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Thursday, May 14, 2020

Series Acquisition Interview with G. R. Matthews (interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Read Noir Under The Ocean by G. R. Matthews (guest post)
Read Building A New Word by G. R. Matthews (guest post)
Download a free copy of The Stone Road over here 

Just last week Solaris books announced the acquisition of Seven Deaths Of An Empire by G.R. Matthews. I’ve come to know G.R. via the SPFBO competition and over the past five years have gotten to know him well. I’ve read and enjoyed his noir SF thrillers as well as Wuxia fantasy titles. So I was very excited when he had begun writing this new fantasy book.

Join me in welcoming G.R. as we chat about the inception of this series, its roman-inspired beginnings as well GR’s path in becoming a traditionally published author.

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic Geoff and many, many congratulations on your signing with Solaris Books. Can you provide us with a summary of your journey leading up to your book acquisition?

GRM: There is a long journey from beginning to write, to learning to write, through practicing and eleven completed novels - the magical 1 million words.

There is also the shorter journey of this book though it will take longer to describe. Get a coffee, maybe a snack, and settle down in your comfiest chair.

I’d been subbing to agents for a couple of years, and one (Jamie Cowen) gave great feedback on the first book I sent in. He took the full manuscript, read it, enjoyed it, but ultimately turned it down with some incredible advice and thoughts. Just getting the full MS request was a massive boost. So, I wrote another book and subbed that. Again, Jamie got back to me - comparing the book to the ‘The Revenant’ (and adding in a little John Wick), which was great, but again it wasn’t quite right as a debut, a first book.

Third time’s the charm, they say. Well, only if you work damn hard and listen to advice.

In July 2019, I started writing Seven Deaths and then went on a family holiday. While there I saw, actually I think I got told about it, a ‘Shoot your Shot’ event held by Rebellion Publishing. At this point I had three finished, unpublished books; the two I’d sent to Jamie, and a post apocalyptic ‘World of Warcraft meets the A-Team’ one (I think you’ve read that one, Mihir). Being cheeky, but when you are shooting your shot, the more bullets you fire, the better chance you’ve got to hit the target (my approach to Call of Duty multiplayer), I figured why not try them all.

Each “shot” was a pitch of one of those books on twitter using the right hashtag. I crafted three pitches - one line to sell the book on. I have them lying about somewhere. Anyway, I fired them off whilst on holiday (I take a laptop so I can write) and then went swimming (probably). After a day or two, and near the close of the window for that event, I thought “why not?” and pitched the book I was only 18,000 words into. Utter madness.

(Anna Stephens picture courtesy of Mike Evans and Fantasy Hive)

However, I’d learned from the advice and rejections, and for the past three books I’d written a plan for the book. I had character arcs, major events, and gone from pantser to architect without really realising. I’d also gone to an event in London a week or so before my holiday with Mike Evans and Anna Stephens, where commissioning editors had spoken about pitches. Admittedly, I might have gatecrashed one of the events, but one of the panel (and the organisers) did say it was OK. So, I didn’t really gatecrash, I asked… I am British and was raised to be polite. Just after that panel and as the person who’d booked the slot didn’t show up, I sat with Jack Rennison, Editor at Harper Voyager, for about ten minutes talking about this nascent book and pitches - I’d always had a “pitch line” in my agent query letters and working out how to improve them was, for me, important.

It was, after sending the pitches in, all about waiting… and writing. I settled in for the long haul and put it out of my mind. This book wasn’t done, nowhere near, and I’d just pitched it. It would be just my luck they’d chose this one instead of one of the completed books.

Bugger, they asked for Seven Deaths and it had been less than a week! I polished the 10K near the end of the holiday. My family allowing me the time to do so. I sent the first 10k to some friends (an SPFBO judging panel - there is no more difficult group to get a book past), who are all readers and writers. I took their corrections, feedback and polished some more.

Synopsis - bloody synopsis. I hate them, my precious… cough… erm… anyway.

This time, due to my new method of writing, I’d actually written that before I set to writing the book. It wasn’t perfect and things might change as the book gets written, but this synopsis needed to be right. I begged, well asked Adrian Selby (Winter Road, Snakewood) to look it over for me… please… and like a gent he agreed!

