Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Grim Interview: Greg James

All the way from the UK, today we’re joined Greg James, author of The Age of the Flame Trilogy, which titles include The Sword of Sighs, The Sceptre of Storms, and The Stone of Sorrows.  Not only has the trilogy topped the Amazon rankings for bestselling dark fantasy, but it also comes with a tasty content warning for those not accustomed to high levels of violence and potty language.  But the fun doesn’t stop there, not by a long shot.  Horror fans can also pick up a myriad of novels, novellas, and short stories, including the The Vetala Cycle Series, under the pseudonym G.R. Yeates.  Oh, but there’s still icing on this literary pop tart.  Greg has a new trilogy of grimdark novels coming out very soon titled The Khale Trilogy, with the first novel, Under a Colder Sun, due out August 28th of this year.  We’re going to talk about just what the hell kind of childhood trauma makes Greg James tick, and let us peer into that utter pit of infinite darkness known as a cerebral cortex.

First off, Greg, please tell us a bit about your background.  Where are you from?  When you’re not pounding the keys constructing grimiores of gritty goodness, do you have a day job?

I’m from London, England and I am an office administrator. It keeps me in bread, water and the occasional light bulb while I write in my spare time.

When did you first start writing?  Who were your major literary influences?

I started writing seriously back in the far gone days of 2007. I spent a few years writing the Vetala Cycle trilogy and then tried to break into traditional publishing. It didn’t work out so I sacked my agent and started self-publishing in 2011. I had a slow start with the Horror genre but managed to gain some critical acclaim and then I made the jump across to Fantasy and I have to say the genre has been very good to me since then.

I have a broad range of influences from differing genres but from Fantasy I would say that Robert E. Howard sits at the top of the tree in many ways for me and after him there stands Michael Moorcock, David Gemmell, Stephen Donaldson and Karl Edward Wagner.

You’ve got 12 novels under your belt at this point with a new trilogy on the way, which is quite an amazing feat for a man of a mere 34 years of age.  You look marvelous by the way (and you smell terrific), how do you find the time to get so much writing done?

It’s a combination of discipline, late nights and having a very supportive and understanding girlfriend. There’s no real secret to being prolific apart from hard work and wanting to succeed at what you love doing. If all life was writing, it would be so much easier.

No doubt your body of work has included some rather dark stuff.  But now you’ve specifically endeavoured to release a number of grimdark novels.  Can you tell us how you came to begin writing this new trilogy?

The beginning goes back to when I started writing seriously in 2007. The main character of the series, Khale the Wanderer, existed in an early form in my head back but he wasn’t an entirely coherent entity and my passion at the time was strictly for the Horror genre so he has had a long time to gestate and develop. He grew out of my reading stories about various Fantasy characters of whom a short list would include Conan, Kull, Bran Mak Morn, Druss, Kane, Elric, Thomas Covenant and Sandor Clegane. I wanted to create a character who would follow that lineage and now that I have made the move across to the Fantasy genre, the time felt write to sit down and start making his adventures become a reality.

Can you give us your definition of grimdark?

I think it goes back to what Robert E. Howard started in 1932 with Conan’s gigantic melancholies and gigantic mirth. Those stories introduced a grittiness and realism that never really became a part of the High Fantasy epics until George R.R. Martin brought the two together with A Song of Ice and Fire. Though if we went further back, it could be argued that its roots are there in Greek and Shakespearean tragedy where heroes are not always pure and noble, villains can have justified reasons for acting heinously and the gods are creatures that mock and torture mankind. The classic tragedies are also marked by their black humour which is something that I think is often referenced as part of the appeal of grimdark fantasy. Things can become too dreary and feel too pointless otherwise.

Since you live across the pond, can you give us a general idea of what the fantasy / sci-fi / genre fiction scene is like in the UK?

I’m still a relative newcomer and the majority of my success to date is thanks to genre lovers on your side of the pond so I can only comment so much but I think we are in rude health with Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Richard K. Morgan and, of course, David Gemmell’s legacy. I’m still familiarising myself with the current crop of grimdark authors so those out there that I have not mentioned will have to forgive my omissions and ignorance.

Besides books, do any other forms of media influence your work?  Music, movies, origami?  I see you’re a connoisseur of heavy metal like myself, to what role have other forms of media had an impact on your writing?

To be honest, it all goes into the mix. I’m of the generation who grew up watching movies like Robocop and Conan the Barbarian well before being of legal age. I’ve been a gamer for many years and I would say that the Demon’s Souls/Dark Souls games have had quite an impact on the atmosphere of Khale’s world in that it’s a realm that is rotting and falling apart and the only gods left are those of darkness and chaos.
As to music, Manowar have had a significant part to play, I cannot lie. Listening to something like Hail and Kill or Sons of Odin gets me into Khale’s mindset pretty quickly. Though I’m also an aficionado of dark ambience and post-punk bands like Joy Division, who can get me in the mood for the more reflective scenes and character moments.

Weapon of choice?  Bastard sword, blow darts, or butterfly knife?

It’s going to be the bastard sword. Given the character I’m bringing to life, anything else would be a bit too lightweight for him.

Let’s talk about horror for a bit.  What do you enjoy most about writing horror fiction?  Do you have any plans for more horror (that rhymed) down the road?

