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Friday, January 15, 2021

Q&A with Phil Williams, the author of Kept From Cages and Ordshaw series

Order Kept From Cages over HERE
Reaf FBC's review of Kept From Cages

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

I’m a full-time writer from the south coast of the UK; I write books for English learners but spend most of my time writing contemporary fantasy, leaning towards horror. I’ve got a background in freelancing and teaching, and used to travel a lot. Now I walk my dog.

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

Right now, to name a few, I can’t get enough of Laura Purcell, Alix E. Harrow, Josiah Bancroft and P. Djeli Clarke. I may add Martha Wells and Stephen Graham Jones to that list once I’ve read enough of their work to confirm it.

As for influencers, ones who I’ve consumed in the largest quantities and/or at the most formative times include Terry Pratchett, Joseph Heller, Elmore Leonard, Sue Grafton, Cormac McCarthy, Mark Twain and George Eliot. A pretty weird gang, hence my pretty weird style.

How would you describe the plot of Kept From Cages if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

A gang of criminal jazz musicians stumble upon an abducted child with a dangerous secret, while an international agent tries to solve the mystery of a massacred village. The result: a pair of action-packed adventures that jump between Louisiana and the Congo.

How did you come up with the title Kept From Cages?

I’ve rewritten this novel a half-dozen times over a couple of decades, so it’s had many titles that never quite stuck. They typically had Biblical references, connecting to Eden or Nod, which wasn’t too original. While I was writing this version, I came across the song East of Eden by Zella Day, which fit my mood well, and there’s a lyric in there that clicked with the story, leading me to this final phrase. Thankfully – now I don’t have to compete with John Steinbeck.

How does it tie with the plot of the book?

That’s covered in the book, but, for a hint, it’s to do with people who live on the wild side of life.

How many books have you planned for the series?

This is a duology, so you’ll have 2 “Ikiri” books, but they’re part of the wider Ordshaw universe, which currently has 4 full novels and I’ve at least another 6 planned there. I’m splitting these into complete sub-stories along the way (the first three forming the complete Sunken City Trilogy), so there’s multiple entry (and exit!) points.

What inspired you to write this story? Was there one “lightbulb moment” when the concept for this book popped into your head or did it develop over time?

This story’s been festering since my adolescence, so I can’t recall now where the first ideas came from exactly, but it’s got roots in the action films and TV I watched growing up. As my own spin on the entertainment I enjoyed, there’s echoes of Tarantino and epic Anime in there. There are also various quasi-religious aspects to the story which feed the story specifics and atmosphere, for which I can thank a Catholic upbringing and a lot of daydreaming in church.

If you had to describe Kept From Cages in 3 adjectives, which would you choose?

Madcap, slick, relentless

Would you say that Kept From Cages follows tropes or kicks them?

There are some definite tropes in there: suave criminals thrown into something epic; murderous cultists; the female assassin; nods towards a Chosen One mythos and zombie outbreaks, probably more. But there’s also twists to all those things (this Femme Fatale is most definitely not seductive, for example), and more than a little of the unusual thrown in.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to Kept From Cages’’s protagonists/antagonists?

Sure; we’ve got the Cutjaw Kids, a four-piece criminal jazz band from a trailer-park in Louisiana, led by ever-friendly Reece Coburn. His comrades are sharp-tongued Leigh-Ann, kind Caleb and walking-liability Max Stomatt. They’re out to help Zip, a sweet-natured child with red eyes.

You’ve also got Agent Sean Tasker, international agent for the MEE (think if James Bond investigated the supernatural, and had a bit of a conscience), who’s partnered with Katryzna Tkacz, international (very unstable) assassin.

When it comes to antagonists, that’s part of the mystery; there’s an unstoppable swordsman and a lumbering monster, and rumours of violent mercenaries, all of whom are difficult to trace. Oh there’s also Dustin Fallon and his band of merry Steers, a glorified protection racket.

How did you select the names of your characters?

Oh man I have no idea for some. Reece and Stomatt have been there since the story’s inception, I’ve always known their names. But Leigh-Ann had a few different names before that one stuck, it just felt right, likewise Caleb. Tasker comes from The City Screams, with a name fit to purpose – a guy who gets things done.

