#SPFBO4 Interview with Jacob Sannox, author of Dark Oak

Posted On 11 August 2018

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The SPFBO has got off to a great start already with plenty of attention on the authors and their work.  You can follow the comings and goings on Twitter using the #SPFBO hashtag or by checking into Mark Lawrence’s blog.  Last week I posted an interview with Phil Parker which can be found here and today I’m really pleased to welcome to my blog another of my SPFBO authors, Jacob Sannox.

Jacob is the author of Dark Oak, the first in a series which takes us to a world after the war has concluded and the Dark Lord has been defeated.  We discussed inspiration, conflicted characters, challenges and favourite quotes.

Hi Jacob, thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview.

So, When did you first know you wanted to be a writer? 

It sounds cheesy, but I’ve wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember, probably thanks to my parents. They were both big readers and both journalists. My mum worked freelance while my sister and I were little, so the last thing I’d hear before falling asleep each night was the sound of her typing in her little study down the hall.  Mum taught me to touch-type, and she’d let me use her word processor to write. The earliest things I remember writing were three-sentence stories and, a little later, an attempt at turning one of my favourite books into a play. I seem to remember my teacher cast the rest of the class, and we acted it out. It wasn’t good!

Not cheesy. I love that. My dad very strongly influenced my reading. What were your early reads. Did they lure you into fantasy?? Anything that still stands out for you?  

Early reads. I don’t think there are many curve balls. My Mum read me The Hobbit, and it left a massive impression on me. So much so, in fact, that I dismissed The Lord of the Rings as just ‘a sequel’ for a long time, refusing to read it until I was seventeen, when I bunked off school and read it Neverending Story style. I can remember being fascinated by Tolkien’s initials and wondering what he was like as a person. Mum also read me the Narnia books, but whereas the obsession with Tolkien and Middle-Earth has endured, I left Narnia in childhood and could never go back.

What else? I loved Robin Hood (cue a surprise trip to Sherwood Forest) and King Arthur too.  Another huge book from my childhood was Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell, a non-fiction book about a man living with otters on the west coast of Scotland.

I think most of my early favourites are still favourites – I still can’t walk through the countryside without imagining something from those books. Reading all of them definitely inspired me to create my own characters and stories, both in how I played (every action figure had a back story) and how I wrote as a kid.

One does not simply dismiss LotR as a sequel – it is folly!

boromir

Without any spoilers can you give readers an idea of your spfbo book and what to expect and would you say those early influences have played a part?  

The early influences definitely played a part in the sense that I decided that Dark Oak would begin at the point where traditional fantasy stories would end.

I wanted the Dark Lord to be killed immediately, and to tell the story from the perspective of a man who fought on the wrong side against his will, faced with having to prove his true loyalties while trying to get back to his family.

I wanted to explore how all those classic, heroic characters would act when faced with making uncomfortable choices in a world that has gone from being very black & white, where there was a readily identifiable evil, to a place where everything is grey and morally ambiguous.

Dark Oak is pretty grim at times. it’s told from the perspective of those high and low in human society, but also of the Dryads who emerge in the aftermath of the book’s opening sequence. I like the Dryads. I worked hard at trying to get inside their minds, as creatures with a different psychology, a different physiology and few limitations. I won’t say much about them, but they have some, I think, unique abilities and features which really set them apart.

It’s fair to say that Dark Oak is very pro-nature!

I like the idea of looking at what comes next after the ‘big events’ have taken place. It almost feels like we still have a ‘happily ever after’ feeling when reading stories and yet history teaches us that the period after a war can be devastating. How did taking the ‘dark lord’ out of the picture affect your story. We all love a good ‘baddie’ so how difficult was it to come up with somebody or something to act as an antagonist? 

Oh he walks forward to stand front and centre practically straight away, and that’s because I believe, as you said, the aftermath is often as interesting as the war.

A simplistic way of looking at it could be that in Middle-Earth, the evil things are quite definitively evil – we rarely mourn an orc or a balrog, whereas in A Song of Ice and Fire, evil is a little more pernicious and harder to identify. My fantasy world switches from one sort of world to the other overnight, and while humanity is made up of humans, there will never be a lack of an antagonist! For a thousand years everyone was united to fight the Dark Lord, and the minute he’s killed, they’re all shooting each other sidelong glances and getting twitchy.

I try not to have bad guys who couldn’t look in a mirror every morning and think, ‘Sure, they don’t like you, but you’re fundamentally misunderstood’ as I feel not many people would ever consider themselves the bad guy.

True.  Did you find that some of your bad guys were maybe not so bad and that some of your good guys were sometimes not so good?  In terms of your characters did you really lean heavily on people from your own experience?  

That duality is something I definitely wanted to explore. I wanted to write characters that readers would root for, but who would also make them frown or gasp on occasion. I also wanted to have ‘villains’ whose motivations make sense on some level and who are acting on a desire to do good as they see it…even if objectively, it really doesn’t look that way.

I think it’s difficult not to inject your life experience and influences into your characters, but hopefully what you create is something unique, even if an individual trait or the way a character thinks is reminiscent of someone you’ve known. It’d be fair to say that some figures from recent history have informed a few of the characters, for sure.

