Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Guest Post: Fantasy Author, John Gwynne.

I have a pantheon of authors that I follow. In some senses its a 'who's who' of the literary world. Think of it as Clash of the Titans meets the fantasy bestseller list. Michael J Sullivan, Mark Lawrence, Ben Galley, Helen Lowe, Anne McCaffrey, Peter V Brett, Joe Abercrombie, Brent Weeks, Tamora Pierce...the list goes on! (Though I have to say, Abercrombie for Hades anyone?)

Amidst the big names, the little guys shoulder their way in. Russell Kirkpatrick, Toby Neighbors, Joseph Lallo, Michael Stark.

And then there's the REALLY big names. Glen Cook, Steven Erikson, Robin Hobb, Ursula Le Guin, Big Papa Tolkien, and of course, the father of British heroic-fantasy David Gemmell!

So, when a newbie comes along to my version of Mt. Olympus and throws his weight around, it's something of a big deal to me. I followed a book last year right up to its publication date, and begged my fiancĂ©e to get it for me for christmas. Thankfully, I made Santa's nice list (bribes do work!) and come December 25th I got my hands on a copy of 'Malice' by John Gwynne. It's a hefty tome, but a handsome one at that. At first I was dubious whether a debut author could pull off such a large story, and deliver what it said on the tin...as in EPIC fantasy.

I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that John Gwynne could in fact deliver - and go beyond his call of duty to spin a yarn that had me hooked to the end! It's safe to say that Gwynne has joined the ranks of my pantheon, up their in the clouds with greats, looking down upon us mere mortals. But, as he is still relatively new to the 'scene' I thought it was about time I made some introductions for you all!

This week, I'll be hosting a review and guest post with the esteemed author himself, but I thought it best that he welcomes you all personally. I'm very humbled to have him here, and I hope that you all enjoy reading a little bit about him and his stories.

So, without further ado, I present none other than John Gwynne!

Malice and Me.

Firstly I must say a big thank-you to David Emrys for inviting me to write this post for his blog. He’s asked me to give some information about myself, how I came to write my debut novel ‘Malice,’ and something of the inspiration behind it.

First the stats. I was born in Singapore while my dad was stationed there - he served in the RAF. I’m 44 years old and live in Eastbourne, a seaside town on the south-east coast of the UK. I’m married with four demanding (my wife calls them ‘special’) children, and three dogs, two of which will chew anything that stands still, whilst the other one will lick into oblivion anything (or anyone) that doesn’t run for their life. I’ve had my fair share of jobs - worst - working in a soap factory, best - playing double-bass in a rock ‘n’ roll band (back when I had hair!). I eventually settled for sensible and ended up teaching at Brighton University.

About 11 years ago I stepped out of teaching due to my family situation - my daughter Harriett is profoundly disabled and needed my wife’s and my care. So right now we run a vintage furniture business from home, (got to pay the bills somehow) which basically means I do what I’m told - usually involving lifting and fixing stuff - whilst juggling the task of parenting *refereeing* our boys and looking after Harriett. And most recently of all, I write. Which brings me on to the meat of this post - how I came to write ‘Malice.’

I’ve always loved fantasy, its been a part of me as far back as I can remember. If I try and figure out where that love came from I always end up back at a certain time and place, and a certain book, although please bear in mind that this is going back a loooong way, so the details may be a little cloudy and rose-coloured.

Primary school in Great Malvern, where my dad was stationed in the RAF at the time. I can remember my teacher sitting the class down and starting to read from ‘The Book of Three,’ by Lloyd Alexander. A tale that borrowed deeply from Welsh mythology and stirred a strong dose of Tolkien into the mix. I loved it. After that I was hooked and went in search of more fantasy, discovered and devoured ‘The Hobbit’, and moved on to ‘The Lord of the Rings.’

My dad was in the RAF, which meant that up to the age of 15 I spent a lot of time traveling - usually a new home and school every three years. Books became my friends during these years. Don’t get the violins out, though, I’m not complaining (and I do have real, living, human friends now.) But I do think that because of this books became a big part of my childhood, something that has stuck with me ever since.

I remember being lost in ‘the Lord of the Rings,’ it just seemed to have it all - an epic landscape, a cause to fight for, human drama. To say I loved it is an understatement, I was one of those geeks that re-read it every few years. Looking back I feel that it had a big influence on my young life. It most certainly played a part in my attempt in later years to have a go at this writing malarkey.

