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Monday, June 28, 2021

SPFBO: Interview with Alex S. Bradshaw, the author of Windborn

ABOUT ALEX: Alex grew up in Kent in the UK and spent much of his childhood hiding away and reading a book (seriously, he used to hide under the table and read when the other kids were playing).

He’s always been a fan of myths and legends, epic stories in general, and of course… dinosaurs. It came as no surprise to anyone that he went on to study Classics and Ancient History at university.

Now, Alex works in publishing and writes fantasy stories.

Find Alex online: WebsiteTwitter

Windborn by Alex S. Bradshaw; Published: April 28, 2021 Genre: Dark Fantasy; Pages: 562; 

Book links: GoodreadsAmazon


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

Thanks so much for having me!

I live in a town nestled in the English countryside about half an hour away from Stonehenge. We recently got a puppy so it’s been a joy over the past few months to see the seasons pass with an extremely happy and bouncy pup at our heels.

I have always enjoyed stories, especially of the magical and epic variety, so it probably will come as no surprise that I like to run Dungeons and Dragons with my friends. I love that we can all tell a story together that is so much bigger than one we could tell alone. As well as that I like to bake (I made some shield cookies to celebrate the release of Windborn) and if I’m not thinking about what I’m writing (whether that’s a book or a D&D session!) then I’m probably thinking about dinosaurs!

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

My reading’s slowed down in the past few months, but I’ve been making my way through Josiah Bancroft’s Books of Babel series which I think is fantastic. It’s got such a great voice and it’s a setting bursting with creativity.

I’ve also recently really enjoyed Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir, although I haven’t managed to get to Harrow the Ninth yet. I first saw it described as ‘lesbian necromancers in space’ and I was in. It’s absolutely dripping with voice and Gideon is such a brilliant POV character.

In terms of influences on me, I think Steven Erikson is one of my biggest influences. I adore the Malazan Book of the Fallen series. It took me a while to get into it, but I love the scope and the characters and the setting. It’s got some truly epic moments in it and I think it engages with Deep Time in an interesting way. I’ve definitely taken some of the things I’ve learned and loved about Malazan forward with me.

When and why have you decided to become an author?

I remember the moment exactly! I was at the World Fantasy Convention in 2013, which was in Brighton in the UK, and I was talking to someone I met there. I went to the convention to try and talk to editors in publishing to ask them how I might get some editorial experience, but as I was chatting to someone I met there - telling them about something I was writing for fun - he said ‘You sound like you want to be a writer.’ And I realised he was right!

I have always enjoyed stories and storytelling, but I’d put writing ambitions to one side for a few years because it can be so hard to make it as a writer. After that conversation, I realised/remembered that I loved it and I should get back into writing properly. Creating stories and characters is intoxicating to me. Being able to make something from scratch and show it to people so that they (hopefully!) enjoy it is truly amazing. I can give you a book filled with squiggles and spaces and you’ll look at it and see the story in your head. It’s basically magic!

Since I had that conversion in 2013 I’ve been working on projects fairly consistently and constantly reading on how to improve my stories and writing and I haven’t looked back!

How often do you write? Do you have a set schedule for writing, or are you one of those who write only when they feel inspired? Do you aim to complete a set number of pages or words each day?

My schedule used to be quite strict. I would write on the commute in and out of work which would give me an hour or two to do some solid writing, but since the pandemic it’s been a bit more slapdash. We also got a puppy a few months ago so trying to find time around him has been an adorable challenge!

Right now, I’m in planning mode so I’m aiming to look at at least one scene per day until I get the plan finished, but if I’m in drafting mode then I will aim for a certain word count per day. Usually, I’ll figure out what wordcount I want to aim for by setting myself a deadline for the draft to be finished, but I’ll probably aim for somewhere between 500 and 1000 words per day.

What made you decide to self-publish Windborn as opposed to traditional publishing?

Originally, I thought I would go through the traditional publishing route, but the more I looked into self-publishing the more it appealed to me. I enjoy getting stuck into every part of the process and understanding each step that takes a book from an idea to a fully formed and published work.

And I am lucky enough to work in the publishing industry. I feel that my job has helped me to understand all the moving parts of book production but it has also made me realise that book publishers can only publish so many books. I liked the process of putting together my book myself (even though it was vexing at times!) and I realise that not everyone would enjoy doing that, or even be in a position to do so. I would rather someone else - who doesn’t necessarily have the knowledge or means to self-publish - was given the publishing slot instead of me.

