Author interview with John Gwynne

Author interview with John Gwynne

Author Bio:
I was born in Singapore while my dad was stationed there in the RAF. Up until he retired that meant a lot of traveling around, generally a move every three years or so.

I live with my wife and four wonderful (and demanding) children in East Sussex. Also three dogs, two of which will chew anything that stands still. I have had many strange and wonderful jobs, including packing soap in a soap factory, waitering in a french restaurant in Canada, playing double bass in a rock n roll band, and lecturing at Brighton University.

I stepped out of university work due to my daughter’s disability, so now I split my time caring for her and working from home - I work with my wife rejuvenating vintage furniture, which means fixing, lifting, carrying, painting and generally doing what my wife tells me to do...

And somehow during this time I started writing. I’ve always told my children stories at bed-time, and they pestered long and hard for me to write some of it down. At the same time I felt that my brain was switching off a little - vintage furniture is my wife’s passion, whereas my passions are geekier!

That’s how The Banished Lands and Malice began, though along the way it became more than just a hobby. I’m still in shock that it is actually a real book, rather than just pages on my desk. 

Hi John, welcome over at The Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.
JG: Hi Jasper, thanks for the invite, it’s great to be here.

BP: First off could you tell us a bit as to who John Gwynne is? What are your hobbies, likes and dislikes besides writing?

JG: Okay. I’m 46 and I live on the South East coast of the UK. I am blissfuly married with four awesome children and three disobedient dogs. I read a lot of historical fiction alongside the mountains of fantasy books that tower within my bedroom - authors like Bernard Cornwell and Conn Iggulden. My other passion is music. I play the double bass and love mostly vintage stuff - jazz, blues, swing, rockabilly. Before my hair fell out I had a quiff.
I dislike celery. Vehemently.

BP: Three years ago you wrote your first book Malice, what gave you the idea to start writing a story and not just a story but an tome!

JG: Writing Malice began as a hobby. A bit of context for you - at the time I’d recently quit my day job as a lecturer at Brighton University. My daughter Harriett is profoundly disabled and I felt that I was needed at home full time. My wife and I began a vintage furniture business, bills still had to be paid, but this was something that could be handled mostly from home. It can be very intense, both working from home and being a carer 24/7. So I thought a hobby was in order - of course, one that I could do at home. I’ve always read, and been known to tell a tale or two to my children. When I told my wife and kids that I was thinking about a hobby they all said “Write a book!”
I said, “No, I don’t think I could do that.”
They said “Have a go.”
So I had a go. 

BP: Writing a debut is a daunting task but at 600+ pages makes it even more difficult, how did you went about and start writing it?

JG: Malice was the first thing I’ve ever written, outside of essays and a Dissertation or two. I knew what I wanted to write - fantasy is my first love, Tolkien, Gemmell, Howard, so that was a no-brainer. I also love historical fiction - authors like Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Manda Scott, and I knew I wanted my fictional world to feel grounded and historical.

I approached writing Malice the only way I knew how, the way I’d learned at university. To read, read, read, and then read some more. So I did a ton of research. It didn’t exactly feel like hard work because it was all the cool stuff, about how swords are made, about wolf pack behaviour, about shield walls and long sword technique and Komodo dragons and eagles and crows and lunar cycles. I read a lot of world mythology, especially Celtic and Norse, and of course ancient history, Caesar’s Gallic War, Boudicca’s Revolt, the foundation of Rome, the Greco-Persian War, as well as some ancient literature - Milton’s Paradise Lost was a big influence, along with the Norse Sagas - Beowulf, The Volsungs - Machiavelli, Dante, Blake, Homer. Just anything that I felt interested in or seemed relevant, and anything that I felt a little prickle of excitement over went into the pot.

BP: What gave you the inspiration behind the Faithful and the Fallen series?

JG: The ideas behind the Faithful and the Fallen came together over a fairly long period of time, at least a year, maybe longer. I knew I wanted a coming-of-age tale in there, for my boys to read. The back story - the God War between Elyon (God) and his Ben-Elim (angels), and Asroth (the Devil) and the Kadoshim (demons) came from Paradise Lost. That’s really the story of Satan’s revenge against God, bringing down the human race. I started thinking, what would have happened next. What if that wasn’t enough for Satan, what if he wanted his revenge to be more absolute. So in my world Asroth’s overwhelming desire is to annihilate Elyon’s most dearly loved work of creation - life. Thus he seeks to become flesh, so that with his own hands he can destroy all that Elyon created. The ultimate revenge. That was really the foundation stone for the whole story.

