#SPFBO Saturday : Interview with Tim Hardie, author of Hall of Bones

Posted On 10 July 2021

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As part of the SPFBO Competition each weekend I am hoping to post guest blog posts inviting authors taking part in the competition to visit my blog to either write an article, discuss covers, take part in an interview or post an excerpt or teaser for their work.  If you’d like to pay me a visit then don’t forget to leave me a comment 😀

This weekend I’m really pleased to welcome Tim Hardie to my blog.  Tim is the author of Hall of Bones, the first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series.  Hall of Bones is one of the submissions allocated to Lynnsbooks/The Critiquing Chemist.

First things first – a warm welcome to Tim and my thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview.  I will also be sharing two excerpts from Hall of Bones at a future date so keep your eyes peeled:

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Can you give us a short introduction to Hall of Bones?

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Thanks for the invitation to take part.

Hall of Bones is the first of four planned books in an epic fantasy series called The Brotherhood of the Eagle. It’s a Viking-inspired tale but the fantasy setting has its own unique history and mythology. The story’s central character is Rothgar Kolfinnarson, the second son of the chief of his clan, and the challenges he faces when his people come under threat from their neighbouring rivals.

Hall of Bones is a debut but you mention on your blog that you have written other books. Do you think you’ll return and dust any of those off at any point? What lessons did you learn from those earlier books?

My first novel, called The Final Seer, took me nearly five years to write and I don’t think I’ll return to it because it’s not very good! It’s still an important part of my writing journey because The Final Seer was the book where I learned a lot of hard lessons. In short, I completely underestimated the level of endurance and attention to detail required to write a good novel.

That first draft was panster from start to finish and involved unnecessary sub-plots and side characters (which ultimately had to be cut), appallingly clunky dialogue, anguished periods of writer’s block and an unfathomable main story. It was meant to be Firefly set in medieval times and I have a lot of affection for that novel but, in the end, my heart wasn’t in continuing the story.

It also was a bit dated in terms of the story and characters, which was basically the feedback I received when I submitted it to a literary agent. He (rightly) rejected the story but in his rejection email he kindly put me on to some of the current crop of fantasy writers (including Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and John Gwynne). I read those authors and realised there was a different way to approach a fantasy novel. Hall of Bones was the novel I wrote next, applying those lessons and taking a tighter approach to plotting as well as spending more time developing distinctive and believable characters.

The other legacy from The Final Seer was the fantasy world of Amuran, which I used as the setting for Hall of Bones. So a lot of that novel’s background and in particular the early history and mythology provided the foundations for Hall of Bones.

How do you strike a balance between including all your world building or leaving some of it out to keep the pace more punchy?

I leave out a lot more than I include. For example, there are various fantasy races in Amuran that don’t feature at all in Hall of Bones (they were prominent in The Final Seer, which was set in a different location). Detailed world building is important, because it provides depth to the setting you’ve created as an author. This fires my imagination as I write. For example, the early history of Amuran provided the driving force behind the underlying narrative for Hall of Bones. Generally, my rule of thumb is if it’s not important or relevant to the plot (either novel or series) then it shouldn’t be included. Sometimes I incorporate extra elements just to add a bit of colour to a scene and to make it clear these events are taking place in a much larger world. That’s an indulgence, though, and I have to restrain myself from using that too often.

From first draft to finished article – how did the book change during the course of writing and publishing? Did you have to cut certain storylines for example or were there any surprises that you hadn’t imagined?

I think Hall of Bones was where I found my voice as an author, rather than imitating other writers. Unlike my previous novel, it didn’t need any major cuts or rewrites. However, it was full of annoyingly repetitive phrases and sentence structures and in need of an overall tightening of the text. Those bad habits had to be ironed out during the editing phase, which I worked on with my agent prior to independent publication.

Although I carefully plotted the novel I had a lot of new ideas as I was writing it. I think that’s the best part of creative writing, where the characters take the story off in an unexpected direction. For example, the magical elements of the story weren’t in the original plotline at all – they were additions that came to me later that are now integral to the plot. One minor character, the Reavesburg warrior called Djuri, just wandered into the book without any warning and he’s become one of my favourites as the series has progressed. Plotting is an important part of my process but it’s important not to lose that creative spark. It’s brilliant when those things come together and your own novel surprises you completely.

