Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring Marian L. Thorpe

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

The quick potted history – I’m 64, dual British/Canadian citizenship, have a bunch of degrees that have nothing to do with writing, been a research scientist, a high school teacher, a regional special education /assistive technology specialist; I’m a birder and an amateur landscape historian; married, no kids, one cat (at this point), and I’ve been retired from salaried work for 7 years, which means I can write full time, a huge privilege.

Will you talk a little about the Empire’s Legacy series?


The books fall into two distinct sets: the first trilogy, narrated by Lena (all the books are
written in first person) is a heroine’s journey, beginning with a choice to learn to fight to
defend her land and climaxing in a last, desperate battle. These three books have the most
traditional action (fighting) but it’s not a lot – none of the books are focused on battles,
but on personal growth and choice in the face of war, kidnap, and exile. The next two are
narrated by the musician Sorley, and the challenges are political and personal, focused in
both counts on betrayal and forgiveness. Empire’s Heir, the most recent, narrated by
Lena’s daughter Gwenna and Gwenna’s father, is a political thriller at one level, but also a
story about choices and sacrifices. But all of them are also (or maybe primarily) about
love, in many forms and for many things, both people and places, and its power in our
lives. Together the seven current books and the planned last two (Empress & Soldier will
be out later this year; Empire’s Passing 2023 or early 2024) make up a saga of choices,
betrayals, intrigue, and love, where some battles of power and politics are won with
swords – and some with words.

Your writing is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?


Well, let’s start out by saying that not everyone considers my books historical fantasy,
because they are free of magic or magical beings in any form. The ‘fantasy’ in my books is
the societal structures, but they’re not alternate history either because the geography is
different and there is no deviation from real history. Think of Guy Gavriel Kay’s books but
without the ‘quarter turn to the fantastic’ of his, and you have my world.
Broadly, though, I would define historical fantasy as any book that uses history to form its
world, but either includes magic or a society so different that it is clearly not this world,
but a parallel, mirrored version of it.

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?


I wanted to explore questions of society, sexuality and the choices people make about
personal happiness vs. the public good in a setting that wasn’t our world, but wasn’t so far
distant from it. But I wanted everything, good and bad, to be within the realm of human
choice and action, so I didn’t include magic. (I probably wouldn’t have the ability to create
a magic system.) But don’t get me wrong: I love well-conceived and well-written magical
fantasy, it just wasn’t what I wanted to write.

How did you decide which era (or civilization) you wanted to draw from when writing?
There was never any question. I’ve been interested in pre-Conquest British history for a
very long time, as well as Britanno-Roman history. When I started to write Empire’s
Daughter, the first of my series, the setting came automatically.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?


For me, yes. My world is loosely based on northern Europe/Rome/Byzantium between
about the 4th and 10th centuries of the common era. I want it to feel familiar but not quite
historical, so that my deviations from both history and social constructs aren’t going to
make people say, ‘but it didn’t/couldn’t happen that way’. So, I do a lot of research,
including travel to Hadrian’s Wall and Rome specifically for the books. When I deviate
from real history – for example in how my palace/city guard works in the Rome-analogue
city Casil – I want to know what it is I’m deviating from, and which pieces of reality I
should keep to make it seem real (or at least realer.)
I also am hopeless at writing battles, so to date all the battles in the books are based on
real ones: the final battle in Empire’s Exile is entirely the Battle of Maldon (until it isn’t, at
the very end) so I read multiple translations of the poem, looked at Google Earth images
of the site as it looks today and scholarly recreations of how it would have looked in the
10 th century, before I wrote the scene.

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?


I actually haven’t found any, except that because my books aren’t fantasy in a lot of
people’s minds, they are hard to market using the genres Amazon and other platforms
subdivide books into. But that’s a problem specific to my books, not the subgenre overall.

What are some of its strengths?


I love the fact that I’m not bound by historical fact or timelines, which I would be if I wrote
pure historical fiction. I borrow from a number of cultures and events that fall into early-
medieval/late classical history, but they’re not in the ‘right’ order. Plus, with the genre’s
long history, I can include echoes of older stories which create resonance in some readers
but are very subtle. There are a lot of Arthurian themes in my books, but they are not
blatant, or direct, but reflections.

I love that you have Arthurian influences in your books because there can be so much to
draw from. Do any modern ideas and beliefs find their way into your historical fantasy?


Oh, that’s a tough question. Many people might say my approach to sexuality and
women’s rights in the books are modern ideas and beliefs, but I’m not convinced they are:
much expression of sexuality and the rights and contributions of women were suppressed
by religions and historians writing from male viewpoints and entrenched beliefs. (The
inclusion of a reliable birth control method is modern: ancient peoples had their methods,
and the herb anash, the birth control herb in my series, is inspired by silphium, a plant of
antiquity with multiple uses, including birth control, that is now extinct. But it probably
wasn’t as reliable.) Otherwise, other than that we all write from our own experiences,
which are inevitably shaped by the time we live in; I try to avoid obviously modern
concepts.

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?


I’m a morning writer, so generally I start the day (after and with coffee) by re-reading
what I wrote in the last session, making a few changes, and then going on from there. I
aim for about 800 words a day – I’m a slow writer, so that takes me about two hours.
In good weather I bike or walk for about 90 minutes most days, which is thinking time, and
I also go for long country drives alone, which is even more thinking time. If I’m stuck, I
read – going back into the research books often triggers something, and sometimes fiction
does too. If I’m really stuck, that’s telling me something’s wrong with the story, so I have
to take some thinking time to figure out what.

Who are some of your go-to authors?


Guy Gavriel Kay, first and foremost. Then Neil Gaiman. Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro,
Jonathan Nevair, Bjorn Larssen, and Karen Heenan – they’re about the only living authors
whose books I will automatically buy. I read a lot of non-fiction, so there it would be Guy
de la Bédoyère and Mary Beard on Roman history; Robert MacFarlane, John Lewis-
Stempel and Tim Dee on landscape and nature; Annie Whitehead on Anglo Saxon history,
Cat Jarman for Viking history.

Who do I re-read for the sheer pleasure of the books? Tolkien, Susan Cooper, Elizabeth A
Lynn, Mary Stewart, Rosamund Pilcher, Annie Dillard (and Kay, always.) The books that
shaped me as a writer, the writers who taught me how to write.

About the author:

Taught to read at the age of three, words have been central to Marian’s life for as long as
she can remember. A novelist, poet, and essayist, Marian has several degrees, none of
which are related to writing. After two careers as a research scientist and an educator, she
retired from salaried work and returned to writing things that weren’t research papers or
reports.
Her first published work was poetry, in small journals; her first novel was released in
2015. Empire’s Daughter is the first in the Empire’s Legacy series: second-world historical
fiction, devoid of magic or other-worldly creatures and based to some extent on northern
Europe after the decline of Rome.  In addition to her novels, Marian has read poetry, short
stories, and non-fiction work at writers’ festivals and other juried venues.
Marian’s other two passions in life are birding and landscape history, both of which are
reflected in her books. Birding has taken her and her husband to all seven continents. Prior
to the pandemic, she and her husband spent several months each year in the UK, for both
research and birding, and she is desperately hoping to return.

Purchase link: https://books2read.com/marianlthorpe

Fantasy Focus: Historical Fantasy Featuring G.M. White

This year I’m doing a new series on my blog: Fantasy Focus. Each month, I’m focusing on a different fantasy subgenre. Fantasy is such a broad genre with so many different things to offer. So far, there have been focuses on Comedic FantasyRomantic FantasyGrimdark,  Epic/High Fantasy and Urban Fantasy.

I’m excited to have the opportunity to interview G.M. White, author of The Swordsman’s Lament and The Swordman’s Descent, which releases tomorrow (The preorder link is below).

Thank you for joining me to talk about your writing and about historical fantasy!

Thank you so much for having me!

First, will you tell the readers a little bit about yourself?

Yes, of course. I’m G.M. White, an indie fantasy author. I live on St Martin’s in the Isles of Scilly, a tiny island with a population of around 130 which is off the south west coast of the UK.  Like many people on the islands I wear a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, I also work several part time jobs, am on the local Coastguard rescue team, sit on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, play cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow find time to write.

I’ve always loved stories, and storytelling, having been an avid reader from an early age. My mum and dad instilled a love of reading in me, perhaps because the only time I was quiet was when I had my head in a book!

I’ve been an actor, played drums in bands on and off for many years, and dabbled in playwriting, but it was only in 2015 that I started to work on writing fantasy fiction. The Swordsman’s Lament, my first novel, was published in 2019.

Will you talk a little about The Swordsman’s Lament series?

Happily! The series follows the character of Belasko, a war hero, legendary swordsman, and undefeated duelist. When we meet him in The Swordsman’s Lament, he’s the Royal Champion to the King of Villan. A post he’s held for fifteen years, the first commoner to do so. But a lifetime of pushing his body hard has started to have an effect, and it is beginning to let him down.

When tragedy strikes the royal household and a prince is murdered, Belasko discovers he is expendable. The grief-stricken king demands blood, and Belasko’s options are clear: find the real killer, or die for a crime he didn’t commit.

It’s a swashbuckling fantasy adventure, as Belasko fights to clear his name with help from unexpected sources. The Swordsman’s Lament is book one in the Royal Champion series. I published The Swordsman’s Intent in 2020. That is a prequel novella set fifteen years earlier and tells the tale of how Belasko became champion, the trials and training he underwent, and the friends and enemies he made along the way. It also introduces characters that appear in the other books in the series, as well as setting in motion the events of The Swordsman’s Lament.Book two, The Swordsman’s Descent, is out very soon and in that Belasko’s adventures continue as he and his companions find themselves thrown headlong into danger in a foreign city. I don’t want to give away too much, but when blades are drawn, and all seems lost, can Belasko save the lives of those he loves the most? You’ll have to read to find out… 😉

The Swordsman’s Lament is considered historical fantasy. How would you define that subgenre?

For me it means stories that are very much rooted in our own real-world history. Sometimes this can be in the form of alternate histories, fantasy set around real-world events, or alternate earths where magic is real. Or, like my series, a secondary world fantasy where magic isn’t a huge factor, but the setting is inspired by real world historical periods and locations. In my case, this is renaissance Europe.

What drew you to that particular time period?

That’s a good question. One of my earliest influences, before I got into fantasy, was things like The Three Musketeers, stories of King Arthur, Robin Hood, these kind of semi-historical tales, myths, and legends. When I was younger we lived in the North East of England, where there are a great many castles and ruins to explore. Something we often did on weekend family walks. My brother and I were always sword fighting with sticks and pretending to be knights and these heroes of legend. So when it came time to write my own fantasy series, it makes sense that an amalgamation of these things came out. The swashbuckling adventure of D’Artagnan, the legendary warriors of Arthur’s court, the common man fighting for what is right from Robin Hood.

When I was in secondary school I was obsessed with the historical basis of King Arthur and post-Roman early Medieval Britain for a while. Can you guess what my next project might be? Hint, hint… 😉

What first drew you to writing historical fantasy?

Funnily enough, it wasn’t that I necessarily set out to write a historical fantasy. It was the story that came to me and needed to be told, and as I worked on it it became apparent that it was a historical fantasy, rather than epic or high fantasy. Or even grimdark.

I have lots of different ideas (I sometimes wonder how I’ll find time to write them all), including an epic fantasy series with dragon riders, a historical Arthurian novel, a historical thriller/mystery series, a contemporary fantasy series… But Belasko was the character that took up residence in my head and refused to leave, and this was the setting that he fit into. I can’t really explain it more than that.

Does writing historical fantasy require a lot of research?

Yes and no. I try to have quite a light touch with my world building, dropping in small but significant details that help shape the reader’s view of the world without resorting to info dumps.

For me the first draft is for getting the story down, however roughly. As I believe Sir Terry Pratchett once said, the first draft is just you telling the story to yourself. So I tell that story, then dissect and reassemble it in the second draft. I may do some research here, but very often it’s more important in the third and final drafts when I’m doing a pass looking at world building and start hitting the research to get the detail right.

For example, I have spent many hours looking up details of renaissance/medieval clothing, or kitchens, architecture, weaponry… There are many research rabbit holes to disappear down!

What are some obstacles to writing in this subgenre?

I suppose it is in a way quite niche, which can make finding your readers difficult. But when you have them, they’re yours forever! Also, I think it’s possible to get bogged down in the historical aspect and lose the fantasy. Just because a setting is inspired by a historical time period doesn’t mean you have to take every aspect of that into your story. I try to make sure that my fantasy worlds reflect something of my values and the world I’d like to live in, rather than adhering to strict historical accuracy. This may mean greater equality between the genders, featuring a broader spectrum of sexuality than was deemed acceptable in the historical time period etc.

I think it’s interesting that you write fantasy that reflects your values a little bit. Do you see fantasy writing as a way to unpack or “work through” real life concerns, questions, or emotions?

Absolutely. I see fantasy and science fiction as ways of viewing life through a different lens. A safe space in which to examine difficult ideas. I always hold up Terry Pratchett as an example. People that haven’t read his work may dismiss it as “funny fantasy.” While it is funny and most of it (particularly his Discworld books) is fantasy, it’s also excoriating social satire.

I often have a theme I’m thinking about when I work on something. In the upcoming The Swordsman’s Descent that is that we’re stronger together than we are apart. This was partially in reaction to the first book, where Belasko is cast out and has to take it upon himself to save the day. Whereas the second book is about people coming together to try and make the world a better place, while a few selfish groups try to derail that progress for their own ends. And it was written against the backdrop of a global pandemic where it really was important that people act in the common good.

