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Monday, August 6, 2012

Interview with Anthony Ryan (Interviewed by Robert Thompson & Mihir Wanchoo)



Both Liviu and I were thoroughly surprised by the excellence showcased in Blood Song, even more so since it was a debut and an Indie one at that. Anthony Ryan is a pseudonym used by the author as his day job prevents him from using his real identity or his real picture (Cover picture is not of the author). This particular pseudonym was selected by the author for the following reasons: "It was the name of a character from a best forgotten (and deserveredly unpublished) crime novel that I wrote in my early twenties. I just liked the sound of it, and it has fewer syllables than my real name". However we do know certain facts such as the author has a background in history and lives in London. So here on we will get to know more about Anthony's book, his thoughts on writing and among many things Dejah Thoris as well, read on...

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. For starters, could you please introduce yourself, tell us what inspired you to write in the first place, and describe your journey to becoming a published author.

AR: I can't remember a time when I didn't want to write. It was always one of the few things I could claim to be good at in school, and I remember the other kids used to cluster around me when I told ghost stories during break. My influences are so many and varied it's hard to pin down a moment of inspiration, though I do remember being enthralled by a dramatised reading of The Hobbit which the BBC broadcast on its Jackanory kids programme sometime around the mid-70s. Star Wars was a huge deal as well. But it's fair to say I was pretty much lost in books for most of my adolescence and early adulthood, reading many different genres, my love of fantasy really beginning in earnest with the discovery of Lloyd Alexander's Prydain Chronicles when I was about twelve.

As far as getting published goes, it's a familiar story for several recently picked up authors: self-publish an e-book, sell a few thousand copies, receive an approach from a publisher. However, any hopeful new authors shouldn't conclude that the big six publishers have an army of interns scouring the Kindle listings for the next big thing. They don't. They were swamped with submissions before ebooks came along, and they still are.

Q] Could you explain how the genesis of the Raven’s Shadow books occurred? How long have you been working on it and whether it has evolved from its original idea (if any)?

AR: The story kicked around my head in various forms for several years before I sat down to write it. I often find the longer an idea has to gestate the better it is. In the case of Raven’s Shadow I’d begun a part-time history degree before I started the novel and a lot of the inspiration for the plot and world came from that. The initial idea revolved around the character of Vaelin. I knew he was some kind of warrior in a militant religious order, but I didn’t really have a clear idea of the world he lived in. The story didn’t really click until I came up with the notion of the Faith and its different Orders and how they related to the state. Only six and a half years later I had a finished novel.

Q] What did you think was the most challenging part about writing your debut novel? What about the easiest or most rewarding parts?

AR: Due to work and academic commitments, Blood Song took the better part of six and a half years to complete. So the biggest challenge was producing a coherent narrative despite continual interruptions in work-flow. The easiest parts for me are fights and battles, though they take a lot of editing to get right and I did a fair amount of research into medieval warfare. Adding a few details on the practicalities of how armies moved around and people tried to kill each other with swords, gives an authentic feel to the combat scenes, although I wouldn't go so far as to claim they're truly realistic. Real medieval warfare was probably too horrific for the modern mind to easily comprehend. The most rewarding part was, predictably, the ending. Not in so much as I'd actually finished it, but that I managed to weave the threads of the narrative into, I hope, a satisfying conclusion.

Q] You have a SF novella series called the Slab City Blues of which three volumes are out so far. Can you tell us about them and the series in general?

AR: I’ve always been a fan of crime stories - one of my favourite authors is James Ellroy. I also spent a lot of time reading Ed McBain as a teenager and will still happily watch Colombo whenever it’s on, especially the one with Donald Pleasance as the vineyard owner. Slab City Blues is really an attempt to marry the crime story with science fiction, as well as giving me an opportunity to have fun and experiment with writing the most spare prose I can whilst conveying the plot and the character to the reader. The stories are set on an orbiting habitat in a future where Earth has become dependent on the mineral resources mined from the asteroid belt.

History is full of examples of the negative social consequences of exploiting new-found resources in a rush, you can see some of them in China and South America right now. So I envisaged the orbiting population as an exploited underclass who fought a war to secure their independence. My detective, Alex McLeod, is a widowed war veteran with a raft of mental scars and a new face, having lost his old one at the end of the war. The habitat he lives on is referred to as the Slab, hence the title, and is split between the affluent Yin Side and the slum-like crime ridden Yang Side.

The first two stories, Slab City Blues and A Song for Madame Choi, were first written over a decade ago and show significant cyberpunk influence despite some extensive recent rewriting. They're basically murder-mystery stories drawing on sci-fi elements like gene-splicing and virtual reality. The most recent, A Hymn to Gods Long Dead, is less cyberpunky in tone and more akin to a contemporary serial killer thriller. For the next one, tentatively entitled The Ballad of Bad Jack, I’ll probably be opening it out a little to take a look at the wider orbiting world via a heist driven narrative, if I ever get time to write it.