Writing is lonely and self publishing even more so as you have to undertake tasks that wouldn’t fall to you if your book was traditionally published. How do you keep yourself motivated? How do you achieve a work/life balance?

My main motivation comes from seeing how much readers enjoy my writing. It’s small beginnings but I’m slowly finding my audience and that’s what keeps me going. Of course, not everyone will love my writing and that’s absolutely fine because creative writing is subjective and different readers will enjoy different things. The key thing is to write your own books in your own style for the people who enjoy what you do.

I’ve really valued the support I’ve gained from other writers. This competition has already helped me make some links with other contestants and I’ve found social media a fantastic way to make connections. Authors go through many of the same challenges and I’ve found the writing community to be a tremendously supportive place. I’ve learned a lot from other people and that’s really helped me in approaching my own writing.

Like most authors, I have a job that pays the bills, so I don’t write as often as I would like. I’ve had to build a writing routine that helps me write when my energy levels are at their highest, which means early starts at the weekend and doing creative writing at the beginning of the working week, leaving other author related stuff (blogs, promo materials, social media) towards the end. I also have a family (a very patient, understanding and supportive one) who need my time and attention. Whilst writing is important to me it’s not the only thing in my life so, as your question suggests, it’s all about finding that balance.

Can you share with us any information about the next instalment? In particular, do you intend to go further afield and expand on the territories beyond Laskar?

The second book, Sundered Souls, is due out later this summer. I don’t want to say too much and spoil things for people who haven’t read Hall of Bones but the stakes are higher in the next instalment and our characters find themselves ill-prepared as they face a new enemy. I think the other key theme in the sequel is the question of loyalty, as the characters face a difficult choice over which side to support in the conflict that begins during Hall of Bones. This aspect gave me some of my best material when writing Sundered Souls.

The Brotherhood of the Eagle is set primarily in the region of Laskar, although the series does take the reader to the different territories of the clans as the story progresses. Again, this is about using the world building necessary to tell the story. Those wider locations (you can find the maps on my website) are fertile ground for future stories but they don’t feature prominently in The Brotherhood of the Eagle.

In terms of the next instalment – which book would you say has been the most difficult to write and why?

Hall of Bones was hard to write because I was still learning my craft. Although there weren’t big structural rewrites, it went through a lot of editing phases to arrive at the version I published. It took me nearly four years to complete the first draft. Sundered Souls was easier as I’d already established the situation and the characters, so it was a case of diving back in and continuing the story and it only took me 18 months to write. Personally, I think it’s a better book than Hall of Bones (Should I be saying that? Too late!) as I was able to apply everything I’d learned when writing the sequel.

However, when I wrote the third book in the series, Lost Gods, despite all my preparation I didn’t exercise enough control on the ideas that came to me as I was writing. The first draft of that book came in at 200,000 words and I think I’m going to have to cut 50,000 words to focus on the main story rather than the sub-plots. That’s getting close to a discarded novel in its own right! It’s probably my biggest editing challenge so far, so I’d say Lost Gods has proved the most difficult book of the series so far.

Readers frequently highlight particular quotes that resonate with them – do you have any favourite quotes from Hall of Bones that you can share?

I find this really interesting because I don’t remember anything I’ve written! Although I know the plot, the characters and the emotional journey I take them on if you asked me in the street to quote a single line of text, I don’t think I could do it. The novel is more about the feelings and emotions it evokes in me. I’ll sound like a crazy person to non-writers at this point, but to me the characters are real and I feel their triumphs and their failures as if they were my own. It’s this stuff that tends to resonate with me, rather than the specifics.

All that said, I’ve noticed my readers have picked up their favourite quotes and highlighted them in their reviews, which I love to see. The character of Etta, the aged shadowy spymaster of the Reavesburg Clan who orchestrates so much behind the scenes, seems to be someone my readers are drawn to and she’s the one they quote. These seem to be their favourites:

“If you understand your people’s hearts, possess wisdom and learn from the knowledge of your forefathers your life will be a long one.”

“A clan chief who rules only with the sword sleeps wakefully and their life is short”

As a young boy, Rothgar’s response to Etta’s attempt to tutor him and impart her wisdom offers an alternative perspective:

“I still prefer the sword to the slate, Etta. Darri never sings great ballads about the men who knew all their letters.”

Finally, in terms of your own reading, which three authors have you read the most? What are you currently reading? What three books would you have no hesitation in recommending?