Why did you decide to enter SPFBO?

I’ve been watching SPFBO from the sidelines for many a year (and my hefty TBR thanks it every time!) so when I knew that I wanted to self-publish Windborn it was a natural step to put my own book into the arena.

My hope for SPFBO has always been that it will shine a bit of light on Windborn and that it will find some fans and readers who will enjoy it. Any success in the competition is an absolute bonus so I am absolutely overjoyed that it’s a semi-finalist (so thank you, Łukasz)!

For those that haven’t read Windborn, can you tell us a bit about it?

My super short pitch is that it’s a Viking superhero revenge story, although it is about more than that.

Windborn follows Edda Gretasdottir, a shield-maiden who is on her last raid. She finally has enough plunder saved up to buy a farm with her husband and escape their oppressive chieftain. But, the gods are cruel and laugh at the plans of mortals.

Edda loses everything when raiders burn her home and they toss her into the ocean to die. She rises from the ravenous waves as a Windborn, a resurrected warrior with supernatural powers, and she aims her fury and her new powers at those responsible for taking everything from her.

Windborn is full of fights, but it is also full of grief and rage. We hear Edda’s story as she struggles to deal with her grief and find her place in the world now that she has changed and become a Windborn.

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

It was a few years ago and I saw a book on Amazon, I can’t remember which one unfortunately, and I misread the blurb. I thought it was about warriors who had their souls fused with demons to give them supernatural powers and abilities. That sounded awesome to me, but when I went back to it I realised that wasn’t what the book was about and it actually wasn’t for me.

That idea stuck with me though and some time after that the character of Edda began to form in my mind. One day, Edda bumped up against the demon-fused warrior idea in my head and it all just clicked and I had the beginnings of Windborn.

I have been working on it - on and off - since about 2016. I was actually working on something else in 2016, but Edda kept resurfacing in my mind and I knew I had to hear her story before I could do anything else. So I got to a keyboard and started writing down what Edda needed to tell me!

The first draft of Windborn was only 50,000 words long and didn’t feel right so I had to start again but by then I knew Edda and knew that she wouldn’t let me just ignore her. I started another draft from scratch which eventually ended up being the version that was published!

Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers will sympathize with them?

Windborn is told in first person from Edda's perspective so she's definitely the main character. I think (hope!) readers will sympathise with Edda because she has to struggle against a lot of hardship in the book even though it's not her fault that she loses what she holds dear, but she never gives up. Even though she’s got obstacles galore to overcome, Edda is always moving forward and trying something new to get to where she needs to be.

Edda meets a few other characters along the way of her journey. Some other Windborn, with varying superpowers, and one of my other favourite characters is Valna. She’s Windborn just like Edda and she knows how to fight, but she also has a love of fashion and good clothes. She’s also super friendly and just wants to be friends with everyone, so I hope the readers will want to be friends with her too!

How many books have you planned for the Windborn Sagas?

The short answer is: I’m not sure yet!

Right now, the plan is to make the Windborn Sagas a series of standalone novels all focusing on a different character. I have about four characters that I would like to focus on and tell their story for. I like the idea of a series of standalone novels as it means readers can start wherever they like and similarly I can tell whichever Windborn Saga leaps out at me. I’m hoping to be able to tell enough Windborn Sagas to explore lots of different parts of the world and - if she’ll forgive me - I may even come back to tell another one of Edda’s sagas.

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?

I am so pleased with the cover so I'm always happy to sing the illustrator and designers praises!

The illustration was done by Raph Herrera Lomotan. I found him on Artstation looking at his amazing dinosaur art (go check it out!) and when I saw that he had been commissioned to do another cover I knew I had to get in touch. Once I had spoken to Raph and he agreed to do the cover I got in touch with Shawn King, of STK Kreations fame, to do the design because if you see a great indie cover it’s a good bet that Shawn’s had something to do with it!

Once we had everyone on board I basically gave Raph a pitch on my idea for the cover (keeping Shawn included on all the discussions so I didn’t make any stupid design decisions!) and he came back with concept sketches. I picked my favourite (which was Shawn’s too thankfully!) and then Raph got to work expanding it into the full illustration. There was some back and forth as we went along on small elements and Raph even suggested adding the burning ships on the back cover which was just perfect. It was amazing to see Raph create his brilliant illustrations from a few of my thoughts - as a writer it just blew my mind to see my words transformed like that!