With The Swordsman’s Lament I didn’t particularly have a theme in mind, but just set out to tell a story. What emerged was a tale of people who are willing to almost any lengths to do what they see as the right thing. One of those is the hero, Belasko, and one is the villain of the piece. Who, of course, doesn’t see themselves as the villain. And it was written while the UK was tearing itself apart over Brexit and feeling more divided than at any time I can remember in my lifetime, with people acting at cross purposes while being entirely convinced that they were completely right and the other side was completely wrong.

Of course, they’re fun adventure stories and someone may read them and not be aware of all this. But those issues and questions are in there.

What are some of its strengths?

I think that grounding in at least some level of real-world detail can give historical fantasy a very realistic feel. It’s also a great opportunity to ask “what if” questions. What if the Napoleonic wars, but with dragons? As in Naomi Novik’s Temeraire series. Or, what if our world’s geography had developed differently, and never known the Roman empire, but with magic? As in Miles Cameron’s Masters and Mages series. 

How do you get in “the writing zone”, so to speak?

My writing time is pretty limited, so I have to make the most of it. Plotting helps, as it means when I sit down to write I know what I’m working on next. If I really need to focus and block out other distractions I’ll listen to ambient music, and I’ve recently started using brain.fm to help me focus.

Mostly, I just grab that free time and get my butt in the chair!

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Ooh, good question. I love Tad Williams, his classic Memory, Sorrow and Thorn series is what got me into fantasy back in the early 90s. So anything he writes is an automatic purchase for me! I feel the same way about RJ Barker, who is doing astonishing things in the fantasy genre at the moment. (If you haven’t read his Tide Child trilogy yet you really must.) Other authors that are old favourites are Robin Hobb, David Gemmell, Terry Pratchett… Newer authors (at least to me) that I’m enjoying include Ed McDonald, Miles Cameron, Jen Williams, Mark Stay… It always seems like there’s so many books and so little time!

About the author:


G.M. White is an indie fantasy author. He lives on St Martin’s, in the Isles of Scilly, with his wife and son. Like many people on the islands he wears a few different hats. Now a full time stay at home dad, he also works several part time jobs, is on the local Coastguard rescue team, sits on the committee for St Martin’s Island Hall and Reading Room, plays cricket (poorly) for St Martin’s Cricket Club, and somehow finds time to write.

Author site: https://gmwhite.co.uk/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/GMWhiteWrites
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/gmwhitewrites
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/gmwhitewrites/

Purchase links:

The Swordsman’s Lament
The Swordsman’s Descent

Author Interview: Josh Winning

Jack Corman is failing at life.
 
Jobless, jaded and on the “wrong” side of thirty, he’s facing the threat of eviction from his London flat while reeling from the sudden death of his father, one-time film director Bob Corman. Back in the eighties, Bob poured his heart and soul into the creation of his 1986 puppet fantasy The Shadow Glass, a film Jack loved as a child, idolising its fox-like hero Dune.
 
But The Shadow Glass flopped on release, deemed too scary for kids and too weird for adults, and Bob became a laughing stock, losing himself to booze and self-pity. Now, the film represents everything Jack hated about his father, and he lives with the fear that he’ll end up a failure just like him.
 
In the wake of Bob’s death, Jack returns to his decaying home, a place creaking with movie memorabilia and painful memories. Then, during a freak thunderstorm, the puppets in the attic start talking. Tipped into a desperate real-world quest to save London from the more nefarious of his father’s creations, Jack teams up with excitable fanboy Toby and spiky studio executive Amelia to navigate the labyrinth of his father’s legacy while conjuring the hero within––and igniting a Shadow Glass resurgence that could, finally, do his father proud. (Taken from Amazon)

I am beyond thrilled to have the opportunity to talk with Josh Winning, author of the wonderful, nostalgia-filled fantasy adventure, The Shadow Glass.

 Hello, Josh! Thank you for joining Before We Go Blog to talk about The Shadow Glass!

Thanks so much for having me! I’ll try not to mess with any of the nice things you have in here.

You don’t need to worry about ruining nice things, I like to talk with my hands while holding a full coffee mug. It is not pretty.

I’ll just pop on my waterproofs, give me a sec!

I enjoyed every nostalgic moment of The Shadow Glass. Will you tell readers a little bit about it?

That makes me so happy! The Shadow Glass is my debut novel and a love letter to 80s fantasy films like The NeverEnding Story, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. It’s about the son of a movie director who goes on a real-world quest with the puppets from his father’s 1980s movie flop, The Shadow Glass.

I was ready to start the book again the second I finished the last word. You had me cheering (and yes, tearing up a bit at parts). How did you balance the fun adventure with the deeper themes found in The Shadow Glass?

Cheering and tearing up are absolutely the two big things I hoped readers would get out of this book! I think that the great thing about those 80s fantasy films is the way they balanced adventure with grown-up themes – Labyrinth is all about a teenager coming of age, The NeverEnding Story is about grief and self-actualization. The best I could do with The Shadow Glass was try to capture a smidge of that same magic.For me, it’s all about emotional honesty, leaning in to the tough feelings and working through them with fun japes along the way.

You definitely did that! I loved how Jack’s anger and regret were directed onto Iri and The Shadow Glass. His grief seemed to be sort of reflected back with Zavanna’s own grief. Was that planned from the get-go?

Absolutely. Because Jack is sort of in denial, it just felt right that he should encounter somebody who has also lost a loved one (and, of course, the fun part is that that “somebody” is a puppet). Jack is forced to finally confront head-on his own loss and pain. I think it ties in with what we were saying about 80s fantasy films – the main character always learns something after going on their quest. Jack learns how to process that anger and regret, and he creates something positive out of that.

Many 80s fantasy movies take place in other worlds, but you brought Iri into the “real world”. What made you decide to bring the fantastical into the modern world?

The whole reason I wrote this book is because I love puppet fantasies, and I loved the idea of puppets coming to life in the real world. It felt like a fun spin on the fish-out-of-water trope – a little bit Small Soldiers, a little bit Jumanji. It also allowed me to be more satirical in tone. Even though the book is very much a fantasy, it’s also a commentary on fandom, pop culture and found families. It would have been quite difficult to explore all of that in any world other than our own!

Now I have to know: what did you think of the recent Dark Crystal show?

I. LOVED. IT. It got everything right! In general, I’m not a fan of prequels, but I felt like The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance dodged a lot of the “prequel pitfalls”, partly because it introduced such a fantastic cast of new characters, but also because Thra has such a huge and fascinating lore to explore, it felt fresh and loving the whole way through. I loved going back to that world. (And any show that gives us a ton of Fizzgigs, plus Aughra being a badass, gets a huge tick in my book!)

I agree! I thought it was cool that the world and lore just grew while keeping the feel of the original. I am also so glad they didn’t go the CGI route. Also-and this is weird- I loved seeing that adult Toby Froud was involved (although his wardrobe was significantly less “Where’s Waldo”). Incidentally, did a certain character’s name come from baby Toby?

Oh yes! I sprinkled quite a few easter eggs throughout the book, and the biggest one was naming a character Toby. I couldn’t resist!

You included the most loveable band of fans! I liked that they had their own brand of family, something that I’ve been privileged to discover in my own fandoms. Was that based on your own experience in any way?

Well, I am a fan, and pretty much everybody I know is a fan of something nerdy and awesome, so it wasn’t a huge stretch for me to come up with the fans in the book. It’s funny, the Shadow Glass Guild came to me 100% complete when I first sat down to write them, and their chapters have barely changed since the first draft. I could write them for days, they were so great to hang out with.

Did you have a favorite character or part to write?

I’m more interested to know who your favorite character was! Honestly, I love all of the characters equally, but there’s definitely a special place in my heart for the villain, Kunin Yillda. She was just SO FUN to write. I love a baddie who is unapologetically evil, and it was so liberating to really dig into the grotesqueries of that character, without feeling like I had to dumb her down at all.

Kunin Yillda was such a great baddie! I liked that you had this flat-out evil character, but I honestly felt a little sorry for Cutter. He was an easy villain to pity.

I’m glad! I wanted Cutter to be complicated. I didn’t want the reader to necessarily know exactly how they felt about him – he does some despicable things but there is an inherent sadness to him, too. He’s clearly miserable! As much as I love an all-out evil baddie, I also love a baddie who’s emotionally and psychologically complex. With this book, I decided to do both!

My favorite character is a toss-up between Toby (I just loved his excitement, and he reminded me a little of a friend of mine) and Jack. Jack’s character development was through the roof! I love watching characters evolve, so he was a joy to read about.

That’s great to hear. I was worried that Jack would turn readers off at the start of the book, because he’s so bitter and dismissive. I’m glad that you enjoyed watching him evolve. I worked really hard on that!

Were any of your characters inspired by people you know (hopefully not Kunin Yillda)?

The lub is loosely inspired by my cat, Penny, who is both cute and deadly. The name of the Guild is inspired by my boyfriend’s cousins, who are really close and call themselves the “Guild”, too. (I know, adorable, right?) That’s about it. I try not to write characters who are too close to people I know IRL, as I’d hate to upset them! (Though I have, unfortunately, met a few Kunin Yilldas in my time…)

Such great inspirations (yes, the “Guild” is adorable)!

They’re as lovely in real life as they are in the book!

What was the most challenging part to write?

The Comic-Con chapters! There were SO many moving parts and pieces in that sequence. Pretty much every single character is present, plus there’s a huge room full of cosplayers, PLUS the baddies. Then when you throw in the idea of mind control and fighting… it was A LOT to get my head around. But I’m super proud of that sequence and so happy that it finally works.

One of my favorite recent book quotes takes place during the Con.. I did not expect to get a little choked up reading about a Comic-Con.

Well now I want to know what the line is!

“This wasn’t about using nostalgia as a shield, it was about celebrating the things that defined them, the characters that spoke to their heart’s truth, the things that made them different and unique and powerful in their own special way. It united them.”

I really, really loved that entire paragraph. It was wonderful.

Oh brilliant. I genuinely believe that nostalgia and fandom can be twin forces for good. And nostalgia is nothing new – just think about your grandparents getting misty-eyed over the days before cell phones. Everybody is nostalgic for something. I just happen to be nostalgic for puppets!

Would you like to see The Shadow Glass made into a movie?

Heck yes! That would be unbelievable. I wrote The Shadow Glass because nobody is making those great puppet fantasy films anymore, so if my book inspired a little genre resurgence (in the name of Jim Henson, of course), I would be very happy indeed!

If I found the last VHS store left, what are your must-watch 80s movies?

Oh wow, how much time do you have?! The main three I mentioned earlier are absolute must-watches – Labyrinth, The NeverEnding Story and The Dark Crystal. Other fantasy films I love from the 80s are Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Willow and Teen Witch (which is absolutely insane). Then there’s Gremlins, Back to the Future (the whole trilogy), The Goonies. And we haven’t even gotten to the John Hughes movies…

Labyrinth is one of my all-time favorite movies! I haven’t seen Teen Witch, though. I’ll need to fix that.

Oh, Teen Witch isn’t good! [laughs] But it’s VERY entertaining, and sort of a prototype for Sabrina the Teenage Witch. It totally does its own batshit thing, and I can respect that. Also the ‘Top That’ musical moment is jaw-dropping and must be seen by ALL.

Do you have any plans to write a sequel?

Not at the moment. I wrote The Shadow Glass as a standalone, so I have no sequel notes written down anywhere. There are a few little ideas percolating in the back of my brain, though, so if enough people demand it, I’m not sure I could resist reuniting with these characters for one more adventure. After all, I lub Iri!

Well, put me on the list of demanding people (usually, I prefer to avoid being demanding)!

Demanding can be good!

Do you have anything exciting in the works? I’m very excited for my next book, Burn the Negative, which is being published by Putnam in the US in summer 2023. It’s another movie-themed novel, except this time it’s pure ’90s horror. The story is about a journalist who is sent on assignment to LA to write about a new streaming series, but when she gets there, she discovers the series is based on the cursed horror movie she starred in as a child. I can’t wait for people to read it! After that, well, if I told you, I’d have to kill you. Watch this space.

*This interview originally ran on Before We Go Blog.

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Krystle Matar

Banner Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark!

Today I’m excited to be joined by Krystle Matar, author of the grimdark triumph, Legacy of the Brightwash!

Will you talk a little bit about your work?

Legacy of the Brightwash is romantic grimdark; it straddles the line between both worlds. The society the characters exist in is bleak and difficult (to say the least) but through bonds of love and family, they are able to stand against the oppression they face in their society. I’m not sure I set out with the intention to mash those two genres together, but maybe that’s just me. Dark, and struggling—but with a deep well of love for my family and community that sees me through it all. I suppose it was inevitable that those things would bleed into my writing.

What were some obstacles to writing Legacy of the Brightwash?

Life in general was definitely a big obstacle! We are a family of 6 and life is very busy; we also moved out into the country in the midst of my revisions, and our way of life shifted dramatically. 

I’m still not entirely sure how we pulled it off, but here we are, and I’ve got this shiny new writing career on top of it! 

Other than that, I think a big obstacle was deciding how much of myself I wanted to commit to the story. It’s scary, bearing your soul to a broad audience. It’s vulnerable and it’s counter-intuitive. But ultimately, I had to decide what I wanted to write about if indeed I made this into a career… and it turns out that I can’t write anything except my own honesty. I think I made the right choices.