Q] Can you tell us more about the world that Blood Song is set in and some of the series’ major characters?

AR: Blood Song takes place in a world roughly analogous to Europe and North Africa in the late-medieval/early renaissance era. People know the world is round, they know stars are distant suns, metallurgy has become fairly sophisticated and artists have discovered perspective. However, religion is still dominant in all societies and often gives rise to conflict and oppression. Most of the action takes place in the Unified Realm, a land of four separate fiefdoms forced into uneasy union by a series of wars orchestrated by the brilliant but ruthless King Janus.

At the start of the book, the main character, Vaelin Al Sorna, is placed in a militant religious order at a young age and we follow him from that point on into adolescence and adulthood, with plenty of war and intrigue along the way. The other principal characters are his tutor in the order, Master Sollis, and the brothers he grows up with, Caenis, Barkus, Nortah and Dentos, later joined by thieving urchin Frentis. We also get to meet King Janus along the way along with his equally brilliant daughter, Princess Lyrna.

Q] Your debut novel is the first volume in a series. Could you give us a progress report on the next book, offer any details about the sequel “Tower Lord”, and outline your plans for the series as a whole?

AR: I began work on Tower Lord in late March and I'm already well past the half-way point for the first draft. You'll understand that I won't be revealing any plot details, but I can say there will be a structural shift between the books, in that Tower Lord will feature four point-of-view characters rather than just one as in Blood Song. I know a lot of readers liked the fact that Blood Song was seen almost entirely through Vaelin's eyes, but for Tower Lord I needed to open out the narrative to do justice to the story I wanted to tell, something I had always planned to do if Blood Song generated enough interest to justify writing a sequel. As for the third book, let's just say I know how it all ends, getting there is another story.

Q] For some authors, it’s easier writing their second novel. For others, it’s more difficult. What has it been like for you compared to writing your debut? Have you done anything differently the second time around?

AR: The big difference is the speed at which I'm getting through the second book - I'm managing to hit my target of 2000 words a day and I'm optimistic it'll be finished by the end of the year, something I wouldn't have thought possible when working on Blood Song. I also produced a much more extensive outline for Tower Lord than the one page summary I did for Blood Song, mainly because I wanted to be sure I had an ending. Also, juggling four characters and writing to a deadline means the luxury of plotting as I went had to be abandoned.


Q] You had mentioned Princess of Mars by E. R. Burroughs in your top 10 SF novels post. So what were your thoughts about the John Carter movie? Did you see it and if so what was your reaction to it?

AR: I thought it was visually stunning, some scenes looked like a Frazzetta painting come to life, and I really liked that they kept so close to the Burroughs vision, especially with the Green Martians, although I’d have preferred it if they’d included Burrough’s concept of their society being basically communistic. To read the reviews when it came out you’d be forgiven for thinking it the worst film ever, which it certainly isn’t, and I noted a lot of reviews went on at length about the huge budget rather than the film itself.

That being said I did think the script could’ve done with some trimming and there were a few gaping plot holes (John Carter can jump around for miles thanks to Martian gravity but how does he manage to breath on a planet with sparse vegetation and little water? A question Burroughs answered in the original. And who are these Therns anyway?). It was also pretty humourless, a bit like Flash Gordon without the jokes. Lynn Collins made a great Deja Thoris though.

Q] Nowadays there has been a heady discussion involving self-publishing and many of my favorites such as Blake Crouch and David Dalglish have also espoused e-books and self releases, What was your reasoning in going the Indie way for your Raven’s Shadow book, did you make an attempt for the traditional publishing?

AR: The reasoning by choosing to self-publish was pretty straightforward: I sent Blood Song to every agent in the UK listed as dealing in fantasy and, without exception, they rejected it. Prior to the advent of e-book self-publishing it would have languished in a neglected corner of my hard-drive. Granted, self-publishing does open the doors to a large amount of unreadable books, but it also allows access to a potential readership for works that might never have seen the light of day otherwise.

I see self-publishing as a meritocracy, good books sell, bad ones don't and authors no longer have to engage with the whole lottery of sending manuscripts to agents in the hope that whoever's stuck with the slush pile this week might like it. The reading public are becoming the gatekeepers, at least those with e-readers who are willing to take a chance on a self-published book.

Q] As a follow up to that question, you also recently signed on with Ace and Roc Books to publish the Raven’s Shadow trilogy, can you expound on that decision?

