What elements of fantasy make you like reading and writing in the genre?
A whole bunch, not all of which connect.
Partly, it’s the sense of wonder, the impossible and the enchanted and the numinous. The idea that there’s something more, something unknowable and magical – the thrill of what-if. Give me the same sense of mystery that you get from coming upon an overgrown stairs in a forest, or an old door that’s been shut for decades, and I’m happy.
At the same time, I love that fantasy lets you draw on the history of the real world without being bound by it. You can pull out the bits you like, file off the parts you don’t. You can focus on a particular fascinating topic, and bring in elements from other times, other cultures. You can build your own world according to your needs and desires, this little toy sub-creations precisely tailored to the story you want to tell.
And then there’s the joy of just unfettered making-stuff-up. You can say “the door burst open, and a grebb stood there on the threshold, its secondary eyes glaring balefully at me”. I’ve no idea what a grebb is, or why it’s got secondary eyes – or why it’s annoyed at my narrator – but I’ll have fun finding out.
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?
Hmm. I’m not sure if fantasy readers are necessarily connecting to narratives set in the past. Just because a story has swords and castles doesn’t mean it’s in the “past”, per se – the mindset of characters in a story tend to reflect the author’s own experiences and attitudes for the most part unless you make a conscious effort to situate your characters in a historical era. I think readers connect to narratives that reflect and comment on their present, or offer a timeless escape.
What makes you connect with a character?
As a reader, or a writer?
As a writer, a character needs… imagine you’re walking on the beach, and you pick up a really nice rock. It’s weighty, and solid, and fits nearly into the palm of your hand. It’s got a nice texture, and maybe it looks interesting on the outside, although that isn’t a requirement. And you can chip it, knapp it, make it into a useful tool. It might not be as smooth or efficient as something that’s been mass-produced and standarised, but it’s got… well, character. That’s a character from a writer’s perspective – comfortable, interestingly uneven, an unexpected discovery that’s been shaped a little to the needs of the story. You don’t connect with characters instantly, in my experience – you’ve got to carry them around a bit, get a feel for their balance.
As a reader, I’m not sure how to answer in a meaningful way. It’s rare that I read a book because of a character’s struggles – plot and setting and language all count for a lot with me. It’s hard to divorce the experience of reading about a character from the rest.
What does a typical writing day look like for you?
My day’s dictated by childcare at the moment – I’ve got two 10-year-olds and a 4-year old. She goes to pre-school in the mornings, so I’ve got mostly-uninterrupted writing time from 9am to 1130am. After that, I might be able to get a bit more done, but I can’t count on it. Then, when everyone else has gone to bed, I’m back at the keyboard. I long ago taught myself to write anywhere and anywhen.
When did you start reading? And what books/series did you read over and over again?
I always loved reading; I used to absolutely inhale books, which I can’t do any more (except on planes – when I travel, I get the knack back. I suspect lack of internet helps). What do I reread? Lord of the Rings, Foucault’s Pendulum, DECLARE, Mythago Wood. Chunks of Lovecraft.
What are some of your favourite recent reads?
Right now, I’m reading The Lost War by Justin Anderson. Before that, I zoomed through David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue. I’m trying to read more physical books of late; I don’t think I’m alone in losing the ability to concentrate as much as I used to, so I’m trying to spend less time on devices.
I should tweet about that. Or toot, or whatever we’re doing now.
What do you enjoy doing outside of writing and reading?
Excellent question. I probably should find out.
Boardgaming and roleplaying, mainly, but right now there’s not a lot of time that isn’t eaten by children and everyday life. Does “listening to too many podcasts” count?
If you only had one piece of advice to give to an aspiring author, what would it be?
Finish the damn book. Above all else, finish the book. I abandoned so many projects because they didn’t feel right – you can’t judge that when you’re in deep in the weeds. Finish the book, put it away for a few days, then look at it again. Maybe it’s good, maybe it’s salvageable, maybe it’s dreadful. Doesn’t matter. You learn so much more from having gone all the way through the writing process than from endless first chapters.
Are you working on any new books or other projects at the moment?
Right now, I’m
- Editing book 2 of Lands of the Firstborn
- Writing book 4 of The Black Iron Legacy
- Researching an unconnected book or two
- Writing the Moria campaign for The One Ring RPG
- Writing a campaign for another game
- Editing… I think it’s three other campaign books.
- Doing a thing I can’t talk about.
- Oh, wait, I owe a short story for an anthology too.
I think that’s the current to-do list. I write full-time, or at least all the time I have available, so I’m always juggling a bunch of projects.