What were some victories?

Community was the biggest victory. I stumbled into the indie community by accident, and my life has been forever enriched by the amazing, generous, supportive, kind-hearted people I’ve met. I can only imagine how many more fantastic people I’ll encounter on my journey, and I love this community with my whole heart and soul. Beyond that, Brightwash is a victory in and of itself; I’ve never written anything so bold, so big, so totally and utterly me. I used to pull a lot of punches when I was writing because I thought that’s how you got to sell and that’s how you got taken seriously, but I was so wrong. It turns out that you can throw down your whole, messy, complex self and people will engage with you and your story much deeper.

Legacy of the Brightwash is seen as grimdark. Would you agree with the classification and why?

You know, when I was getting ready to market Brightwash, I thought to myself “It isn’t that dark, is it?” I thought for sure the grimdark crowd would be disappointed. Earlier drafts were much darker before I added the core theme of love, and I thought I was straying too far away from what they like to see. 

Fortunately, I have some wonderful friends in the grimdark genre, and through reading their work and conversing with them, I learned that grimdark is more of a spectrum than a hard line. The tone is bleakness and violence, sure, but the expressions of that tone can be varied from story to story in absolutely stunning ways. So, if a bleak society and setting is what it takes to be grimdark, I’m there for sure. Energy units, ya know? (If you don’t know, I won’t spoil it, but trust me.)

There are many misconceptions about grimdark out there, (I’ve heard the term “torture porn”, which irritates me to no end). Can you talk about what grimdark is?

Grimdark is a conversation with the fantasy genre, I think. Grimdark acknowledges that we as humans are deeply imperfect. Grimdark forces people to consider the weight of all those heroic battles. Grimdark builds a world where none of the choices are good and asks the reader how on earth they would choose if they were in the same situation. Grimdark examines lines that people shouldn’t cross, and then forces their characters across it, because none of us are impervious to temptation and mistakes. 

Grimdark, paradoxically, is also a genre that is stubbornly hopeful. If victory is assured, if the hero is truly good and right and virtuous, was anything really risked? Was anything really in doubt, was their stand ever all that brave? That’s not to say that ALL of fantasy is about perfect shining heroes; it’s not, and I know it, and I’m not slinging shade at those hears. I don’t know… but I find, personally, I can’t relate to heroes who always make the right choices. That’s how I ended up here in grimdark, I think. Tashué has fucked up, and he knows it. And together with the people he loves most in the world, he can try to do something about it. 

Which brings me to my next point; if the hero is deeply flawed, and the act of standing shreds their lives to pieces, if they are pushed so hard that they almost break… or they do break and they continue on in spite of it, it feels like they’ve truly, deeply overcome something. Grimdark can be about standing for something even if there’s no hope. About slogging through the shit that the world dumps on us, and finding something worth fighting for. And maybe the choices our heroes make aren’t good exactly, but who among us can relate to that? A lot of us, I think. 

The side effect of that does often mean that grimdark is a genre where protagonists are tested, and fail. They collapse beneath the pressure, they cave, they slide so deep into the darkness that they might be irredeemable. And that’s the beauty of the genre. There is so much room for examining the depths of the human condition in ways that are messy and uncomfortable… and also honest.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions?

You know, I’m really not sure. Certainly there is some wild stuff out there in the grimdark playground, but the same can be said about any genre. I think grimdark tends to make people uncomfortable, and thus it gets a bad rap. But for whatever it’s worth, romance also tends to make people uncomfortable, and also gets a bad rap. There seems to be a pushback against genres that ask for self-reflection, you know? Grimdark and romance both ask people to face the taboos of their society head-on, and they both ask people to see themselves in situations that might be uncomfortable. So maybe it’s no wonder that they both get a lot of flak. 

So then I combined them both, lol. I guess I like a challenge.

What draws you to grimdark as a writer?

Legacy of the Brightwash started out as a thought experiment about how we value convenience and the stability of our economy, and asked a question about what it would take to shock an entire society out of status quo to really change things. My hero is a man who is trapped in the very system that is oppressing him and people like him. He’s made mistakes, and he’s going to have to make difficult choices in order to make any change. 

I don’t know that Tashué’s story could have fit in any other subgenre, really. 

Do you find writing to be cathartic? If so, would you say that fantasy (and grimdark in particular) is particularly well suited to examining some of the harder things in life?

I do find writing cathartic; it’s a safe space to examine my own personal baggage, as well as the broad emotions that come with living in this world on a day-to-day basis. Fantasy is doubly a safe space. I have the room to adjust society so that I can filter out things I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to deal with, but then I can also put human nature under a microscope and process those feelings in a way that connects me to other people (ie, the readers who come to my world and understand the questions I’m trying to examine.) Grimdark is a place where we can be uncomfortably honest about flaws. And in being honest about them, hopefully we can find ways to hold ourselves accountable for them. 

Which authors are on your must-read list?

Clayton Snyder is absolutely pushing the limits of grimdark, and his stories are incredible. Michael Fletcher, of course. A grimdark list isn’t complete without him. Does Brian Staveley count as grimdark? I suspect he does, and his first trilogy is absolutely incredible. I haven’t yet read his new novel, but I’m salivating over it. 

I recently read The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien, and Matterhorn by Karl Marlantes. Neither of them are fantasy; both authors are Vietnam veterans who wrote about their experiences in war, though Matterhorn is a fictionalized story. I’m not sure if Tim O’Brien wrote his experiences, or if he filtered them through some fictionalization, but either way, the work is absolutely stunning. I highly, highly recommend them both for readers and writers of grimdark. We touch on war a lot in the genre of fantasy; we should engage with the veterans who lived through it. 

 Do you have anything on the horizon that you would like to mention?

I’ve been working diligently on Brightwash’s sequel, LEGACY OF BRICK & BONE. But I’m also very, very proud of the anthology that I’ve been a part of, titled THE ALCHEMY OF SORROW. The theme of the anthology has been grief, and it’s been absolutely moving to watch so many writers come together and address the heaviest of emotions in that safe space that fantasy is. The support for the anthology has been incredible, proving that fantasy has the space, and the NEED, to get real about emotion. 

About the author:

“Krystle Matar has been writing for a long time, but things got serious when Tashué Blackwood walked into her life, an amber-eyed whirlwind.
When she isn’t arguing with him or any of his friends, she parents and farms. She has a lot of children and even more animals and one very excellent husband.
She is currently working on lots of stories set in the Dominion. She expects to exist in this universe for a while.”

I have my website https://www.krystlematar.com

Twitter https://twitter.com/KrystleMatar

Instagram https://www.instagram.com/krystlematar/

My GR page: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/20047399.Krystle_Matar

Fantasy Focus: Grimdark Featuring Holly Tinsley

Image Credit: Beth Tabler

This year, I’m doing a new series: Fantasy Focus. Each month will have a week-long focus on a different fantasy subgenre- fantasy is as varied as its creators’ imaginations! If you’ve missed them, there have been fantasy focuses on comedic fantasy and romantic fantasy. This month, I’m taking a walk on the grittier, darker side of fantasy- grimdark! Today, I’m privileged to talk with Holly Tinsley, author of We Men of Ash and Shadow.

Thank you for joining me, Holly!

Will you talk a little about your work?

I’m a writer of grimdark, gas lamp low fantasy – so readers can expect plenty of shady, morally grey characters in my books. My first novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was released in 2020 and is now a SPFBO7 Finalist, something for which I feel incredibly fortunate and grateful. The follow-up, The Hand that Casts the Bone, is due out very soon, and the audiobook is currently in production, so I am very excited about that. Outside of grimdark, I write full time for a living and spend a lot of time blogging about popular culture and games. 

What were some of the obstacles to writing We Men of Ash and Shadow?

There were definitely aspects of the story and the characters that I wanted to make sure I got right. It felt crucial to understand who the characters were, as people, before I started thinking about their stories or their situations. When you write about trauma or pain, you have to be sure you are not using that as a vehicle to develop who the characters are. The character, in my opinion, has to come first. We Men of Ash and Shadow features people displaced by war, sex workers, a character suffering dementia, people who have been through trauma and grief. I reached out to some people and learnt what I could of their experiences in similar situations. Some of what I wrote comes from my experience of PTSD. I did a lot of learning and research. Obstacle is really the wrong word because that opportunity to hear other people’s perspectives was so meaningful, and it was a privilege to be allowed to hear and better understand their voices.

What were some victories?

I’ve probably answered this question with the last one! Every time someone identifies with a character or tells me I’ve done them justice, I feel like I’ve done what I wanted in terms of making sure they are as authentic as possible. I hadn’t set out to write a particular type of book, but I knew the story I wanted to tell. I wanted to explore the darker aspects of the world through the eyes of one person whose experiences have begun to wear on them and another in the early stages of setting their foundations in the world. I wanted to know where those two might find common ground and what their relationship might look like set against difficulty and struggle. I felt I achieved that with Vanguard and Carmen – so that was a victory for me.

We Men of Ash and Shadow has been described as “a Grimdark gas lamp novel”. Grimdark seems to be one of those subgenres that is surrounded by misconceptions. How would you explain or define it?

I think I’ve come to accept there isn’t one definition for what grimdark is. These days the crossover between grimdark, dark fantasy, urban fantasy, and other subgenres has become blurred, so one person’s idea of what fits into each category is different from another. If I had to explain it to someone, the best I could come up with is that grimdark is like shining an ultraviolet light on human nature. It brings what is hidden to view and forces us to recognize the parts of our world that are often darker, dirtier, and less palatable. It doesn’t mean the rest of the picture is suddenly somehow nullified or that it becomes any less important.

Why do you think there are so many misconceptions regarding grimdark?

This is a difficult question to answer because grimdark tends to poke a finger at particular subjects, which for some, are akin to real and painful wounds. There is a difference between what people think grimdark is and what are, or what should be, the intentions behind it. I don’t find any value in writing solely for shock or gore. That doesn’t mean there isn’t value in writing about shocking things to be had. And therein, I think, is where a lot of the misconception lies. As writers, we tread a thin line between including particular subjects in a way that has a purpose and using them gratuitously. Writing about painful or darker themes doesn’t automatically make a book ‘torture porn’. But using those themes irresponsibly makes for poorer writing and a poorer perception of the genre. I don’t know any writer, grimdark or otherwise, whose intention is to damage – rather it is to evaluate and understand. Maybe that doesn’t explain why there are misconceptions so much as what they are. In truth, the why is far more complicated and not something I feel articulate or intelligent enough to define.

What draws you to grimdark as a writer?

I am, and always have been, fascinated by history, society, people, and psychology. Good grimdark allows for the raw and unapologetic examination and analysis of these subjects. Whether pure fiction or derived from actual events grimdark dissects and explores causation, effect and consequence. I’m not someone who looks to books for escapism, more catharsis, and for me, grimdark provides that. How we process emotion – grief, loneliness, anger, etc. is deeply personal. For me, I need to be able to lay those things out as raw and naked as I possibly can, so that I can stand back and look them in the eye because that has become my way of better understanding them. Grimdark allows me to do that through fiction. The funny thing is, I had no idea what grimdark was when I wrote the book. I just wrote the story I wanted to tell, so there was never any intention to specifically create something grimdark.

Do real world events ever affect your writing?

In a sense, yes, they do, but I think it’s vital to be careful to distinguish between how real-world events affect your writing and how they affect you as a person. I think it’s only natural that the world around us affects how we tell stories, both on a local and a global level. For me, the important thing is to allow time and distance from whatever is happening so that if I do want to use it in my writing, I’ve had the opportunity to understand and process those feelings. We all go through times when we are angry, sad, or frustrated with the world and how it is. If I were to allow my feelings to affect how I write as I felt them at the time, my writing would be reactive rather than reflective, and that isn’t what I want. I think there is a dangerous misconception that hard times breed better writers. What they do is give us new layers and perspectives, whether for good or bad. So later, as we become better able to carry those experiences, we can bring that understanding to our writing in a more valuable way.

Would you say that fantasy (and grimdark in particular) is particularly well situated to examining some of the harder things in life?

I think grimdark brings opportunity to explore the harder things in life, which both works against and in favour for the genre. There are certain expectations of the sorts of subjects grimdark addresses, whether or not they are well suited to a particular book depends on the strength of the writing and the justification for it. The ‘harder things in life’ covers a very broad spectrum – it goes beyond just throwing in a bunch of battle scenes or bloody violence. I think fantasy lends itself well to examining consequences and hard questions.

Who are some of your go-to authors?

Mark Lawrence is my go-to recommendation for anyone who wants to dive straight into grimdark. In my opinion, he’s the master of the genre, and I’ve found very few writers who can even come close to what he achieves with a single sentence. “I’ll tell you now. That silence almost beat me. It’s the silence that scares me. It’s the blank page on which I can write my own fears. The spirits of the dead have nothing on it. The dead one tried to show me hell, but it was a pale imitation of the horror I can paint on the darkness in a quiet moment.” – Prince of Thorns. The first time I read those words, they burnt themselves onto my brain, and I’ve yet to find anything to which I’ve had such an emotional reaction. 

I like to read as many independent authors as I can. There’s a wealth of talent out there, and one I’m reading at the moment is PL Stuart. His second book, the follow-up to A Drowned Kingdom, is out soon, and I’ve been fortunate enough to get a preview copy. What I enjoy about PL’s work is the ambition in it. I don’t know any other current author with the capacity to imagine worlds on such a massive scale. There is so much detail, so much thought saturating every single page. You’re not just getting a book – you’re getting an epic.

