FSF: Hey Craig! How’s it going? How have these last couple of years of unprecedented global insanity been treating you?
CFW: Hi Mike, not too bad thanks. These last couple of years have been two of the craziest in my life. Not only for the lockdown’s but having become a dad, whilst trying to get another book together! It’s been a blur!
FSF: Congratulations on the leap to parenthood. I remember what that feels like. Sleep schedules all messed up and trying to still function normally. At the very least you have something else to celebrate with the imminent release of your new novel “I Shall Return With Winter.” Thoughts and feelings in these last pre-launch days?
CFW: I’m pretty excited! The last couple of weeks has been crossing the t’s, dotting the i’s, editing, formatting… all the back-end gruelling stuff. So, now I’m just ready to send it packing out into the big wide world. Looking forward to seeing what people think, and then wiping the slate clean and getting on with my next project!!!
FSF: I’m reading it now and I’m really enjoying it. Definitely a dark read, often bleak at times, and less whimsical than your previous work with The Ashen Levels. How did you feel jumping into Grimdark terrain?
CFW: I’m not quite sure how it happened to be honest. I was just about to start writing another series that has been on the back burner for ages, when the idea of a standalone revenge short story popped into my head. Of course, it ended up not being short, or a standalone! It really just grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. I read a lot of grimdark stuff, so it was pretty cool to go full on grimdark myself… That said, there are supernatural/almost-fairytale like elements at play, and a certain type of humour which are both present in the ashen levels.
FSF: I’m looking forward to reading on! Let’s backtrack a bit. When did you know you wanted to be a writer and can you tell me about the journey that led to your first published work?
CFW: I guess almost my whole life. My parents read to me at an early age, and I remember when I was seven or eight getting encouraging comments from a teacher about a story I had written, and it just sparked something in me. Then I got into fantasy and the rest was history! I wrote loads of stuff before I actually published anything. Got shoeboxes of bad bad writing hidden away somewhere. Then in about 2013 I attended a writer’s workshop and heard a lot about self-publishing and decided to give it a go. In 2015 I published my first novella, The Linguist. It’s been a wild ride since then.
FSF: Well the Ashen Levels was an amazing accomplishment as a highly literary work, that I’d say stands out among other books in the genre. I’ve always called it GameLit without the game. What inspired you to write it?
CFW: Thanks Mike, that means a lot. I studied literature at university, and I guess some of the classics rubbed off on me! And it’s actually a funny story, because I had never read any gamelit or litrpg before writing the book. But I did (and do) play A LOT of videogames. When I was thinking about the magic system of the book, I thought it would be cool to use videogame mechanics as its base. It was a lot of fun, as I could poke fun at many things, the levelling up, the fetch quests, the way he can fast travel and summon his horse etc, was all inspired by playing open world rpgs. Of course, the ashen levels is epic fantasy, not some computer generated world, so I had to put rules in place for why he could do these things. What would drive him to level up etc, and that’s where the whole addiction to the smoke came about, and various consequences to stop them abusing the laws of the world… I could go on about it for ages, but I’ll stop now!
FSF: That’s awesome. I’m not a gamer and my Max & The Captain series is a satirical GameLit series so it pokes fun at my lack of gaming knowledge.
CFW: haha. that’s great. yeah, there are plenty of easter eggs in the book, that gamers might notice, but I’ve always maintained that you don’t need to play or even like videogames to enjoy the book, because everything is explained and has a reason for being the way it is… no spoliers.
FSF: So since the new one is out next week, can you give our readers some info about it and why it should be their click of choice?
CFW: My elevator pitch is: It’s an epic, grimdark adventure with a twist on the revenge and chosen-one/farmboy tropes! Oben might go seeking revenge, but what he finds is something completely different. I think (well, I hope!) that the plot is unpredictable, because when I started out, even I didn’t see the end coming the way it did.
FSF: Awesome! Do you write with a particular audience or market in mind or do you write for yourself and hope that others will come along for the ride?
