Hey Tom, how’s life in our new reality treating you?
TL: Hah – like everyone most likely, good and bad! Honestly thus far I’ve got off pretty bloody lightly – my wife and I both working full-time at home, kids young enough that school interruptions aren’t a big deal.
It’s still been tough and creativity isn’t easy amid all this, but I abandoned the fantasy novel I was starting and chose to write a novella/short novel as my output for 2020. Just doing that took the pressure off and I have a manuscript ready to show people before the end of the year so I’m calling it a win!
ME: So you now have a few series out, but I’m curious..when did you know you wanted to be a writer and describe a bit of the journey that led to your signing with Gollancz for Twilight Reign.
TL: It took me longer than many to realise I think – partly I’m workshy with a short attention span so wasn’t very academic and certainly didn’t stand out in English class. When I had a long summer before uni started I started writing just as something to do, so my parents didn’t make me get a job. It took a long time to consider it might be a career, but despite being slow and dull much of the time I didn’t give up.
I started writing what became Stormcaller then and learned to write as I did so. Eight-ish years later and I finally had something worth showing agents while I bounced around low-level publishing jobs trying to work out what career held any interest for me.
Luckily for me I found an agent after my boss suggested him (I’d been rejected by his colleague so hadn’t bothered subbing to him at first) – he liked what he saw and took me on.
Even luckier for me, Jo Fletcher at Gollancz was looking for new fantasy and had time to beat an impressionable young writer into something vaguely professional – they had just signed Scott Lynch and Joe Abercrombie that year so she was the only one without a new fantasy writer
ME: That’s great company to be in for sure. I actually found Stormcaller at my local bookstore in one of those cool anniversary volumes. I noticed Scott’s and Joe’s had received the same treatment and I decided to pick up yours and was instantly blown away. Give our community a quick preview of what they can expect from Stormcaller and the Twilight Reign series.
TL: It’s brilliant company yes, and in a few ways it’s helped me out. The special edition was something I’d been nudging for, but it probably wouldn’t have happened if we’d not been published as a trio effectively!
So – Stormcaller is the first book of the Twilight Reign. It’s a big and bloody traditional epic fantasy featuring a twist on your classic teenage chosen one. What you can expect is swords, battles, monsters, politics, factions and gods.
Stranger of Tempest is a smaller scale series, following a scarred veteran who joins a company of misfit mercenaries just as they are employed by an amoral badass, and she drags them into something world-changing.
I’ve described it in the past as booze, banter, guns and monsters from the depths of the world – light hearted at times, but sweary and for a slightly older market most likely.
ME: Awesome. I’m loving Stranger of Tempest so far. What made you go the route of dare I say it..flintlock fantasy? I notice, at least as the book begins, the fantasy elements are very subtle and rolled out slowly. Was this intentional?
TL: It was – or rather, when I started I was trying not to plan too hard so I hadn’t finished the world-building side. I had this idea for magical bullets because otherwise I’d have to do research on gun types, plus it opens a whole range of explody fun possibilities. So I had this character I wanted to get to know plus these mercenaries I wanted to have lots of personality, which meant focusing on them first.
ME: And I’ve been loving the quieter character moments, the subtle conversation and banter, as much as the faster paced action oriented segments. Both of these series have excellent fleshed out characters. Do you turn to yourself or people in your personal life when creating characters?
TL: I don’t – other people that is. I’ve tried but most of the time it ends up flat so I just start with a cardboard cut out of a person and try to draw the details in. So a secondary character like Deern just started as an unpleasant, racist merc, but as time goes on he becomes more than that. He’s still not a nice person, but they’re paid to kill people for money. Making them all sweethearts would be stupid and even the nice ones have a cold side.
As for myself, not deliberately, but I was a teenager when I started writing the angry, confused teenage chosen one Isak, a soon-to-be father when floundering Narin appeared, and an increasingly-middle-aged guy when portly, world-weary Lynx arrived so….
ME: What are some of your writing influences all across the media? I’m referring obviously to fantasy novelists, but also film and television influences.
TL: Oh man, where to start? I’m just starting a re-watch of Justified because I love it, especially the banter between Raylan and idiot criminals, which may or may not have influenced Stranger a bit. I remember reading Steven Erikson in particular and feeling how high the bar for fantasy had become, he’s still one of my favourites these days. I recommend KV Johansen and Adrian Tchaikovsky to everyone because they’re two of the best in my mind, but in very different ways.