Katryzna was originally (in every earlier iteration of the story) Katiya, but insisted everyone call her Kat. This was from before my brother met his girlfriend called Kat, who’s a big supporter of my books and shouldn’t be mistaken for a murderous maniac. So I looked for alternatives, and my wife being Polish led me down the path to this very intriguing new name...

Does your book feature a magic/magic system? If yes, can you describe it?

I don’t call it magic myself, but there’s something there. Uncovering exactly what it is is part of the journey, though.

Have you written it with a particular audience in mind? Who’ll enjoy it?

I wrote it for anyone who’s after something like me: fast-paced, sharp-talking modern thrillers with original supernatural twists. It’ll appeal to lovers of action-films and adventures with fantasy elements, and hopefully others besides.

Alright, we need the details on the cover. Who's the artist/designer, and can you give us a little insight into the process for coming up with it? How does it tie to the book?

Oh my, here’s a fun story (or dull? you decide!). I did the cover myself, as I’ve been doing since I did a course with the great Stuart Bache. Here, I tried to do something more commercial than my Ordshaw efforts, which don’t exactly nail a genre. I worked on a film-poster style cover for ages, with eerie symbols and accurate renditions of the characters, and produced something I was really proud of. When I got feedback, everyone asked if it reflected the genre. It did not.

So I started over and tried to imitate the styles of big supernatural thrillers, like James Rollins’ books. My first, super-quick attempt turned out to be almost absolutely identical to a Tana French book which I’d never seen before. Same stock image and everything. Fortunately, that was pointed out to me (by Travis Riddle, thanks!), and I was able to try again. But at least I was on the commercial side of things. 

Third time lucky, I took my atmospheric ideas and threw them together with some more original imagery (I chopped up the jungle a little to nail the look) and a gritty urban background, reflecting the atmospheres of the two prongs of the story.

Anyway, the moral here is that the final result is very much thanks to some timely feedback!

What was your proofreading/editing process?

I do tons of editing myself, as I tend to write and rewrite scenes again and again, a bit like dress rehearsals for a play. Once I’ve done that for a hauntingly bleak period of time, I entrust the book to my wonderful editor, Carrie O’Grady, who does a copy-edit and offers plot-level advice. She helps with major revisions, and I do another full proofread or two myself.

When the book’s ready for release, I send it out to a couple of dozen advanced readers who are great at picking up any final typos.

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

That it’s a twisty, unexpected, wild ride with characters they’ll really care for.

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

This is the toughest question! Let’s try this:

“How you hide a sword up a sleeve?” Leigh-Ann asked, and Reece watched Zip like she oughta know.

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2021/2022? 

I’m doing my best to deliver the Ikiri sequel ASAP. Definitely by summer, hopefully sooner. But I wrote about a third of the sequel right after this release, and had to take a break because, frankly, it was exhausting.

While this story will wrap in two books, elements of it will resurface later. There’ll be some manner of other continuation, fingers crossed, in a 2022 novel.

Meanwhile, I’m aiming at releasing a direct sequel to The City Screams later this year, and either a third book in that arc or a standalone Ordshaw story.

Somewhere between now and 2022 I also hope to put out an epic portal fantasy that’s been gathering dust for about 7 years, and at least the first in a series of dystopian thrillers. 

I’m also aiming to have an epic military fantasy out on submission by mid-2021.

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? 

Well, the Ordshaw series is ongoing alongside these books, so if you haven’t checked those out please do. We’re up to 4 books now, and I’m aiming to get Book 5 up this year. The first 2 are out in audio, produced by Fran Burgoyne, an incredible narrator who made her debut with Under Ordshaw and has since won awards. I’d really love more people to hear Ordshaw on audio, she did such an incredible job bringing it to life!

Otherwise, I’ve got my finger in about a dozen other projects, too plentiful (and currently far off) to note.

NOTE: Many thanks to Justine, Timy & the Storytellers On Tour for giving us an opportunity to take part in this tour. Check the tour's full schedule.



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