Do you have anything upcoming that you’d like to talk about?

The second book in my series is coming out soon; I’ll be updating any information on my Twitter. As I mentioned earlier, the audiobook is currently in production. I’m really happy to be working with RJ Bayley again, who did the narration for We Men of Ash and Shadow. He did a fantastic job of bringing the first part of the story to life.  I’m hoping to collaborate on a horror project over the next twelve months as well, though that is very much in the earliest stages of planning at the moment.

About the Author:

HL Tinsley is the pen name of professional blogger and creative writer Holly Tinsley.

Based in the UK, she is a published author of Fantasy, Gothic Horror and Grimdark fiction as well as a regular contributor to gaming, TTRPG and pop culture websites and blogs. Her debut novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was published in 2020 and is an SPFBO7 finalist. The follow up, The Hand That Casts The Bone is due for release on April 21st 2022. 

To purchase We Men of Ash and Shadow: Amazon

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Claire Buss

This week I’m discussing Comedic Fantasy on my blog. I’m delighted to be able to talk with Claire Buss, author of several books, including the comedic fantasy titled The Rose Thief. Thank you so much for being willing to chat about comedic fantasy with me!

You’re so welcome – thanks for having me!

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I’m an avid reader, mum to monsters and fantastic procrastinator. I used to write a lot when I was younger, but when I hit 18ish and struck out on my first attempt at adulting, I stopped and didn’t pick it up again until about 7 years ago, just after I had my little boy. I accidentally fell into a writing workshop and unknowingly entered a book I hadn’t yet written into a book competition. That was the start of my writing journey. My first book, The Gaia Effect, was a hopeful dystopian set about 200 years in the future with a strong female leading cast. I began the book with a waking up scene. Fight me. Then I wrote the first book in my humorous fantasy world, The Rose Thief. Then I released several books of short stories, poetry and 10-minute plays plus some flash fiction collections and more poetry books. I went back and finished the hopeful dystopian trilogy, then went back and wrote some more humorous fantasy. I laugh in the face of genre. But I am firmly in the humorous fantasy camp. For now.

Will you describe the premise of The Rose Thief?

The Rose Thief is the first novel in my humorous fantasy world. Ned Spinks, Chief Thief-Catcher has a problem. Someone is stealing the Emperor’s roses. But that’s not the worst of it. In his infinite wisdom and grace, the Emperor magically imbued his red rose with love so if it was ever removed from the Imperial Rose Gardens then love would be lost, to everyone, forever. It’s up to Ned and his band of motley catchers to apprehend the thief and save the day. But the thief isn’t exactly who they seem to be, neither is the Emperor. Ned and his team will have to go on a quest defeating vampire mermaids, illusionists, estranged family members and an evil sorcerer in order to win the day. What could possibly go wrong?

What inspired you to write humorous fantasy?

I have a natural humour in my writing which often comes out in my observation of people and especially through their interaction in dialogue. I am a huge Pratchett fan and also love Neil Gaiman, Douglas Adamas and Piers Anthony. I devoured these books as well as other typical fantasy books when I was an awkward teenager, so I think they’re in my bones now. It’s not a conscious ‘oh I must write funny’, it just kinda happens.

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Definitely overthinking ‘is this funny’ and also over-using a particular gimmick. It’s usually only funny the first two times, three at a max. Another thing to be wary of is to not give your character enough substance for more heavier themes because you’ve been too focused on making them funny. They need to have layers. Like an ogre. Sorry onion. Also writer’s imposter syndrome which I think every writer suffers from. The book first starts out as an amazing idea but soon becomes a pile of poo before you can grudgingly accept that it might have slight merit as you wait for the first reader review.

What are some triumphs?

Having strangers read my books and love them because they love the characters and they thought it was funny and because it reminds them of Pratchett. It’s such an accolade. And getting the feedback that they can’t wait for the next one is a real kick up the butt to actually get on with writing the next one. Did I mention procrastination?

Oh, I am well acquainted with procrastination. How do you get in the writing “zone”, so to speak?

Ugh. I try not to lean too heavily on the idea of a zone. I have kids. There is always a crisis waiting to happen, currently happening or having just messily happened so there’s always something that needs doing, cleaning, fixing, disinfecting etc and then they want to eat. Kids eat all the time. It’s annoying. Mostly because I can’t do that if I want to avoid looking like a bowling ball. Anyway, back to procrastination…

Usually I stick a pair of headphones on and listen to music way louder than you’re supposed to. Did I mention I have kids? They are also loud. I find mini outlines help though I am by no means a planner. It’s literally a case of hmm, what could happen here and then I type a few lines to help guide the writing flow. I always type those in caps just like I always type XXX when I can’t remember the name of a character or place OR the character or place doesn’t yet have a name. Naming is hard. Then I just go. I’m lucky that I type fast. I can rock out 1000-1500 words in 30-40 minutes provided I don’t let myself get distracted. I can’t guarantee that those words will be awesome but it’s first draft so, it’s okay.

There are days though when I just know that words won’t come so I don’t even bother. It becomes an upsetting experience that leads to more blank page and more procrastination. There are other days when I can type through Fortnite on the TV and train YouTube videos on one screen and My Little Pony on another, all blaring out and me with no headphones on because I just had this really good idea.

Who are some of your favorite authors?

Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, Terry Goodkind, Sara Douglass, Robin Hobb, Becky Thomas, Ben Aaronovitch, Frances Hardinge, Robert Jordon, Neil Gaiman, T.W.M Ashford, A.J. Hackwith, N.K. Jemisin, Matt Haig, Gail Carriger, Genevieve Cogman, Karen MacRae, Rachel Caine, Ursula Le Guin, Tanith Lee, Jasper Fforde, Piers Anthony, Douglas Coupland, Douglas Adams, Joe Abercrombie, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks er… I’d better stop there, hadn’t I?

I have a website clairebuss.co.uk and I lurk on various social media sites:

Twitter: www.twitter.com/grasshopper2407

Instagram: www.instagram.com/grasshopper2407

TikTok: www.tiktok.com/@grasshopper2407

Facebook: www.facebook.com/busswriter

Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/BussBookStop

As for my books, I am wide so you can buy them from your favourite book retailer – even real life ones that you walk into although you’ll have to order them in. Still exciting though.

The Rose Thief – www.books2read.com/u/bQaxw6 

The Silk Thief – www.books2read.com/u/49NJMM 

The Bone Thief – www.books2read.com/u/3LRkgD 

The Interspecies Poker Tournament – www.books2read.com/u/m2Vk0R 

**FREE** Ye Olde Magic Shoppe – www.books2read.com/u/4XXPw1 But if you’re Amazon loud and proud then you can find me and all my books here: www.tinyurl.com/ClaireBussBooks

About the author:

Claire Buss is an award-winning multi-genre author and poet. She wanted to be Lois Lane when she grew up but work experience at her local paper was eye-opening. Instead, Claire went on to work in a variety of marketing and administrative roles for over a decade but never felt quite at home. An avid reader, baker and expert procrastinator Claire won second place in the Barking and Dagenham Pen to Print writing competition in 2015 with her debut novel, The Gaia Effect, setting her writing career in motion. Since then, Claire has published seventeen novels and poetry collections and had her short fiction published in six anthologies. The Gaia Effect won the Uncaged Book Reviews Raven Award for Favourite Sci-Fi/Fantasy novel in 2017 and the first book in her humorous fantasy series, The Rose Thief, won in 2019. Working with Pen to Print, Claire delivers regular Book Surgeries offering marketing help and advice to new and established authors. In 2019 Claire was part of the original team involved in creating and establishing Write On! Magazine and continues to support, work and promote the magazine in her role as Deputy Editor, a different kind of Lois who champions new writers and helps them share their creativity. Claire continues to write passionately and is hopelessly addicted to cake.

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Bjørn Larssen 

This week on Witty and Sarcastic Bookclub, I’m focusing on comedic fantasy! There is such a broad range, and the creativity of comedic authors is boundless. Bjørn Larssen, author of Why Odin Drinks, has kindly shared his time and expertise on comedy, Norse mythology, and feather dusters.
I would also like to thank Sue Bavey for her suggestions and help with this interview.

Thank you so much for chatting about comedic fantasy with me! Would you introduce yourself to the readers?

I’m the sort of person who immediately blanks when asked to say something about himself. (My grandma used to ask me to say “something” in Dutch and I would immediately forget the entire language. Including the word for “something.”) I’m an ex-mathematician (that’s stretching the truth, I have a degree, though); ex-graphic designer; ex-blacksmith; currently a recovering perfectionist, a Norse heathen, and a writer.

Can you talk a little bit about ‘Why Odin Drinks’? 

In the beginning there was confusion… in the shape(s) of Gods who have been tasked with everything, but received no instruction manuals. They don’t know what they can do until it’s done, and only one of them is vaguely aware of the idea of “consequences.” With great power comes great responsibility, but that’s a way too long word to think of when this floozie Freya wears a miniskirt and you don’t even have sweatpants.

The idea actually came from my dark fantasy book, Children – which is also funny, although the dark and the light are balanced differently. Gods having to figure out their powers by trial and error. That would explain a lot about the world, like for instance why celery exists.

To say that you are knowledgeable about Norse mythology would be an enormous understatement. What made you decide to bring the comedic element into ‘Why Odin Drinks’?

The Northmen never had a Holy Book – they had drunken bards. The Norse Gods made mistakes, cheated, lied, stole, or worse – lost… and those who listened to those stories gasped, cried, slammed their fists on the tables, and laughed their bellies off. Those are not “do this or else” stories – they’re “they did this and you won’t believe what happened next” ones. So I didn’t bring the comedic element into it, I just emphasised it.

(Thor would like everyone to know that he has never agreed to wear a dressing gown to recover his hammer by marrying a jötunn king. He is the most hurt by the suggestion that when the king looked under the veil Thor’s rage-filled eyes scared him, though. Thor’s beautiful eyes were in fact full of peace and compassion for the soon-to-be-massacred court of the king. Or rather would be, had this not been a filthy lie, probably made up by his Twitter haters.)

Is it difficult to write characters that are already established in a way that fleshes them out differently and shows a new aspect that does not already exist?

Yes. Certain aspects are locked in place. For instance, Týr has his hand bitten off by Fenrir wolf and I can’t really make that funny. I can make the act Týr’s idea and give him agency, nevertheless it must happen. I call this a pinch. I’ve read other authors’ books that are spun around retellings of myths and often the myths themselves are the weakest parts. It’s difficult when you have an act that must happen or a characteristic that must be there – in the middle of the very different story you’re actually trying to tell.

I try to go around as many of those as I can, and I make smaller, less consequential changes to the Norse lore. For instance, in Why Odin Drinks Frigg, Odin’s wife and Goddess who can foretell the future, finds out that she is going to remain childless. She is the Norse mother figure, though, and according to the Eddas Frigg and Odin did have children together. So now I lock things in place. I have an explanation why the Northmen called Frigg “mother” – that’s what the story is about. I pinched myself now, though. If any of Frigg’s and Odin’s children must appear in a book ten years from now, I better have a very good origin story for them.

I am not incredibly well-versed in Norse mythology, but I do know that certain comic book characters share the names of well-known Norse characters, but they don’t share much else. Do you think the current pop-culture expectations for those characters and mythologies make it more difficult to write about them? 

This is a very good way of phrasing it – they “share the names” indeed. MarvelTM introduced the idea of Father, Son, and the Naughty Ghost, where Odin basically delegates tasks and Loki is a bit of the Fallen Angel But Cute. What they did was an unconscious (apparently) attempt to translate a polytheist faith for people used to monotheism, and it worked too well. The real Thor is not Goody-Two-Shoes-With-Great-Pecs, Odin is not God Almighty, and Loki is not Handsome Devil. So I have to remember I am dealing with those expectations and do it without “…and now we interrupt for this scholarly explanation…”

The humour itself is difficult, because it evolves. Most retellings, such as Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology, are limited to the myths that are easiest to adapt to modern sensitivities (and therefore best known). I wrote about The Lay of Harbard for Norsevember and I was surprised at how, frankly, rape-y some of it is. “I made them all submit to my will,” Harbard (Odin) says, “I could have used your help, Thor, you could have helped me hold that gorgeous girl down.” “I would have helped you,” Thor answers, “if I had been there.” This was probably amusing in the 9th century, but there is no way to twist it so that it’s funny in the 2020s. I’m not surprised most writers, including myself, stay away from it. Can’t imagine MarvelTM touching it with a long pole, either.

You introduce the idea of bigotry among the humans, with some thinking they are better than others. Do you think it is important to have a message in your writing, even in comedy?

My biggest inspiration is Calvin & Hobbes, where the characters’ personalities are informed by the works of the theologian John Calvin and philosopher Thomas Hobbes. Those strips often work on multiple levels. They’re funny because Calvin is wearing rocket underpants and simultaneously argues with Hobbes about what constitutes happiness or what man does to nature – in one panel with two sentences on it. They shape the reader’s subconsciousness without slamming them on the head with The Message.

I have my agenda and I have my politics, and there are things I want to talk about, but I also know that people don’t like being yelled at or be told they’re dumb and need to “educate themselves.” Humour is a very powerful weapon. There are jokes in Why Odin Drinks that are just silly and nothing more, and then there are others that smuggle my thoughts about, well, bigotry or sexism or tribalism or basic human traits. It’s funny because it’s true.

In one of the stories in ‘Why Odin Drinks’, I believe one of the characters is portrayed as a dominatrix. How sexual is the humor in that book?

