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Monday, February 12, 2024

Author Interview: Anna Smith-Spark & Michael R. Fletcher, the author duo behind In The Shadow of Their Dying




We’re thrilled to share the interview with Anna Smith Spark and Michael R. Fletcher, co-authors of In the Shadow of Their Dying. The novella will be available from Grimdark Magazine on March 19, 2024. It's 144 pages long.

Pre-order In The Shadow of Their Dying here: US / UK



INTERVIEW

Hello guys, thanks so much for joining us! Would you tell us a little about yourselves, and what made you want to start working together?

Anna: Hello! I’m Anna Smith Spark, author of the grimdark epic fantasy Empires of Dust trilogy, the stand-alone A Woman of the Sword, and A Sword of Bronze and Ashes, book one in my new folk horror high fantasy series The Remaking of This World Ruined. I have a passionate love of high fantasy, military history, social and cultural history, and folklore / mythology, all of which come together in my writing.

I started stalking Mike around the Grimdark Writers and Readers Facebook group years ago before I’d been published, I adored Beyond Redemption. We’re e-friends, and are often bracketed together as the grimdarkest of the grimdark, we do seem to think in kind of the same way. Adrian Collins suggested we work together on something for Grimdark Magazine and I was absolutely delighted. Adrian is amazing and has been such a huge supporter of both of us, and I was extremely excited to see what Mike and I could do together. It felt a bit of a challenge – how far can too far go, and could we maybe go a bit further?

Michael: I don’t like talking about myself because I have to invent a fresh back story every single time. Anyway, it’s not about me, it’s about the books. Or at least hopefully it’s about the books.

The truth is Adrian at Grimdark Magazine forced us to work together. No one ever talks about it, but he is the Godfather of Grimdark.

Collaborative work is… Well, it’s not for everyone. But you’ve pulled it off. What does it take to successfully co-write a novel? And what was the process for In The Shadow of Their Dying?

Anna: What does it take? What’s the process? Be absolutely batshit crazy. Then find someone who’s even batshit crazier. Then find a very good project manager who’ll yell at the pair of you to try and please co-ordinate anything.

We were given an initial brief by Adrian, which I think was basically ‘inside a city under siege’ as a device to keep it very tight and place specific, not have us start doing the epic fantasy ‘meanwhile, two hundred years earlier on another continent’ thing, and regicide to continue the King Must Fall theme from the GdM anthology we both wrote for. Then we had some glorious skype meetings where poor Adrian was trying to get the two of us to draw up any kind of plot, world building, coherent timeline beyond ‘well, there’s a city, and it’s under siege, and there’re these people who need to kill the king…’ To be honest, we had the brief and just sort of wrote. Mike wrote a bit, then passed it to me, I wrote a bit, passed it back to him. I’m an extremely chaotic writer anyway, don’t plan or structure beforehand but charge in madly and then at some point just see it all like a beautiful landscape before me that I’m strolling through. Having someone else seeing something totally different was just part of the crazy fun. Although it was kind of scary how much we seemed to naturally see the same story emerging.

Then Covid happened, we both had to stop writing and focus on family stuff, the book sat around for ages. We were finally able to finish it last year.

Michael: I’ve done a couple of collaborative novels, and I can say it’s different every time. Sometimes there is one person with a vision, driving the project, cracking the whip. And sometimes it’s utter chaos where neither knows what the other is writing, communication is spotty at best and then one of the writers (me) forgets everything they talked about ten seconds after the meeting and didn’t take notes.



How did you divide the labor? Was it by character? If so, would you be willing to discuss who wrote which character?

Anna: We divided the work by POVs/chapters. It was written like a game of consequences, one of us would write one character and then pass it on to the other to have another character respond. So that was a lot of fun.

I won’t say who wrote exactly who and what, as various people are enjoying trying to attribute different lines. (But I think it’s probably obvious I wrote Iananr.)

Michael: Yeah, we kinda each took a couple of characters. I think I (mostly) wrote Tash (the third-best assassin) and Pitt. Anna wrote the best demon-POV ever and the spy. 

We started writing this back in…2018, I think. I haven’t a fucking clue how we split things up back then or what we were thinking. I remember thinking I wanted to write a really attractive but dumb-as-mud assassin who wasn’t very good at his job.

Did you map out all the plot points beforehand, or did you make it up as you went along? What do you do if you disagree on where to take the story?

Anna: We had a couple of meetings to discuss vaguely where we were going. But a lot of it was based on simply riffing off stuff, pushing the story on from the previous chapter to see where things went.