(Snakewood & The Winter Road pic courtesy of Baggies40)

Let me point out before a deluge of synopsis rain down upon him, I’ve met Adrian quite a few times and spent many an hour drinking and discussing something or other - the alcohol is not good for the memory. All of which boils down to; I sent it off and he replied a day or two later with some great advice. A quick rewrite and it improved massively. All done and with a nervous flutter, I hit send and the letter (it is just polite), synopsis and 10K sample was carried to Rebellion on the wings of an email.

I put it out of my mind again. Well, tried to, but what if they asked for the full MS and I’ve only got 25K done by this point. It was back to work (the job that pays the bills) in September, writing in the evenings and at the weekends. Write, write, write. I had a plan to follow; scenes, beats, and events to include. By mid-October it was done. Well, the first draft was done. I typed “The End” and sighed in relief, opened by social media, checked my emails. 155, 000 words… I can write quickly and have often had two books on the go at a time, but this had been like doing three NaNo’s in a row. I was knackered, but exhilarated.

A week later. Shit. They’ve asked for the Full MS. I’ve just finished draft one… it is rough, unpolished. A quick email to Kate, the editor who asked for MS, explaining how rough it is. Doesn’t matter, she said, send it anyway. Gulp.

Bundle it up in an email, a quick check of the formatting as I dragged it from Scrivener into word. A very quick spell-check, and send.

And now it was off to BristolCon, keeping it as quiet as I can, because, you know, jinxing things. Had a great time meeting an amazing bunch of folks, watching a friend demolish, ever so slowly, a plate of pasta. I really enjoy BristolCon - small enough to be friendly, big enough to always meet new folks. Back home and I know I’ll polish the draft, because if they say no, it is going to be subbed to agents. I sent my second draft, really just a read through and tidy up of sentences, to Julia, always my first reader, and wait for the feedback. When Julia sends it back it is edit, correct, and polish. Wait and try and think about the next book.

December 2019. Sat in a board game cafe on a work team building, well-being event. Check my emails, because I’ve been checking it every five minutes since October. Read the offer email… we’d like to publish your book… read it again. And a third, fourth time. Have I read that right?

Almost scream in shock, fright, excitement - but manage to keep my cool (I so did not). Woohoo!

What now? Jamie, help!

Q] After your adventures with self-published books in the SF and epic fantasy genres, what spurred you to give traditional publishing a try?

GRM: I love Self-publishing for the freedom it gives, and hate it for all the things, the tips and tricks I don’t understand, or haven’t got time to do. I love each and everyone one of the books I have put out. There is evolution in each of them, and there is a lot of my heart and soul in them too. I’d say the books I’ve written now are more polished than The Stone Road (my first), but I’d also say that book has an energy to it that I try to recapture each time I write.

I asked myself, what next? Do I continue to self-publish or do I look for an agent? I think it came down to a few things:
 1) I always wanted to see my book in a book shop. I’ve always dreamed of seeing it there, nestled in amongst other writers that I look up to in amazement and awe.
 2) There is the confirmation that I was good enough.
 3) I need to be moving forward a lot of the time. Despite my reputation for being laid back, I like having goals and working toward them - even if they are self-imposed.

Where I’ve ended up is, I suppose, a hybrid, a bit of both. From now on, I don’t intend to Self-publish another book in a new series. That isn’t to say that the Corin Hayes books are finished, because four books in and 15k into the fifth that would not be fair to him. It is likely to come out at some point… if enough people ask (hint hint).

Q] The title Seven Deaths Of An Empire is very, very catchy. What can you tell us about how it came to be?

GRM: I don’t think it was the first title I came up with, but it is by far the best. It may have been the second (I’ve just checked my journal) but it came after the initial planning was done. By that I mean sorting out the main characters and some of the main events rather than being an in detail, two page synopsis or complicated outline.

Seven Deaths, Seven Samurai, Magnificent Seven, Lucky Seven, it just seems we have a love affair (in Western Europe and US) with the number seven. If it had been written in another country, by another writer, it might have been Eight Deaths or Three Deaths (a much shorter book).

I also like that the title gives you clues to the story, but plays a little bit the language - there are at least two ways to read it, maybe more. Also, the reader can count the deaths in the book and work out which are the significant seven? It is a puzzle and a hook (I hope).