It’s much worse than that! First we meet the dominatrix, Madame A, then the Wise Dom from the cover, Sir Daddy Mímir. Madame A’s favourite, ah… tools, or perhaps her clients’, are an egg whisker and a feather duster. I stole those, I mean – found inspiration in the old TV series ‘Allo ‘Allo. There’s nothing you can call explicit, yet I try to examine why people engage in BDSM without using either the acronym or explaining what it means.

Odin’s visit to Sir Daddy Mímir is my look at dom/sub relationships. The All-Father has to find something special to offer Sir Daddy (and he has to squeeze the word “Sir” out in the first place) to get what he wants. At the same time, Mímir is genuinely concerned about Odin. Odin will lose an eye (that’s another pinch) but that doesn’t mean Mímir actually wants it to happen, and he is more shocked than Odin himself when it does. I can’t remember whether there is anything actually sexual in the story. The word “seductively” appears, though.

I apply the Shrek rules here. A 13-year-old reading Why Odin Drinks will understand something very different from a 30-year-old, and it’s the latter who might be shocked by my audacity. (Although now that Internet exists, I am probably very naive about 13-year-olds.) I’m actually a prude. I feel very uncomfortable writing about sex, so I write around it, sort of.

What would you say are some of the obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

It’s actually really hard to be funny without overdoing it, or making it too on-the-nose, even though the latter is something satire is supposed to do. Some people will laugh at “peeing dispensers” in Creation, the first story in Why Odin Drinks – some will be disgusted. The former might not appreciate the Douglas Adams inspirations, though, while the latter will sigh in relief. My sense of humour is also seriously weird. My editor sometimes marks something that I think is hilarious and comments simply “?”

I have once watched a Joan Rivers documentary showing her enormous collection of index cards with one-off jokes she came up with. I also write those things down. I use memes and build around them, but the story still needs to be funny for people who don’t even know what a meme is.

There is this episode of Monty Python where the British come up with a joke so funny it makes the German soldiers die from laughing so hard. The joke finally makes its way to one of the highest rank officers, whose face goes puce as he snarls “das is nicht funny!” I have to remember that when someone scoffs at how super nicht funny my writing is.

What is the best thing about writing comedic fantasy?

Laughing at things that are not supposed to be laughed at. 

I have lived through the final years of communism in Poland. No matter what the church-pleasing politicians would want you to believe, communism has fallen because there was no food. You can live without freedom, you can’t live without food. There was a movie director, Stanisław Bareja, who managed to make that funny. His humour was so subtle that it got past the censors, because they knew he was doing something they should demand he changes, but they couldn’t figure out what. It was the humour that carried the people though those years.

2020/2021 have been… not hilarious. I can either sit here and cry my eyes out (I do sometimes) or laugh. It’s not going to change a thing, but I will feel better. When in October 2020 I published Children, which is dark, psychological fantasy, I peppered it with humour that some found inappropriate – most readers thanked me for it, though. It gave them that breath of fresh air. Why Odin Drinks is the opposite, all of the inappropriate humour with serious undertone you can choose to miss.

In a way writing comedic fantasy is my refusal to let the *gestures at everything* get to me.  I’m going to create my world, my hapless Gods, then laugh at all that even though *gestures at everything* is literally trying to kill me. My naked emperor will uncontrollably salivate at the words “feather duster” and “egg whisker.”

How would you say you “get in the zone” regarding your creative process, and comedic writing in particular? 

Randomly. I try to have a routine, sit in my little indoors cabin (longer story) and get In The Zone. There are times, though, when I’m just too tired or depressed to be creative at all, much less funny. This is why I reject the “write every day” advice – if I tried to force it, 1) I would just feel even worse about myself, and 2) you’d notice. Sometimes, though – this mostly happens either at 2am or in the shower, which is why I have a waterproof phone – I’ll have the electric jolt of an idea. (This is dangerous when you’re in the shower.) The zone pulls me in.

Do you have anything on the horizon that you’d like to talk about?

The follow-up, What Odin Drinks, will explain the origin of wine – and how Thor ended up with both a wife and a lover, neither of whom is too chuffed about the other’s existence. Unfortunately, I also came up with a new oooh, shiny. Typo! A new project. Some people know that I’ve actually always wanted to write rom-coms and always failed. Romance is a very difficult genre to write. I got much better at writing, though (I think) so I’m trying again and it looks promising. Being me, I’m tackling difficult themes again, but being me, I’ll also find a way to make it funny. There will be Iceland, there might be a fantasy element here or there, and someone will be hapless enough to search for a waterfall and find an admittedly impressive puddle. Which might or might not be based on personal experience.

Thank you so much for having me!

About the author:

Bjørn Larssen is a Norse heathen made in Poland, but mostly located in a Dutch suburb, except for his heart which he lost in Iceland. Born in 1977, he self-published his first graphic novel at the age of seven in a limited edition of one, following this achievement several decades later with his first book containing multiple sentences and winning awards he didn’t design himself. His writing is described as ‘dark’ and ‘literary’, but he remains incapable of taking anything seriously for more than 60 seconds.

Bjørn has a degree in mathematics and has worked as a graphic designer, a model, a bartender, and a blacksmith (not all at the same time). His hobbies include sitting by open fires, dressing like an extra from Vikings, installing operating systems, and dreaming about living in a log cabin in the north of Iceland. He owns one (1) husband and is owned by one (1) neighbourhood cat.

Readers’ Favorite Gold Medal winner (‘Storytellers’)

2020 Stabby Award Nominee (‘Children’)

Find out more about Bjørn at http://www.bjornlarssen.com

Social media

www.twitter.com/bjornlarssen
www.instagram.com/bjorn_larssen
www.facebook.com/bjornlarssenwriter

To Purchase:

Separate books:
https://books2read.com/storytellers
https://books2read.com/larssen-children
https://books2read.com/whyodindrinks

Collected:
https://bjornlarssen.com/author

Fantasy Focus: Comedic Fantasy- Featuring Andi Ewington

This week I’m focusing on comedic fantasy, a subgenre of fantasy that will leave you in stitches (or leave you bursting stitches- maybe don’t read comedic fantasy right after a surgery). I’m grateful to be chatting with Andi Ewington, coauthor of Campaigns and Companions.

Hi, Andi! Thank you for stopping by to chat about comedic fantasy! 

Will you introduce yourself to the readers a little and talk about your writing?

I’m Andi Ewington, a writer (of sorts) based in Surrey. I’m probably better known for writing graphic novels having worked on comics such as Forty-Five45, Freeway Fighter, Just Cause 3, Dark Souls 2, Vikings, Sunflower and S6X. But recently, I’ve moved away from the panel-by-panel medium to release Campaigns & Companions, which is a step towards traditional book publishing.

In Campaigns and Companions, you show a love of Dungeons and Dragons (as well as an uncanny understanding of how pets of all sorts act). What was the genesis of Campaigns and Companions?

It sprang from a funny meme of a cat playing Dungeons & Dragons I happened across while doomscrolling through Twitter. It immediately had me roaring with laughter and ignited my imagination; I decided to switch my Twitter focus away from complaints about the daily grind of commuting and embrace pets in funny roleplaying game scenarios to the full. After that, I curated a colossal thread that went viral and quickly realised this could make a really fun book. I brought Rhianna Pratchett, Calum Alexander Watt and Alex de Campi to the project, and we all pitched it to Rebellion Publishing (who gave it the thumbs up).

What was your process in bringing that humor to life?

For me, it’s looking at the stereotypical traits that pets have and trying to put a roleplaying twist on it. For example, dogs LOVE chasing after balls—so what would be the equivalent ‘ball’ in a fantasy world? My brain usually settles on a suitably humorous answer—like a fireball. Now, we have a highly amusing scenario of a dog chasing after a fireball. From that idea, I create dialogue to fit the scene and complete the joke. It then goes to Calum, who illustrates a beautiful image that captures it all to perfection.

Do you have any pets?

Growing up, I always had cats and dogs, but it has never quite been the right time with my own family. My wife is a childminder, so it’s pretty tough to have anything with babies and toddlers running around the house too. She’s looking to change career in 2022, so who knows, maybe we’ll be able to get our first dog to join our family—I know the kids are desperate for one!

What are some obstacles to writing comedic fantasy?

Remembering that humour is subjective, and what I find funny won’t always be funny to other people—accepting that is okay. I tend to focus on the idea and stay true to it. The other thing is knowing when to give up on a joke—sometimes you have an image or gif that just doesn’t spark anything; if that happens, I stop and give up trying to make something humorous out of it. I like my jokes to be explosive and immediate—if I’m not feeling it, I usually cut it.

What are some triumphs?

Having Campaigns & Companions published is a huge triumph, especially when someone takes the time to get in touch. Hearing how the jokes made them laugh is a superb feeling that’s hard to beat. Receiving pictures of the book with a cherished pet is fantastic and something that never grows old. Seeing the reviews and the book’s popularity also gives me a real buzz. Beyond this, I think seeing a posted tweet suddenly go further than my intended audience is a huge win!

How do you get into the ‘zone’, so to speak?

I will paraphrase Bruce Banner here and say—that’s my secret, Jodie… I’m always in the zone. In all seriousness, my brain is wired to constantly search for the funny in everything (just ask my long-suffering family). Honestly, I find it really hard to switch off (which comes with its own problems, especially at funerals).

I’ve had the privilege of reading some of your next project, which is both clever and hilarious. Will you talk about it a little bit?

Sure! My next project is called ‘The Hero Interviews’, a full-on 160,000-word novel that follows the adventures of Elburn Barr, a Loremaster who is trying to find out what it’s like to be a ‘hero’ (and his missing ‘heroic’ brother at the same time). Elburn is travelling the realm, interviewing a smorgasbord of characters from fireball-loving Wizards who accidentally incinerated the rest of their adventuring party to stoic Paladins who are desperate to unleash a flurry of swearwords. I like to think of it as the Dungeons & Dragons world that has gone through a high spin cycle before being let loose. There’s almost limitless potential for fun where the rules are ripped up and merged with contemporary situations to create something that should be familiar to everyone.

Thank you so much, Andi!

Andi has graciously allowed me to share the first interview from ‘The Hero Interviews’ below. It had me rolling on the floor. Enjoy!

Interview 1:

Dorn (Human Barbarian)

Whisper the word ‘Barbarian’, and I’d wager your imagination would instantly picture a rage-filled, muscle-bound warrior clad only in a fur loincloth fuelled by a love of spleen removal whilst drinking the nearest tavern dry. You can imagine my disappointment as I sit opposite a muscle-shy, pasty-looking individual; ‘Dorn’ is the latest ‘hero’ to step out of the Heroes Guild, a polite man who seems eager to make a name for himself within the adventuring sphere. We’ve agreed to meet at Dorn’s local tavern, the Spit & Spear, a favourite watering hole of heroes, situated in the lively city of Tronte, a settlement plagued by wannabe-adventurers hoping to be spotted by one of the Heroes Guild’s numerous ‘Scouts’.

The Spit & Spear is mercifully quiet, although I suspect the evening is still too young to attract the hardened drinker questing for the only elixir that matters in their life. The only other patrons of note are a nearby Dwarven Fighter working his way through a flagon-orgy, and a Paladin, who seems to be regaling the barmaid with his tales of adventure. The young lady is so enraptured by the Holy Warrior’s words she’s failed to notice both the Barbarian and I have been without a drink for some considerable time.
 

Me: “Thanks for meeting me—”

Dorn: “My pleasure, it’s not every day I get interviewed by a bona fide Loremaster—I suppose it’s something I’m going to have to get accustomed to…”

Me: “Accustomed to?”

Dorn grins proudly as he turns the collar of his jerkin over; I catch sight of a flash of silver—a badge sits snugly underneath, I can just make out a sword hilt etched into the circle design neatly bisecting a large ‘H’ and ‘G’.

Dorn: “I’m now officially a hero. Finally, I can follow in the footsteps of the greats, like Arin Darkblade1 and Gilva Flamebeard2!”

Me: “Erm… I guess congratulations are in order?”


 1Renowned for being the meanest adventurer in the entire realm—and I don’t mean in the ‘never buys a round of drinks’ kind of way, although I suspect he’s never bought a round of drinks in his life either. No, Arin is an eye-patch wearing hero who has completed more quests and despatched more monsters than any adventurer in living memory.

2Gilva Flamebeard is a legendary Dwarven Cleric who has stepped back from adventuring to become a hermit. As her name suggests, she sports a fiery red beard, which, by all accounts, contrasts sharply with an unusually calm demeanour for a Dwarf. Whether her given Dwarven clan name really is Flamebeard or not has been debated and argued in every tavern at some point or another.


Dorn: “Thanks! To be honest, I’m still in shock; I have to punch myself to make sure I’m not dreaming.”

Me: “Don’t you mean pinch?”

Dorn: “Rogues pinch. Barbarians punch3.”

Me: “Got it—”

As if to emphasise the point, the Barbarian hits himself fully in the face—he shakes his head and looks around as if he’s just woken up.

Dorn: “Nope, it’s still real!”

Me: “You okay?”

Dorn: “Nothing a drink won’t sort out—”

The Barbarian waves trying to catch the eye of the barmaid stood behind the bar—without success.

Me: “Forgive me for saying, but you don’t look how I’d imagine a Barbarian would look.”

Dorn: “Really? What were you expecting?”

Me: “Erm…”

Dorn: “Perhaps you’d prefer it if I were wearing a fur loincloth?”

