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To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m interrogating five different authors this week. Mark Lawrence and Brian Staveley have already taken their turn. Next to struggle uselessly against his shackles is Luke Scull, author of The Grim Company. His second novel, Sword of the North, is out now in all good bookshops. And in a few bad ones too, probably.

Hi Luke, and thanks for joining me.

1. As with my other interviewees, I’ll start with an easy question. What are the roots of the equation -6x =2x² + 5 in simplest a +bi form?

The answer is of course -1.5 =/-0.5i.

What—was a simple little equation like that supposed to throw me? Me? A man of my towering intellect?Why…. I'll have you know it took mere seconds for Prince of Thorns author Mark Lawrence to give me the answer over Facebook…

(Apparently it's a formula taught to school kids for solving quadratic equations. I don't remember it… but then what I do remember learning from school doesn't include much beyond tying my shoelaces and swinging a mean conker.*)

* For those American readers out there, "conkers" is a school yard game where young boys attempt to break each other's nuts by swinging them fiercely at one another. This is but one of many reasons young Brits grow up to become such skilled grimdark authors.

And why you see so many funny walks out there, perhaps.

2. You mentioned in an interview with Written With A Sword that you thought you could rewrite The Grim Company now as a better book. How would you say your writing has improved between books one and two?

You learn all sorts of things writing your first book. From what I understand (because this never actually happened to me), a stream of rejections followed by a period of fierce denial and then grudging reflection are important milestones on the road to self-improvement. I skipped all that and went straight to selling my first novel in a blaze of hype and six-figure deals—which was incredibly fortunate but meant I didn't have the feedback (or time) to be able to critique my own writing until after I was published.

If we're talking about specifics, I learned some lessons about structuring a novel that would have greatly benefitted the first book—particularly the opening 100 pages. Some of my influences were too obvious in my writing. Unless there's a very good reason for cracking open the Thesaurus, I've also learned not to use a complex word when a simple word will do the job.

I think my writing improved significantly during the course of the first book. The second half of The Grim Company is noticeably stronger than the first.

3. In a review at Tor.com, The Grim Company was described as “as grimdark as fantasy gets”. Does grimdark correspond to your world view in general? When you see a parade, is your first instinct always to do a rain dance?

I try (and occasionally fail) to maintain a positive world view in the real world. My wife sometimes accuses me of being cynical but I doubt I'm alone in this among the writing profession. If we didn't constantly question the world around us—if we weren't always striving to seek the truth—we wouldn't be writers.

There's a lot of humour underpinning the "Grim" in The Grim Company. It's intentionally theatrical and over-the-top in places—the most terrible of situations often will stride the line between horror and comedy. It's all subjective but I certainly wouldn't say my writing is "as grimdark as fantasy gets." I recently read a book where a young child gets sliced in half due to a careless protagonist (who gives hardly any thought to the deed) and thousands of slaves are butchered by another, with no humour to leaven events whatsoever. Now that's grimdark—or possibly just "grim" depending on your definition…

You’re probably right about a lot of authors being cynical. Not me, though. And that noise you just heard was my wife falling off her chair.

4. Aside from being a writer, you’re also a designer of computer roleplaying games. What lessons have you learned from writing computer games that you have been able to bring to writing books?

I'd never have written a publishable first manuscript without the platform my game writing experience gave me. It taught me how to world-build, how to structure a story, and how to write snappy dialogue. It was also useful in training me to think through the permutations of my plot and character choices. And I had a whole depository of rejected ideas from my game work that I could plunder for my novels. That certainly made it easier to get the story rolling.

5. You did an interview for the Gemmell Awards where you mentioned you were thinking about writing outside the fantasy genre. Which genres in particular would interest you? Have you spotted a gap in the market for a grimdark/chicklit crossover? Or maybe a grimdark children’s book?

I'll be honest—and this may come as a shock—chicklit is not my forte. And didn't Joe Abercrombie already do the grimdark children's book?* I'm not writing anything that will get endlessly compared to Mr Abercrombie again!

I have some ideas for books that fall firmly outside the fantasy genre. I'm never as excited about a project as when I'm entering the unknown—doing something that I haven't done before. The key is to be realistic—acknowledge where my strengths lie and figure out how they might be applied to write a novel that hits the right notes commercially whilst offering something original.