Other things came at different times, for example, after reading a pile of world mythologies one of the things that stood out to me was that every world mythology has giants. Every single one. So giants became part of my world, but more like Goliath than the Greek Titans, more akin to another humanoid race, like the Celtic gods - the Tuatha de Danaan and the Fomorii.

Another constant in all world mythologies is dragons. So, dragons were in, but a less fantastical version, hence my draigs are based on Komodo dragons, just a bit bigger and nastier!

BP: Back in 2013 you won The Gemmell Morningstar Award, what went through you when you heard that you had won?

JG: I was actually at the Award Ceremony. Because of my daughter’s needs I don’t make it to many conventions - I don’t like to travel too far from her and home, and taking her out is like a military operation - but that year the Gemmell Awards Ceremony was opening World Fantasy Con, which happened to be in Brighton, only a short trip from my home. It seemed like a great opportunity to experience a wonderful event. So I went, with the family in tow. At no point did I think I had a chance of winning, there were some great titles on the shortlist, ones that I personally loved. I was actually clapping the Morningstar winner before I realised that my name had just been read out. It was an awesome moment, truly wonderful, not least because David Gemmell’s work is such a huge part of me. I’m smiling just sitting here typing this answer for you, because it brings back such great memories!

BP: Did you feel any added pressure on writing the sequels after you had won?

JG: Well, fortunately, Valour, book 2 of the series, was already written and handed in to my editor before the Awards ceremony took place. There always is an element of pressure with a new book, not that I’m anything like a pro at this yet, I’ve had two books published, with the third one coming out in a few weeks. So far in my experience this is always an exciting and tense time, waiting to see what people think of it. I’ve been very fortunate so far, with Malice and Valour going down pretty well overall. Valour seemed to go down better than Malice, which was nice, but you’re right, that does bring its own kind of pressure. Fortunately I don’t really think about it when I’m writing, it’s only in the few weeks before publication that it seems to enter my head. I can only hope that book 3, Ruin, goes down as well as the first two. * Gulps nervously *

BP: The third addition to the series, Ruin, will be released on the 16th of July, if you would have to sell the book with a single sentence how would it go?

JG: I think of this one as my Empire Strikes Back, but with giant bears.

BP: Have you encountered any difficulties when you were writing The Faithfull and the Fallen so far?

JG: There have been a couple of big family tragedies that have impacted my writing. I lost my dad not long after getting the deal with Tor UK for Malice; that was a really tough time. Also my daughter Harriett was very ill the following year, ending up in hospital in Intensive Care with pneumonia. Both of those times were really tough in many ways, and of course writing went right out the window then. Fortunately I have a wonderful agent, editor and publisher. They have all been incredibly supportive whatever has been going on throughout.

As far as more garden type variety problems during writing, there’s nothing specific. I love writing. It can take me a while to ‘get in the zone’, and there are all of the usual suspects when it comes to hinderances and distractions. Real life can be very inconvenient! - work, bills, appointments all  clamouring for attention, school runs, and then of course procrastination and internet time-sinks, but that’s all just part of it.

BP: Besides the hardest part, which scenes, chapter or character did you enjoy writing about the most?

JG: Crikey, that’s a tough one. I’m at a point now where my characters feel almost like real people to me, (a bit weird, I know!), so it’s very hard to single any of them out. I do have favourite scenes, usually where different Points Of View threads come together. It feels great to finally bring characters that have had separate story threads together, usually in tense and life-threatening situations.

In Malice I really enjoyed writing the scene where Cywen and Princess Edana were ambushed in the Darkwood, then chased, captured and finally rescued by Corban and co.

In Valour my favourite scene was probably where Corban was kidnapped by Braith, interrogated by Queen Rhin at Dun Vaner and then rescued by his friends, Meical and the Jehar. It felt like a good moment when Gar was reunited with Tukul, his da.

In Ruin - well, I probably shouldn’t give anything away at this point, but there is a scene about two thirds of the way through where a lot of separate characters come together. And there are giants. Riding giant bears. 

BP: Ruin is the third tome you are putting out, do you have any tips for writers that have problems getting material on paper?

JG: I hesitate to give tips, as I don’t really feel qualified. Most of the time I don’t really feel like I know what I’m doing! I can tell you what has worked for me, though. Targets. Setting a daily/weekly word-count target. Even if I don’t hit them every week, they do help me to keep going and meet deadlines. Procrastination is my biggest enemy, and it must be routed out!

BP:  If you would be given the chance to retract Ruin from publishing and make a final adjustment would you do so? If yes, which part and why? If not, why not?

JG: I don’t think so. Not because I think it’s perfect - I don’t think that about any of my books. But there comes a point where you just have to draw a line and say ‘It’s done. Move on.’ If I was given license to start tweaking, I don’t know where or even if I’d ever stop.

