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- Dragonseed: A Novel of the Dragon Age by James Max...
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- Overlooked Masterpiece of Dark Fantasy: "Monument"...
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Read FBC's Review of "World's End" HERE
1) Could tell us about yourself especially for the benefit of readers who do not know of your extensive bibliography?
When I left university, I walked straight into a job in journalism, writing for some of the leading newspapers in the UK. I covered crime, originally – murders, riots gangs, the whole gamut – and then moved into others areas of specialism, eventually reporting from across Europe and the US. It was exciting and packed with experience, but it wasn't where my heart lay. I did other things – managing an indie record company, managing rock bands, working on a production line – before my first short story was published in the UK's Fear magazine. It won the Best New Author award, and I was immediately signed up by a publisher and agent. Right place, right time, I guess.
I started off writing supernatural thrillers before switching to fantasy. The books have been published across the world and translated into several languages, and I've picked up a couple of British Fantasy Awards along the way. At the same time, I have a parallel career as a screenwriter for BBC TV Drama, but the majority of my time is spent on my novels.
I've got a deep interest in folklore and legend, environmentalism – I do some campaigning here and there – history and pre-history and cinema. I currently live in the middle of a forest in the English Midlands.
2) If you could give one book of yours to anyone in the world to read, which book would it be and why?
Probably The Fairy Feller's Master Stroke, a novella published by PS Publishing. It's a very personal story, about a young man obsessed with the painting of the same name which hangs in the Tate Gallery in London, and its effect upon his family, his life and a series of increasingly inexplicable events. It won the British Fantasy Award.
But that book was a limited edition and is hard to find, so I'd probably say the Age of Misrule sequence (World's End and then Darkest Hour and Always Forever). It was written nearly ten years ago, but it deals with lots of the themes that are important to me – the power of ancient days, myth and legend and their deep effect upon us, flawed characters trying to do their best in difficult situations, mystery and mysticism.
3) Your first book came out in 1993. Could you share with us your experiences of first getting published?
I always feel slightly guilty when talking to other authors because I had such an easy ride getting published. Most of it came down to good fortune, I guess, and appearing on people's radar just at the point when they were looking for someone like me. As I mentioned, the first short story I ever submitted was accepted by a large and well-respected, newsstand-distributed UK magazine, Fear. A few months later the mag held their annual awards and I was voted Best New Author by the readership. Within a week, I'd been approached by an agent, and a novel I'd written in my spare time was plucked out of the slush pile at a publisher and a deal was offered. For a long time, I thought everyone had it this easy! I do recognize I was fortunate, now, though, and I'm very grateful for that.
4) Your earlier novels are all set in the Horror/thriller genre. How did you make the transition to fantasy? Could you also tell us a bit more about writing in each genre!
When I was growing up I read SF, fantasy, horror, anything imaginative, and I never recognized any real distinction among those genres. They were just 'my kind of thing'. When I started writing professionally, I had aspirations to tell stories across the field, but came under pressure from editor and agent to stick to one and make a name. When horror began to tank in sales in the early nineties, my editor was more amenable to me pitching fantasy ideas. I took the Age of Misrule sequence to her and she was happy enough to allow me to pretty much do what I wanted from then on.
I don't even think about genres when I'm writing – I see them as a creation by marketing departments to sell books and nothing to do with the author. I simply tell the story I want to tell and let other people brand it. My horror always had huge elements of fantasy in it (in fact my final horror novel is an unofficial prequel to Age of Misrule). My fantasy sometimes has frightening or unnerving moments. And my fantasy novel, Lord of Silence, has a few SF notes.
But I approach them all in the same way – character first, then see what tone and setting is necessary for that character's journey.
5) You have had a massive story published in the UK, in your own words "A trilogy of trilogies". Two of these are about to be published over here in the US namely "The Age of Misrule" and "The Dark Age". Could you tell us about this massive undertaking and all the preparations that went into it? What was your central idea behind it and how much have you stuck to the original plan?
My UK editor thought I was crazy when I first proposed this – she was convinced I'd never be able to see it through. Well, the final volume is published in the UK this July, and I have hopes it will eventually make its way to the US. Admittedly, even I thought it was a little bit crazy at the start. For a long time, I'd been dreaming about writing a hugely personal fantasy story packed with all my obsessions – from stone circles and other prehistoric sites, British folklore, old gods, mysticism, the occult and spirituality, music, pop culture and history, psychology, philosophy, Arthurian myth and Jungian archetypes, wrapped up in a tale that included the best fantasy tropes – the quest, dragons, magical artifacts and legendary swords, and the rest, but all approached in a different manner. It was so far removed from some of the high fantasy that was popular at the time, there was some doubt it would ever find an audience. But all credit to my editor – she trusted me enough to get on with it.
I originally planned to write a trilogy. I went on holiday to Tenby in South Wales, a place with plenty of mystical associations, sat by the sea and began to sketch out a story. It involved two thousand years of human history – from the time of the Celts to the modern day, several world mythologies, ranging across our world, the Celtic Otherworld, and the world on the other side of death. It was a little daunting when I saw how sprawling it was, but the sheer scale was absolutely necessary for the story I wanted to tell. I sketched out three story arcs that worked in a non-linear, mosaic fashion and got on with the job.