I'll still be writing fantasy—it's my bread and butter. But my fantasy novels will probably be standalones for the foreseeable future. Multiple-volume secondary-world epic fantasy is incredibly challenging to write and I’d like to explore other forms of storytelling before rushing into another multi-book epic…

* Insert troll face smiley here.

Thanks again for your time!

 

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To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. Yesterday I spoke to Mark Lawrence, and next to stare at me with a mixture of suspicion and dread is Brian Staveley, author of the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne. Book two in the series, The Providence of Fire, is out now.

Hi Brian, and thanks for dropping in.

1. I always like to break the ice with an easy question. So what’s the one thing about yourself that you’d least like the rest of the world to know? (Don’t worry, we can keep a secret.)

I have a really hard time working – really working, ass in the chair, fingers on the keyboard – for more than two hours at a stretch. This feels preposterously lazy. I try all sorts of things to trick myself into squeezing out an extra hour of focus – turning off the internet, taping insults to the top of my computer screen, etc. My roommate years ago came home to find a sign on the wall to our apt that read: WRITE THE FUCKING BOOK YOU PIECE OF SH!T. Nothing seems to work. Even when I put in a twelve-hour day, that probably boils down to no more than seven or eight hours of real work. Luckily, I’m able to focus and write quickly during those hours. Still, I’ve always been in awe of people who can get it done hour after hour after hour, stopping only to put more coffee in the cup.

It’s lucky your roommate didn’t see that sign and think it was aimed at them.

2. Which of the characters in The Emperor’s Blades was the most fun to write?

I’ve had a great time with the characters who have a sense of humor. Epic fantasy can be so deadly serious – the fate of humanity is always hanging in the balance; there are all these ancient prophecies; people keep dying in horrible ways… My books include all of that stuff, but it’s a relief when someone – one of the characters in the world – looks around and says, “Hey! Why are all you assholes getting so worked up?”

3. I loved the giant birds that the Kettral fly into battle on. Are we going to be seeing more of them in book two?

Absolutely! And I’ve just finished up the concluding volume, The Last Mortal Bond. No spoilers here, but it’s packed with Kettral. Would be a shame, after all, to introduce a giant-hawk-mounted elite fighting force in the first book and then forget all about it. Those birds aren’t cheap to feed, either. If they’re eating one sheep a day, they’ve got to pull their weight…

Sheep? I was kind of hoping there were giant squirrels out there somewhere that they fed on!

4. Now that you’ve finished the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne series, are your thoughts already turning to what comes next? Would you like to write more in the same world, or do something completely different?

I’m almost certainly going to write more in the same world. Stories, even the shortest, are never entirely hermetic. When the characters walk off-stage, they don’t evaporate. Towns that our protagonists pass through in the middle of the night are still there the next morning, even if the reader isn’t reading about them; the inhabitants have their own struggles, their own victories and tragedies. When you write a story the size of most epic trilogies, there are hundreds of these threads, probably thousands. I’d love to explore some of the physical locations that are barely mentioned in this tale, and I’m hoping to devote entire novels to some of the secondary or tertiary characters in this series.

5. What sort of things do you want readers to take away from your books? What do you want them to feel when they finish the last page, aside from a pressing urge to pick up your next book?

I think a writer’s on pretty shaky ground when he tries to tell readers what to make of his books. My take is just my take, and it’s clear to me, from talking to hundreds of readers over the last few years, that these books are alive in different ways for each person who opens the cover. That said, it might be worth mentioning that I write the prologue to each book last, after the whole thing, including most of the editing, is finished. That’s because I’m hoping, with each prologue, to offer a sort of lens through which to look at the rest of the novel, or a key that might unlock certain scenes.

And now a bonus sixth question just for you! You kindly provided a quote for my debut, When the Heavens Fall, that appeared on the front cover of the US edition. Could you please explain to our readers, in no less than TEN THOUSAND WORDS, why you think they should rush out and buy the book right now?

Okay, you don’t really have to answer that one.

Thanks again for the interview!

 

 

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To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors this week. In the coming days I’ll be quizzing Brian Staveley, Luke Scull, Brad Beaulieu and Django Wexler, but first to face the glare of my inquisitorial spotlight is Mark Lawrence, author of The Broken Empire series and the Red Queen’s War series.

Hi Mark, and thanks for doing the interview.

1. Let’s start with something easy. What is your bank account number and password?

#1, and like Jorg my password is divine fecking right!

