Do I have to read all your books from the beginning?
No, not at all. The first book of each series is carefully written to make sure a newcomer to this world can enjoy it and understand it without having read any of what’s gone before. Though all my books do follow each other in the overall Einarinn timeline, so there is that added-value for fans who’ve read them, particularly when characters from one series are the obvious people to play a role in the next.
What are you working on at the moment?
The Chronicles of the Lescari Revolution are now complete. As always, the resolution of one series has raised questions I simply must answer in the next. So I’m currently working on Dangerous Waters, the first book of a new trilogy for Solaris The Hadrumal Crisis. That’ll be published in 2011.
The speculative, contemporary novel that I’ve been talking about for so long now has a finished draft so I’ll be kicking that around with my agent some time soon. Then there’s that entirely new fantasy scenario looking for a home…
Are there going to be more books about Livak and the characters from the Tales of Einarinn?
At the moment I don’t have a novel-length story demanding to be told about Livak or Ryshad. I could cobble a plot together but I don’t want to do that. As a reader, I’ve been disappointed when writers continue with a series just for the sake of continuing. You can read some couple of adventures from earlier times in PS Publishing‘s magazine PostScripts, Volumes 4 and 5. And a few of the characters are getting mixed up in the Lescari Revolution, as it turns out.
Why fantasy fiction?
I like it, it’s as much fun to write as it is to read. Also, it was something I felt confident about tackling with the resources I had to hand in terms of imagination and books of my own. I might have written crime or historical fiction but these needed the kind of research that was a total non-starter with two small boys in tow. I may yet turn to crime, in a strictly literary sense
How do you set about writing a book?
Speaking purely for myself here, I start with a blank sheet of paper and sketch out the overall plot structure. I usually have the beginning, the end and a few bits of the middle when I begin. When I can see the gaps, I can fnd ways to fill them in and then I expand this diagram with character and sub-plot notes. Working from that, I draw up a detailed plan for each chapter, write it up, get opinions on it and then plan the next chapter, working in the new things that arise as the book develops.
Where do you get your names from?
I try to use real names, usually slightly modified, because they look plausible and are relatively easy to pronounce whereas the Scrabble-bag approach always ends up sounding artificial to me. I find them in the papers; foreign news and obituaries are especially useful as are international sporting events. I get others from things like National Geographic magazine and programmes like From Our Own Correspondent on Radio 4. Archive material and historical reference books throw up a fair few and I have an ever expanding network of family, friends, family of friends and friends of family who pass back suggestions, along with curious facts that they’ve discovered that they think might interest me. I keep long lists and refer to them whenever I need a new name.
Who gets to read what you’ve written first?
I have Steve, who can spot holes in a plot at fifty paces and knows more about the world of Einarinn than anyone else. Mike reads more fantasy than anything else and so can generally tell me when my wonderful new and original idea has in fact cropped up in three other recent novels. Sue doesn’t read fantasy as a rule and did English at university, so looks at the actual writing more closely. These three read each chapter as it is written. Different people read each completed story and they give an invaluable perspective on the big picture, picking up continuity flaws among other things. What any writer needs is friends like these, who will send back scripts with things in the margins like ‘attack of the killer plot device’ and ‘you weren’t awake when you wrote this, were you?’.
Are any of your characters drawn from real life?
They all are, in that I use everyday life as a constant reality check to make sure reactions and attitudes are believable. No single character is drawn from any one individual; I merge facets of different people I know and invent other aspects to create rounded characters.
Don’t you suffer from writer’s block?
No, I don’t have time. Seriously, with two teenage sons and a home to run as well as a husband who works full time, my writing time is tightly timetabled, so I can’t waste any of it. I plan everything in advance and make lots of notes for what I am about to write, thinking through plot and character questions while I’m doing things like the ironing, the cooking and the housework. The fridge usually has at least one bit of paper stuck to it, with some crucial note for the next time I’m at the keyboard.
Would you like to see a film of your books?
Naturally! Whether or not it’ll ever happen is a different question. Peter Jackson and The Lord of the Rings teams have proved beyond all doubt that fabulous fantasy films can be made with modern technology – but to get the best out of CGI and all the rest, you do need to invest money equivalent to the annual budget of a small country. Studios are only going to do that for books that have a substantial readership beyond the usual fantasy market. So, indulging in a little real-world fantasy here, when all the enthusiastic readers of the Tales have spread the word sufficiently to get the Hollywood suits sitting up and taking notice, I’d like to see the kind of casting that worked so well for Star Wars – unknowns taking the leads and the big stars for the cameos and supporting roles. My ideas on these vary, depending on what films and TV I’ve seen recently.
What do you read?
These days, for relaxation, mostly crime. I’m a great fan of Lindsey Davis, Val McDermid and Laurie R King, Ian Rankin, Janet Evanovitch, Michael Connolly, Reginald Hill, Robert Crais and Joyce Holms to name but a few. I still love fantasy but my reading time is limited so I rarely start anything that might turn into an endless saga. I always keep my eyes open for new books by Tom Holt, Kate Elliott, Robin Hobb, Mary Gentle and Kelley Armstrong. In between times, I read a lot of history, often social and cultural in focus, as well as biography and travel writing, by way of research. Light relief is reading the things I’m given to review, often not at all the kind of book I’d ordinarily pick up but one of the pluses of doing this is being constantly reminded to keep an open mind!
What TV do you watch?
A real mixture. I like good-hearted comedy like How I Met Your Mother. I’m a great fan of crime shows like The Closer, NCIS and Criminal Minds, as well as the various incarnations of CSI and Law & Order. Intelligent serial dramas like Sons of Anarchy, and previously, Deadwood, The Wire and the new Battlestar Galactica will always grab my attention, along with more family-friendly viewing like Doctor Who, Primeval and Merlin. I watch a a lot of historical and factual programmes but I detest ‘reality TV’. I don’t ever get into soap operas; I just don’t have the time or the inclination.