I’d say that Dark Oak, being the first in the series, is not the most cheery! I feel a little sorry for the characters as you are mostly seeing them work through strife, but book 2 is a rather different animal.

What led you to self publish and can you give any tips to others out there wishing to take this route?

I’ve always geared up for traditional publishing, and I received some good feedback about my first novel from agents, although no takers. While writing Dark Oak I got to know a few friends who were supporting themselves through self-publishing, and I started watching Joanna Penn’s, Creative Penn videos on Youtube. I found many of the arguments for self-publishing persuasive, so thought I would give it a go.

As for tips, I’m really only starting out myself, but the main thing that has been invaluable is interacting with the the self-publishing community. People have so much knowledge and are willing to help newbies out with learning what sort of advertising works, when to release, what is selling at the moment and so much more; there are lots of little points of wisdom that I just would not even have thought about as ‘a thing’ until somebody mentioned them, for example the pros and cons of indicating that a book is the first in a series on the cover.

I didn’t take all the advice for Dark Oak, and I spent more on the wrong advertising than was wise in the first few months. I know better for next time!

The main arguments for self-publishing are chiefly that the author retains complete control of the content of the book, the cover, the marketing and the price. Making these decisions is fun and it is a nice feeling have control of the reins.

Do you have a favourite character in the book?  And, if so, why??

My favourite character is Lachlan, the Lord of the Isles. He’s got responsibilities on his shoulders, living a life he would not have chosen for himself in the shadow of his wife and is suffering something of a personal crisis. I enjoyed writing his journey as he tries to balance his own needs with his duties. I also imagine him with a truly fantastic beard.

What aspect of the story did you find the most challenging to write??

The first chapter was challenging because although I wanted it to convey the chaos and confusion of the dying minutes of a battle, it had to be understandable, and I also had to get across the history so you knew what the battle was about and why Morrick, the main character, is in such a dangerous situation. It’s told from the perspective of the Dark Lord’s troops.

In general I have a tendency to disperse my characters all over the map so it can be a real challenge bringing them all back together again with credible reasoning! It’s such a relief when I get the main characters in a room together.

Do you have a particular quote or a couple of quotes that you would like to share here?

‘He came upon a spot deep in the midst of the forest where the light splatter of blood-spray coloured the grass. As he walked, he found crimson pools in which scraps of leather armour now floated like barren islands.’  

‘Riark thought of death and he became it. He felt the living pulse of the Mother Tree and turned its sap to poison even as it flowed. He decayed the bark, rotted the wood and caused the branches to break.

Finally (you may be pleased to hear). Can you tell me three random things about yourself that I can share with readers??

Not at all! It’s fun.

Random thing #1: I get terrible vertigo. I once went to see Patrick Stewart in The Tempest, and we were sitting in the upper circle. I had to crawl out at the interval. I then sold my tickets to see Ian McKellen in King Lear because I couldn’t face the same seats. I recently failed to climb a mountain for charity and started to get dizzy whilst standing on the floor at the O2 Arena in London while watching Tim McGraw and Faith Hill because the ceiling was so high.

Random thing #2: I have a Tolkien tattoo. There will be more.

Random thing #3: I used to run a business writing personalised letters from Santa. You could order ones for kids who had been good and ones to hand out during the year as a reminder that Santa is watching and would not approve of certain behaviours. We used to write with green ink, include confetti shapes of Christmas trees and seal the envelopes with wax.

Jacob, thank you so much for taking part.  I wish you every success in the SPFBO contest and I’m really looking forward to reading Dark Oak – I’m really interested in the ‘what came after’ – it’s something that has intrigued me for a while so I’m keen to see what you’ve come up with.

Details of Jacob’s book can be found here.

plumstonecovers_Dark_Oak_Jacob_Sannox_004-5.jpg

 

 

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12 Responses to “#SPFBO4 Interview with Jacob Sannox, author of Dark Oak”

  1. Tammy

    Really interesting interview, best of luck to Jacob! Also your book cover rocks😁

  2. waytoofantasy

    Great interview! This book sounds really interesting. I also love the cover!

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a great cover and from the sounds of the interview very apt for the book.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Carmen

    Great interview and wonderful cover! I’m rooting for Jacob. Can’t wait to see what you think of the book, Lynn. 🙂

  4. sjhigbee

    A really entertaining interview and a wonderful cover:). I look forward to seeing what you make of this one, Lynn:)

    • @lynnsbooks

      thanks Sarah – I’m looking forward to picking it up.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    A very thorough and interesting interview giving some great insights about the book. I really love that cover, this is one I’ll be watching closely to see what you think 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – tbh I always worry about interviews – whether I should ask more random questions, whether they’ll be interesting for readers. I fret over them much more than book reviews!
      Lynn 😀

  6. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    It’s true that fantasy stories rarely – if ever – explore the “happily ever after”, probably because it’s not all rainbows and unicorns if one considers human nature… So it’s going to be very interesting to see how this novel deals with the aftermath of an epic war against evil. I can’t wait for your review… 🙂
    Thanks for sharing!

  7. bkfrgr

    I, too, enjoyed this interview and look forward to your thoughts on Dark Oak. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks – I’m looking forward to picking it up.
      Lynn 😀

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