Ah, a Prince of Thorns quote! And while we’re on the subject of quotes . . .

2. The protagonist of The Broken Empire series, Jorg, has a wonderful turn of phrase. What’s your favourite “Jorgism”, and how long do you think it will be before the word makes its way into our dictionaries?

The most popular Jorg quote on Goodreads is not my favourite: “Tell me, tutor,” I said. “Is revenge a science, or an art?”

But I liked the next three most popular:

  “We die a little every day and by degrees we’re reborn into different men, older men in the same clothes, with the same scars.”

  “There’s something brittle in me that will break before it bends.”

  “Memories are dangerous things. You turn them over and over, until you know every touch and corner, but still you'll find an edge to cut you.”

But perhaps you were referring to actual Jorgisms which are things Jorg would say, but didn't actually say in the books. I have some here.

Of Jorgisms I like: You’re either part of the solution or small bloody chunks of the problem.

My favourite is actually sixteenth on the Goodreads list: “Most men have at least one redeeming feature. Finding one for Brother Rike requires a stretch. Is 'big' a redeeming feature?”

3. Neither Jorg nor Jalan from the Red Queen’s War series are what you might call ‘heroes’ in the traditional sense, yet I still found myself rooting for them. What do you think is the key to making an otherwise unsympathetic character sympathetic?

Possibly it's not caring whether you do or not. I just aim to make characters interesting. Sympathy is over-rated. I guess a sense of humour helps. Jalan and Jorg both share that, though they have little else in common.

4. I’ve heard it said that there’s a little bit of every author in each of their characters. Which part of the ‘drinker, gambler and seducer of women’, Jalan, do you most relate to?

It may be said, but I don't think it's true. Once you've written enough characters it's quite clear you can't share something with all of them. I'm not an extrovert, which pretty much gives me zero overlap with Jalan right there.

5. Congratulations on your deal for the forthcoming Red Sister trilogy. I understand the inspiration for Jorg was Alex from Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange, and the inspiration for Jalan was George MacDonald Fraser's Flasman. Who, if anyone, is the inspiration for the Red Sister protagonist, Thorn?

In this instance there is none ... I'm ripping nobody off ... scary stuff!

Thank you again for your time!

 

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It’s been a whirlwind few weeks here. I’ve been doing interviews and writing articles for my US blog tour which starts on Monday. I’ll update you in due course with links to the various websites, but in the meantime (because I know you can’t wait that long) I’ve got three things out today which might interest you:

  • A piece at Tor.com (going up soon) in their “Five Books” series, looking at five different fantasy weapons you really don’t want to see your enemy bring to a fight.
  • An article for Falcata Times about Witcher 3, and the elements that go into making the ‘perfect’ fantasy role-playing video game.

Among the highlights of what’s to come are interviews for My Bookish Ways and Qwillery, and articles at Fantasy Faction and SF Signal. Then, starting 25 May, I’ve got something a little special planned for my website. More details to follow once the pieces have all come together. And on Saturday 30 May I’m doing an event at the new Forbidden Planet store in Birmingham (UK) that will include a reading and a Q&A session with Tim Lebbon and Adam Christopher.

On a final note, it’s impossible to overstate the warm glow I get from a positive review at this stage. There have been a couple recently that really made me smile. Civilian Reader called When the Heavens Fall “an extremely strong debut” that is “going to be a hit with fantasy fans of all types”, and Word Gurgle calls it “impeccably written”. You can read the full reviews here and here.

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I’ve just had a short story published at Tor.com. Here’s the introduction:

With When the Heavens Fall set for release in May, author Marc Turner sets the stage for his epic fantasy debut in ‘There’s a Devil Watching Over You,’ a short story set in the turbulent world of the novel.

Safiya and her fellow bandits thought they had found an easy mark, but they quickly learned that they picked the worst possible victim. Now Luker Essendar, one of the warrior Guardians of Erin Elal, is after them, and his relentless pursuit is driving the bandits toward an abandoned fort – one that appears strewn with evidence of a terrible battle. But nothing is exactly as it seems…”

For those who don’t know already, Luker is one of the viewpoint characters in my debut, When the Heavens Fall.

You can read the story here. Or, if you prefer, you can listen to a free audio version below, narrated by Emma Newman of Tea and Jeopardy fame. I don’t mind which you do, so long as you do one (ahem).

Hope you enjoy it.

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