I think horror and grimdark have some common lineage when done at their best. Both genres look at the world without rose-coloured glasses and are willing to take risks and challenge the audience. As a reader and writer of the genre, I remember watching some of the more shocking scenes in the Game of Thrones TV show and not being surprised to find out thereafter that George R.R. Martin had written horror in his time. I may be wrong but, in my opinion, the execution of Ned Stark and the Red Wedding owe as much to the Horror genre as they do to their historical precedents.  I think there will probably be the odd horror release from myself in the future but fantasy, particularly of the grimdark variety, has ripped my heart out and placed it atop an altar to its dark and faceless gods for the time being.

For fantasy readers who have yet to delve into the horror genre, do you have any titles you recommend as essential horror fiction?

One of my main influences was Robert E. Howard’s contemporary, H.P. Lovecraft, so I would recommend starting with his story ‘The Colour Out of Space’, and then maybe ‘The Rats in the Walls’. Even though I’m now drawing more on inspiration from the former gentleman, I think Lovecraft will always touch my work one way or another even when it’s not intended. Though I do try and keep an eye on the adjectives as best I can.

What has been the most influential writing advice you’ve ever received?  What advice would you offer to new writers?

The best advice I received was from a whole book and that was Stephen King’s On Writing. Regardless of your genre, I would say it’s the best how-to book out there. It’s the only one that had an impact on me and started me on the road to writing as opposed to just dreaming of doing so.

In terms of my own advice, as a self-published author I would advise new authors to very carefully look at their options and not take industry word as the gospel because it’s not. If I’d listened to the traditional publishing industry, I would probably still be miserable, depressed and trying to hawk the Vetala Cycle rather than being where I am now with two complete trilogies under my belt, a handful of novellas and short stories, a growing audience and a regular monthly income.

Self-publishing isn’t an easy path to choose by any means but if you are willing to work hard, keep your ego in check and take the pitfalls with the breaks, then the rewards are there.

Can you give us a bit of insight into your writing process?  Are you a discovery writer, or an outliner?  Do you use writing groups or beta readers? 

I’m a discovery writer. My outline tends to consist of my title and then I’m off. I do outline and map the world though. I don’t think you can write fantasy without setting up the boundaries of the world you’re creating, even if it’s just loosely. The world-building is a lot of fun though, sometimes too much, and I have to remember to write the story and not piss the night away adding extra mountains here and there. I would if I could because mountains are awesome. Fantasy worlds without looming mountains are like pizza without cheese.

I have beta readers who I select from my hardcore readers, friends and fellow authors who are willing to lend their time. I’m not a writing group person. I like to work alone for most of the process then bring in my readers, editor and cover artist during the final furlong.

Your beard is epic, by the way.

Thank you. As a Fantasy author, I feel it is my duty to look the part.

So you’ve traveled abroad as a teacher, instructing English as a second language.  Can you tell us a bit about that experience?  How do you feel your experiences living in other regions of the world have influenced your writing?

I think living in China for a year taught me that we are all basically the same and that cultural boundaries are something we create needlessly. It also taught me that we live in something of a bubble in the Western world and even when we think that we have filtered out a lot of the bullshit from our upbringing, a lot of it still remains and you don’t realise that until you have the experience of being an outsider in a country that’s not your own.

As to how it’s influenced my writing? China has awesome mountains. If you go there, take a riverboat trip to see the Guilin mountains. They are incredible.

To date, what has been your most unpleasant experience as an author?  Any words of warning for those of us who seek to get our work published?

My most unpleasant experience was having an agent. Eighteen months or so of my time were wasted by him and I got to see what the publishing industry was really like. You realise that, as a new author, you are considered as being at the bottom of the food chain and your work is just another piece of shit for them to throw at the metaphorical wall while you sit there hoping and praying that it will stick. If it doesn’t stick, it’s no skin off their nose, but for you it’s your dreams being treated as something that should be flushed down the toilet. My only regret is that I didn’t cancel my contract and start to self-publish sooner.

Seriously, that beard, I just want to snuggle it for a while.  That cool?

There’s plenty of room and I feed it regularly so you won’t go hungry.

For those who want to snag a copy of the new book, or find out more about you, where should they go to learn more?

You can visit me at http://www.manderghastpress.co.uk or find me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/gregjames1945. My Twitter handle is @manderghastp though that particular social media channel is still something of a dark art to me.

Again Greg, thanks for hanging out with us, I’m definite looking forward to the new series, and I wish you the best of success in your writing career.  Any last words before we wrap things up?

I’d like to close by saying thank you to the fantasy genre and its readers as a whole for giving me the beginnings of a career and I hope that you will find something to enjoy in the adventures of Khale and the other denizens of his world. That’s my little teaser, I guess. There will be at least two other characters with their own series showing up as part of my contribution to all things grimdark. I can’t say anything more at the moment as it would spoil details of the initial trilogy.

Stay grim. Stay dark. Stay true.

Don't forget to snag your copy of Under a Colder Sun, coming August 28th!  Until then, you can get a free copy of Greg's fantasy title The Sword of Sighs! US - UK

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic interview. Greg James is an amazing author and I truly enjoy his works.