My cheeks flush red in embarrassment.

Dorn: “Sorry to dispel that particular myth, but the truth is adventuring can get awfully cold. While I’m sure it has its place, a fur loincloth is impractical on so many levels4. If you want to survive on a quest, you need to be wearing layers, lots of layers—and I don’t mean armour either.”

Me: “Forgive me, I was just expected a bit more flesh on show5.”


3Not strictly true, some Rogues have been known to punch, although I’m sure they’d prefer not to let their opponent know it was incoming. While ‘some’ Barbarians have a bad reputation of unwanted pinching, usually of barmaids’ behinds.

4I guess on a frozen adventure, the loins would be nice and warm, while the rest of the Barbarian’s extremities would undoubtedly be frozen solid—still, a warm groin is something not to be sniffed at (quite literally).

5Just to be clear, and as much as this may appear to the contrary, I wasn’t trying to encourage the Barbarian into stripping for me here.


The Barbarian gives me the strangest of looks.

Dorn: “Are you okay? Fighting while wearing just a tight-fitting loincloth is… is a little bit weird, isn’t it?”

Me: “I thought that’s the whole point of being a Barbarian? Attacking your enemies half-naked while lost in a furious battle-rage6?”

Dorn: “You’ve been hanging around with the wrong type of people if you think that’s how Barbarians dress these days.”

Me: “I’m only going by the legendary warriors from days of yore.”


I point to the wall of hero paintings on the far wall, several of which are of muscle-mountains wearing only the tiniest fur loincloths.7

Dorn: “Ha! Those old Barbarians are so out of touch with the modern Barbarians of today. Nobody wears fur loincloths anymore—anyway, I prefer to leave my family jewels to the imagination, if it’s all the same to you…”

He tries to catch the barmaid’s eye but misses once again—the Barbarian thumps the table in frustration.

Dorn: “Balls!”

I feel the need to quickly change the subject away from the Barbarian’s nether regions.

Me: “Did you always want to be a Barbarian?”

The anger-prone warrior laughs at the absurdity of my question.

Dorn: “Me? No—never in my wildest dreams! I actually thought I was going to become a Wizard.”

Me: “A Wizard?

Dorn: “I know, it’s really odd—but I was convinced to switch my focus to the Barbarian class rather than follow a wizardry one. Besides, Wizards are generally frowned upon at the Heroes Guild.”


 6A rage brought on by discovering that someone had just stolen their clothes.

7At least I ‘hoped’ they were wearing loincloths. From where I was sitting it could be mistaken for loin hair.


Me: “Frowned upon—I thought the Heroes Guild would welcome Wizards with open arms8?”

Dorn: “Seems there’s a long-running rivalry between the Heroes Guild and the Wizards Guild—in truth, they hate each other, but recently they’ve begrudgingly agreed on an uneasy peace…”

Me: “How did the feud come about?”

Dorn: “I don’t think the Wizards Guild liked it when the Heroes Guild started recruiting Wizards to their cause—it resulted in the Battle of the Blind Bowman.”

Me: “I’ve never heard of this battle?”

Dorn: “That’s because it happened one fateful afternoon in the middle of a tavern—The Blind Bowman9.”

Me: “They had a battle in a tavern?”

Dorn: “I think I may have oversold the ‘battle’ part of this story—it was more of a untidy brawl with an lot of pushing and accusatory pointing.”

Me: “Who won?”

Dorn: “Nobody, when the dust settled The Blind Bowman was no more—the entire place had either been burnt down by a spell or smashed into tiny pieces by the fist. The warring guilds realised their mistake when they couldn’t order another round of drinks—and immediately held emergency talks in the ashes of the former privy. The Heroes Guild agreed they would not add any more Wizards to their numbers; in exchange, the Wizards Guild agreed to help them recruit more non-Wizard heroes to their ranks.”

Me: “So Wizards only come from the Wizards Guild?”

Dorn: “Officially—yes.”

Me: “Unofficially?”


 8As long as they had been patted down for any concealed Fireballs first.

 9Named after a legendary blind archer who could hit any Goblin with unerring accuracy, a remarkable feat rendered useless if no actual Goblins were around to shoot in the first place.

 10I bet my family’s estate it was a fireball.


Dorn: “I’ve seen a few robe-wearing, book reading types walking around the Heroes Guild—but they could be Loremasters, I suppose11.”

Me: “How does a Loremaster join the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “If you get us a couple more ales, I’ll put to good word in for you12.”

I laugh at the boldness of the Barbarian.

Me: “Fair enough—so the Heroes Guild made you a Barbarian instead? I mean no offence by this, but you don’t look the angry-warrior type. Why do you think they wanted you to become a Barbarian?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Dorn: “Isn’t it obvious?”

The Barbarian narrows his eyes at me.

Me: “Not really…”

Dorn: “They want me to revamp a Barbarian’s stereotypical image, usher in a new age of warriors who don’t go around smashing up taverns just because they’re a bit angry about poor bar service. They want me to be the face of tomorrow’s Barbarian—a thoughtful, calm Barbarian who has a bit of a sensitive side too.”

The Barbarian flexes an arm muscle. I can’t quite see it, but I don’t want to ruin Dorn’s moment.

Me: “Impressive!13

Dorn: “Yup, I’m the first in a new wave of approachable Barbarians; less rage—more brains.”

Me: “The thinking man’s warrior14?”

The young hero slams the table with his hand before pointing at me excitedly.


11 I seriously doubt any of my profession would be interested in joining the Heroes Guild—the closest a Loremaster usually gets to danger is drinking a hot cup of tea too quickly and burning the roof of their mouth. 

12If we could ‘actually’ get any service that is—the barmaid still hadn’t managed to drag herself away from the Paladin’s vicinity; if I were the Landlord I’d be asking some serious questions about her work ethic.

 13It always pays to tell a Barbarian what they want to hear—even if your whole being is screaming at you to do otherwise.

14Although I suspect Paladins will feel as if they have something to say about this.


Dorn: “The Barbarian with a heart of gold!”

Me: “Catchy. So, have you been on any adventures yet?”

Dorn: “Only the training dungeons. They’re pretty tough and can hurt if you’re not careful—I mean, really hurt. I passed with flying colours, of course. Even resisted sitting on that bloody trapped throne too, unlike the Ranger I was with.”

Me: “What happened to the Ranger?”

Dorn: “He insisted on sitting down and got his backside frozen to it as a consequence.”

Me: “That’s terrible.”

Dorn: “I know, took me ages to pull him free from it—when I finally did he had a huge hole ripped in his breeches.”

Me: “That must have been a bit awkward—?”

Dorn: “Yeah, I had to keep him behind me for the remainder of the adventure—there are some things not even a Barbarian should have to bare witness to.15

The Barbarian looks again for the barmaid, but she’s too still busy, lost in her Paladin-filled daze to notice him—I sense Dorn clenching and unclenching his fists as he slowly boils with anger.

Me: “How did you first get involved with the Heroes Guild?”

Dorn: “I was spotted.”

Me: “Spotted?”

Dorn: “Yes, you know, seen—in this place actually, which is ironic if you think about it.”

Me: “Why’s that?”

The Barbarian grinds his teeth and throws imaginary daggers in the Paladin’s direction.

Dorn: “Because I can’t seem to be seen right now, can I?! SERVICE!!


15Bare indeed!


The Barbarian shouts at the top of his voice, but he is still ignored by the barmaid currently draped over the Holy Warrior.

Me: “Who spotted you?”

Dorn: “A representative of the Heroes Guild—a Scout.”

Me: “Where were you sat?“

I look around the bar try to picture an excitable and nervous Dorn standing around waiting to be spotted by the Heroes Guild Scout.

Dorn: “Here!”

Me: “Here?”

I point to the table we’re currently sat at.

Dorn: “Well, not here exactly, more like over there.”

The Barbarian motions to a table next to us, occupied by a Dwarven Fighter polishing off his tenth flagon of ale—judging by the nine empty flagons sat in front of him17.

I find myself staring at the inebriated Dwarf as he spills more beer on the table than into his mouth.

Dorn: “That’s not the Scout, just in case you were wondering.”

I nod and turn my attention back to the Barbarian.

Me: “How did you find out about this place?”

Dorn: “I heard about the Spit & Spear from a friend. He told me the Heroes Guild Scouts frequented it—and if I wanted to be spotted, I could do a lot worse than hang around the tavern.”

Me: “What happens if you’re lucky enough to be spotted?”

Dorn: “If a Scout thinks you have potential to join the Heroes Guild, they employ a test—”

Me: “Test? What sort of test? Written18?”


16To be fair the Paladin seems to be happily encouraging this.

17I have no idea how this Dwarf has managed to get served not once, but ten times—it is a miraculous feat that should be compared to dragon slaying with only one arm…

18Which would be an overly cruel thing to do to a would-be Barbarian.


Dorn: “No—practical. Sometimes it’s a stolen purse, other times it’s a spontaneous bar-fight—whatever it is, it is always designed to test a specific attribute.”

Me: “What attribute did they test of yours?”

Dorn: “Why, my strength, of course19. Anyway, it so happened that I had struck up a conversation with the very Scout who had taken a keen interest in me.”

Me: “What are the odds? So, what did you two talk about?”
Dorn: “Oh, this and that—he seemed especially interested in my family’s estate on the far side of the Evergreen Forest. That seemed to give him confidence I had the right stuff to join the Guild. He even said he saw in me the potential to be one of the realm’s greatest heroes!”

Me: “What did you say to that?”

Dorn: “It was Bardic music to my ears20—everything I wanted was being promised to me. But at the same time, I had to make an impromptu call to the privy, so I excused myself for a moment to tend to my pressing need. When I returned, I found this brute of a Half-Orc sat at my table, drinking my ale!”

Me: “Who was he? What did you do?”

Dorn: “A stranger, it seemed, who wanted a free drink. Honestly, it’s a bit embarrassing to mention this, but—”

Me: “Go on…”

Dorn: “I barely hit him. I guess I didn’t realise I possessed such strength!”

Me: “You hit him?”
Dorn: “I knocked him straight out of my seat and across the tavern—which immediately started a mass brawl with some Gnomes21 sat at the table in the corner. Once I had dealt with the Gnomes, the impressed Scout clapped me on the back and signed me up, there and then!”

Me: “And that’s when you became a Barbarian?”


19Of course…

20This depends greatly on the Bard doing the ‘singing’ in the first place, of course.

21As much as this sounds unimpressive, fighting something that stands at waist height is fraught with danger for any tall combatants.


Dorn: “He said I was a natural—that I had untapped raw power in my fists!”

Me: “—And you believed him?”

Dorn: “Why wouldn’t I? I had just seen what I could do with my own eyes! But I still held a strong desire to be a Wizard…”

Me: “I guess he explained the problem with being a Wizard?”

Dorn: “Indeed he did—we had a good chat about it, and I agreed to give up my dream of wielding magic in favour of wielding an oversized axe22. Anyway, Barbarians have better perks in the long run. Sure, there’s a clause in the contract, but the Scout said that it was just a standard—”

Me: “Wait a moment—a clause? What clause?

Dorn: “He promised me it was all just legal mumbo-jumbo—the Scout called it a ‘Death in Service’ clause. If you want to join the Heroes Guild, you have to sign the clause—no exceptions.”

Me: “What does the clause do?”

Dorn: “For me? —Nothing… but for the Heroes Guild—they end up owning my family’s estate in the event of my death.”

Me: “That sounds a tad unfair.”

Dorn: “Apparently, it’s standard stuff that every hero signs—it won’t ever happen, not to me. The Scout explained that there’s a sizeable risk in retrieving a hero’s fallen body from a failed quest, not to mention all the funeral arrangements and lost equipment, some of which are magical and very expensive—the Death in Service clause covers for all damage or any loss to property. It’s pretty thoughtful, if you think about it.”

Me: “I see—what else did the Scout say?”

Dorn: “He said he had never seen such a natural athlete—the complete hero he called me! Said he wanted to send me on a category five23 adventure after I had completed all my training dungeons!”

Me: “What’s a category five adventure?”


 22The weapon of choice for any self-respecting Barbarian—closely followed by a heavy fist…

23I’m not sure what this means, but the fact there are four categories before it cannot be a good thing.


Dorn: “Only a quest meant for the hardiest of adventurers—certain death assured24!”

Me: “Aren’t you worried? You might, you know—die?


Dorn: “Nah, you’re talking to the realm’s next greatest Barbarian25, I laugh in the face of death—”

Laughter breaks out from the barmaid sits in the Paladin’s lap; Dorn suddenly kicks back from the table and stands with purpose and drive.

Dorn: “Although the Guild’s next greatest Barbarian is STILL thirsty. Time I finally got that drink—wait here, I’ll be right back.”


I watch as Dorn the Barbarian storms over to the Paladin and the barmaid to make his displeasure known. Not wanting to be caught in the middle of the approaching Battle of the Spit & Spear, I decide to leave this interview post-haste26.


 24See, I was right!

25The realm’s last greatest Barbarian was Thrull the Bitter, who expired after a fight with a group of drunken Gnomes and ended up ironically bitten in the groin and bleeding to death—perhaps not quite the glorious way he had imagined moving on to the Great Beyond.