The aim was to tell a story that could be read on several levels – a fast-paced fantasy adventure, a 'quest for meaning in a secular world', a secret history, a mystical guide, a look at how we live our lives today – depending on how deep the reader wanted to go.
My journalistic background told me the research needed to be deep and precise. I've always spent a lot of time on research for all my books – crawling along a two-foot high tunnel deep underground for my first novel, hanging out with voodoo priests and gangsters for another – but this one involved more. I spent six months on the road in the UK visiting all the ancient sites mentioned in the books – Stonehenge, Avebury, Tintagel, Edinburgh and many more – delved through ancient texts and more modern histories, spoke to experts, interviewed local people. I did particularly extensive research on the Celts and their culture. If you were minded, you could use the Age of Misrule books as a travel guide to the mysterious sites of the UK.
But that degree of research was absolutely necessary for a story about the collision between fantasy and reality. The 'real' has to be well-defined and true to make the fantasy more fantastic.
The story I wanted to tell was defined before the turn of the millennium and when I wrote the final scene last year, it was exactly as I planned it all those years ago. The nature of the story meant I couldn't have a different ending. There are hundreds of clues scattered across the nine books that lead towards the end – and tell another secret story behind the main plot – so there wasn't room for major deviation.
6) Where do you find the inspiration for your stories, (i.e.: nature, events, people, etc.)? What specifically was your intention to write the non-fiction book "testimony" & what research did you undertake while writing about it?
The stories come from everywhere, really. I have a wide range of interests, I travel a lot, and I read lots of newspapers and magazines, many of them freakishly obscure. Part of that harks back to my journalistic days when you were supposed to soak up everything important that happened in the world, regardless of news-genre, just in case you had to write about it. So I'll plough through New Scientist or Wired, or history or archaeological mags or Fortean Times or whatever. Like most authors, it's just a matter of keeping your eyes and ears open and having a spider-sense for what is intriguing.
Testimony was a link between my journalistic work and my interest in folklore and the occult. I came across a newspaper article about a house in Wales that appeared to suck up electricity – the quarterly bills were about ten times what would be expected. The power company could find no explanation in all their tests. I contacted the owner of the house and discovered this anomaly was only the tip of the iceberg – he talked about ghosts, possessions, strange manifestations, a whole range of weird activity.
What attracted me to the case, and made me want to write about it, was that there were so many witnesses. I interviewed 26 in all, people who had all had first-hand experience of something untoward in and around this isolated house. If it was just one family, it's easy to dismiss these kinds of allegations, but when you get people from many different walks of life, including respected church ministers and scientists, it becomes much more compelling.
It was a complete work of journalism. I spent time at the house with the family, spoke to everyone who had inexplicable experiences there, researched the history of the property, tracked down previous residents. I'm not a believer or a skeptic – I just have an enquiring mind. But when you talk to so many people who all have a story to tell, it's hard not to feel something odd happened there.
7) What type of writer are you: an outliner or a free-writer? And could you give us a glimpse of your writing style and schedule?
I never outline because I think it stifles creativity – the best and most imaginative moments often come in the full flow of writing. But I'm not a free-writer either, as I feel that can lead to a meandering story and unfocused character arcs. I tend to know the beginning and the end and have 'tent-poles', specific turning points or developments that support the over-arching plot. But there's a lot of space among that skeleton structure to let the unconscious do its work.
When I'm working on a book, I work hard, often putting in 12-hour days, sometimes seven days a week. I think it's generally a case that the more you push yourself, the more your abilities will rise to meet the demands. I do write in lots of different places – study, garden, café, pub, middle of the countryside. Technology has been incredibly liberating, and it helps to maintain creativity by changing surroundings. But focus, discipline and intensity are always key.
8) You have also written a story set in the Hellboy Universe - how did this come about to be? Is your Story "Ice Wolves" anyway related to the "Fire Wolves" Hellboy story written by Tim Lebbon?
In 2007, I was approached by a Hellboy editor to provide a short story for the anthology, Hellboy: Oddest Jobs. That story, Straight No Chaser, was well-received, and the editor came back to ask me if I wanted to write a Hellboy novel. I'm not really interested in work-for-hire, to be honest – too much like going to an office in a suit and tie – but I've long been an admirer of Mike Mignola and his character and it seemed like something I could have some fun with. Mike was looking for a gothic tale so I pitched him an idea with werewolves and a haunted house which he liked so off I went.
Tim Lebbon is a friend, who coincidentally had also pitched a Hellboy story, which also contained wolves, though not of the 'were' variety – more ancient fire demons. But when we met up at Fantasycon in the UK we realized there were thematic parallels so we decided to drop in some subtle links to each other's story for regular readers.
9) Who are your favorite authors? What books would you like to recommend to your fans? (Please quote as many genres as you want.)