Q] Based on the blurb details, there seems to be a roman influence on the world settings. Would you say that’s a fair assumption? Also what was your fascination with the Roman origins of the story?

GRM: The original idea was… The death of Alexander crossed with the rise of Nero. The juxtaposition of cultures, the desire of Alexander to conquer, the madness of Nero, all melded into one whole story. However, before you think it is historical fiction - it isn’t. It is inspired by those two events in our history and you can see that in the blurb.

The Empire itself is modelled, to a degree, on the Roman Empire and Army. It isn’t a lift and dump of structure, politics, and culture because that wouldn’t work in this world. Also because I’d get things wrong and someone would pick me up on it. So, it is based upon the Roman Empire.

Why? Because they are bloody interesting. Any Empire which can survive as long as the Roman’s, which can impose its culture and technology upon others is fascinating (from a distance, and almost 2,000 years is a good distance). You can argue, and it has been, that the Roman Empire persists to this day in the form of the Catholic Church, and that too is an element in this book (not the Catholic Church, but the persistence of ideas and faiths). There is also a fair amount of backstabbing and betrayal because that seems to be an element of many Roman stories and histories.

More than that, and cheating a little, most everyone is familiar with the Roman Army or Empire through school, TV, Film, or computer games. A lot of the heavy lifting or imagination is done before you sit down to read the book - it isn’t completely alien to the reader and their imagination will fill in the bits I haven’t described in great, overflowing, info-dump detail. It should make reading a smoother journey than needing to stop and go to a WIKI every two minutes to look something up.

Q] What would you say are some of the inspiration(s) for your new series?

GRM: Excellent question. Erm…

Really, this book came about from a map - the Geographer in me. I’d wanted to begin a new series. The Stone Road and rest of the Forbidden List was finished. Corin Hayes continues because he is just fun to write. It was a question of what next?

Whatever it was it needed a setting, a world, a history (even just a sketch of), and so I started there. Drew the map, worked out the weather patterns, biomes, transport links, trade routes, geology etc and the Six Kingdoms was born. You know, a lot of this probably came from reading Prisoners of Geography and seeing how much of national identity, politics, thinking is tied to our physical geography. Certainly, both of the other books in the Six Kingdoms (not published, yet - fingers crossed) have characters formed by their geography - both physical and human.

Anyway, Seven Deaths is not the first book in the Six Kingdoms. I have written two others. However, it is the first book chronologically speaking. With that in mind, I can truthfully answer that inspiration came from events in the other two books which take the story of the Six Kingdoms on and resound to the impacts of the events in this book and planned sequels - if that makes sense.

Q] How many books are you planning to write in this series?

GRM: I am planning nine books. That is three trilogies, in my mind at least. They cover three different periods in the history of the Six Kingdoms. Strangely, maybe, the first books of the other two trilogies are written and complete - though they need tweaking and polishing etc.

Everything from here on out depends on the readers. If they buy Seven Deaths Of An Empire, the other books will follow (I hope). Which, I suppose, depends on how well it is written and how much word of mouth, attention from blogs, and on Social Media the book gets. My hopes are high because I love this book!

Q] What can readers expect from this book and series?

GRM: My editor, and how strange it is to say and acknowledge that, describes the book as Grimdark. I like to think of it as a book of choice and consequence. Each character makes choices based upon emotion, morals, and upbringing, and each choice has a consequence, for good or ill.

More than that, readers can expect characters they can root for and others they can hate. There is double dealing, heroism, bravery, opportunism, and there is heart, soul, noble sacrifices, dark deeds and magic.

Readers will get to explore some of the Six Kingdoms in book one, and more and more as the story and world opens up.

They’ll be maps too. Maps which I, as a trained Geographer, have tried my hardest to make coherent in relation to geology, climatology, economics, and biomes.

Q] Thank you for your time and for consideration Geoff. I can’t wait to read SDOAE. Do you have parting thoughts for our readers?

GRM: I see some folks on social media say “I’m not buying a book until the series is finished.” Please, please, please don’t do this with mine. If this book does well, and it is a complete story, then you’ll get more. So, to paraphrase Mark Lawrence…. "Buy My Books!"

It has been a long road to get here and I’d like to thank everyone, including you, Mihir, for all the support to get here.

NOTE: For The Glory Of Rome digital art courtesy of Dusan Markovic.

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