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Tuesday, April 13, 2021

SPFBO: Interview with Justin Lee Anderson






Order The Lost War over HERE(USA) or HERE(UK)

About Justin: Justin was a professional writer and editor for 15 years before his debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. He wrote restaurant and theatre reviews, edited magazines about football and trucks, published books about fishing and golf, wrote business articles and animation scripts, and spent four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guide book.

Justin now writes full-time and is a partner in his own publishing company. He also writes scripts with his wife Juliet, who he met through the BBC Last Laugh scriptwriting competition.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little about yourself. 

Thanks for inviting me! Hi, I’m Justin. I’m Scottish, though I spent most of my childhood growing up in America thanks to my dad’s football (soccer) career. I started writing my first novel, Carpet Diem, in my 20s, but got distracted by a lot of life and some screenwriting, so didn’t publish it until I was 41. Thankfully, it only took me another four years to publish The Lost War. I’m getting faster.

Do you have a day job? If so, what is it? 

I used to. I spent most of my career as a professional writer and editor across several different media, until 2018 when a friend approached me with the notion we set up a business to publish my work, and I’ve been writing full time since then. 

Who are your favorite current writers and who are your greatest influencers?

I struggle to come up with ‘favourites’ these days, because I find I like so many different things and my tastes change with my mood. But there are some writers whose work I will pretty much always pick up just because it’s them: Neil Gaiman, Joe Abercrombie, Patrick Rothfuss, Anna Stephens, Ed McDonald, Jasper Fforde and Tom Holt.

In terms of other influences, the first fantasy author I read everything I could from as a kid was Piers Anthony, and he really got me into the genre. 

But I also read crime. I adore Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo, as well as Imogen Robertson, which is probably where the mystery elements of The Lost War come in. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

The first ‘story’ I wrote was 2 sides of A4 for a school project. I was only supposed to write one side. The teacher liked it and had me read it in front of the class. It was totally a D&D rip off, but hey, I was 9. 

I had another similar experience when I was about 15/16, and my Higher English teacher had me read a chapter to the class. But I never really believed I could do it for a long time after that.

I tried various projects at university, including a deeply pretentious novel inspired by Tristram Shandy and The Waste Land (English students, eh?) and a graphic novel I worked on with an artist friend, but it wasn’t until I started Carpet Diem I was really serious about something. (I actually submitted the first 10k of Carpet Diem to Neil Gaiman’s then agent - she requested the full manuscript - and I hadn’t written it yet! Kids, don’t do this at home.) 

The main thing that distracted me from that was when I entered and made it to the final of a BBC scriptwriting contest, through which I met my wife, and we focused for a long time on scripts, so the novel got neglected.

But when I finally came back to it years later, I think I was a much better writer for having the years working professionally, and I produced a better book than I would have.

I think The Lost War is a better book than Carpet Diem, for much the same reasons, and I think my writing on The Insurgent King (the second Eidyn book) is better again. I guess you just keep learning by doing and by reading other good books.

What do you think characterizes your writing style? 

I’ve been told it’s tight and easy to read, and I think I like that. I’m not a fan of Tolkeinesque prose that gets you so lost in the words that you’ve forgotten what’s happening. I want readers lost in the story. I think of myself first as a storyteller, then a writer. 

What made you decide to self-publish The Lost War as opposed to traditional publishing? 

A complete and utter lack of patience, honestly. I spent a lot of time revising Carpet Diem and subbing it before it was picked up by a small press initially in 2015, and then I took the rights back and republished it myself in 2018. With The Lost War, I just wanted to get the story out there and get onto the next book, and with the backing I have, and my background in publishing, it felt like the obvious choice.

What do you think the greatest advantage of self-publishing is? 

Control. You get to make the decisions and you can live or die by them. A lot of early authors had that kind of control over their work, and there is a lot to be said for it.

On the other hand, is there anything you feel self-published authors may miss out on? 

Marketing and the benefits of big budget scale. I would kill to have someone else do my marketing. It feels like a giant time suck, but it’s completely necessary. And the big houses have the infrastructure to print at scale and therefore keep cover prices to a level where they can get into bookshops in a way you just can’t with POD. 

And, whatever changes are happening, and I do believe they are happening, there is definitely still a perception of higher quality and kudos that comes from being published by a big house. That may change - the whole industry may change - but for now, it’s still there.

One of the big challenges with self-publishing is finding readers. Was that your experience? 

I think I got lucky. I got an early review comparing Carpet Diem to Good Omens, and I used that on a Facebook ad and it just… went. As good reviews came in, it built momentum and it’s kind of just carried on from there. Because it sells steadily, Amazon come to me now and again with promo offers, which always helps, and I get the same for The Lost War now, too. I definitely credit Facebook ads for the success of Carpet Diem. 

With the Lost War it was much more about blogs. Anna Stephens kindly read an ARC for me, and her review led to Petrik at Novel Notions reviewing it. That definitely caused a sales spike, and I got another one when Alex at Spells and Spaceships reviewed it. Since then a number of great blogs have posted good reviews, and I think they have been the driving force behind sales of The Lost War.