I’ve devoured books by many different authors, so it’s hard to narrow that down to three. In terms of sheer volume, it would be Ian Rankin’s Inspector Rebus series. The central character is so well written and the setting of Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities, feels like a person in its own right. Iain M Banks’ Culture novels (and his ‘mainstream’ output too, which is also phenomenal) are just fantastic and I loved how he combined laugh out loud humour, big concepts and thrilling space opera high jinks in his books. There’s really nothing else like them. More recently, I’ve loved Joe Abercrombie’s books, especially The First Law trilogy, and they were definitely a big influence on my own writing.

My current read is Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox, who coincidentally was an SPFBO Semi Finalist from your blog group back in 2018. What I love about this book is how he’s reversed the typical fantasy tropes by beginning his story with the defeat of the archetypal Dark Lord, focussing on all the chaos, confusion and grey moral choices following that event. It makes for an intriguing and compelling read.

In terms of recommendations beyond the books I’ve already mentioned, I’d say you should look at Gareth L Powell’s Embers of War sci-fi series, which is one of the few books I’ve found that fills the huge gap left by Iain M Banks’ untimely passing. I also can’t recommend Dark Eden by Chris Beckett highly enough. It’s a hypnotic, thought-provoking sci-fi story that stayed with me for days after I finished reading it. If I’m limited to three (this is cruel), I’ll give my final recommendation to We Men of Ash and Shadow by H L Tinsley. I was excited when I started reading this book because the author’s voice was so strong and the gaslamp fantasy world she created, with its various nefarious characters, was incredibly well-realised. Holly’s a fellow competitor in this year’s SPFBO contest and I really hope she does well. Her book is a great example of the sheer talent of many independently published authors at the moment.

Tim – thank you again for visiting with me today.  I loved your answers, they’re insightful and humorous and I hope readers will enjoy reading them as much as I did.

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About the Author:

THTim Hardie grew up in the seaside town of Southport during the 1970s and 1980s. This was before anyone had even heard of the internet and Dungeons & Dragons was cutting edge. Living in a house where every available wall was given over to bookshelves, he discovered fantasy writers like JRR Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ursula Le Guin, Alan Garner, Stephen Donaldson and Susan Cooper. Those stories led him into the science fiction worlds created by Frank Herbert, Philip K Dick, Arthur C Clarke and HP Lovecraft.

After training to become a lawyer Tim lived in London for three years before moving to Yorkshire in 1999, where he has worked ever since in a variety of legal, commercial, financial and management roles. His writing began as a hobby in his early twenties and has gradually grown into something else that now threatens to derail his promising career.

Tim writes epic fantasy that will appeal to fans of Joe Abercrombie, John Gwynne and Robin Hobb.

I will be posting a couple of excerpts from Hall of Bones very soon so watch this space!

#SPFBO4 Interview with Dave Woolliscroft, author of Kingshold

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Today I’m pleased to welcome to my blog Dave Woolliscroft author of Kingshold (No.1 in the Wildfire Cycle)

Hi Dave, welcome to my blog and thank you so much for agreeing to take part in an interview

Kingshold-Kindle

Firstly, Can you tell readers a little bit about yourself and your book??

The short answer, and the one that avoids regurgitating my bio from my website (dpwoolliscroft.com, go take a look), is that I’m a long time reader, first time writer, and I reached the point in my life where I finally thought, “sod it”. I better give writing a good go before I have (more) regrets as I get (even) older.

I’ve read a varied bunch, in genre and out, but it all started something like this. Tolkien to Eddings, to Weiss & Hickman (dragonlance chronicles), to Feist, to Williams, to Pratchett. I had a bit of a fantasy lull for a while in the late nineties, early 2000’s, but then Steven Erikson caught my attention and I became embroiled in the Malazan Books of the Fallen. That led to Glenn Cook and Joe Abercrombie and a great swathe of excellent authors who are producing today (don’t you think we are so lucky to have so many great books being published today?) (Why yes, yes I do)

Anyway, so thirty years of reading has created ideas and stuff sloshing around in my mind that in quiet moments will preoccupy me. Sir Terry Pratchett has been an enormous influence on me (I still go back and reread the City Watch novels), and so one day, at the beginning of 2017, I was reflecting on the absolute chaotic results that democracy delivered in 2016 in the UK, the US and around the world. It occurred to me that it was a shame that Terry never wrote anything about democracy in Discworld. I thought about how democracy almost sounds like a portmanteau of demon and crazy; and so that how’s the initial idea of tiny pink demonic pixies as the means of voting came about. And then I realized I would have to write it if I wanted to read this story.

