Last edited: 10-5-2015
We spoke at the end of 2013, when Blood song was just released in the Netherlands. In the meantime, part two of the trilogy has been released in the Netherlands. But the two books have been translated in so many countries now. Are you overwhelmed by the succes of your books?
There are times when I look back over the last three years and can’t quite grasp how much has happened in such a short time. The success of the translated editions has been one of the most gratifying and surprising aspects of the whole experience, especially after so many years of writing in isolation with no notion of whether anyone besides myself would ever read my work.
Part three will be released in july, how far along is this book in the publishing process?
Book Three – Queen of Fire – has gone through all the various rounds of editing and will probably go to print in the next few weeks. It’ll be released in the UK on 2nd July and the USA on 7th July. I don’t have any information on the translated editions yet, but for some reason my Dutch and Italian publishers always seem to beat everyone else when it comes to how quickly they can get the books translated and ready for sale.
Do you feel your style or approach has changed since you released Blood Song?
I like to think I improve as a writer with every book and I’m not arrogant enough to think I have nothing to learn; I’m always learning. My approach to writing is also constantly changing, the way I plan each book differs and I’m constantly refining the way I track my progress (I never met a spreadsheet I didn’t like).
Do you have any plans after you have finished Queen of Fire?
In February I finished the first book in a new fantasy series set in a completely different world. I can’t say too much about it now but hope to have some big news to announce soon.
You have written a short story for an anthology by Shawn Speakman, which is under way. Is it harder for you to write a short story or a ‘normal’ book?
Shorter works are pretty hard for me, since I tend to think on an epic scale when it comes to stories. Writing a novel is like climbing a mountain over a period of months whilst a short story is like scaling a steep cliff in a few days. My shortest story to date is still too long for most magazine submissions, which is why my shorter works usually turn up in anthologies. Also, I’ve never actually managed to sell a story to a magazine. In addition to the story I wrote for Shawn’s ‘Unbound’ anthology, I also have a Raven’s Shadow novella, ‘The Lord Collector’, in the upcoming Blackguards anthology from Ragnarok Publications (http://www.ragnarokpub.com/#!blackguards-anthology/cf3b).
According to your website, you wrote Blood Song besides your regular job and it took you six and a half year. What was the hardest part in writing the book stretched out during a period this long?
Because I wrote the book in bursts, keeping a coherent narrative throughout the story was difficult, involving a lot of rewriting along the way. However, it was a valuable learning experience too, improving my sentence structure as well as teaching me the importance of consistency in character and plot. I like to think I became a real writer in the course of producing Blood Song.
In your blog on Penguin Books you describe the process of getting the manuscript of Blood Song published. Were you ever on the verge on giving up after the rejections you initially recieved?
All my rejections came from UK agents so I may have tried my luck with US agents and publishers if self-publishing hadn’t become a viable option. Ultimately, if Blood Song had failed to sell I would have just started something else. Rejection is never fun but it’s also part of a writer’s life. I don’t think I’m capable of giving up writing.
Luckily, you didn’t and decided to self publish your book(s). What was for you the trigger to ultimately try this new medium (aside from not getting picked up I mean)?
I think I came pretty late to the party given that others, like Michael J. Sullivan and Hugh Howey, had already achieved considerable success in self-publishing. It was the advent of the self-published ebook and Amazon’s Kindlestore, and to a lesser extent Smashwords, which made the whole thing so much more accessible, and a lot cheaper. So when I started thinking about self-publishing Blood Song there was no down side, it cost nothing and if it didn’t sell then at least I would have known all those agents were right to reject me. What happened next was all a very pleasant surprise.
With the success of Blood Song, you decided to become a fulltime writer. Do you have any writing rituals during a normal day?
I haven’t developed any real rituals (that rumour about me sacrificing goats to the Dark Gods is a scurrilous lie), though being British I will always start the working day with a cup of tea close to hand. A lot of writers listen to music as they work but I never do, I tend to get immersed in the text so I don’t hear it. Having quit a fulltime job I discovered it was way too easy to fall into bad habits so it’s important to establish a routine, i.e. get out of bed at a reasonable hour, eat regular meals, turn off the TV etc. Professional writers are essentially self-employed small-business people, you have to be your own boss and I can be a bit of a slave driver, especially when a deadline starts to loom.
I imagine that Blood Song was edited again by Ace after the book had been picked up. (If so) How was it to take a look at your finished manuscript again?
It was a pretty painless experience since the book didn’t really change much, one chapter was slightly expanded and another slightly shortened. Other than that it was mainly a matter of tidying up the grammar and spelling, the two biggest points of complaint about the original version for which I continue to apologise.