CFW: Honestly, I write what I want to write. If I’m not 100% into the story, then I would never finish it. And I’m my own worst critic. When I’m considering the next step in the story, I often think what would I expect to happen next if it was a film or another book. Good, not bad. So let’s not do that, because someone else might have seen it coming like I did! Obviously when it comes to the marketing side of things I then have to consider the audience. For example, this is more grimdark/epic, so I’ve had to find comparable titles/authors to target.
FSF: Now you’ve chosen to self publish your work so I’m curious: what have you enjoyed most about the process and what have you found to be the biggest obstacle?
CFW: I love writing! The whole creative process, letting my imagination take over, daydreaming and coming up with random stuff whilst taking long walks… that is what I have always enjoyed! Everything else, however, has been a struggle! Since I started in 2015 it has been a massive learning curve regarding marketing, social media, advertising… so yeah, that’s been difficult! But hopefully I’m getting there. Hearing positive feedback for the new book makes everything worthwhile!
FSF: Hmm, not consciously, but I guess every character I write-in order to be believable-has to be based upon my knowledge of people I’ve had dealings with in real life, (or seen in films!) Especially for the dialogue and how people would react naturally/realistically…
CFW: When I had the characters written for ISRWW, I googled some images to see if I could find people who looked like I had in mind. Then sometimes I’d refer to that picture when writing physical descriptions. All that being said, I wish I was more like Balagir from The Ashen Levels, as he always has a way of outsmarting his opponent, or escaping from some impossible situation! Oben from ISRWW is much greyer. He does things we might not necessarily agree with, but under similar circumstances, maybe we would do the same.
FSF: Who are some of your biggest influences as an author? Draw not only from books but other media forms as well if you’d like.
CFW: Some of the early books I read that got me into fantasy have surely have had an impact on me, like Tolkien, Tad Williams, Feist… Recently some of my favourite trad published books have been by Jack Vance, Mervyn Peake, Guy Gavriel Kay and Ursula K. Le Guin. I get a lot of inspiration from listening to music and playing video games, too. Some of the writing in games these days is exceptional. It’s kind of weird, because the title from my latest book came from a misheard lyric. I was out walking listening to a song by Bathory called Ring of Gold, and I heard a line that I thought said, i shall return with winter… and I thought, yeah that kind of sums up my story… A few months later I found out it actually said i shall return with the wind, the day!
FSF: Recommend some indie fantasy or science fiction to our community.
CFW: Ooof, this is tough because I’ve just finished taking part in a summer reading challenge and discovered so many great new authors. Some highlights of this summer have been The Lost War by Justin lee Anderson, A Ritual of Flesh by Lee Conley, Power of Conviction by Catrin Russell, Og Grim Dog by Jamie Edmundson, Call of Titan by Paul Mouchet, In Solitude’s Shadow by David Green, The Dark Oak by Jacob Sannox, The Skald’s Black Verse by Jordan Loyal Short, Paternus by Dyrk Ashton and We Men of Ash and Shadow by HL Tinsley… I could go on, and these are just some I’ve read in the last few months so they are fresher in my mind!
FSF: What’s next for you? What can readers look forward to down the line?
CFW: First thing is getting the launch out of the way, then I can look ahead. Obviously the sequel to ISRWW is a priority and I aim to have that out middle of next year all being well. I am also involved in an anthology which is due out after Christmas. Something quite exciting for me is I’m writing the narrative for a videogame based on a short story from the world of the Ashen Levels (Ythinar). My brother-in-law is an indie games developer, so I’m doing the narrative, game design, puzzle design, sound effects, voices (with an AI programme, not my own!), music and testing. He is doing all the complicated programming and modelling stuff… It’s early days and will be a short, narrative based puzzle game with dark, fairytale vibes. Hopefully I’ll be able to say more in the new year.
FSF: I always end every interview with this question. What one piece of advice can you offer to new and aspiring authors?
CFW: Have fun! Simple as that. If you’re having fun writing something, it will show, and someone will have fun reading it. It’s yours, own it, slay it, bend it, smash it! If you’re bored, or finding it a slog, something’s not right and it’s time to step back and remember what you love so much about the craft of writing in the first place