Why did you enter SPFBO? 

Good question. Vanity? Glory? Marketing? I suppose, honestly, the thing I have learned the most in the last five years is that immersing yourself in the SFF community has a whole swathe of benefits, not just professionally, but personally too. I’ve made some wonderful friends at cons and online, and SPFBO seems like another great way to meet people and become even more part of the community. And it’s such a supportive community. Obvious exception aside, there’s no competition between writers, it’s all people supporting each other and building each other up. I love that.

What would you do if you won the SPFBO? 

Yikes. Get very drunk, I think! Then when I’ve sobered up, figure out what to do next from a business perspective. But I hope I would take time to savour it. I think my wife would make me.

How would you describe the plot of The Lost War if you had to do so in just one or two sentences? 

That’s just cruel. OK, I can do this:

The Lost War is a twisted fantasy road trip, where the magically-skilled king’s envoy must bring a group of strangers together to uncover a conspiracy threatening to bring down the kingdom in the aftermath of a devastating war.

I hated that. :)


What was your initial inspiration for The Lost War? How long have you been working on it? Has it evolved from its original idea? 

It was three ideas that came together into one book. Firstly, I wanted to write a fantasy set in a world based on the history, mythology and etymology of Edinburgh. Secondly, I wanted to write a story using a group of characters that friends and I had roleplayed for a lot of years. And thirdly, I wanted to write an allegory for some elements of world politics, culture and events. When I realised they were all the same story, The Lost War came together. It had been germinating in my mind for several years at least before I sat down to write it, and it took me about a year all told from then.


If you had to describe The Lost War in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Gripping. Twisted. Unexpected. 

How many books have you planned for the series? 

Eidyn Book Two will be out in the second half of 2021, with Book Three planned for next year and the final, fourth book in 2023, assuming all goes to plan!

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to The Lost War’s protagonists/antagonists?

There’s a core group of seven that we follow.

Aranok is an earth draoidh with the ability to control elements. In a society that is largely prejudiced against draoidhs, he is the first to be made king’s envoy after a successful rebellion against the old king. He has a complex past and a tendency towards anger and depression.

Allandria is Aranok’s bodyguard and lover. Her family aren’t from Eidyn, but she settled there as a child. One of the greatest warriors in the country, she’s smart, sassy, calm in a fight and incredible with a bow.

Glorbad is a rotund old soldier seconded onto the king’s council. He’s a heavy drinker with a big personality, haunted by his past and fiercely loyal to the king.

Nirea is a feisty pirate turned navy sailor who’s also been appointed to the king’s council. She’s a natural leader and tackles things head on. There’s trauma in her past too, though, and it might be more than she understands.

Meristan is a monk in the Order of the White Thorns, a group of religious knights trained from childhood to battle demons. A large man, but a man of peace, he’s struggling with a deep fear about himself and his true heart. 

Samily is a young Knight of the White Thorns. Socially awkward but plain speaking, she sees to the heart of complex matters with a sharpness beyond her years. An incredible warrior, she is deeply attached to her surrogate father, Meristan.

Vastin is a young blacksmith who lost both parents in the war, and whose business is failing in its aftermath. Rescued by Aranok, he agrees to join their quest out of little more than loyalty to the envoy and the knowledge he’ll be paid for his work. He’s worried he’s out of his depth, but more worried that everyone else will see that.

Would you say that the series follows tropes or kicks them? 

I would say it lulls them into a false sense of security and then ambushes them from the shadows.


Cover art is always an important factor in book sales. Can you tell us about the idea behind the cover of The Lost War? 

Well, that’s an interesting question, because I’ve just had the cover redesigned. I liked the original cover, but I felt it was a bit too dark and didn’t quite capture the feel of the book as well as I would have liked, so I had a new one designed by Damonza, on the back of them winning the SPFBO cover competition. This one is much more striking and bold, and has a clear identity that can carry through the series. I definitely think it better represents the tone and feel of the book.

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

Q: “Did you know how the book would end when you started writing it?”

A: Yes! Yes I did! The ending was the starting point. The whole premise of the book was that I wanted to write a story where X was the case, and everything else followed from there. It wasn’t a case of me starting with a setup and then finding my way towards a big finale - the finale was where I began plotting - and there is a direct allegory for all of it that I can’t explain until after you’ve read it. :)

What are you most excited for readers to discover in this book?

The obvious answer is the ending. But I hope they’ll also see some of the social and political commentary under the skin - some more subtle than others! Quite a few readers have told me they went back and read it a second time because it’s almost a different book once you know how it ends.

Can you, please, offer us a taste of your book, via one completely out-of-context sentence.

“Why have a fight tonight that you can put off until tomorrow?”

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

Eidyn Book Two will be out in the second half of 2021, with Book Three planned for next year and the final, fourth book in 2023, assuming all goes to plan!

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

I’m still on a high after being announced as a finalist. After seeing the community that grew out of previous years and the buzz around the finalists, this was what I really hoped to be part of, so everything from here on is jam. :)

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