It is truly an honor for me and Booknest to be chosen as part of the blog tour for A Time of Dread, John’s newest book which is OUT now. If you want to read my full review for A Time of Dread, you can click HERE! Don’t worry, it’s completely spoiler-free even if you haven’t read any of John’s books. Without further ado, here is my full interview about A Time of Dread and beyond with the one and only, John Gwynne.
Hi John, glad to be doing another interview with you! Tell us a bit about A Time of Dread, the first book in your newest trilogy.
Hi Petrik, thanks for the invite, it’s great to be chatting to you again about books.
A Time of Dread is book one of my new series, Of Blood and Bone. It is set in the Banished Lands, the same world as my first series, but takes place 130 years later, so there’s mostly a new cast with a new story to tell. It’s a tale of love and loss, of family, betrayal and revenge, as an eons’ old war between angels and demons reaches its culmination, sweeping up all those who live within the Banished Lands in its path.
I've read and loved A Time of Dread; what are some of the biggest challenges you faced in writing a series that took place in the same world as your previous series?
Writing A Time of Dread was a balancing act. It felt great to be writing another tale set within the Banished Lands, as I’ve become pretty fond of the place over the last sixteen years – not so fond of it that I’d like to live there, as it is a brutal environment, and even now that I’m a Viking re-enactor, I wouldn’t rate my chances of survival – and I was sure that most of my readers would enjoy going back to the Banished Lands, too. But what I did not want to do was just tell the same story all over again, but with different names. I spent a lot of time thinking about whether I should go back, and it was only when the new story reached a point in my head where it was something I kept on going back to that I was confident it could stand on its own.
Before anything else the core story has to be strong and original, and the characters have to feel fresh and interesting. Then the Banished Lands can fit around that like a tunic and chainmail on a warrior. :)
It’s a darker tale than my first series, with a stronger element of mystery and tension.
It also felt important to me to write a story that new readers could dive right into, without having to read all of the Faithful and the Fallen. Hopefully I’ve found the right balance between referring enough to the old series for my old readers, as well as writing something that’s entertaining and immersive for new readers as well. That’s what I’ve tried to do, anyway, I’ll let you and those who read it be the judge of whether it manages to do that.
As someone who has read and reviewed all your books, I have to say that you did an excellent job in achieving that appropriate balance in A Time of Dread. Next question, what are some of the criticisms or reviews from The Faithful and the Fallen series that you took into account while writing Of Blood and Bone?
Malice was the first book I’ve ever written, not just that, it was the first piece of creative writing I’d attempted since my school days, so seeing it end up being published came as a wonderful surprise and a total joy. Even more amazing was to see it go on to win the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Debut of 2012. Each and every book has been a learning curve for me, and I’ve had the good fortune to work with two fantastic editors – Julie Crisp and Bella Pagan, both of whom have taught me many valuable lessons. Also, I’ve read and listened to the priceless feedback from readers of the Faithful and the Fallen. Whilst I know that it’s impossible to keep all of the people happy all of the time, and I have to write to my gut instinct and inner voice, in writing this new series I have tried to put together all of the feedback from readers and those lessons from my editors.
Hopefully A Time of Dread is a tighter, more focused read, with a smaller cast of characters (though still big enough to qualify as epic) and a faster pace. I chose to write four point-of-view characters to tell this tale, rather than the seven I used in Malice, and I feel the world-building happens at a more even pace.
I’m not against a slower start in books, I like a steady build, rather than a bolt from the starting-gate, and I think sometimes a tale is better for allowing some character growth earlier rather than later. But in saying that, I think A Time of Dread is also a faster-paced read than my previous series. It does open with a battle.
Well said, John. Great characterizations aside, I've said this many times in my reviews of your books but your action scenes are simply stupendous. Your books are without any doubt, in my opinion, truly the best when it comes to realistic combat and war scenes. Is there any particular research or inspiration that have helped you in producing scenes of this quality?
I’m so glad that you think that, Petrik, it’s definitely a part of writing that I always enjoy – probably something to do with me still being a big kid.
When I write a combat scene it’s a coming-together of many things. I was raised on classic movies like Spartacus and the Alamo, so a love of grand, epic battles seems to be in my bloodstream. I have done a lot of research – historical texts, the old Norse Sagas, the medieval sword masters and so on - and deep in the heart of my reading are novelists like David Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell, writers I consider to be the masters of gripping, edge-of-your-seat, bone-crunching battle scenes. Also, I am a Viking re-enactor, but this is quite a recent development for me, so I can’t really put my combat scenes down to that, although I hope that my experiences in the shieldwall will help to add another level of authenticity to my combat scenes in the future.