West Wing remains one of the best TV shows I’ve ever seen, Battlestar one of the biggest disappointments because so much of it was up there with the very best of all TV but elements dragged it down. Band of Brothers is another that lives long in the memory – it’s easy to forget as a fantasy writer that you’re describing really brutal things happening and BoB had an honesty to the violence that I like to be reminded about. Medieval knights etc were not cuddly or gentle souls and you shouldn’t shy away from all the genre brings.
ME: Tchaikovsky is awesome and it super cool to see his name atop the book! Shifting gears but only slightly, can you recommend a few Fantasy novels from the last couple of years to our community.
TL: I’m a slow reader so I buy more than I get around to – it takes me a while to remember when things have been released cos I’m often five years late…
I greatly enjoyed the first Peter McLean novel, Priest of Bones, the first two Becky Chambers SF books, just finished Song of the Sycamore by Ed Cox (whose first series almost certainly nudged my brain on the mage-guns in God Fragments), Empire of Sand by Tasha Suri, the Django Wexler series has come to a close now but I’m still loving the last ones of that.
The sheer variety and quality of books out these days blows my mind – so many great writers producing brilliant work. I think it’s getting harder and harder to keep up with the new generation of writers!
ME: Absolutely. And consequently I buy a full series of doorstoppers at one time (Malazan, I’m looking at you), knowing full well my will take me 6 lifetimes to finish them.
TL: Yeah, it’s a huge achievement but maybe tricky too. It’s not something you can just step away from after a trilogy and there’s pressure to grab the readership who read a lot of book 1s but maybe don’t pick up book 2.
ME: So I talk to a lot of indie authors and obviously in that world, it’s almost a unanimous understanding that social media presence and reader interaction is integral to maintaining visibility, sales etc. I’m curious as a traditionally published author, how important it is to you to interact with your readers and where you prefer that interaction.
TL: It’s definitely important – but it’s also one reason why I prefer the traditional model. There’s a way of getting that visibility without so many hours required, The indie folk do an amazing job of interacting but I worry for the burn-out rate. It’s not a natural thing for me, I’m fairly withdrawn personality-wise so it doesn’t come easily to me, plus with the day job and two kids, there’s an hours-in-the-day problem for me.
For me twitter works really well for casual interaction and FB remains a good place to trade longer messages – spending much time on forums just eats into so much of my day and can be fairly soul destroying at times.
I’m 13 books into my career now – to maintain the level of effort many indie authors do over all those books… it’d have broken me. Probably it means I’m never going to get rich off this job, but I write the books for me and when it becomes an obligation or something I resent, I’ll probably stop.
ME: I was going to ask you what took up most of your time when you weren’t writing but it seems like you already answered it in the last answer. Obviously a very relatable full plate.
TL: Yeah, it’s nothing unusual, but I have a day job for a publisher, freelance work for a number of literary agencies, and basic stuff like the school run. In lockdown I’ve shared more of that bit with my wife which is nice, but we’re agreed that she’s the one who should be working full time – even if I’m doing the same hours, it’s more flexible.
Well I’m out of contract so this could all come to nothing but…
I’ve just done a short SF novel, wreck-diving in space with an Alien vibe – that was the book I turned to when a new fantasy series just felt like too much to take on as lockdown started. It might get picked up, it might not. Either way I feel ready to get back to the fantasy which will be a more traditional epic series – I’m flippantly describing it as jedi v zombies in a medieval world.
I think my strongest genre is the big and bloody epic so that’s where I aim to return to – Dusk Watchman was a long time ago now so I think it’s time I return to that sort of series!
ME: Sound brilliant. Well thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I always like to end my interviews with this question: what one piece of advice would you offer to new and aspiring authors?
TL: It’s been great – thank you so much for having me! As for advice for new writers… well there’s so much around. Maybe – write for yourself, but remember the book in your head isn’t the one on the page.Some opinions on your work will be junk, some will be brilliant, but editors are there to make you look better. Just this week I had beta reader notes from a few people about the SF – picking up on different things and mostly stuff I’d just failed to comprehend as I edited, but were so obviously correct I couldn’t believe I’d ever written it that way.