Demon-crazy, eventually became Kingshold, and the story expanded to envelop the odd idea I’d been kicking around for nearly ten years.

Kingshold is supposed to feel comfortable to readers of fantasy in many ways: there is an ancient wizard; the city has a euro feel to it (though it’s not medieval). But then I wanted to flip some of the tropes on their head. The king and queen are killed in the opening chapter. The ancient wizard has had enough of the endless grind of protecting the kingdom and wants to retire (to somewhere warm probably). The new ruler isn’t going to be some lost child heir to the throne (no coming of age here), instead the ruler is going to be chosen by the people with money. And though I wanted it to feel epic, the entire story takes place over just thirty days and in the one city.

But Kingshold is also really a story about people believing in themselves and trying to live up to their potential. It’s about families, fathers in particular, and communities coming together. All wrapped up in a package with magic, monsters, pirates, demons, assassins and good old fashioned action!

I also think it’s worth mentioning that Kingshold works well as a stand alone read. It has five POV characters so the opening part of the book is laying some of the groundwork for both this story and the rest of the series, but by the time you hit the 40% mark it’s non stop to the end.

Oh, and it has some laughs in it. Because, if you can’t laugh when the world is going to hell in a hand basket when can you laugh?

You mention that your world has a European feel – does that come as a result of being well travelled as well as well read?  Is there any place in particular where you feel you’ve drawn quite heavily upon the culture/characteristics of the place and can you tell me a little bit more about your own process in terms of world building?

I guess I’m fairly well traveled but there are so many places I would still love to go. When I still lived in England I really took advantage of how easy it was to get around to various places in Europe from London. And then, right before we moved to America we had a six week backpacking adventure through Eastern Europe: Croatia, Hungary, Czech Republic, Poland, Vienna and Berlin. We had such an amazing time; lots of very cool castles, museums and gorgeous scenery. So travels, and also history books, have definitely acted as a frame of reference as I started world building.

World building for me is a combination of “develop it as it was needed” or “dredge up something from the depths of my brain that I have been noodling on in quiet moments over many years”. As an example of the former, I think I wrote the first four chapters and I already knew that the story wouldn’t really leave Kingshold, but I didn’t know enough about the place. So I stopped writing and drew maps of the city, named the neighborhoods, considered its place in the world and its institutions. And after that I needed to have the larger world setting in place too. I had actually hand drawn the map of the Jeweled Continent about three years ago, just for fun, and so I claimed that for these books, further developing their people, religions and political institutions even though they don’t really appear in Kingshold. But to me it was really important to think broadly early, as I knew that Edland (of which Kingshold is the capital) was an island nation that punched above its weight, largely off the back of it’s ships, both merchant and navy. And that meant that Edland would be connected to its neighbors – globalization isn’t a new thing, it really started with the age of sail.

The evolution of a map

Not all of the locations have that European feel as we move through the series. In fact, one of the things that is of increasing importance is the Wild Continent that is mentioned in the book. You could think of it as the Americas when discovered by the Spanish, with its own very different range of cultures and civilizations.

I have quite a few things figured out when it comes to the world inside or outside the walls of Kingshold but I’ve definitely left myself room to discover new things too (which for me is huge fun). That’s one reason why my next book to be released is a collection of novelettes and shorter stories (called Tales of Kingshold, and officially book 1.5 of the series) that enables me to explore the backstories of some characters, introduce new characters and add more color to the world. Chronologically I think about a third of the stories in that book are from before the events of Kingshold, about a third are concurrent and then a third bridge books 1 and 2. I know this is an odd approach to publishing but it’s something I plan to continue for the rest of the series.

I’d like to know more about your characters. Did you have a particularly strong character in mind when you started writing, how many POVs does your book have, do you find it difficult to make them all individual and do you have a strong favourite. 

Well, Kingshold has five POV characters. Maybe a little ambitious for a debut novel but I love to look at problems and situations from many angles. And I love to read a scene of a prominent character from a different perspective, I think that helps round out your view of them. I also really wanted to make this story diverse (in a good way) with prominent female characters and characters with different backgrounds, so multiple POV was the way for me to do that.