AR: All I can say is that it was the right decision for me, and I did think about it long and hard. My editor at Ace & Roc clearly has strong belief in the potential of the trilogy which helps. Also, I want my work to reach as many readers as possible and traditional publishing is still the best way of achieving that; I'm not in a position to have my books translated into multiple languages or persuade book-store chains to stock them, but  Ace & Roc  can do all that, and much more...


Q] One of your idols is David Gemmell, an author that I admire as well. As a reader I’m deeply saddened that there will be no more tales from him and so I’m always on the lookout for the next author whose books will be similar to DG’s style. In that regard your book reminded me a lot of his earlier work, what do you feel?

AR: Reading Wolf in Shadow was a real sunburst moment for me, as visitors to my blog will attest. The action, pace and imagination David Gemmell brought to fantasy writing was a real breath of fresh air and I, and many others, owe him a huge debt. It's of course a great shame he passed away with so many more stories to tell, but I'll be content if I come anywhere close to matching the quality of his body of work. I'm continually amazed none of his books have ever been filmed - Christopher Nolan, if you're out there, now Batman's in the can, how about taking a look at Druss the Legend or Jon Shannow?

Q] While we are on the subject of David Gemmell, its interesting to know that he had a certain take on his beloved characters. He labeled them as "Rick's Bar characters" and described them in the following way:
 "When authors talk of great characters, what they really mean is easy. Some characters are tough to write. The author has to constantly stop and work out what they will say or do. With the great characters, this problem disappears. Their dialogue flows instantly, their actions likewise. A friend of mine calls them "Rick's Bar characters," from the film Casablanca. Some characters you have to build, like a sculptor carving them from rock. Others just walk out of Rick's bar fully formed and needing no work at all."

What is your opinion about it & was this the case for you with any of your character/s

AR: Some characters are definitely easier to write than others. Of the four living in my head at the moment, Vaelin is the hardest to write, mainly because he has the biggest back-story and I'm sure readers will be quick to spot any inconsistencies. At the same time he, and all the other characters, need to change as the story progresses - if they're basically the same people on page 600 as they were on page 1, then I haven't done my job. I also find villains difficult to write, even when seen from the point of view of a non-villain. You have to be careful not to fall into the trap of "oh, they did that terrible thing just because they're evil", which is a huge cop out. I have a mantra when writing villains: Remember, Hitler thought he was the good guy.

Q] After finishing your respective series, whenever that might be, what do you hope to write next? Do you see yourself trying out different genres? Different formats?

AR: Like most writers, I have a head full of ideas, mostly nebulous but some starting to achieve solidity. Of the more solid ones, I have an idea for a horror / history mash-up series. There's also a stand-alone space opera that's been hanging around my head for a while now, plus a graphic novel. I've also been working on a non-fiction historical book which I had to put to one side to concentrate on Raven's Shadow but hope to return to when it's done. Like I said, head full of ideas and I don't think I'll run out anytime soon.

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

AR: Just to say thanks for letting me ramble on and express my deep appreciation to anyone who has taken the time to read my work. Updates about my work and random musings on stuff I like can be found on my blog: , where text and audio versions of the first two Slab City Blues stories are also available as a free download. The third story is available as a ten part podcast novel on iTunes or Podiobooks.


7 comments:

Nayan said...

Thanks for the interview. The last book that I finished was Blood Song and I loved it!! Looking forward to the next book already :)

The Reader said...

Thanks Nayan

I think Tower Lord might be a while as Anthony is writing it currently. Plus with Blood Song being re-released by Ace-Roc next year, I'm unsure though when Tower Lord will be released.

Mihir

Melinda Le Baron said...

Out of all the indie authors out there, Anthony is one of the best! His talent shines through the dross like a star. Both his novel and his novellas are absolutely amazing. Thanks for your interview. Anything highlighting Anthony is worthwhile. He is one of the next big things in fantasy and SF and who knows what else. I've already made my feelings known about Anthony publically at www.mlbiblio.com when I declared it Anythony Ryan Day and reveiwed all his works. Cheers, Melinda

The Reader said...

Hi Melinda

Thank you for your comments, Anthony's book sure is an amazing debut and I count myself lucky to read his book so early. Thanks for dropping by.

Mihir

Anil said...

I'm stunned. What an incredible story and I'm glad I decided to take a flier on a $3 ebook from an self-published author. He has a high ceiling with this series if he pulls off the rest!

Greg Sioui said...

Thank you for your interview! I have been scouring the internet for an hour searching for any mention of the second book and have found it in your interview. I have just recently finsihed Blood Song and was absolutely stunned. I expected little having just bought it on a whim and found myself glued to the text. I became annoyed at having to do anything that drew my attention from the book. Only a handful of books truly captivated me so. Good Luck AR!

Anonymous said...

That was a most brilliant read,I have just finished reading all of david gemmel books and wanted to find another good author and I have now found one.

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