Interview with Anthony Ryan
This week, I’m asking five different questions to each of five different authors. In the coming days I’ll be quizzing Kameron Hurley, Jeff Salyards, Teresa Frohock and Sebastien de Castell, but first to face the glare of my inquisitorial spotlight is Anthony Ryan, author of the Raven’s Shadow series and the forthcoming The Draconis Memoria series – the first volume of which, The Waking Fire, will be published in July 2016.
Hi Anthony, and thanks for joining me.
1. Let’s start with an easy question. What is the mathematical proof to the Birch and Swinnerton-Dyer conjecture that the size of a group of rational points is related to the behaviour of an associated zeta function ζ(s) near the point s=1? (This is one of the $1m puzzles hosted by the Clay Mathematics Institute, but don’t worry, if you get the answer right I’ll be happy to share the prize money with you.)
6 (I’d like my share in cash, thank you).
I’ve written to the CMI to pass on your answer, and to express my concern at the current standard of academia, if a non-mathematician such as yourself can solve in minutes a question that has puzzled the so-called experts for decades. I’ll be sure to pass on their response when I receive it.
2. In view of your former career in the British Civil Service, did you ever consider writing spy novels instead of fantasy ones? (Everyone in the Civil Service is a spy, right?)
My Civil Service career would probably make the most boring basis for a novel, of any kind, ever written. Although, I did once have a nasty argument with someone who stole some of my milk from the communal fridge (I shot him with my exploding fountain pen. HR got involved. It was this whole thing). If I wrote a spy novel it would probably be in the Ian Fleming rather than John Le Carre mode, much as I love the Smiley stories my sensibility tends to be action orientated. Fleming’s Bond novels are really another form of fantasy literature so it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch, but of course I’d leave out the misogyny. There’s also plenty of espionage fun to be found in The Draconis Memoria.
It’s coming to something when a person can’t even shoot a work colleague without HR getting involved.
3. I understand that The Raven’s Shadow trilogy has been published in an impressive fifteen countries. Are there any particular foreign markets that you would still like to break into? Somalia is a tough nut to crack, I hear.
Somalia is the Holy Grail of rights sales to which we all aspire… maybe one day. One of the weird thing about foreign rights is that you often don’t find out how well the book does until years after it comes out. Although the Raven’s Shadow novels seem to have done well in Brazil there doesn’t seem to be the same appetite for epic fantasy in the rest of Latin America, or maybe I’m missing something. Also, it would be nice to sell more books in India where, I keep hearing, there’s a huge English speaking market.
4. The Draconis Memoria is billed as having a steampunk flavour to it. How have you enjoyed writing in a steampunk world compared to writing in the medieval world of The Raven’s Shadow?
There was a lot more research involved, mainly because The Draconis Memoria is set in a world with plenty of technology and I wanted it to be credible, i.e. how exactly does a steam engine work and how would you manoeuvre a paddle-driven warship? I enjoyed the novelty of writing gunfights instead of swordfights but discovered that a battle scene set in a post-industrialised world is a very different, in some ways more complicated beast than one set in a cod-Medieval setting. Then there was the dialogue. The characters in The Draconis Memoria speak in a much more modern idiom than in Raven’s Shadow (they also swear a lot more), but it couldn’t be too modern. I was keen to reflect different cultures and social orders through varying dialects and it took a lot of work to get it right (hopefully, I did). On the whole it’s been a great deal of fun but also I learned that there’s a lot of truth in George RR Martin’s opening essay in Dreamsongs about how in genre fiction the story is the important thing and everything else – guns or swords, steamships or galleons – is just ‘furniture’.
Research? Ouch. One of the key benefits to writing epic fantasy, as I see it, is that you can make pretty much everything up.
5. How long has the story for The Draconis Memoria been in your head? Have you been hoarding a treasure trove of new story ideas in readiness for the end of The Raven’s Shadow, and if so . . . Oh, look! What’s that over there? *peeks inside*
As with all my stories The Draconis Memoria hung around my head in various forms for several years, but I think it only began to solidify into a workable idea about four years ago. Like a lot of writers I have more ideas than I know what to do with; currently percolating in the confused tea-pot that is my brain are no less than fourteen novels spread over three series. Whether or not I ever find the time to write it all is an open question but at least I know I’m not going to run out of material anytime soon.
Thanks for your time!
For anyone wanting to find out more, you can check out Anthony’s website here.