In search of fresh victims, I decided to try asking one of the best new authors around and funniest man on Twitter, RJ Barker whether he'd like to answer some questions. Here's the results...
PL: Greetings Dread Antlered Overlord of Leeds! One of the things that's struck me most in your interviews is how important music is to your writing (and how much you like Fields of the Nephilim). Are there any particular influences or parts of the story that come from the music, or is it more of a general thing?
PL: That makes perfect sense. Speaking of influences, I notice you've cited a wide range of inspirations and what not - English folk traditions, the Welsh naming, the Assassins being like ninjas. Is that deliberate, or do you just of things and the ideas come from everywhere?
RJB: I steal mercilessly from everywhere and anywhere I find interesting. I'm a huge fan of Arthurian myth and there's a lot of that mixed up in there, which is partly where the Welsh sounding names come from. And I find a lot of ancient Japan interesting, there's a lot of Samurai stuff slid in there and then we have more Norman castles. I'm sort of a frustrated history writer in some ways. The great thing about fantasy is that I can nearly write history but don't have to do the research. And I joke about being lazy but the truth of researching history is it's far too interesting and I;d spend all my time reading and get nothing done. Queen Adran is largely based on Margaret of Anjou who I'd been writing a script about. I'm a magpie.
PL: I hadn't caught the Arthurian influences - what's your favourite Arthurian myth? And are there any parts of history you're particularly interested in that you've yet to plunder for your writing?
RJB: Oh it's there. The handing over of the 'king's sword' and (SPOILER) the overlooked boy who becomes a king but they are quite fantasy tropes anyway. There's also a nod to the Fisher King in there which really fascinates me. And a really silly joke no one has worked out yet but one day someone will notice. I really like sort of post roman Britain right up to the Norman invasion, that's a time I find really fascnatiing because there was a huge amount going on. And then there's the classic age of sail which has always fascinated me.
|There's totally going to be a review of this book on this blog soon|
RJB: I can't tell you much. It's very different to The Wounded Kingdom books and is much more of a 'new' world where the WK books are quite a familiar fantasy place this is a bit less so. It's a matriarchal society, it's not a mystery, it's more of an adventure and it's a book very much about second chances. I've also moved from first person to third person for this one as it fitted the book better. There's magic too but it's not sort of wizardy magic, it's quite subtle and world specific. There, i said a lot without saying much. Oh, MASSIVE DRAGONS. Though not dragons as you kind of expect.
PL: Well that'll have to keep us readers going for now! Does writing it feel any different now that you've finished and published a trilogy? Or does the process feel the same?
RJB: The process is the same. Everything else is just sort of stuff flying about around me sitting on the couch trying to write two thousand words of whatever nonsense comes into my head every day. I really enjoy writing, it's a thing I've done for years and now I'm lucky enough to get paid for it (and I totally know how lucky I am to be in that place). But in the end, I'm still just sat here on the couch writing things that I'm not sure make much sense. I mean I'm very lucky that my agent and everyone at Orbit just let me get on, so I don't really feel like there's any pressure.
PL: I'm jealous enough of reliably doing 2k words a day, nevermind getting paid for it! What's the best and worst pieces of writing advice you've heard over those years?
RJB: The best piece is 'what works best is what works for you.' And the worst is, well, nothing is necessarily bad, but maybe it would be truer to say that maybe the more absolutely sure someone is that their way is the right way the less you should listen. But no one knows how you should write, I would definitely not advise anyone do things the way I do. But maybe something I do might be of use to someone so pick and chose. Mostly I would say find things that help you enjoy writing, because if you're enjoying something you're never wasting your time. And if you enjoy something you'll want to do it more and the more you do it the better you get at it.
PL: Amen to that. Kinda backtracking a little - in a few interviews you've talked about how the Wounded Kingdoms are mysteries, and that Girton being a not-so-great detective allows you to have the reader a step ahead. Do you think its easier/more fun to write a Girton than a Sherlock?
