Thank you very much for agreeing to do this interview with me John. Let's start off with an easy question shall we? How did Malice first came into fruition and what made you decide to become an author?
Hi Petrik. I never really decided to become an author, it just kind of happened. Malice started as a hobby, back in 2002. At the time I had recently stepped out of my teaching job at Brighton University, due to health issues with my daughter, Harriett. I was adapting to being a stay-at-home carer for her, alongside my wife. Harriett is profoundly disabled and requires help with all of her basic needs. Also, her smile lights up a room.
I’ve always told stories to my wife and children, whether it be recounting the tale of Beren and Luthien to my wife in a coffee bar, or telling my boys bedtime stories about Beowulf and Grendel, or of Arthur and Modred, of Achilles and Hector, amongst many, many others. I remember very clearly a moment early in 2002. We’d just got back from seeing Peter Jackson’s film version of The Two Towers at the cinema, and were sitting around the dinner table joyfully talking about the film. My wife suggested that I have a go at writing a book. I responded by telling her that was a ridiculous idea, that there were certain ingredients missing, such as plot, character and, more importantly, the talent required to actually write a book. My boys jumped onto the idea, though, and after some enthusiastic encouragement from them all, I thought, ‘hmm, I have been thinking about a hobby that I could do from home. Why not give writing a go?’
So, I did.
I’d never written anything creatively before, only essays and a dissertation or two at University, so I set about writing Malice the only way I knew how. To read, read and then read some more. That’s what I did. That’s how I started. I dived into world mythologies, especially Celtic, Norse, and Greco-Roman. King Arthur, Beowulf, the Volsung Saga. I read ancient history, about Julius Caesar and Boudicca, about Attila the Hun, the rise and fall of the Roman Empire. I read Milton’s Paradise Lost, Dante’s Inferno, Machiavelli’s The Prince, the Illiad, Beowulf, and a lot more. Anything that sparked a bit of interest went into my melting pot. On top of that I read a bunch of the cool stuff, about how swords were made two thousand years ago, about wolf-pack behaviour, about Komodo dragons and crows and cycles of the moon and shield-walls and, well…lots.
The result of all of this was The Banished Lands and the Faithful and the Fallen.
As time went on with this hobby I began to take it more seriously, and towards the end of Malice I started to consider the possibility of being published. I googled the idea and saw how important agents were in the process. That’s when John Jarrold’s name came up, and now, well, here we are.
During the creation process of this series, what first came into mind? the characters, the plots or the world?
Plot, character and world all grew roughly together, I think. I was always drawn to the elements I feel passionate about, a Celtic and Norse-inspired world, a dose of supernatural mystery, and a sense mytho-historicality. By that I mean that I wanted to create a world that almost felt like it could have happened, that took certain myths and created an alternative history that could have been. Almost.
I suppose if I strip the story right back, though, then it is fair to say that it all started with Corban. There are a lot of Point of View characters in the series, but Corban is really the heart of the story. You have to remember, when I was writing Malice, my prospective audience could be counted on one hand - my wife and boys – and Corban encapsulates the coming-of-age tale that I nostalgically wanted to write. My goal was to write a traditional fantasy, reminiscent of the books I read, something that captured that sense of nostalgia for me, but also wrapped up in something a little more contemporary. I used to think of Malice as Lord of the Rings meets Braveheart.
There are two main elements to your series that I absolutely loved, the huge amount of compelling characters and the action scenes. How did you write them and what kind of research were put into it? I mean, there are so many characters to write and your knowledge of close quarter combat is quiet scary!
I’m really glad that those elements worked for you, Petrik. My mantra throughout the writing of the series has always been ‘epic and intimate.’ I wanted to write epic battle scenes, but have them anchored in characters that the reader cares about, whether love or hate, because without that sense of caring the most epic battle can feel cold. I’ve always tried to write my characters as real people, each with their own motivations, hopes and dreams. There’s a saying, ‘we are all the hero of our own story,’ and I’ve tried to stay true to that, so even the characters you would traditionally consider the ‘bad-guys,’ have a logic and rationale that justifies, at least to them, the choices and actions they make.
As far as the action sequences go, I’ve never really had any formal combat-training, but I do regularly attend Medieval re-enactments. I’ve read many of the old sword masters treatises, along with a lot of historical texts about ancient forms of combat, from weaponry up to strategies employed in historical battles. When I write a battle-scene I put on the POV head that will be engaged in the scene, and walk through it in my head, as if I am seeing it from their eyes, and then again as an observer. I try to work the character’s personality, skills and shortcomings into the scene. Having a vivid imagination probably helps, as well as growing up on the classic movies my dad loved such as Spartacus. I’m also a huge fan of historical writers such as Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Christian Cameron, amongst many others. Their battle-scenes are awesome and they inspire me greatly.
How many changes were done by the editors, agents and publishers? Why?