Of course it wasn’t the only book I read - back then in the mix I remember plenty of Robert E. Howard and Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson and Feist and Brooks and Eddings, and then I discovered another author. David Gemmell. I am a huge Gemmell fan, and devoured everything that he wrote, often in one-day sittings. I love how he brought flawed characters into the mix, combining them with break-neck pacing and gritty combat.

I can’t remember how old I was when I read ‘Shogun,’ by James Clavell, probably fourteen or fifteen. That book was amazing, and it opened up the idea of historical fiction; a whole new world. Now I can’t get enough of that, either. Bernard Cornwell sits very high on my reading list - his Arthurian trilogy is one of the best things I’ve ever read.

There are so many modern authors that I love to read - Manda Scott’s ‘Boudicca’ series is brilliant, J. V. Jones writes character so well, Brian Ruckley’s prose is wonderful, Adrian Tchaikovsky’s mix of steampunk, character writing and all-round epic-ness is utterly gripping. There are of course many other modern greats that demand my time, like George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, Mark Lawrence. Miles Cameron is my most recently discovered favourite. There are just so many great books out there these days.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, I am a complete fantasy geek, and needless to say I still read loads of fantasy - epic, steampunk, urban, gritty, I love it all, but epic is my first-love, and when it came to me writing I wanted to try to write something that conjured up those nostalgic feelings of epic-ness, but make it a bit more character driven, which I guess boils down to the influence of Tolkien and Gemmell. To write something epic and intimate, that was my goal, what I was trying to do.

The story of me writing ‘Malice’ started about 10 years ago - at the time I had recently finished a master’s degree and was teaching at Brighton University. I’ve already mentioned the fact that I stepped out of teaching to help my wife in caring for our daughter, Harriett. Life can be pretty intense, when you care for someone full-time, so I thought a hobby might be a good thing, if I could find the time. I’ve always told stories - to my kids and my wife (if I have them backed into a corner with no routes of escape) and they’ve often encouraged me to write some of them down (possibly to make me stop talking). So I started to do that, a hobby that restored a bit of ‘me’ in the juggling act that is the parenting of three boys, working and also caring for my daughter. It was also a place to indulge my passion for general all-round geekery. ‘Malice’ and ‘the Faithful and the Fallen’ just naturally evolved out of this. Somewhere along the way it grew into something more than just a hobby.

The writing of ‘Malice’ took place mostly in the dark hours, when my home was quiet. It took years - the only way I knew how to write was how I’d learnt at university - to read, read, and then read some more, so that’s what I did. Lots of world mythologies - celtic and norse and greco-roman and slavic and eastern - then truck loads of ancient history, about weapons and warfare and armour and politics and wolves and bears and Komodo dragons. Also a lot of the classics - Milton’s ‘Paradise Lost’ and C. S. Lewis’ ‘The Screwtape Letters’ were early inspirations. Added to that some Blake and Dante and Machiavelli. Really anything that sparked a bit of passion went into the pot. Then I actually started writing! That took a while - around five years. When I was close to finishing my first draft of ‘Malice’ I started googling ‘how to get published’ and saw that all the general advice pointed towards getting an agent.

Being taken on by John Jarrold was a massive moment for me - he was really one of the first people to look at ‘Malice’ outside of friends and family, and certainly the first professional within the publishing industry to do so. It was at that point that I thought there was actually a possibility of the dream coming true. John is a consummate professional, and a great bloke to boot. His guidance has really been invaluable in my own publishing story. He helped with an edit of ‘Malice,’ then put the manuscript out there, and soon after he phoned to tell me of an offer from Julie Crisp, Acquiring Editor for Tor UK. After a blurry period of celebrations I entered into the time of ‘The Edit,’ - structural edits, re-write, re-edit, copy-edit, proof reading, alongside discussions about artwork (particularly great fun). The amount of work and input from Julie Crisp and the team at Tor UK to polish up my offering has been incredible. And alongside all of that, of course, I’ve also been writing book two!

So now ‘Malice’ is on the shelves in bookshops and listed on Amazon and elsewhere, which frequently causes me to look at my wife, shake my head and smile - it’s been a truly amazing ride so far. I still pinch myself at times because it just all seems like some crazy dream. And I must say, my jaw is still aching from all the smiling.

Malice is available from all major bookstores and outlets.

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