In my formative years, the author that hooked me first was Ray Bradbury. I think the first of his I read was The Illustrated Man, and then I swept through most of his stuff. The October Country and Dandelion Wine still remain firm favorites. I enjoyed Asimov when I was first reading SF, and still appreciate Philip K Dick's reality-warping.
On the fantasy front, two authors I particularly admire are Tim Powers – The Anubis Gates is a tour-de-force of time travel and adventure – and Robert Holdstock – his Mythago Wood cycle manages to be magical, mysterious and affecting on a human level. I grew up reading Michael Moorcock and while his brand of sword and sorcery may be currently unfashionable, I have a sneaking suspicion it will soon be back in style. Clark Ashton Smith is also a favorite, for his use of language, and his view of decadent, decaying worlds and societies.
My favorite book remains the whimsical, mysterious fantasy Little, Big by John Crowley, followed by Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which captures in a powerful way the human need to search for mystery. From a writer's perspective I hugely admire Thomas Harris for Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs, and the manner in which he creates suspense and character with a very sparse style.
Stephen King was very important to me in the 80s and 90s, particularly It!, but the writer who probably had the greatest influence on me when I was starting out was Alan Moore. His early work on the Swamp Thing comic made me think again about how stories could be constructed, and I've followed him closely since then. I've just read League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 1910 and I think it's his best work in years.
10) You belong to a group called "THE WRITE FANTASTIC". What is this organization about and how did you become a member?
It's a loose collection of UK fantasy authors. We travel round the country, speaking at libraries, conventions, generally talking up the genre and trying to get people interested in reading. I was asked to join by one of the organizers, Juliet McKenna, a few years ago.
11) What's the one book idea which either of you wanted to write but couldn't due to time or other constraints?
No, noting as yet as I've written everything I've wanted so far.
12) What can you tell us about your two new series "The Ghost Warrior" and "The Swords of Albion"?
Lord of Silence is the first volume of what was to be, and may still be, The Ghost Warrior sequence. It's about Vidar, a tormented man with a missing memory and a vampiric jewel embedded in his chest that demands the life energy of others. It's set in the city of Idriss, which is surrounded by a dense, seemingly endless forest filled with mysterious terrors that must be permanently kept at bay. The story starts with the murder of the city's greatest warrior, and Vidar and his associates have to investigate, while also cracking a three thousand year old mystery that lies at the heart of Idriss and its place in the world.
I started the book as a standalone, but realized I had so much story I could do more with it. The aim was to establish character and the many mysteries of the world in the first book, and then to go on to delve into the history of the world in the next two. However, the publisher, Solaris, has recently been put up for sale so any further books won't come from them. Lord of Silence still works as a standalone fantasy, though, and I may pick up the rest of my ideas at some other point.
Swords of Albion follows the adventures of Elizabethan England's greatest spy, Will Swyfte. His public image is a carefully-crafted façade to give the people of England something to believe in, and to allow them to sleep peacefully at night. It deflects attention from his real work – the true reason why the spy network was established. A Cold War seethes, and England remains under a state of threat. The forces of Faerie have been preying on humanity for millennia. Responsible for our myths and legends, of gods and fairies, dragons, griffins, devils, imps and every other supernatural menace that has haunted our dreams, this power in the darkness has seen humans as playthings to be tormented, hunted or eradicated. Swyfte and the English spies are leading the fight-back for England. The first book, The Silver Skull, is out from Pyr in the US in November.
13) What can we expect in the future now that your books have a spectacular launch planned over here in the US?
Pyr has done a fantastic job launching Age of Misrule in the US, and this year I still have Lord of Silence, Hellboy: The Ice Wolves and The Silver Skull to come. Next year, Pyr is publishing the following three Age of Misrule books across subsequent months. The response so far has been very good indeed. I've been to the US several times, and plan to visit again shortly to attend a few conventions and get out and about meeting people.
14) On your blog you mentioned a certain collector's copy being produced due to a minor PYR error. Can you tell us more about it and how to recognize the book if any reader perchance come across it?
The first print run of World's End had a mis-print – the Pyr logo is missing from the spine. It's been corrected for subsequent printings, but that one is an oddity and certainly collectable.
15) You have a very pro-active online presence & often have very stimulating discussions on your blog. What do you want to get across to your readers?
The new technological revolution has changed everything for the business of writers. It allows a free flow of ideas and communication between the author, readers and potential readers. Part of it is certainly communicating my enthusiasm for what I'm doing, but I also get a great deal out of the feedback, the ideas, the opinions, the links to potential research. Before, authors were locked in their room turning out their work in isolation. Now it's like writing as part of a huge community of like-minds. There are great advantages there for writers who open themselves up to it.
16) Any thoughts on your growth as a writer? What still challenges you? And lastly, what do you want to accomplish as a writer?
My aim is always to try to offer something distinctive, a choice for readers. There are lots of great writers out there, and fantasy is such a vast field – potentially the greatest landscape for any writer – and I don't want to be walking across familiar territory.
Writing is infinitely challenging. The process might get easier the more books you write, but each new novel is like visiting a new country – new sights, new wonders, new problems. I just want to keep pushing at the boundaries of imagination, going to new places, and finding what stories lie there.