Most of the editorial changes occurred with Malice. I’ve come to love the editing process, and am fortunate enough to have some fantastic editors in my corner, Julie Crisp and Bella Pagan. Everything has been a discussion, and Julie’s thoughts are directed to me as questions. All of it is aimed at drawing out the central plot and characters, clarifying the plot, eradicating inconsistencies, maybe trimming away some excess detail or sub-threads that don’t contribute to the story. One of the major changes in Malice was the title. Originally, I had called it ‘So Deep a Malice,’ after the Milton quote from Paradise Lost – which is still in the book on the title page. My publishers suggested trimming the title down to one word, predominantly because at the time Kindle and digital sales were really taking off, and more books were being viewed on tablets and phones, so on a visual level, when you are dealing with images that are roughly the size of your thumb-nail, a one-word title would still be legible.
Another change was names – many of my original names were longer, more directly inspired by Celtic and Norse mythology, and on the whole more difficult to read. This was more the case for places than people. For example, Forn Forest was originally called The Aldinn Vidhaer. Quite the tongue-twister, and in a big world full of hundreds of characters and places, simplifying a lot of the peripheral names made sense.
Going through the editing process, especially for the first time, can feel difficult. It’s the time when your baby comes under intense scrutiny, and although it isn’t criticism, a knee-jerk reaction can be to feel overly-protective of your creation. I viewed it as my book becoming a team effort, and everyone is on the same side, with the same purpose: making your book the best it can be.
Fortunately for me my editors have been fantastic, and consistently polish up my work into a more respectable condition. I’m also pleased to say that on my most recent edit – for the title provisionally titled DREAD – Julie encouraged me to write MORE! It’s the first time in an edit that the word count has been higher at the end than at the beginning.
I've talked about this with some of the readers of your series and they all agree with me. The book covers, they are all simple and gorgeous. Was it based on your ideas or was it done completely by the artist?
I absolutely love my book covers. Again, I am fortunate to be in the hands of a great team at Pan Macmillan. Paul Young is the artist responsible, and I think he has done a consistently awesome job with each cover. Not just the central image, but the background details, as well. The cover-art for RUIN made the shortlist in the David Gemmell Awards for Fantasy, and this year WRATH is on the longlist for the David Gemmell Ravenheart award, which is for best cover-art of a fantasy novel in 2016.
Book covers are quite a science, with a few trends dominating the market – generally speaking for fantasy, the hooded figure, or the object. If you look beyond the genre of fantasy into historical novels the trend is usually the object. A helmet, a banner, a sword, dagger.
In the case of my books, the cover has always been a discussion. My publishers have actively involved me in the process, asking for ideas and opinions, with a flow of images and inspirations. It’s a part of the publishing process that I particularly love.
The genre of your series has similar tone to A Song of Ice and Fire (although for me yours is superior), is it safe to assume that GRRM is one of your main inspirations?
That’s incredibly kind of you to say, Petrik. I am a big fan of GRRM’s writing. I was well along the road of writing Malice when I first picked up A Game of Thrones, and of course it was a huge inspiration. He’s a genius at pretty much all aspects of fantasy writing.
If you have to recommend one book or series for everyone, what came into mind and why?
There are so many books that I recommend, but if I were to try and strip it down to one, or a single series, I don’t think you can go wrong with Bernard Cornwell’s ‘Warlord Chronicles.’ Most of my reading fluctuates between fantasy and historical novels. Bernard Cornwell has written many fantastic books about various historical periods, but this series is not only my favourite of his, but it is up there as my all-time favourite series, ever, alongside Tolkien, GRRM and Gemmell.
The Warlord Chronicles is Cornwell’s take on Arthur, which immediately shifts Cornwell form the historical novel and puts his toe firmly into the fantasy genre, as of course Arthur is Briton’s biggest mythological character. Cornwell does an amazing job with this series, writing it as if Arthur were history, stripping away the dragons, although leaving more than a whiff of Druidic magic. His characters are wonderful – Merlin is just terrific, as is his take on Lancelot. I won’t spoil it, but suffice to say it’s an original twist and utterly hilarious. For me Cornwell has mastered that elusive blend of plot and character. Rarely do I shed a tear but this series moved me deeply. And in my opinion Cornwell writes the best battle-scenes I’ve ever read.
Book 1 is titled The Winter King.
Last question, what's next after The Faithful And the Fallen?
I’m busy working on a new trilogy at the moment. It’s called Of Blood and Bone and is set in the Banished Lands. Book one, provisionally titled DREAD, is written and going through edits. It is due for publication this November. DREAD takes place 130 years after the events of WRATH, so it is mostly an all new cast of characters. Mostly…
Where the Faithful and the Fallen was inspired by Paradise Lost and Caesar’s Gallic War, this new series is inspired by the Volsung Saga, the Fall of the Roman Empire, Atilla the Hun, the rise of the Orders of the Knights Templar and Knights Hospitaller, and berserker Valkyries.
Thank you for this interview opportunity John, I'm looking forward to read DREAD and I wish you the best of luck in all your future books!
Thank you again for the interest and taking the time to do this. I hope you like it.
All books in the The Faithful And the Fallen series has been released and the first book in John's next series, DREAD is due for publication this November. Don't miss it!