Thursday, 27 March 2014

Interview: John Gwynne, author of 'Malice' & 'Valour'

John Gwynne. Heroic Fantasy at its best - axes and warhounds.
To celebrate the release of 'Valour' - John Gwynne's second novel in his Faithful and the Fallen series - we invited John back to 'WwaS' for another interview. It's been a busy year for John receiving critical acclaim for 'Malice', picking up awards, and extending his publishing rights across the world as part of his plan for global domination.

So how does a fantasy writer deal with the fame and the success? A good day out at Warner Brother Studios exploring the world of Harry Potter! So without further ado, let's begin.

1.     Hi John, welcome back to ‘WWAS’ (Written With A Sword). Since we last spoke way-back-when in 2013, you’ve had a busy year of awards and further publishing contracts. What’s been your highlight of the past year?
Hi David - thanks for inviting me back. You’re right, it has been a pretty crazy year for Malice and its sequels. The year started very nicely with Orbit US buying the American rights for Malice and Valour, and soon after Fanucci bought the Italian rights. A little later in the year Tor UK bought books 3 and 4 in the Faithful and the Fallen series. In October Malice won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best fantasy debut of 2012. I’ve also attended some great events, such as Goldsboro Books Fantasy in the Court, as well as the David Gemmell Awards and World Fantasy Con 2013. Malice was released in the US in December 2013. And behind all of that Valour was going through the editorial process, which has been great fun, ending with me seeing a glimpse of the artwork in December (love that axe!)
So yes, a pretty full year. The highlight, though. It has to be Malice winning the Morningstar at the David Gemmell Awards. It came as such a monumental surprise, and kept me grinning for a very long time - I still am, in fact, whenever I think of it.
2.     Being a fan of David Gemmell yourself, what does it feel like to have won the Morningstar award?
 Utterly amazing. I’ve been a fan of David Gemmell’s since my teens, when I discovered Legend and read it in one sitting - right through the night. It was a great moment for me when I saw Malice on the shelf in Waterstones alongside Legend, so when I heard that Malice was in the longlist for the Gemmell Awards I was absolutely thrilled.
The Gemmell Awards has really been the only award that I have ever taken any interest in, partly because of Mr Gemmell’s name attached to it, and also because it is a readers vote, which appeals to me. I’ve voted on it every year, and often bought books in the shortlist.
When I heard that Malice made it through to the shortlist I was over the moon, especially considering the other titles on that list - all great books that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed.
To win the Morningstar - it was such a wonderful moment. My daughter, Harriett, is profoundly disabled and requires a high level of care, so I rarely get out these days. By a pleasant twist of fate the Gemmell Awards took place in Brighton, only a short distance from where I live. I thought it would be a nice opportunity to have a rare night out with the family, so we all went along. Not expecting to win, just looking forward to a night out together amongst some lovely company. And it was great fun - right from James Barclay’s opening rendition of a Druss speech. Winning the Morningstar came as an absolute shock. It was a wonderful moment, made all the better by my family being there with me.
3.     As humble a man as you are, I hear your speech at the DG award ceremony was completely off the cuff. Is this the same for your writing process, or do you go with the flow and see what happens?
 I didn’t have a speech prepared because I did not for one second think Malice would win. When my name was read out I was clapping the winner, not realising that it was me! So I did wing it - can’t actually remember what I said, it’s a bit of a happy blur. There were some thank-you’s, and a reference to my fatness!
As far as writing goes, there is a lot more order. I spent a long time researching for Malice and the Faithful and the Fallen series. George R. R. Martin is often quoted for saying writers fall into two camps -  architects or gardeners. For me I’d say my writing style falls somewhere in the middle - there are definite key events all along my story that are clearly set out, but the character journeys between those events have been subject to change, or at least to considerable meandering!
4.     The release of ‘Valour’ marks what some authors claim to be ‘the difficult second book’. Did you find it difficult to rise to the occasion with book number two, or was it all the more enjoyable as you were getting deeper into the story?
 To be honest I didn’t feel much of that ‘second book syndrome.’ Valour was a much smoother write for me. A lot of Malice was a learning curve, balancing character, plot, action, world-building, scene-setting, whereas in Valour most of that is in place, so it was just a case of getting on with the story. And I was getting to points that I’ve been imagining for many years. I really enjoyed writing it. Also I had a deadline for Valour, which for me really helped me get my head down - although with a little added stress.
5.     Between Malice and Valour, have you discovered anything new in how you write? Any lessons learnt?
 Absolutely. The whole experience has been one long learning curve - and I’m most definitely still learning. Having a great editor has helped immensely. My editor at Tor UK, Julie Crisp, has been amazing. Never heavy-handed or dictatorial, all of her editing comes in the form of questions.
To my mind it’s all about getting the balance right. Description, character, plot, action. I don’t know how other people write, but I tend to visualise a scene first, try and put on the character’s head and see things from their point of view, then try and write that.
6.     In your opinion is writing an honed skill or a natural talent? And, how do you gauge when a chapter/book is ‘finished’ to its final standard?
 I don’t know that I’m the right person to be asking that question! I still feel that Malice being published is due as much to luck as any other factor.
Writing (and reading) is such an objective experience, as much art as anything else. I suppose if I were to try and answer your question I’d say - both (not a cop out, honest).
Any creative undertaking usually starts with a dollop of natural talent, but to take it anywhere it has to be practised, refined, improved. As my agent John Jarrold is very fond of saying, “writer write.”
7.     What’s a ‘day at the office’ of writing for you?
 There is no typical day. My daughter Harriett is profoundly disabled, and my wife and I are her carers. A lot of Harriett’s practicalities fill the day - eating, changing, washing etc. Harriett also likes to be sung to, which is strange as my wife and I have possibly the worse voices in known history.
Also my wife and I run a vintage furniture and accessories business (bills have to be paid). It is something that’s fairly flexible that we can manage mostly from home. My wife’s the brains in this, so for me it mostly means lifting, carrying, fixing, sanding, painting and restoring old furniture.
And of course, lets not forget the other children. Three boys - the oldest, James has left home, although his regular drop-ins manage to leave the fridge and cupboards picked clean of all food. The other two - Edward (the Teenager) and William. For them my wife and I interchangeably fill the roles of taxi driver and referee!
Writing fits in around the above - usually at night, when it’s dark and quiet, and more so in the day when dead-lines loom!
8.     In 10 years time what would you like readers to remember from your books?
 Crikey, I’ve not thought of that one before. I suppose to be moved emotionally (hopefully not by hatred or loathing of my books). For me my favourite books are the ones that stir and hook me emotionally. They’re the ones that I think back on, that I sneak off to the loo to read the next chapter. That I stay up later than I should reading. If anything I’ve written has that kind of effect on someone else then I’d be really pleased.
When I was writing Malice my wife Caroline and my middle son Edward were my only readers for a while. He cried at a point in Malice and I remember feeling very happy at that - sick parent, I know. But I suppose that is the highest praise, that another person can be moved emotionally by the arrangement of words on a page. He cried whilst reading Valour, as well. A good sign in my book!
Thanks John! VALOUR is out today (27th March).

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