Next Big Thing

I was nominated as ‘The Next Big Thing’ by fellow Spec-Fic writer Chris Andrews (see his post here). The idea behind the nomination is that writers promote one another through our various networks and blogs, and so it falls to me to answer the questions below.

You may wish to head over to Chris’ blog and have a look around, he’s been doing this a while longer than me I feel and has some really interesting resources on his planning process and novel writing. Far more organised than my general musing and occasional update of progress.

But I digress…

1) What is the working title of your book?

It’s currently going under the title of Exile. I like the idea of a shorter title, and I like the idea that ‘exile’ functions as both noun and verb, that as a noun it can apply to a person or a condition or perhaps even a place.

2) Where did the idea come from for the book?

It has changed so much since it was first conceived that I’m not sure that I can answer the question well. I didn’t think so at the time of writing, but looking back I suspect it may have come from the experience of my own family’s circumstances. When I started writing I had a very clear idea of who the main character would be, but I’ve drifted away from that, perhaps as I’ve matured, and it’s more an ensemble piece now.
It draws from my studies of history and the Classical world. I kept wondering how different historical cultures would have reacted if they ever were to have met. I also wanted to explore the social contract we enter into, that decision to submit to an authority and the assumption that the authority will act in your interests, or at least not directly against them. I’m interested in how that social contract is currently functioning in various cultures, and I wanted to explore how it functioned in a Fantasy setting.

3) What genre does your book fall under?

It’s Fantasy, but that’s not really specific enough is it? When I describe it to others they use the term Epic Fantasy. I’m not sure I’m comfortable with that. Certainly I think there is an epic back-drop in terms of the scale of the world-building.  The plot is influenced by inter-continental events, the clash of great powers, and yet that’s not the focus. It’s not about the saving of worlds, or the shaping of history through great deeds and prophecies fulfilled, and I think to be Epic Fantasy these are pretty important.

Low Fantasy then perhaps, but not quite as dark as Abercrombie, Morgan, Lawrence et al.

4) What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I have deliberately avoided thinking in these terms. In many ways because if it ever were to be made into a film that future is so distant and unlikely that references to current Hollywood stars would be meaningless.

So I would choose up-and-comers. I would (given my ‘druthers) avoid the star-powered path. That said, I think there’s a part in there for Djimon Honsou and for Chiwetel Ejiofor or Idris Elba. Cristoph Waltz almost certainly. Stellan and Alexander  Skarsgård. Probably more European actors than American.

5) What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When three siblings are separated by a conflict they cannot control, each must adapt to a new life, and perhaps find a way to thrive.

6) Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I have pitched to an agent, who requested pages, so the process is under-way. I’m thinking the agent to publishing path is my preferred, so I’ll try and exhaust that possibility before looking too closely at others.

7) How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

This is another interesting question. I started writing the manuscript that would become this manuscript about 15 years ago. That’s not to say I’ve spent 15 years writing it though. I wrote as a hobby, when I could. I had only the most nebulous dreams of one day being a ‘writer’ and I didn’t ever think I would reach the point of having a manuscript that might interest anyone else. That original writing has changed so much, been rewritten so often, been so edited that very little of it survives in the current manuscript.

I’ve been seriously working to make this a novel for the last 12 months or so.

8) What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I’ve mentioned a few. I’ll use the usual suspects and some new-comers as landmarks and maybe place myself that way:

Not as stolid as Tolkein, not as genealogical as GRRM, less graphic sex than Richard Morgan, less bleak then Abercrombie. Not as weird as Bas-Lag. Not as dense as Viriconium. Not as overtly allegorical as Dune.

9) Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The foremost influence was Feist’s  ‘Magician’ I think, at least initially. It wasn’t the first Fantasy novel I had read but it was the first time I had read a novel and seen the constituent parts that built the story. I think it stands as an excellent example, perhaps the prime example, of what it is. I cannot think of a Bildungsromanin the Fantasy genre that does it quite so well. It also opened up the idea of non-European cultures in Fantasy, and of those cultures being something more than the indistinctly drawn enemy. It seems that Feist will use Tsurannuani this way, and yet there’s that scene where he gives us their POV: We see the characters we’ve followed as they saved Crydee and we see them as a respected enemy, and from there of course we learn about the fractured nature of the Tsurani and their internal political disputes.

From that point, that I decided I could write a novel, I drew inspiration from many places. From history’s many tales. From Chaucer’s Middle English, Anglo-Saxon poetry, medieval bestiaries, the eddas and sagas, the myths of India and Africa, the common human myth identified and explained by Joseph Campbell.

10) What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

What indeed. I suppose that depends on the reader.

A huge secondary world with a living history?

Fallible characters who err and face the consequences, who are uncertain, who lack-confidence or over-commit, who cannot rely on divine prophecy or enchanted trinkets?

Political intrigues played out in the chambers and courts of nobility?

Bloody battles played out in the mud, ringing with the cries of warriors and the clash of spear on shield?

Forests filled with strange beasts?

Death, love, betrayal, suspicion… all the confused emotions that from people trying to find their way toward the life they wish to lead.

And my recommendation for the ‘next big thing’?

Richard Marek, whom I knew online long before I met him (recently – at Genrecon), and has shown me some of his work and I sincerely hope he  continues with his efforts to publish.

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