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Tuesday, August 13, 2019

SPFBO: Semifinalist Interview with Randall McNally (Interviewed by Mihir Wanchoo)

(Not the author or is it?)

Official Author Page
Order Shadowless over HERE
Read Fantasy Book Critic's review of Shadowless

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic. To begin with, could you tell us a little about yourself and your background?

RM: Thank you for asking me to take part in this interview, it’s an honour to be here. I’m currently a project manager, working for a large software company, and I write in my spare time. I’m from Ireland and I have a degree in Astrophysics; so with the scientific education and over ten years’ experience working as a computer programmer you would think I’d have written a Sci-Fi book, but no.

Q] Can you tell us what inspired you to be a writer in the first place, what experience you went through in finishing your book, & why you choose to go the self-publishing route?

RM: A few years back, when I was working as a developer, I landed a new job. Programmers tend to jump between companies every 2-3 years and so this was normal. A few things happened and the move turned sour. I had only just joined the company and I didn’t want to leave right away – if anything, leaving so soon would have looked bad on a CV.

One day on my lunch break I read an article about a lady in America who gave up her day job to become a writer. She worked in a call center (cube farm) and sat behind a large man who ate egg sandwiches and flatulated all day. While I couldn’t afford to just leave my job this lady’s story definitely struck a chord. It was then I began writing; in the evenings, at the weekends, holidays. Some days in work I’d even churn out a few hundred words over lunch and email them to myself.

Writing the book was a massive undertaking and in all honesty, if I had known what was involved and how much it was going to cost, I’m not entirely sure I would have ever started. Anyway, the company I was working for, when I began writing Shadowless, was little more than a start-up and when a huge shift occurred in the industry people had to work longer hours without getting paid overtime or time in lieu. Trying to squeeze in writing during this time was difficult, and so because of this Shadowless took 2 years just to write (the entire process took 3 years). I’d never written a book before so everything was new to me, from finding an experienced proof-reader, a professional copy editor, a cover artist and a graphic design team. Sourcing all these people took time and, of course, money.

Why did I choose to self-publish? I didn’t choose. It was lack of option. I contacted thirty four literary agents/publishers (I know because I kept their details in a spread sheet so I didn’t contact the same ones twice) and pitched them my idea, sent them the first 3 chapters, etc. The eight that replied all said something similar…"Great idea, love the premise, strong writing style…just not what we’re looking for at the minute."

Q] Many writers have a muse, who directs their writing, and others do not seem to be affected the same way. Which group do you fall into? What is your main motivation and source of inspiration?

RM: The best source of inspiration I know is people. Sometimes I’ll be sitting in a canteen, bus or a bar and overhear a witty or insightful comment. If it sounds like something one of my main characters would say then I type it into my phone quickly, before I forget it.

Q] How did you hear about SPFBO and what helped you decide to submit your debut in this edition?

RM: Last year I contacted a book-blogger via Twitter and offered them a free copy of my book in exchange for an honest reviewer. They read it and loved it. Afterwards they got in touch with me and suggested that I submit Shadowless into the SPFBO competition. This was last September so I’ve been waiting about 10 months to submit my book.

Q] Please elaborate how the genesis of Shadowless occurred. How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea (if any)?

RM: Growing up I used to play RPG’s and computer games, all of which tended to be fantasy-based, even the films I watched and books I read were mainly sword and sorcery. There was something about the genre that appealed to me, so when I started to write it was obviously going to be fantasy. The idea for Shadowless had been rolling around in my head for a few years but never fully took shape until I began writing. I didn’t actually set out to write a book, merely to write short stories. It was only when I had a few of these stories written that a friend suggested connecting them. It took a few rewrites but I managed to get them to gel together into something that (hopefully) makes sense.

Q] Shadowless seems to be the opening volume in a saga. Could you give us a progress report about the sequel and outline your plans for the series as a whole? Also what would the series title?

RM: Yeah, everything is set up for a trilogy of books or even more. The world building and map are in place, a cast of main and supporting characters have been established and I have enough material for at least a few more books. Realistically however, a sequel was always going to be dependent on the success of the first book, and even though Shadowless has been well received it’s still nowhere near close to paying for itself. Despite that, I have got a rough draft of the first few chapters of a second book written, but it’s really slow going (not that the first one was written quickly). I changed jobs again soon after Shadowless was published and so don’t have the same need for the escape mechanism that writing provided.

I’m not sure what a series would be called? I was going to call the first book ‘Tales from the Northern Realms’ right up until the last second…but the title didn’t really go with the cover art. I’m glad I changed it. If anyone reading this has any ideas of what a series should be called then I’d love to hear them.

Q] Your book has a very unique approach to its POV structure. You roughly have about 20 POV chapters, each dealing with a new godling character (even though some POV characters make appearances in some other POV chapters). Why did you write your debut in such a distinctive manner?