RJB:Well, yes and no? A Sherlock is basically a trick (I love Holmes BTW this isn't a criticism) but what you do is set up a crime that is hugely unlikely so the reader stand no real chance of working it out then work back. And cos you know the trick you can drop in things the reader will never see and have your Sherlock notice them so he appears hugely clever. And once the reader knows the trick it seems really clever but it's actually a cheat. But you're not really reading stories like that to work it out, you're reading to find out how it was done. And I do do this a bit, in Age of Assassins, you can't work out who is actually behind it until the moment I want it to click because I just don't give you enough information. So it's balancing it, wanting you to be a bit ahead of Girton so you feel tension (and a bit clever) and not wanting to give you too much either. But I love that, re-read and find stuff thing. So if you re-read Age of Assassins after King of Assassins you'll find things and think 'oh...' Because I knew when I was writing it where I was going.
PL: I think that ability to keep the reader unsure until you put down the last piece of the puzzle and for it to then seem completely obvious and inevitable is one of those things that really makes or breaks mystery books (if that makes sense). Are there any authors who you feel do that particularly well?
RJB: Well, Christie and Doyle. And I like Edmund Crispin and marjorie Allingham. We don't tend to see that sort of puzzle box writing as much now, though I'm sure there are people doing it. Partly cos it's much harder to do because people know the tricks. Stuart Turton has done a very clever twist on it with The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle.
|The real and unmentioned hero of these books; Xus the Warmount, as painted by Tom Parker|
PL: I've seen you talk about Girton/Merela being intended as a counterpart to Adran/Aydor. Is there are any character who you think particularly parallels Girton's arc in King of Assassins?
RJB: Well yes. More than one actually (i'm being very wary about spoilers here). There's Boros and Barin and of course, by the time of the events of KoA Girton has become who Merela was in the first book. And REDACTED SPOILER. (His redaction, not mine - PL).
PL: I do see what you mean about Girton and Merela, although obviously Girton isn't as cool. Have you ever considered doing some Merela-centred prequels?
RJB: I have considered writing a book about Merela and have a rough plan for one. I'm kind of 50/50 about whether I want to. I think it's a good idea for a story and would be fun to do. On the other hand, should we ever go back? It's a finished and complete story and does what i wanted it to. And it depends on whether Orbit would want to do it as well. And I have ideas about what I would like to do after The Bone Ships.
PL: The curse of an author - so many ideas, so little time. And speaking of which, thank you for your time Dread Antlered Overlord but before you go - a few random questions for funsies. Favourite bassline to play?
RJB: Oh, it would have been Mountain Song by Jane's Addiction.
PL: If you could pick one animal to have as a pet, regardless of impracticalities, which animal would it be?
RJB: THIS IS THE HARDEST QUESTION I HAVE EVER BEEN ASKED.
PL: Imagine I'm doing the Doctor Evil pinkie expression right now
RJB: It comes down to two really. My wife really loves anteaters and my son really loves tigers. Now I know MrsRJ would give up her anteater for our son. But he is 9, and he wouldn't really look after a Tiger properly so we would end up looking after it. And also, an anteater is probably less common as a pet than a tiger. So I would probably choose a giant anteater knowing the boy would come round and it would make my wife incredibly happy.
PL: You, sir, are a good man. Who'd win in a fight - Sayda Halfhand or Quohrin Halfhand?
RJB: Sayda. The thinking behind the assassins was that they were evolved specifically to take down an armoured opponent. Also, ALWAYS CHOOSE YOUR OWN CHARACTER. :)
PL: Damn right! Back your girl. Finally - if you magically woke up a King in the Tired Lands and could pick any other author as your heartblade, who would you pick?
RJB: Oh, now quite a lot of authors do sword things. Anna Stephens does martial arts and swords, Ed Mcdonald and Sebastien Castell are also excellent swordsmen. Ed Cox would definitely die for me and Gavin G Smith, well, Gav would probably poison my drink actually. But I think Stuart Hotston (whose novel Tangle’s Game is out quite soon) is the most dangerous of them. It's best to be completely mercenary about this type of thing so I'd go with him.
Thank you Mr Barker! The Wounded Kingdoms trilogy is completed and available at all good book stores and it sounds like the Bone Ships will soon be ready for launch. To find out more about RJ Barker, visit https://rjbarkerblog.wordpress.com/