With the illustration finished it was time for Shawn to step in. The first thing he sent me was a barebones designed front cover so I could see the direction he was thinking of taking, which was brilliant, and then as he filled in more of the design I gave him my thoughts. I didn’t need to add many tweaks as it was pretty much perfect from the get go!

As for tying to the book, the front cover has Edda front and center with the Winds (the northern lights) shining in the sky behind her. She’s swinging her axe and holding her shield high (and the front of her shield is carved just like she does in the book). Behind her are a couple more Windborn, Valna and Orin, who we meet later in the book, gearing up for a fight. And on the back cover we have some burning longships and two more Windborn, flying this time, duelling in midair. Pretty much all of the elements on the cover appear somewhere in the book and I am so pleased with how it’s turned out. I think it’s a dynamic illustration full of movement and tension and it shows the reader what’s in store for them.

Would you say that Windborn follows tropes or kicks them?

I think there’s a bit of both in Windborn. Edda certainly follows the tropes for a ferocious warrior woman. Valna bucks that trope a little as she’s really sweet and loves to get spruced up, but she can still fight alongside the best of them.

Can you tell us about your editing process? Do you proofread and edit your work on your own or hire professionals?

Absolutely. Once I’ve got the draft down I’ll leave it for a bit before I add it to my kindle so that I can read it through and make notes as I go. By leaving it for a couple of weeks and then reading it on my kindle it moves the book into a different space in my brain. I’m looking at it as a reader more than a writer and should have left it enough that I’m looking at it with fresh eyes.

After I’ve read it through and made all my notes then I’ll go through the book and make all the changes that I want to and get the book ready to be sent off to beta readers (basically first readers who can tell me if there’s anything they didn’t like or that turned them off so I can make changes). Whilst the beta readers are going through the book I’ll also be taking a look, but in a physical format this time. I found that you can get proofs from Amazon of your book fairly easily and without selling it online so I got a few proofs done so I could go through with a pencil and also pass a few copies to family members. Once I’ve got the beta feedback and made my own changes to the book then it’ll go off to the editor (in Windborn’s case this was the amazing Sarah Chorn).

I’ll go through the editor’s changes once I’ve had the draft back then I’ll go through her comments and edits and make as many changes as I can. Then (we’re nearly there, I promise!) I’ve almost got the final version! I’ll do one last pass to proof everything and make sure I’ve done as much as I can to clean up typos and things like that. I actually found a free text-to-speech software that was really helpful. When I read a scene my brain might automatically go ‘oh you meant this here instead of that’ and I won’t realise, but the computer reading the book doesn't know that! It’ll read out exactly what’s there so I caught a few more things listening back to it.

And that’s it! With all those steps and changes done I’ll start on formatting and getting the final draft turned into a book!

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer/in awe of the craft?

In no particular order:

Memories of Ice by Steven Erikson. My absolute favourite Malazan book. It’s got some amazing moments and the worldbuilding just gives those moments enormous depths that give me goosebumps.

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. Tamsyn Muir has made something really special with this book. The characters are amazing and Gideon’s voice saturates every sentence. It’s an amazing read and I hope I can make characters as good as she does.

Books of Babel by Josiah Bancroft. Admittedly I’m not all the way through the series yet, but Josiah Bancroft has an impeccable skill at writing prose that couples brilliantly with his inventive worldbuilding and characters. It’s a beautiful work and I hope I can make writing that flows as delightfully as his does.

What are you working on at the moment? And what’s your publishing schedule for 2021/2022?

Right now I’m working on the next Windborn Saga tentatively entitled Trollgrave. I’m probably about a third of the way through planning it, so I’m hoping to have the plan done in a few weeks if I can buckle down and then I’ll get it to you as fast as I can write and edit it! I don’t think I’ll get it out in 2021, but I’m setting a soft deadline to get it published by 28th April 2022 so that it’s a year behind Windborn at the latest.

I’ll also be doing some worldbuilding for another fantasy series that will be more epic in scope, set in a world heavily inspired by the ancient world (think ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and ancient Crete), and chock full of dinosaurs. It is the world that I’ve wanted to build for such a long time so I’m super excited to be able to set aside some time for it now.

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?

Thank you, I really enjoyed the interview, some really great questions here!

I just want to thank everyone who’s given Windborn a chance and for the reception it’s had. I hope that if anyone is on the fence that you’ll consider reading Edda’s story!

Thanks again for having me!




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