Hopefully, all of the POV characters feel distinct. They all have their own particular challenges and issues that they are dealing with as you meet them. We have some characters with a lack of confidence in themselves and their appreciation of their own self-worth. We have one character who is not living up to the potential that was identified early in his life. And there is definitely a common theme of characters who are struggling with the expectations of family and those who are close to them. Each of the characters have their own arcs and finish the book in quite a different place than they started, and it will be fun to see how the meat grinder of life treats them in the future.

And is it difficult?

Hell, yeah! Revisions, editors and beta readers really helped me with identifying where there were gaps that needed to be addressed to make the characters pop before I released Kingshold in to the world. One thing I was proud of from the feedback of my beta readers is that the most and least liked characters differed between them, and now too with actual reader reviews. I want readers to have the opportunity to latch on to the characters that most appeal to them.

I don’t think I can pick a favorite POV character. There’s a little bit of me in all of them. But of the supporting cast I really enjoyed writing Jyuth, the ancient wizard. He’s a cantankerous, foul-mouthed old guy who loves his food and the country that he helped found. You could think of him as a combination of the Danny Glover character from Lethal Weapon (“I’m too old for this s#!t” – one for the teenagers there) and Bayaz from the First Law trilogy. But unlike Bayaz, Jyuth is secretly a softy underneath, like a tough old teacher you might have had who wants you to learn for yourself but still very much cares.

Thanks for this.  Finally, can I ask a few random questions unrelated to the book?

If you could go back in time to your younger self what advice would you impart?  Embrace and be public with your inner geek! Don’t care what other people think. Be creative. Have confidence in yourself.

Can you tell readers 3 random snippets of information about yourself that isn’t available elsewhere on your social media?

  • My three deceased heroes are Terry Pratchett, Brian Clough and John Peel. Which rather neatly covers my three passions of fantasy, football and music.
  • I watched the sun rise from the top of my university dormitory on my 19th birthday. It was five floors up and required climbing up the outside of the building and through various other people’s dorm rooms to access parts of the roof. Yes, we had been out all night and I did find that I had suffered some injuries in the process after finally going to bed.
  • I love pork products. Pork pie and sausage rolls are the foods I miss most about home.

If you could choose from any superpower what would you go for and why.  Super speed. I could travel to anywhere in the world without having to get on a plane (and I’ve spent a lot of time waiting in airports). I would also be able to make more use of the time I carve out every day for writing.

If you could travel to a fictional world anywhere in the universe where would you go.  Ankh Morpork. This city feels very real to me from Pratchett’s writing. It’s so colorful and diverse, and with a capacity for constant change. I’d try to wangle a meeting with Vetinari and see if Dibbler’s pies really are that bad.

Dave, thank you so much for taking part.  I wish you all the best in the SPFBO.

FYI: Dave can be found at:

Goodread’s : author’s page

Website: http://dpwoolliscroft.com

Twitter: @dpwoolliscroft

#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!

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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.

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#SPFBO4 Interview with Phil Parker, author of The Knights’ Protocol Trilogy

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Oberon, Titania and Puck with Fairies Dancing by William Blake, c. 1786

Okay, the Self Published Fantasy Blog Off just started, my first books are all lined up and I have a number of interviews and guest posts scheduled from some of the authors of the books from my list.  Excitement am I.  So, my first interview :

Today, I’m really pleased to welcome Phil Parker (yes – P, Parker – who I so want to call Peter).  Phil is the author of The Bastard from Fairyland (The Knights’ Protocol Trilogy #1)

Hi Phil, welcome and thanks for agreeing to take part in an interview.  To begin with could you tell readers a little bit about yourself and also a quick summary of your book

I live in beautiful Worcestershire with my wife, daughter and our labrador, Maddie. I’ve been a teacher for most of my career but now I write full-time, from online learning resources, marketing copy as well as my books. When I taught, I wrote three non-fiction books for other teachers, I enjoyed doing that a lot. I wrote plays which I produced at my school and for a youth theatre I ran. Writing has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. 

Writing The Knights’ Protocol trilogy has been a real labour of love. It’s been eight years since I seriously started work on it, when I stopped teaching. That story has had so many versions! Like a dog with a bone, I couldn’t leave it alone. But I could never get it to feel quite right. Then I did a three month writing course and my tutor gave me the confidence I needed to bring it all together. Getting it published felt marvellous, I never thought I’d ever get to that point!