In fantasy, a historical setting is pretty common. Is your degree in History beneficial for your writing itself, or a burden (because you might feel you should research every detail)?
My history degree has been a definite benefit in my writing for various reasons. First of all the discipline in producing readable text to a deadline is an important skill to learn. Also, the breadth of knowledge I obtained about history gives me a lot of ideas to draw on when formulating plots and characters. My actual research tends to focus on detail rather than historical background though, I spend a lot of time looking for facts about siege engines and crossbows for example but don’t tend to look at the legal mechanics of medieval societies, that sort of thing I tend to just make up and borrow from history as required. The advantage of writing fantasy is that I can dispense with inconvenient reality when it suits the story, something I couldn’t do if I was writing a historical novel.
You said that Gemmel was one of your favorite authors and influences of your own work. What about the stories of Gemmel inspire you so much?
David Gemmell had a many gifts as a writer, his plotting, pacing and characterisation being remarkable in my opinion. But I think what I liked most about his work is its clear, and realistic, depiction of the nature of heroism. In the real world heroes are either anonymous or experience brief periods of acclaim before disappearing into obscurity. Gemmell’s heroes are really a parade of damaged, guilt-ridden souls, ill at ease with society and cursed to a life of violence as much by their inadequacies as their skills. His stories also often feature tragic conclusions, even when the good guys win there’s usually a price to pay and no-one goes tripping off into the sunset to live happily ever after.
Blood Song recieved very high ratings on many different media, like Goodreads and Amazon. What aspect of the story do you think (or hear about) is ‘clicking’ so much with the audience?
I like to think there’s always a market for a good story well told, especially in the fantasy genre which is undergoing a major upsurge at the moment (thanks George RR Martin & HBO). From the feedback and mail I get about Blood Song the words that crop up most often are ‘character’, ‘action’ and ‘pace.’ I also think I’ve been lucky in my main character, people just seem to like Vaelin a lot.
I can imagine the positive feedback gives a great feeling. But does it also affect your thoughts on writing the sequels? Do you feel more pressure to do it just right?
I try not to be influenced by reviews, the good as well as the bad. However, I do feel a responsibility to everyone who liked Blood Song and are patiently, and often impatiently, waiting for the sequel. Without my readers I wouldn’t have a career. Ultimately though, all I can do is write the best book I can and hope people respond to it with the same level of positivity.
You have written Blood Song from one perspective, that of Vaelin. The sequel, Tower Lord, will have multiple perspectives so that you can show us things that happen around Vaelin as well. Was it hard to change the storyteling from one to multiple perspectives?
Actually, I found it much easier than expected, even somewhat refreshing since I’d spent so long in Vaelin’s head it felt good to see the same world through different eyes. Vaelin was the hardest character to write during Tower Lord, his chapters taking longer to produce than the others. However, I was at pains to apply the same rules to the other three POV characters; they have to hold the reader’s interest, be consistent but also capable of change and ultimately the story comes first.
Book 2 in the Raven’s Shadow trilogy is already done (published next year) and book 3 is underway. Was it easier to write these sequels as you already had a lot of the world and characters worked out, or harder?
It took a lot less time, writing the first draft for Tower Lord took six months and Book 3 (Queen of Fire) eight, but had its own set of difficulties. Whilst I had a pretty good idea of the wider world beyond the Unified Realm, I still needed to do quite of lot of world building. Also, the cast of characters has expanded quite a bit and they all needed their own backstories. Plus, I’m not doing this as a hobby anymore so no longer have the luxury of taking a few days, or weeks, to ponder how to resolve a plot issue. That being said, I do think producing close to half a million words in such a space of time had definitely made me a better writer, or at least a faster one.
Were the stories of the last two books of the trilogy already in your mind from the beginning, or did you start thinking about them after finishing Blood Song?
I had longer to think about Tower Lord than Queen of Fire so putting the plot together went a lot more smoothly for that one. I had an extensive outline for Queen of Fire but pretty much threw it away for the last third of the book. The ending had been in my mind since finishing Blood Song but getting to it proved harder than expected.
After book 3 is finished, do you have any plans on other books in the same world?
Not at present, but who knows? I’m keen to start another series in an entirely new world and intend to begin work on it next year. Vaelin’s world is a big sandbox though, so maybe one day I’ll come back to it if I can come up with a story worth telling.
Apart from Blood Song, you have written several Slab City Blues novellas. These stories are, as you describe them, SF-noir. Do you intend to write more of these novellas?
It’s my intention to finish Slab City Blues with a full length novel, currently entitled ‘An Aria for Ragnarok’, and a fictional history telling the story of the CAOS War, which forms the back story for the whole series. However, given my current commitments neither are likely to appear until late 2014.