When I write a battle scene I try to ‘put on the head’ of the character whose perspective will tell the tale, and walk it through in my mind’s eye first, then I’ll go back and write it. Anchoring these kinds of scenes in a character tends to help, making the combat consistent with that character’s strengths and weaknesses, and I think it makes a fight scene feel more emotionally gripping. It helps to add that hand-held camera, in-the-midst of the blood and grit feel, rather than a wide-pan vista or an eagle-eye perspective.
Spectacular answers, John! Anyway, I don't think I can do this interview without asking this question, I didn't think it was possible but A Time of Dread turns out to have the best cover art out of your all your books. Was it your idea to go completely in the direction of this art, or was it completely up to the cover artist, Paul Young?
I couldn’t agree more, Petrik, I love how the cover art has turned out. One of my main concerns when I started this new series was ‘How on earth is the cover art going to match up to the Faithful and the Fallen?’ But Paul Young has totally excelled himself. I love, love, love the artwork for A Time of Dread, and think it beautifully and simply catches the tone and feel of the book.
My publishers are fantastic and they have always involved me in early discussions on cover art design – chatting with the wonderful Bella Pagan at Pan Macmillan about cover ideas is one of my favorite parts of the publishing process. Often we’ll put together a few pages of images –weapons, historical periods and warriors, monsters and so on – and discuss them back and forth for a while, and then Bella will take the ideas to her cover-art meeting. So, in a way I suppose I do have a certain level of input, something that I am immensely grateful for.
In saying that, the end result was far more to do with the talent of Paul Young. He’s a genius. It’s one thing having some ideas and seeing an image in your head, but turning that into something that really works, and on so many levels, well, that is no easy task. And those runes on the cross-guard of the sword, they spell DREAD in Old Norse. How cool is that.
Oh, I didn’t know that! That’s actually a nice touch of intricacy with the runes and Old Norse spelling. On to the next question, it’s what I think some of your fans have been wondering too. Maybe it's way too soon to ask this, but will Of Blood and Bone be the last series to take place in the Banished Lands? Do you have any plans to write a completely new series in a new world?
It is too soon to give a definite answer to that. I do have other ideas in my head, for another world. A very Norse world…
In saying that I see the Banished Lands almost as a real place. It’s my version of a mythical-historical ancient Europe, and so far my inspirations have been centred around the Dark Ages. There are plenty of other European historical eras and periods that I find fascinating and could happily draw upon, from the Medieval period right up to the Napoleonic Wars, so there is plenty of fertile ground for new tales to grow. The main issue is finding characters and stories that feel like fresh tales.
For now, though, it’s a case of focusing on the tale I’m writing and making Of Blood and Bone as entertaining as I can.
Sounds great to me! Whether it’s Norse World fantasy or another tale in the Banished Lands, I know your readers will devour them with joy. A Time of Dread is in total, your fifth published novel. What are some of the memorable experiences you had as an author?
Memorable experiences? Crikey, there have been a few.
Seeing my boys playing, re-enacting fight scenes from my books. Although sometimes bruises were incurred and plasters were sometimes required.
That moment when my agent John Jarrold took me on as his client. That was a moment when I thought, ‘Oh my word, someone outside of family and friends really likes Malice.’
When I had a phone call from John Jarrold telling me that Julie Crisp at Pan Macmillan had offered a two-book deal for Malice and its sequel. That was a dream-come-true moment. I remember hugging my wife in the snow.
Opening a box and seeing the first hardback copy of Malice.
Seeing Malice on a bookshelf, in a bookshop, for the very first time.
Malice winning the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Debut Fantasy of 2012. That was truly a pinch-yourself moment, doubly so because David Gemmell is one of my favourite authors. He taught me the meaning of ‘page-turner.’
Wrath winning Fantasy Factions and Booknest.eu’s Best traditionally published Fantasy Novel of 2017 Award.
Hearing from and meeting so many wonderful people, and making some genuine friends through this world of books.
There are so many more special moments threaded throughout my writing experience, but I don’t think you’ll have room for the list in its entirety.
I can honestly say the bad experiences have been few and far between. There is a level of anxiety and self-doubt for each and every book, no matter how well the last one seemed to go down. I don’t think I’m the only writer who feels that sense anxiousness. I’m saying this a few days before publication of A Time of Dread, so that sense of anxiety and excitement is a little heightened right now.
Last question, what are you working on right now and when can we expect the second book of the trilogy?
Right now I have just finished book two Of Blood and Bone, titled A Time of Blood. I’ve taken a few weeks off for Christmas and the launch of A Time of Dread, and then I’ll be jumping straight back into the third and final book of the series, provisionally titled A Time of Judgement.
Thank you for your time, John! Congratulations once again on the release of your newest book!
Thank you so much, Petrik, it’s been a real pleasure chatting to you. Thank you for the invite.
A Time of Dread IS OUT NOW in UK. You can get it HERE!
US release date: February 20th, 2018. You can PRE-ORDER it HERE!