 26I did leave a polite note explaining my sudden departure, blaming it on a sudden urge to drink elsewhere—specifically, a place with good bar service and less chance of seeing spilt blood…

About the author:

Andi Ewington is a writer who has written numerous titles including Campaigns & Companions, Forty-Five45, S6X, Sunflower, Red Dog, Dark Souls II, Just Cause 3, Freeway Fighter, and Vikings. Andi lives in Surrey, England with his wife, two children and a plethora of childhood RPGs and ‘Choose Your Own Adventure’ gamebooks he refuses to part with. He’s usually found on Twitter as @AndiEwington

Andi is querying right now. Interested publishers can reach him at butwin@me.com or on Twitter as @AndiEwington.

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rob Edwards

I’m so excited to be able to talk about D&D with author Rob Edwards today! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me!

Will you tell me a little bit about your book, The Ascension Machine?

It’s a science fiction superhero novel, in which a young grifter impersonates a guy and in the process winds up enrolled at a college for alien superheroes. Grey, as he starts calling himself, stays for the novelty, but despite himself finds friends, and a place he belongs. It’s all based on his lie, so to stay at the Justice Academy Grey has to keep lying, even to his new friends. Things escalate, the team end up fighting gangsters and aliens, and investigate strange goings on. It’s an adventure romp with a large cast of characters all dealing with the difficult adjustment of starting college… with super powers.

How about your history with ttrpgs? When did you first start playing, and what drew you to it?

In 1983 I was about 12 or 13, and I came across an advert in some comic books which I became kind of obsessed with. A party of adventurers explore a dungeon, battle a monster then encounter some green slime. I cannot tell you for why, but when the elf rogue shouts “Look out, it’s dripping!” I knew I had to play this game.

I got the “Red Box” Basic set for my next birthday, and never looked back. I’ve played or run every edition of D&D since, as well as many many other systems. 

Here’s the list of some of the games I’ve played in the order of them occurring to me: GURPS, DC Heroes, TORG, Amber Diceless, Golden Heroes, Marvel, Mutants and Masterminds, Hero, Star Wars d6, Star Wars d20, Star Wars Edge of Empire, Ghostbusters, Pathfinder, Starfinder, Spycraft, Fantasycraft, Tunnels and Trolls, MERP, Doctor Who, Song of Ice and Fire, Babylon Project, Wheel of Time, Call of Cthulhu, Arcanis, Seventh Sea, Shadowrun, Twilight 2000, Top Secret SI, Judge Dredd, TMNT… plus a few more for one shots that I’m probably forgetting).

Oh, my greatest Geek pride (as it says in my bio): back when Wizards of the Coast had the Star Wars license and were running the Living Force campaign for convention play, I got to write seven modules for the campaign, meaning someone somewhere at Lucasfilm (probably an intern) read something I wrote in the Star Wars universe and said “OK”. Meaning that, until Disney bought Star Wars, I was briefly, obscurely, canon. 

Anyway, this answer is far too long. Suffice to say I’m almost always the DM these days, which I love, but my rare chances to play are solid gold for me.

That sounds like my husband. He always ends up being a DM. After a less-than -successful attempt on my part several years ago ( I failed to communicate to my players exactly what kind of campaign I was trying to run, which did not go well), I’m still working up my courage to try again. I might give it another go in a decade or so. 

As DM, do you feel like your writing affects how you tell the story? Did your experience with gaming play into your writing at all?

Interesting question. Firstly, I think over time I’ve come to realise that my writing and my DMing, at least for home brew things, come from a very similar place, creatively. I’ve found the more I’m writing, the less I have in the tank for coming up with my own worlds and plotlines for games. And vice versa. As a result, since taking my writing more seriously, I’ve tended to stick to prewritten adventures. Perhaps not as engaging as creating my own world, but still a lot of fun.

I’d say my experience gaming has absolutely everything to do with my writing. I’ve always been a writer, always been a storyteller, for as long as I can remember, but for the best part of four decades, I honed my skills as a storyteller on all my many players. Sometimes triumphantly, sometimes not. When I started writing professionally, I had all of that foundation to build on. A sense of how much foreshadowing is too much. A sense of when the story needs a kick from an action beat. Why world building is important and how too much can be a distraction and suck the pace out of a scene. All of my instinct for that comes from my gaming. (Also reading so very very much in my youth).

That said, I have a D&D campaign world that I’ve run different groups in for…. Wow, is it twenty years now? … There’s a story to be told there, there’s a novel, possibly a trilogy in it. But actually writing the book of the campaign(s)… I’ve tried starting a few times but so far it has totally stumped me.

Wow, twenty years is a huge accomplishment! I bet the world development for that campaign is incredible. Do the characters being played change as the players do, or does each player bring a new facet to the same characters?

Most of the active world building happened for the first campaign — that was a lot — and the original sequel campaign. Those campaigns had the same players, playing different characters two decades apart in the campaign timeline. Since then, I’ve run three variations on the original campaign, always with different characters, always bringing new wrinkles to the way the world works. New characters bring new focus, it’s interesting to see NPCs (non-player characters) who were hugely significant in the original run fading into the background or  taking very different actions and suffering very different fates in later playthroughs. By the same token, NPCs who barely got a name in the original version get the spotlight in later runs.

The most recent version of the campaign fell apart at about the time the pandemic hit. I’ve since decided it’s time to retire that campaign world and start something fresh. Though in this campaign, I’m trying to be a little more improvisational about it all, because I don’t want it to suck the energy out of my writing.

If anyone is super interested, you can get a hint of what some of the setting was like in my short story Virtue’s Blade in the Inklings Press anthology Tales of Magic and Destiny. It’s a new story not taken directly from any specific adventure in that world, but does give a flavour of some of the world building for that campaign. (Or listen to me read it on my podcast here: Episode 39: Virtue’s Pirate · StorycastRob (spotify.com))

You mentioned using your time as DM (Dungeon Master, for those who aren’t familiar with the lingo) to hone your storytelling skills, and how that helped with pacing and foreshadowing. One thing I really enjoyed about The Ascension Machine was that the pacing was never too rushed, nor was it too slow. Your practice definitely made perfect!

I hope this isn’t too much of a spoiler, but Grey was an interesting character in that, while he was conning everyone, at his heart he had a strong moral compass. Is that sort of “alignment” your go-to when gaming? And dovetailing off of that, do you have a favorite character class? Or do you prefer to shake things up when creating your own character (obviously, prewritten adventures are a little different)?

Oh yeah. I know people can get very excited by evil campaigns or characters, but they don’t really interest me. I’m always the good guy in games as a player, if I ever feel the urge to be evil, I have my DMing for that!

As for character classes, I like my characters to be skilled and versatile. They don’t need to be The Best, but I do prefer competence. In pursuit of it, I’ve dabbled in just about every class over the years, but my big go-tos are Sorcerer, Fighter, Bard. My least travelled are probably Druid and Cleric. My current obsession is Artificer, and I think I might actually get to play one soon.

Grey in The Ascension Machine could absolutely be one of my characters in a game. I’ve played plenty of rogues, swindlers and con artists in all sorts of settings, from Jack “Ace” King, a gambler in a Wild West game, to Agent Duchess, my Spycraft “Face” character. In The Ascension Machine, Grey’s plan on Bantus (no details, read the book!) was basically something I pulled in-character for a D&D game one time. 

 I am almost obsessively honest in the real world, so these characters are pure escapism!

Ah, you claim you’re obsessively honest. Perhaps that is what a dishonest person would say? 😉 I must say, I’ve never played an artificer. I bet it would be a blast, though. What would you say to someone who is curious about playing ttrpgs, but has never played before?

Give it a go! The hobby isn’t for everyone, but the only way to find out if it’s for you is to try it for yourself. Oh there are plenty of YouTube shows and let’s plays out there that you can watch to get a sense of how things work (Including our own DragonLance play, right Jodie?) but really you have to play it to be sure. Just, try and find a good DM, they really do make all the difference. If someone is asking me, I might well offer to run a session, if we can find some more players.

But if you’re asking how would I describe ttrpgs to somebody…? The grand description is that it’s cooperative improvised storytelling (with dice). It’s “Let’s Pretend” for grown-ups and kids  (with dice).

Any other description can be contradicted (and even the dice thing, one of my favourite games is Amber, a diceless system based on Roger Zelazny’s books). 

Because, yes, it can be an epic tale of heroes battling monsters, saving the world and getting loot (with dice), if that’s the story your group wants to tell. But it could equally be a disturbing tale of standing against unspeakable horrors where only madness and death awaits (with dice), or a political intrigue with backstabbing (and dice), or… whatever else you need it to be.

It is such a versatile hobby. As long as you can find a group of people who want to tell the same kind of story you do, it can be whatever you want it to be. Usually with dice.

About the author:

Rob Edwards is a British born writer and content creator, living in Finland. His podcast, StorycastRob, features readings from his short stories and extracts from longer work. He writes about coffee, despite not drinking it, spaceships, despite being down-to-earth, and superheroes, despite everything

His debut novel, The Ascension Machine was published in 2020. His short stories can be found in anthologies from Inklings Press and Rivenstone Press.

A life-long gamer and self-professed geek, he is proud of his entry on wookieepedia, the result of writing several Star Wars RPG scenarios in his youth.

Links

Follow him on Twitter: https://twitter.com/StorycastRob

Check out his Podcast: http://storycastrob.co.uk/

Or YouTube: Rob Edwards

The D&D Connection: Authors and TTRPGs- Rowena Andrews and Jonathan Nevair

This week I’ve been talking to authors about ttrpgs and great books. Many authors play and I’ve loved learning more about why. Today I’m sharing a conversation between authors Jonathan Nevair and Rowena Andrews.

*Goblins have been evicted*


Rowena: Hello! How are you doing this afternoon?

Jonathan: Great now that I am back from Philly, lol – thanks for moving back the meeting. Do we need to roll initiative? (lol)

Rowena: We could – but I usually roll really bad initiative so I think it’s an auto-win on your side

Jonathan: Ha! OK, well thanks for being flexible. I am ready to talk writing/D&D!


Rowena: Awesome, and thank you for agreeing to this and technically being my guinea pig as this is my first author interview/chat.

Jonathan: For real? I  would have thought you’d done them before. I feel special. 🙂


Rowena: Yep, I was too new before to brave doing one. But, D&D is always great to talk about and you were my first thought when Jodie approached me to help out with the series.

Jonathan: It’s funny because I had already come across moments of “crossover” – usually how writing fiction novels has helped my D&D, especially as a DM.


Rowena: Is that in terms of worldbuilding? Or building the narrative in general?

Jonathan: Both. For one, after learning more about story building and narrative structures I definitely began to build things in a D&D campaign when I was the Dungeon Master. I became aware of how much more exciting and invested I could get players to be in an adventure when I put in plot points (the typical ones like the hook, inciting incident, pinch points, etc.) – and thinking about some classic character tropes and using them to create roles for NPCs that went beyond just being something to fight or an obstacle.

And definitely with worldbuilding too – thinking about multisensory descriptions when describing settings in a campaign – I have this informal “rule” to comb through each written chapter in a book I write and ensure there are at least two of the five (six? lol) senses in every scene – if possible. That got me thinking about my verbal descriptions of settings as a DM. And I could really see the way players came to life in terms of immersion. 

Rowena: That’s really interesting – especially about the sensory details. It’s certainly something I like to come across in D&D (although I think we’re driving our DM up the wall asking if we can smell things at the moment in one group – as two of us have enhanced senses of smell due to becoming werebears). Do you find yourself, having to adjust the level of details? I know when I DM I have to try and keep things flexible because players will go off the beaten path – whereas obviously, characters in a book are a little more obedient.

Jonathan: Oh definitely – I totally get what you are saying. You need to be so careful when you are the DM – it’s so funny, isn’t it? You will mention something in passing that is basically irrelevant and then the party is fixated and convinced it is a vital aspect of the quest! It can be very funny, and then there is the way I used to be more of an “on the rails” DM and would have to figure out how to steer them back in the trajectory I wanted them to go, but over my time playing I have definitely become more of a sandboxer. But yes, it’s easier to control those things in fiction, right? But I do think that pacing is relevant here – in both writing and D&D. Don’t you? 

Rowena: Absolutely. Although much harder to control again in D&D – although I have found that for things like fight scenes, for example, using D&D esque timing can help work out the beats. 

Jonathan: Oh that is interesting. I can see how that would work for sure. I think for me to there is a way that some moments are like “catching your breath” in chapters and scenes and then others rush forward because you have the foundation of the world/space/setting to go on, then another new place and the cycles continues (and they get to short or long rest lol). But I do think of writing scenes and chapters like that – like an ebb and flow, a wave crashing in and then retreating to give players and readers time to catch their breath and experience what just happened and how it relates to what will come next. Does that make sense?

Rowena: Yes, especially with the emotional moments and close calls. (Also I love the idea of those moments being short and long rests, as well as the ebb and flow). It’s also those moments where you can play with some of the details that aren’t necessarily relevant to the plot, but just to live in the world.

Jonathan: TOTALLY! Those are some of the best moments where the PCs can RP and be able to perform their personalities, quirks, habits. As a player I love that – it might even be more exciting for me than the melee, etc. By the way, speaking of plot points and ebb and flow – I did something at the end of Forge of Fury recently as DM that was an example of one of those literary plot points – the resolution. I think for a while I was “ending” campaigns right after the Boss fight, like “OK you did, and we’re done.” And then I realized that in fiction writing and narrative you need closure, that moment to exhale and be able to have the character and NPCs demonstrate what they have learned from their adventure and experiences. What I did (this is really funny) is, I had just re-watched Star Wars Ep. 4 for the millionth time and that last scene when they are given the medals… I had the party return to a village near the Forge after completing their tasks and the villagers had a celebration waiting and had the town wizard erect a monument in the town square with their figures lol!!! They arrived to trumpets and pomp and they freaking LOVED it! They still bring it up – I realized that was a great crossover that really helped round out the campaign.