We didn’t disagree on much at all. Somehow. We got in a huge muddle over details, but the basic idea just flowed and we went with it. Enjoyed what the other one was doing and pushed it on further. Or something. I don’t know, it was kind of mad, we both just somehow had a shared vision and went for it. Mike may of course say something totally different, but that’s the way I remember it.

Michael: Oh Jesus no.

We embraced chaos. We wrote each other into corners and then got inventive. 

What do you think your fans will enjoy the most about this upcoming book? And how does it differ from books you write solo?

Anna: Various people have said we are their dream combination as co-authors. It’s probably the most visceral thing I’ve ever written, and probably in some ways the most sexually explicit. And the weirdest. The joy of not having a 150,000 word count requirement and someone else to do some of the heavy lifting on the plot, I think – the Iananr chapters let me really push the experimental doom metal industrial aspect of my writing in a way a more traditionally structured and written novel probably wouldn’t.

Michael: Probably the words. Though the cover is pretty sweet too.

The obvious aside, I’m not sure how different my parts are from anything else I’ve written. We had a lot of fun with this, but I (mostly) enjoy writing all my books. 

What can readers expect when they pick up In The Shadow of Their Dying?

Anna: One early reviewer described it as ‘the most disgustingly compelling novella I have ever read’. And Pete McLean, one of my favourite authors, described the Iananr chapters as ‘like Tanith Lee out of her nut on PCP’.

Michael: Chaos. Insane sorcery. Characters with great hair who learn crucial life lessons and end up as better people than they were. Death. Mayhem.

What were your inspirations behind the story?

Anna: Honestly, I have no idea. As I said, a city under siege and an assassination was the brief at the beginning, partly just to keep it contained. Then Iananr kind of happened because she’s been in my head since I was a teenager. It felt brilliant to get her written properly finally. There’s so much I want to say about war and resistance and collaboration, and about women in war, those are some clear themes in most of my books.

And losers! We both write about losers (i.e. real people) a lot. This isn’t a story about heroes or arch villains, it’s about people caught up in the mess. That I think is something that’s important in both our writing. We didn’t want to write about the big players in the big history-shaping events of the siege itself, we wanted to write about the people in the shadow [hey! See what I did there!] of the big political and military events. The people whom history craps on then ignores completely, like she does most of us.

Michael: Writing with Anna is terrifying. She’s a prose monster. I’m like a drunken toddler in comparison. I just wanted to not get crushed. 

How would you describe the plot of In The Shadow of Their Dying if you had to do so in just one or two sentences?

Anna: ummm … ahh ... is there one? ‘Some people are hired to kill a king. Inevitably, it doesn’t quite go to plan’ maybe.

Michael: Summoning demons is dangerous. Binding them is tricky. Killing them is both.

What subgenres does it fit?

Anna: It’s definitely grimdark… Also military low fantasy, I guess, and horror.

Michael: Heroic fluffery.

Who are the key players in this story? Could you introduce us to its protagonists/antagonists?

Anna: the three principal characters are Tash the assassin, Pitt the mercenary leader, and Iananr the king’s bodyguard. All three are just trying to survive and get through as best they can in a different situation.

Michael: Fuck no. Read the story.

What’s next for the two of you?

Anna: I’m trying to finish up the second book in the Remaking of This World Ruined series. Literary folk horror high fantasy, very much about style and prose, very, very different from In The Shadow of Their Dying. Then excitingly, I have a very different but also oddly similar project for 2000AD – I’m writing a novel about Judge Death and Judge Anderson! My name next to the 2000AD logo! Getting to play with two characters I’ve loved since childhood! It’s brilliant.

Michael: I’m working on a standalone fantasy called Dust of the Dead, which I should have finished early in the new year. Don’t wanna talk about it yet. New world. New magic system. 

Michael - a question for you. In The Shadow of Their Dying is your third published book co-written with another author, and, as far as I know, you’ve been working with Krystle M. Matar on the next one. What appeals to you in collaborative work?

I really like only having to write half a book.

And I always look for cowriters who bring something new to the table. My rule is “Always work with people who are better at this than I am.”

Anna - and one for you. How did you like the experience of co-writing a story? Would you be game to co-write another book?

To be honest, there aren’t that many people aside from Mike I’d collaborate with. We’ve always really gelled intellectually, it felt very easy and tension-free working together. I’m not sure I’d do it again with many people. Also, we had a chaotic way of working that I suspect would have driven a lot of other people to despair.

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?

Anna: We are both very nice, kind people who had to stop writing the story because we were the primary carers for our respective kids during covid. I don’t know how we write this stuff. I get a bit surprised myself sometimes.

Again, Mike may have a different take on this, though.

Michael: Always use your powers for good.

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