RM: I didn’t realise the chapter format was that distinctive until people began commenting on it. This is my first book and I hadn’t done any writing since school, I mean…I wrote at university but it was all equations, lab reports and experiment write-ups…certainly no creative writing.

The distinctive format of the book came about because I began writing short stories about different characters in far-flung lands, each with a unique power and each with a very distinctive personality. It was only after the first few chapters that I started to link things together, flesh out the details and introduce the overall narrative. As you mention, some of the character’s chapters are (seemingly) standalone while others weave in and out of the novel’s main storyline. The chapters are deliberately in a specific order so as to drip-feed the reader with the book’s main elements rather than bombard them with information.

Q] Your book had a very Clash of The Titans feel to it. The Gods in your world are alien, cruel and very, very powerful. What was your inspiration for them and the world being the way it is and what are your thoughts on world-building in general?

RM: Clash of the Titans (the proper one with Laurence Olivier) was, of course, a major inspiration for the book, but I wanted to take it one step further. I grew up watching films like Jason and the Argonauts and marvelled at the way the gods used mortals as pawns, pitting them against each other and often plunging them into dangerous situations and watching how they reacted.

In these legends some of the gods breed with mortals to produce heroes of renown. I wanted to turn this on its head and have the gods breed with mortals with an aim to killing their offspring further down the line.

Building a world for my book was probably one of the most straightforward parts of it, I simply described it through the eyes of my characters. Yes, there’s dragons and gods in the world I created…but grass is still green and the sky is still blue.

Q] Can you tell us more about the world that the Shadowless is set in and some of the book’s major characters? There are some Greco-Roman influences (arena fighting and weapons) as well as medieval touches (heraldry and nobility). What are curiosities (geographical, mystical, etc.) of this world?

RM: Shadowless is set in the Northern Realms. As you can see by the map the continent is about the size of North America and contains differing climates and untamed wildernesses. The map itself took almost 200 hours to draw and required me teaching myself how to use Photoshop.

The Northern Realms is made up of thirteen independent and very different realms. Each one has their own laws and their own variations of nobility, much like our own world. Some of the secrets of the Northern Realms are teased out over the course of the book; yes there’s magic in the world but it’s subtle. It’s implied and hinted at, not shoved in your face without a backstory or context.

Q] The Shadowless world and the creation process for each semi-divine persona is quite dark. With that being said, would you call your book a dark fantasy or a grimdark one?

RM: I’ve tried to make my novel as real as possible (as real as you can be when thirty-foot tall armoured gods are involved); some of the characters get into dangerous predicaments and some even die. I think if a book like this doesn’t have an element of grimdark then realism gets suspended and readers get bored. I’ve heard people say that their biggest pet hate is characters who have Plot Armour.

The world in which the book is set is a really dangerous place for the main characters who live there, that’s not to say that Shadowless is four hundred and fifty pages of blood and violence. I’ve tried to tell a story in the best way I could and to give readers a glimpse into the lives of the characters in it. If readers can identify with even the smallest part of any of them then maybe I’ll have achieved something.

Q] Let’s talk about that cover, I really like it and I believe it very specifically ties into a crucial scene from the book. Who’s the artist for it and how did you collaborate with them for this striking cover? Did you give them any particular scenes or ideas to work on?

RM: The artwork was drawn by an artist called Mon Macairap and the rest of the cover was done by a graphics design company called Streetlight Graphics. I’m from Ireland, Mon is from the Philippines and the graphics design company is based in the U.S., so yeah, creating the book cover was a global effort.

I’m glad you like the cover, I’ve had so many people comment on it. I think it captures the mood and feel of the book perfectly. The inspiration for the cover came from John Howe’s picture of Ulmo. I’m a big Tolkien fan and when I saw John Howe’s picture, years ago, it stuck with me. In terms of what I asked Mon for, I explained the scene and what the characters looked like…the rest was all down to him.

It seems you’re not on your own in liking the cover, it recently won the public vote for Best Cover in this year’s SPFBO Cover Competition.

Q] Please tell us about the books and authors who have captured your imagination and inspired you to become a wordsmith in your own right. Similarly, are there any current authors you would like to give a shout out to?

RM: J.R.R. Tolkien and HP Lovecraft were the two main inspirations I had growing up. I’m also a fan of David Gemmell and Stephen King books.

Q] Thank you for taking the time to answer all the questions. In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

RM: I’d just like to say thank you once again for inviting me to take part in this interview. I’d also like to take the time to thank everyone who’s read my book up to now and to everyone who voted for my cover in the recent SPFBO Cover Competition.

My book comes with a map but it seems that some of the detail was lost when the map was shrunk down to fit into the book, if anyone would like a high-resolution jpg version of the map then please email me at and I’ll be happy to supply one.

NOTE: All the artwork & Snowball picture courtesy of the author.


Anonymous said...

Randy I love you.


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