of the Exile in a sentence, I would call it epic fantasy with a dark edge and a generous sprinkling of humour.Dragon Hunters by Marc Turner (UK cover)

“And your sharks don’t frighten me. I have sea dragons on my side.”

Damn you, Turner, and the sea dragons you rode in on. Looks like you’ll live to write another day!

Speaking of writing and living: what’s the most exciting part of being a professionally published author? Aside from no longer having to sneak around supermarkets slipping photocopies of your hand-crayoned manuscripts inside Weetabix boxes, of course.

MT: “I do that thing with the Weetabix boxes too! Did that too. I meant did that too, obviously.”

Obviously…

MT: “The most exciting part of being an author has got to be seeing a new book hit the shelves, but I also enjoy the build-up to publication. Among other things, you get to sign off on the final version of the manuscript, see the cover for the first time, and hold the advance reader copies of the book in your hands.”

That does sound exciting! And the most daunting part?

MT: “Time management. At the moment, I’m drafting book four in the series, preparing articles for a blog tour, writing two short stories for fantasy anthologies, promoting When The Heavens Fall in Germany (it has just been published there), and doing a load of signings at Waterstones. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining. But since I became a full-time writer, it seems like I have a lot less time to actually . . . write.”

Well, you must be doing something right. It’s barely more than a year since your debut dropped but you’ve gained quite a lot of traction within the fantasy community in that time. How does the public’s reaction to your work – and to yourself – compare with any early expectations you might have had?

MT: “I don’t recall having any particular expectations – which is probably just as well.

Red Tide (UK cover) by Marc Turner“If there is one thing that has surprised me, it is the different reactions I receive to my characters. I think it is important that in books with multiple POV characters (like mine), each of the characters should have a distinctive “voice”. Inevitably that means readers will like some characters more than others, but I am taken aback sometimes by the degree to which different people respond to the same character.

“Take Romany from When the Heavens Fall, for example. Fantasy Book Review said the following about her: “Intelligent, cunning, immensely likeable, her affable irritation and eventual humanity in the face of the maelstrom of uber-fantasy is remarkably levelling.” Another reviewer, though, simply dismissed her as evil.

“Of course, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Even if it is wrong. ;)”

Indeed. Romany, evil? Pah! I’d call her chaotic-neutral at worst. 😉

Marc, in the past you’ve spoken at length about the importance of dialogue, and have (quite rightly) pointed out that writers can learn a lot about their craft from other artistic mediums, such as video games. But in a world such as yours – geographically sprawling, layered with history, packed with ‘epic’ elements such as gods, magic, battles and monsters – how would you rate the importance of dialogue in relation to all the other elements?

MT: “I’m not sure dialogue is more or less important than any other element of a fantasy novel, but it’s the part I enjoy writing most. It’s great both for shining a light on character and injecting humour. When I have cause to dip back into my own books, it’s usually dialogue that I end up reading.”

You certainly have a knack for it. I adored the barbed exchanges between Romany and the Spider in When the Heavens Fall, and without doubt one of my favourite aspects of Dragon Hunters was the snarky dialogue between Kempis and… well, everyone he spoke to. Are there any particular fictional characters and/or authors who inspired some of the witty repartee that makes your protagonists so much fun to follow?

MT: “The authors who have most inspired my dialogue are again Erikson and Abercrombie. I don’t think Erikson gets enough credit for his humour – or at least I don’t see him credited often enough. Though oddly when people discuss his most amusing characters, the names that most frequently come up are Tehol and Bugg, whereas I found their humour to be hit and miss. I find some of his other characters far more entertaining.”

Erikson is definitely a master of humorous dialogue, be it subtly barbed or openly cutting. Speaking of sharp-tongued protagonists: am I right in saying that you’re currently working on a short story starring none other than the infamous Mazana Creed? What can we readers (new and old) expect from her?Grimdark Magazine's 'Evil is a Matter of Perspective' anthology

MT: “Yes, Mazana Creed stars in a short story I have written for Grimdark Magazine’s Evil Is A Matter Of Perspective anthology. It is set a few years before the events in Dragon Hunters, and Mazana has been ordered to hunt down a notorious pirate in order to earn a place on the Storm Council. But, being Mazana, she’s going to do things her way.”

Sounds intriguing! Oh, and while we’re on the subject: now seems like a good time to mention that you’ve also written a short story featuring Luker Essendar, who also happens to be the first character we meet in When the Heavens Fall. Do you have any more shorts lurking up your, um, shorts? And if you had to write a collection of short stories set in the Lands of the Exile, which characters would you pick to headline?

MT: “I’m writing another short story at the moment for the Hath No Fury anthology which has been funded on Kickstarter. It will feature Jenna from When the Heavens Fall – probably. In the future, I might do some more stories set in the Lands of the Exile featuring characters from the series. I like the idea of some detective stories starring Kempis and Sniffer from Dragon Hunters. Kempis himself is less enthusiastic about the idea, though.”

That would be epic! Please, please, PLEASE make this happen. (Please?)

Pfft. Fine, Kempis. Be like that. *sighs*

Before we finish, Marc, I have to ask: cats or dogs?

MT: “Ah, that age-old conundrum. Whichever one I choose I’m going to end up upsetting lots of people, so you’re probably expecting me to hedge my bets. No beating around the bush from me, though, I’m going to come straight out and say … neither. Give me a dragon any day.”

Well played, sir. Very well played indeed… though the correct answer was clearly ‘cats’.

Thanks so much for your time, Marc. Good luck with book #4!


Red Tide, the third book in Marc Turner’s Chronicles of the Exile, is available to buy RIGHT NOW. Additionally, you can read Marc’s short story, ‘There’s A Devil Watching Over You’, on Tor.com, or listen to the audio version on his website.

Marc Turner, author of The Chronicles of the Exile