BP: Now that Ruin will be published how many more book can we expect in the series?

JG: There’s one more to go, so there’ll be four books in total in the series. I’m working on the last one right now.

BP: Panmacmillan released a press note that they have acquired a whole new series from you, can you tell a bit about what that includes? Do you have any other projects in the planning besides this new series?

JG: That was really exciting. My agent, John Jarrold, a most excellent chap, by the way, emailed me and asked if I had any ideas for future projects, as he was due to have a conversation with the powers-that-be at Pan Macmillan. I sent him a rough outline of three ideas. John and Pan Macmillan do what they do and within about a week I received an offer for one of those series.

I can’t be too detailed about the plot, as it is set in the same world as the Faithful and the Fallen, about a hundred years after the events of book four. So details would give away much of how the Faithful and the Fallen ends!

This is what my publishers had to say about it in their recent press release:

This new standalone trilogy will be set in the same stirring Celtic-inspired world as John’s first quartet, the Faithful and the Fallen. Here, the Banished Lands now seem at peace. However, guardians appointed to enforce it have their own agenda, and mankind will suffer. One central character, Rae, is part-guardian and part-human. And if she can prevail through conflict, crisis and adventure, she may hold the key to humanity’s ultimate freedom. 

I’m not sure that I’m safe to tell you any more than this :)

Okay, just a little bit more. There will be berserker warrior-angels, nomadic, bow-wielding tribesmen, giants, monsters running amok, and demonic serial-killers. Oh, and of course, betrayal.

BP: Everyone enjoys fantasy and science fiction in their own way, what do you like most about it?

JG: Crikey! Escapism. Emotion. Hope.

BP: If you would have to give your top 5 favorite books which would they be?

JG: I’m going to cheat a little and say series.

The Lord of the Rings: JRR Tolkien. Of course.
The Rigante Series: David Gemmell. Particularly book one, Sword in the Storm.
The Warlord Chronicles: Bernard Cornwell’s take on King Arthur. I LOVE this series.
The Prydain Chronicles: Lloyd Alexander. Especially book 1 of the series, called ‘The Book of Three.’ That’s the book that got me hooked on fantasy when I heard my teacher start reading it to my class. I was eight years old.
The Hobbit: JRR Tolkien.  

BP: And just lastly, can you tells us a bit of what The Faithful and the Fallen series is about and what is in store for the readers in Ruin, and a possible teaser for a fourth book *hints*?

JG: In the Faithful and the Fallen I attempted to write something that was epic – a big world with sweeping landscapes, a realistic history, Machiavellian politics, betrayal, angels and demons, giants and monsters, wolven, wyrms, draigs, and battles on every scale, from duels up to huge battlefields. But I wanted to anchor it in people, in small personal details, to tell the individual stories of real people, their hopes, fears, loves. Epic and intimate was my goal.

It’s predominantly a Celtic, Norse and Greco-Roman inspired world, essentially an alternative mythological ancient Europe with a history of war between the giant clans and the race of men. There’s a coming-of-age tale set amidst a time when strange, supernatural things are happening and the rumour of war is spreading.

Here’s a snippet of the original blurb for Malice and the series:

The Banished Lands has a violent past where armies of men and giants clashed shields in battle, the earth running dark with their heartsblood. Although the giant-clans were broken in ages past, their ruined fortresses still scar the land. But now giants stir anew, the very stones weep blood and there are sightings of giant wyrms. Those who can still read the signs see a threat far greater than the ancient wars. Sorrow will darken the world, as angels and demons make it their battlefield. Then there will be a war to end all wars.

So far we’re two books in, with the third one due out in a few weeks and the fourth and final book being written at the moment.

I view book three - Ruin - as my Empire Strikes Back. The stakes are higher and the battles are bigger. King Nathair has the cauldron now, and also a decision to make, as the dark angel Calidus’ schemes are coming to fruition and becoming clear to see.

For two books the central protagonist, Corban, has been swept along by the events and tides of war, but in this one he makes a decision and takes a stand. He’s not running any more, he’s fighting.

Maquin’s journey takes him back to where it all began - to Forn Forest, where he has some promises to keep.

And Veradis will have a decision to make.

And as I may have already mentioned, there are giant bears this time.

And for the fourth book, well. It’s the end-game, where all of the forces are gathered and Asroth attempts to enter the world of flesh with a horde of Kadoshim demons at his back. There will be blood.

BP: Thank you very much for your time John and good luck with your future writing!

JG: Thanks for the invite, Jasper, and also for your interest in the series, doing this interview has been great fun. All the best, and I hope that you enjoy Ruin :)


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