What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?
Fantasy’s easily the broadest genre going and adaptive enough to accommodate pretty much any other genre going – often several in the space of a single story. From a writer’s perspective you’ve all the freedom in the world – you can make or break any rules you like … as long as you make it clear to the reader what those rules are. Want something real world adjacent with a hint of the supernatural? You can do that. A bitter political contest in a far off realm ruled by sentient shrubberies? Go for it.
Why do we [fantasy readers] find ourselves connecting so deeply to narratives set in the past, whether they are in a secondary world or the real one?
I think part of it’s the common language. The present’s built on the past, so that creates a familiarity – a shared language of theme, setting and surroundings – even if only on an unconscious level. And that’s before we get into the long shadow cast by folk tales, the most popular of which have been repeated and reinvented so many times, they’re often part of who we are. There’s a comfort to tales that borrow from the past that stories set in the future can’t quite replicate – in fact, most don’t want to, because that feeling of separation’s often hardwired into them.
What makes you connect with a character?
I have to feel that they exist beyond the plot currently bedevilling them – the chief test being that if you take them our of their book and drop them in another, you’ve a fairly good idea how they’d react. I admire characters who learn and grow as their viewpoints are challenged. Who show heroism in ways large and small. Who can break with everything they believed in because it’s the right thing to do – for their homeland, their family, their friends … even a stranger. I suppose I want to be inspired. Give me that, and it doesn’t matter much if they’re wholesome or tragic. Make me care that the world’s a better place with them in it, if only for a moment. We’ve enough of the other sort of person in the real world.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
I’ve never hit on an interesting answer to this question, I’m afraid. I sit down at the computer in the morning and keep working until the day’s done, or a chapter is. Sometimes it can run a little late, or I bail on the whole business because I need to have a think, but that’s broadly the shape of things.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I don’t think there’s a precise answer – at least, not one I know. Certainly by the time I was five years old I was starting to deliberately seek things out. My primary school had a wonderful range of books about a boy who found a magic coin that allowed him to see ghosts (good and evil), and they’ve certainly stayed with me ever since. As to well-read series, I’ve been through pretty much everything by Alistair MacLean, Timothy Zahn and Bernard Cornwell many, many, many times, as well as Discworld (because who hasn’t read those over and over?). I used to read a lot of tie-in fiction when I was a teenager, but those books have long since gone … save for a curated selection of Star Wars expanded universe novels and my (at last) complete set of Target Doctor Who books.
What are some of your favourite recent reads?
I’ve just finished Mira Furlan’s autobiography, Love Me More than Anything in the World, which was both eye-opening and heart-breaking on a number of levels.
What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading?
I used to spend most of my time playing videogames. Not so much these days (the other half of my professional life involves scripting, casting and directing voiceover for such things, so it’s become something of a busman’s holiday), but I still adore firing up anything from the Soulsborne series. Beyond that, I’ve somewhere along the line developed something of a Lego habit – or possibly problem. The “oh, that’s a nice kit, I’m sure I’ve got room for it somewhere” syndrome is very real and leads to rather a full house.
If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
No one has it figured out. No one. And the folk who talk the loudest have it figured out rather less than they think. Do your own thing. Don’t close yourself off to listening, but cultivate the courage to stick to your guns.
And watch out for Shadows. They move when you’re not looking at them.
Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?
Always. Unfortunately, NDAs and disapproving marketing departments are a barrier to talking about things in any detail. I can say that I’ve a new book out with Orbit in November this year, and I should probably be writing the second one right now. (I’m sure that’s not going to come back to haunt me.) I can’t really say much more than that at the moment, but it’s always worth checking in on my Twitter (@thetowerofstars) from time to time. I’m sure I’ll be talking about it there as soon as I can.