The Knights’ Protocol is a dark fantasy. It’s the story of a cruel and ruthless Fae race declaring war on Humanity that’s on the edge of survival after ecological catastrophe has flooded the world. Caught in the middle is Robin Goodfellow, an exiled member of the Fae nobody likes. He’s a bitter, lonely ex-soldier with a psychotic alter-ego called Puck. He has no interest in either race killing each other until events drag him into the conflict and he becomes a crucial factor in its resolution. 

I’ve been enjoying SFF stories since I was a child and I’m sure you have too.  It would be great to hear what books you love to read – I’m always fascinated to know what books authors love and if they feel like their reading experiences have had an influence on their writing.  I guess, like most readers, I’m nosey (or curious) and I’m also always on the look out for recommendations.

Yeah, I have always loved reading. I loved how I could lose myself in a story as a kid. I’m going to give my age away now when I tell you that I first got into fantasy by reading Astounding Stories comics in the 1960s. They evolved into superhero comics which a bunch of my friends collected and swapped. True nerdy behaviour! I was a massive fanboy of The Avengers, X-Men and Fantastic Four. I could relate to Spiderman too, not just because he was a nerdy kid as well but also because his name was P. Parker – like mine! I was so proud of that!! (Years later, kids at my school nicknamed me Spiderman!)

Who to recommend? Oh wow! The list is endless. If I limit it to the authors who’ve influenced my own writing the most? Top of that list is Richard Morgan, I loved Altered Carbon (the TV show too) and his Land Fit For Heroes trilogy. It was my route into all things Grimdark so then I discovered Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and at the moment I’m fascinated by the Grimdark-with-Heart stories of Ed McDonald. 

You mentioned your love of Celtic Mythology and Arthurian legend.  Do these play a leading role in your book?  How did you go about incorporating them, did you have a plot and then work those elements in or did you know from the beginning that they would play a role and they were actually a part of the story’s development?

Oh I wish you hadn’t asked me that Lynn!  You’re going to get a lecture on my 10 year journey of research if I’m not careful. 

OK, the quick summary version. About 12 years ago I read Faerie Tale by Raymond E Feist and I got fascinated by how he wove his story around myths and made them sound like they could be based on real history. I decided to do the same thing. I became fascinated by the Green Man legend and how it stretched around the world. That became the central focus of my research but I went off in so many different directions, I was like a firework! My research took me into Celtic mythology and from there to Arthurian legend, which landed me in Glastonbury and that’s when the Knights’ Trilogy really took shape. My first novel in it, The Bastard from Fairyland, takes place in and around this mystical town. When the Somerset Levels were badly flooded in 2014 that gave me the setting of a world suffering from the impact of  global warming. I think the myths and the plot met and shook hands, that’s the only way I can describe how the books formed.

Let’s talk about research.  To what lengths would you say you’re prepared to go to?  Are you obsessive about the detail?  Have you found that when researching some of your discoveries have resulted in changes to your story?  – that leads me on to a slightly different question which is when you started your series – did you have a full plan, did you know the beginning and the end or was it a very fluid process that changed as you went along?

Dyrk Ashton (he of the wonderful Paternus stories) and I agree that we’re obsessive about research. We get so carried away with it, the difficulty comes in deciding what NOT to include! But to answer your question, I certainly didn’t plan anything. I can’t. This was a discussion Dave Woolliscroft (he’s written the brilliant Kingshold) and I had recently. He plans really carefully. I think it’s my drama training that means I write with my characters in my head. Once I’d found Robin, the books wrote themselves. It just took ages to find him. So I had a fair idea of how The Bastard from Fairyland would end but that vision got significantly dimmer as the trilogy progressed! It was an organic process. As each event took place it left me thinking how Robin would react. By the time I’d finished I knew that guy inside and out. He’s had a very positive effect on the people who’ve read all three books – they’ve all said how they hope it’s not the last we’ll hear of my dark warrior. I hadn’t thought about doing anything else but, I’ve got to say now, I miss him. That probably makes me sound very weird.

(Nope – it, doesn’t sound weird at all – of course you’re going to miss a character who has been in your headspace for such a long time).

A Midsummer Night’s Dream is the only Shakespeare that I’ve read, although I’ve watched a number of adaptations.  I love the idea of the fae and particularly their meddling in mortal lives.  Does your book use any of the characters from A Midsummer Night’s Dream?  Do you have any particular favourites?

