Interview with James Islington

1. Congratulations on completing a massive undertaking with The Licanius Trilogy. How does it feel to have the new book days away from release ? 

Thanks Mike! It’s been a very long time coming – aside from edits, I finished this book more than a  year ago now – so I’m pretty excited. A little nervous, too, of course. It’s surreal to think that the ending to the story I’ve been working on for so many years is finally going to be out there!

2. What did you learn from the entire process of putting out a trilogy?

One thing that surprised me was how different it felt to write each book, and how different the challenges of each were, even with them all being part of the same story and set in the same world. I always assumed that once I’d completed this trilogy, I’d look back and see three lots of a pretty similar writing experience. In some ways, though, that couldn’t be further from the truth – it sounds obvious in retrospect, but the lessons you learn from writing an opening book aren’t necessarily applicable to the middle volume, and the same goes for moving from the middle to the conclusion. 

I’m also now very aware that I need to keep (really well-organised) notes from the moment I start writing. I’ve been very conscious of making sure that everything in this series is completely consistent, but when I wrote the first book, my record-keeping was… let’s say lacklustre. So though I’m reasonably good at remembering details, by the time I was writing THE LIGHT OF ALL THAT FALLS, I had to do a couple of complete rereads of the series – constantly going back and fact-checking things to make sure I hadn’t made any mistakes. If I can eliminate that process in the future, it will probably save me months of work.

3. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and what led to the genesis of the publication of The Shadow Of What Was Lost. Take us through some of the journey?

I loved creative writing – and reading the fantasy genre – as a teenager, so writing a book was always something I’d wanted to do. It wasn’t until I was hitting 30, though, that I knuckled down and set aside some serious time for it. 

I ended up spending a couple of years writing SHADOW, and then a while longer trying to get an agent (and dealing with the flow of rejections that comes from that process). Eventually I tried self-publishing, which – to understate things – was a more successful endeavour than I ever expected. Good sales led to me being noticed by my audio publisher, and then by my agent. Not too long after that, I’d signed a deal with Orbit for the trilogy. From self-publishing to signing with Orbit took about a year, so it was certainly a bit of a whirlwind.

4. Did you know you had written something special? How did you feel once the accolades started coming, along with the comparisons to so many brilliant authors?

Hah! Definitely not. I’d had really nice feedback from friends and family, but I was also a little worried that they might not tell me if it was actually terrible. I didn’t really have a good sense of whether anyone would enjoy it until reviews started coming in. And even then, it took a lot of reviews before I started feeling comfortable with how it was being received.

So it sounds weird, but it was initially almost more of a relief than anything else when it got such a positive reception. Once I got past that stage, though, it was – and still is – incredibly flattering to hear that the books are so well liked.

5. Your plot twists left me haunted for weeks after reading both of the first two novels in the series. I’m assuming it’s important to you to keep things unpredictable. What were you hoping readers would get out of your series that set it apart from other Fantasy Series?

One of the things I really wanted to do with this series was to make something that’s enjoyable the first time around, but also that’s rewarding to re-read. Plot twists are great to keep readers on their toes, but I really like it when I can go back after a twist and see hints of what’s coming a long way back – experiencing the story in a different light the second time around, I guess, and making sense of things that seemed innocuous or confusing when I first read them. So if people can get that experience out of Licanius, I’ll be pretty happy.

6. You spend less time on social media than many. Is this a conscious choice? How important is reader interaction to you as an author, and how do you like to connect with your readers?

I think social media’s a great tool for communication, but I don’t use it at all in my personal life, so being on it all the time isn’t really a natural thing for me. Unless it’s something you enjoy and can use as a break from working, it also has the potential to be more distraction than benefit. So I prefer to use social media as a means of keeping everyone up to date with what’s happening, rather than for personal interactions.

That’s not to say that I don’t like hearing from people, though! I use e-mail, and the contact form on my website, as my primary means of connecting with readers. It’s less immediate, but it means I can work writing responses more neatly into my schedule, rather than feeling like I have to check social media several times each day. That lets me put the focus of my writing time entirely on writing – which I’m pretty sure most readers prefer I do anyway!

7. When you aren’t writing what takes up most of your time? 

I game a fair bit – probably board more than video games, these days, though I do both. We’ve just started a massive dungeon-crawling coop board game called Gloomhaven, which seems great so far. And I’m playing a PC game called Disco Elysium, which is fantastic as well – the writing in that is incredible.

8. Some of my favorite books of the last couple of years were those you recommended to me. What have been some of your favorite Fantasy reads in the last 6 months or so? 

That’s great to hear! My favourite surprise of recent times was probably THE RAGE OF DRAGONS, by Evan Winter. It’s a tremendous debut book and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

From more established authors, I recently read through the Red Rising series (the first trilogy – I haven’t had a chance to get to books 4 or 5 yet). It’s technically sci fi, but I feel like it would appeal to a lot of fantasy readers too. I thought it was brilliant – for me, one of my standout series of the decade, in fact.

9. How much of yourself goes in to your characters? 

Depends on the character! I think there’s always a little bit, simply because it’s hard to write characters who are completely different from yourself. But I don’t consciously insert parts of myself into any my characters, either. 

10. So with this massive epic completed, what’s next, and approximately when can readers look forward to it? 

I can’t say a lot about it yet – I think we’re aiming to start officially revealing things pretty soon – but it’s a fantasy series called HIERARCHY, and it will be set in a completely new world from Licanius. 

Don’t expect it to be out anytime in the near future, though. I’m well into the first draft now, but the first book is probably a couple of years away from being published.

11. What one piece of advice would you offer new and aspiring writers? 

Keep writing! I know that’s the most common ‘one piece of advice’ that authors give, but it’s because it’s true – try and schedule a regular time to write, and don’t worry too much if you don’t get things right straight away. Persistence is the most valuable skill you can have, especially when starting out.

12. Being a writer of giant “tomes”, that I can only imagine would be tremendously time consuming, can you weigh in on some of the pressure that authors often receive from readers with regards to writing deadlines, and long waits between books? 

I know this isn’t the experience of a lot of authors, but both my publishers and my readers have been incredibly supportive when things have taken a little longer than I’ve anticipated. I did feel the weight of trying to get books 2 and 3 done on time – very much so – but that was a pressure that I largely put on my own shoulders. 

Posting regular updates on my website, even if they’re not incredibly in-depth, seems to have helped a lot in that regard. Most people are really understanding of delays if they can follow along and say, oh, he was sick this month, or, oh, a section of the book has needed fixing and so it’s set him back. Everyone wants the next book as quickly as possible, but no one wants it to be bad – so as long as they can see what’s taking the time, and know that you’re working hard on things in the background, they’re generally still supportive.

The Shadow of What Was Lost (The Licanius Trilogy, Book 1):

An Echo of Things to Come (The Licanius Trilogy Book 2):

The Light of All That Falls (The Licanius Trilogy Book 3):

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