It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, can’t understand why I never produced it at school! I’ve seen it performed more than any other too. I got fascinated by the Elizabethan perspective of the Fae. They believed in their existence completely. They were seen as cruel, ruthless, a race who hated human beings and did everything they could to make their lives a misery. It’s from this time that the idea of the Fae being sterile comes, which was why they were supposed to steal human babies and replace them with Changelings. This issue is a huge factor in my novels. If you’ve ever made a daisy chain, you might not know they were originally placed around sleeping babies to stop fairies from stealing them, fairies hate daisies!

It was the Victorians who made us think fairies were ‘painty-winged’ creatures that looked like flowers – artists like Arthur Rackham. The Victorian writer Rudyard Kipling wrote Puck of Pook Hill – it’s a lovely child’s fantasy story of two kids who meet Robin Goodfellow. That got me interested in the character and reminded me of his cruel behaviour in Dream. The conflict in the play describes how the human world is turned upside down environmentally by Oberon and Titania and their two Courts. Then there was one more factor – but I won’t mention that! It is the denouement of The Bastard from Fairyland – so no spoilers!

In terms of self publishing, can you share with us a little bit about the process that led you to choose this path.  It would be great to hear about your experience and what were the highs and the lows.

I’ve tried the conventional route. There are so few agents who appear really interested in fantasy so finding representation hasn’t been easy. Those who did show interest got bogged down with the Grimdark features. My treatment of a minor character – a kid – right at the start got a thumbs down. I was told to avoid certain words and terms, one agent didn’t like swear words, another said it was ‘too English’ so it wouldn’t work with the US market. That last one I’ve disproved by my sales already. So I decided to do my own thing with Amazon. It was so easy it astonished me. KDP take you through the process step-by-step so you can’t go wrong. They provide loads of sales data for you to analyse too. Getting my first royalties payment was a big moment of satisfaction, after the 8 years of commitment to Robin and his world.

It takes time to get established, you have to be patient I’ve realised. Dyrk Ashton pointed that one out to me! But my reviews so far have all been 4 and 5 star (fingers crossed they continue that way!) and it’s brilliant to get people telling you how much they enjoyed the stories. Having done so much social media marketing in my career in the last 3 years, that’s helped me as a writer! And I’m looking forward to attending SFF events from now on too. All in all, I’m pleased I went down the Indie Writer route. 

Being part of SPFBO has made that even better! I’m getting to meet (in reality and online) so many great people in the fantasy writing community.

What is your favourite/least favourite part of writing.

I love all aspects of writing. Even editing. I love the challenge it presents. I need to be creative and I find every aspect of what I’m doing (even the marketing) feeds that need. It had been a rather lonely business but now I spend a couple of hours a day on Twitter (sometimes when I should be doing other things) because I love catching up with other writers and bloggers all over the world. How good is it when you get to chat about the thing you love most – all the time eh? 

(Yep, I can relate – that’s why so many of us readers blog after all)

How do you switch off – or do you not switch off at all?

Switch off?? What’s that?  It’s a standing joke in my family that I never venture out of my study, unless it’s to take our dog for a walk. She pesters me until I give up the battle. But I get most of my best ideas when we’re tramping across fields anyway. I think Nature is a wonderful muse. But when I’m not writing (or thinking about it) then I watch TV and films. Always SFF stuff of course!

What’s on your radar next??

I’m working on my next novel. The Boy Who Wanted to be Normal. It’s a YA fantasy. I started work on it when I took a break from Robin’s adventures. I’ve had a couple of attempts at writing it, again without feeling like I’d nailed it. Now I’m there. At least with the first draft. It’s a story I’m enjoying now, since I separated from Robin! I’ve realised I’ve reverted back to my love of superhero stories. Some of my characters have certain abilities but they’ve suffered genetic modifications by an unscrupulous and powerful organisation, treated like lab animals. You can see the ethical implications I’m exploring. The biggest challenge is balancing that with my marketing work and the daytime job too. But I wouldn’t swap any of it. I’m enjoying myself far too much!

Phil, thank you so much for taking part and for sharing your thoughts – also thanks for bearing with me, you’re probably gathered I’m a bit of a newbie when it comes to interviews so I can ramble a little.  I love your answers and particularly finding out random snippets of information – such as the daisy chain – I’d never heard of that before.

I’m really looking forward to reading your book and wish you all the best with the SPFBO.

Details of Phil’s book can be found here.

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