Rowena: That sounds amazing!! I’ve not actually reached the end of a campaign yet, but I would definitely want an ending like that. I love that it was inspired by Star Wars too. And, I agree that it is tempting to end it after the boss fight, but that quiet moment at the end (or trumpet filled) is so important.

Jonathan: Yes, and it can even be quieter, like the four hobbits at the Green Dragon raising a pint after it’s all over… that kinda thing. 

Rowena: That scene is perfect.

Jonathan: You know I am a huge fan lol. The interesting thing is as a science fiction writer, as opposed to a fantasy writer, the “crossovers” are a bit different – more abstract in certain ways since it is a different kind of world from D&D – sure other RPGs are scifi, etc. but I only play D&D and it’s interesting, but one way D&D has helped me is, when I DM I keep a post-it note above my computer that says “What is your PC doing?” and it reminds me to make sure all players are engaged and remaining active – and I kept it there when I wrote Jati’s Wager (which has a large cast of characters on a heist team) – kinda like a D&D party, and it really helped me to “not forget” about some of them but be sure to mention (even if just in passing) what they are doing while others are in the narrative spotlight.

Rowena: Oh, that is an excellent idea. I know in bigger groups that can be an issue, but I hadn’t thought about how that then applies to characters. 

Jonathan: I can’t remember if my friend, Steve, who plays in my group – or Matt Coville, recommended that (I really like his videos btw).

Rowena: I need to check his stuff out. I’ve actually just read the first of his books recently.

Jonathan: Oh wow, I didn’t know he had books out. He is a very engaged (fast talking!) tuber for sure! 

Rowena: I need to look that up. I watch far too many D&D videos.

Jonathan: And buy too many dice. 🙂

Rowena: There is no such thing!

Jonathan: HA!!!

You know there’s also the “other” side too – and I have not thought about it before, but the whole “being a bad DM” or “bad PC” in some way and what those traits and actions are – but there is probably a lot to learn there about storytelling too. Like, not hogging the story, avoiding being a hobo – like how you might have gratuitous violence in a book that doesn’t have much of a purpose – no one should ever experience violence or combat unless it is absolutely necessary and no other option is left (at least in my stories) – I like the idea of thinking about how morality can fit into D&D with alignments. I’ve gotten pretty into sticking to RP’ing my PCs based on alignment. It’s a fun way to put restrictions on yourself “in-game” and really does match some of the ways I might say “well so-and-so” in this book would never do that so they can’t…. Does that make sense?

Rowena: Yes, it does. It’s interesting because none of my campaigns are particularly strict about the alignments – I tend to use them loosely, but I wouldn’t as a rule go out of my way to break them either (I tend towards chaotic – in D&D and in life). But, I like your idea about how ‘being a bad DM / PC’ could relate more generally into storytelling, and I very much agree that violence should only be when absolutely necessary.

Jonathan: Chaotic good is my favorite alignment lol. There’s a really cool website I found with lengthy descriptions of each of them that I ate up – got me super into it. Just a few weeks ago my current PC, Lutharian, a High Elf fighter/druid – made a bold move attacking a drow that had threatened her – the DM was shocked and actually asked me – “what is your alignment?” Because it didn’t seem to fit, but the chaotic was in there lol… but also – and this brings up something I think is a really cool crossover – there is backstory! In both D&D PCs and in worldbuilding in fiction. I am HUGE on writing back histories of my PCs in D&D. My friend Steve encourages this and it is so cool – because by doing it I built up a past where Lutharian had fought in two wars with the dwarves, one against the Drow, where they had killed her leader. She had a history of pain and anger against them and so it made sense for her to seek violent retribution like that – very cool moment. And I think about how much backstory you write for a novel right? Like I wrote pages and pages of events and history in the Wind Tide Universe from the First and Second Spans (the ages in that world) and also about events and cultures “outside” the story’s frame in the book. But you need it and then you can cherry-pick from it when needed and it really helps justify people’s attitudes, behaviors, fears, hatreds, etc. Do you write backstory for PCs? Or for your books?


Rowena: Firstly, I love how you included that for your character – and those moments where PCs act on something that not everyone in the party might know are fantastic, and usually great for the party as a whole – whether they go well or not. I do write backstories – I’ve been a little light with my PCs – one didn’t have a lot of memory due to ending up in the Feywilds as a child, so my DM has gone wild with that one – which is interesting in a different way. But, for my book, I have documents full of historical events between the two main countries, and then individually, and files on all the characters with notes on random interactions that I might never use but feed into them.

It really is so helpful. I never thought about how much crossover there is but it’s a lot.

Do you think playing/DMing D&D (and I’m assuming you played before you became a writer – correct me if I’m wrong) was one of the reasons for getting into storytelling and becoming a writer?

Jonathan: Hmm.. well, I played when I was younger, but that was back when 1st/2nd edition was out. Yes, I am THAT old!!!! But then I stopped by my mid-teens and only started again during COVID. So really writing came before D&D for me. I worked with someone at Moore College who is a Game arts Professor and we have become friends. He was hounding me for years to get back into D&D, and it wasn’t until COVID that I did. So writing first, then D&D. BUT – I will say that my desire to DM is definitely driven and inspired by being a writer and storyteller – 100%!

Rowena: That’s interesting! I really want to get some of the books for the older editions because I’m curious to see how much they’ve changed. I was the same way round – writing before D&D – but I’ve moved more into the writing since playing.

Jonathan: OMG some of those old books bring back such a flood of memories – someone posted a picture on Twitter recently of Fiend Folio and I was hit by such a rush of images from my early teens – you should check them out online. So different from what is coming out today with WoTC. The other thing is obviously we played in-person back then, at a table with the classic multi-page folded DM screen (LOVED THOSE!!!) and dice (your favorite lol) and we had figures we’d bought and painted, made drawings of our PCs, and had those classic character sheets. I do miss that because now I play on Roll 20 with people who are both nearby and far away. I really like aspects of Roll 20 a lot but I do miss the “brick and mortar” game. I know you play with Peter (another blogger/reviewer) – do you play in person or online?

Rowena: Online. Both my groups are online, but even if we didn’t have Covid it would be online because of distance. In my Sunday group, we have players across the UK and one in the Netherlands, so weekly games would be a problem. Although once we can travel more easily, we’re planning a weekend in the highlands to play in person for the first time. And the same for the group I’m in with Peter, a couple of the guys live close to one another,  but the rest of us are scattered.

Jonathan: Highlands + D&D = perfection. 

Rowena: It does. I think we plan to try and get minis made as well if only for that weekend.

Jonathan: Do you have a favorite class?

Rowena: Cleric is fast becoming my favourite, although boy is it stressful when multiple people are going down and you only have limited spell slots. I’m also a fan of Wild-Magic Sorcerer just because I love being an agent of chaos. What about you?

Jonathan: That is funny because as you were typing about the Cleric I knew you were going to say that! For me? I tend to be drawn to characters that have an ability to mix elements of combat/magic. I REALLY enjoyed playing a bard not too long ago. I know it gets a bad go of it from some folks, but I loved the RP potential of it. Probably the bard or maybe something in the tank area. I am playing a fighter/druid and really like that – I am BIG of Fey elements too. 

Rowena: Bards are great (Peter played one in a recent two-shot we did and I know he really enjoyed it – he’s a Barbarian in our main campaign). I like the blend of magic/combat too, which Clerics are okay at.  What about the different races? Do you have a favourite?

Jonathan: I definitely lean to elves, halflings, gnomes. What can I say, I am a forest child lol. 🙂

You? (I play with someone who always is like a Tiefling, or something like that – satyr, it’s interesting how our personalities point us to things). 

Rowena: Tieflings are one of my favourites. My first character Niamh is a tiefling, and I will always have a soft spot for her for so many reasons (also I like having the horns and tail – not sure what that says about me). I also really like Dragonborn which is what my Cleric is. I’m also a huge fan of humans – just because it’s sometimes nice to have that point of normality amongst the chaos that is D&D (although not having darkvision sucks – this is a downside to Dragonborn as well)

Jonathan: My brother is playing a Dragorn monk in our current campaign and it is such as badass. We have gone from level 1 to level 14 now and it’s just out of control what he can do… We are hoping to take these characters all the way to 20. None of us have ever done that. OK – so since you named your favorite I will give you mine: Rumpletum Evergreen (aka “Rum Tum”) – a forest gnome bard. I chose to have him only speak in rhyme – which was INSANE and so much fun for about 5 sessions – and then I was struggling! So I had him “lose” his ability to rhyme lol and then it came back after their triumphant victory over the big bad at the end of the second campaign lol. So much fun to play such a small physical character with such big charisma and performative presence – there was a little bit of Tasslehof in him! (from Dragons of Autumn Twilight).

Rowena: Oh my god, that would have been amazing to witness – but I don’t blame you for ‘losing’ the rhyming ability. I loved Tasslehof. I did a read-along of the first book with Peter this year – my first time reading it – and we’re going to review it…at some point. Level 20 characters are insane – you think a level 14 monk is bad, wait until level 20. We did a Battle Royale recently with Level 20 characters – and there’s just so many abilities that they have!

Jonathan: I can’t even imagine!

Rowena: Did you say you were going to be playing a Paladin soon as well?

Jonathan: Oh yes – I am very excited. I already built him – backstory and all. He’s ready to go. “Trusty Jack” is his name and he will be an Oath of Vengeance Paladin. I am very excited, as I have never played one before. I’ve been working on my RP voice and personality while on walks with my dog lol (hope no one is out there listening to me lol). I am going for bold, loud, and just slightly overbearing with him. I’m very excited because like the bard there is that mix of combat/magic and I’m also interested in the way the oath brings in that element of alignment/morality we talked about. One thing that my friend Steve has really taught me is to embrace character flaws in D&D, whether they are ability score based or just personality – and I love it. I used to think of it as a “deficiency” but now I realize it makes a PC all the more real but also more interesting to RP. So much fun and I need to read the new book that came out, Paladin Unbound! 

Rowena: Yes! It’s a great book. I really want to play a Paladin at some point, not sure what Oath I would go for though – although vengeance is very interesting. Character flaws are so much fun to play with too.

Jonathan: We have a dwarf paladin in our current party who has a Dex problem, lol – he has fallen down SO many things and tripped and exposed us during stealth so many times it is fantastic!

Rowena: My sorcerer is weak as hell, so anything that requires strength is just doomed to failure. Our group is now called ‘The Fellowship of the Glowing Potato’ because she tried to throw it into a cave to light the way, rolled a Nat 1 and instead hit the Ranger in her one good eye. I have never lived it down.

Jonathan: OMG that is what makes D&D so amazing. That is hilariously awesome. 

Do you think we have enough content?

Rowena: Absolutely – and I think it’s almost as chaotic as D&D. And you’ve brought up some fantastic points about the crossovers (I may be making notes from this as I plunge back into editing shortly).

Jonathan: I never have a chance to talk D&D this in-depth. It is so much fun! Even just sharing our PCs, etc. 🙂

Rowena: I agree, although always feel free to shout at me on Twitter about anything D&D related!

Jonathan: I will! If you need to do any follow up for this lemme know! Thanks for asking me this was SUPER fun!!! And guess what? Tonight is my D&D night!!!!


Rowena: You are very welcome, thank you for taking the time to come and chat. And that is awesome! D&D nights are the best nights of the week.

So, I guess just as a final wrap up. Obviously, you have Jati’s Wager coming out next month (and I still can’t get over that cover!!) and then what does the future hold for you writing wise? 

(D&D will always be chaos)

Jonathan: I know, that cover right? I love it. So, Wind Tide is a series, and as of now, a trilogy. The third book will release on Nov. 18th. Title: No Song, But Silence  So that is my immediate writing future plans. Once that book releases I intend to write a stand-alone novel. Not entirely sure yet what it will be but I have been getting pulled to the lure of cyberpunk lately. I think because the Wind Tide universe is very “natural” in many ways in its settings I am feeling ready for some tech-based settings and stories – plus I love the aesthetics of cyberpunk. But we will see – I am writing No Song, But Silence now!

Rowena: I love that title!! And can’t wait to pick up the rest of Wind Tide. Cyberpunk is fantastic, the aesthetics are a lot of fun and if you go that road I can’t wait to see what you come up with!!

Jonathan: Thanks! I can’t wait for your novella which will be out about the same time! Wahoo!

Rowena: It will. I’m still in slight disbelief that I’m actually doing it lol. 

Jonathan: Well, I can’t wait to read it. OK – I will sign off (Cricket wants a walk so I guess I get to practice my “Trusty Jack” voice lol). Talk to you soon!

Rowena: Thanks again, and may the dice be kind to you tonight. Talk to you soon!


About Jonathan Nevair:

A person in a leather jacket

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Jonathan Nevair is a science fiction writer and, as Dr. Jonathan Wallis, an art historian and Professor of Art History at Moore College of Art & Design, Philadelphia. After two decades of academic teaching and publishing, he finally got up the nerve to write fiction. Jonathan grew up on Long Island, NY but now resides in southeast Pennsylvania with his wife and rambunctious mountain feist, Cricket.

Author Links

Website:  https://www.jonathannevair.com/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JNevairInstagram: https://www.instagram.com/jnevair/

Jati’s Wager (Wind Tide #2) 

Published: August 18, 2021

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58579886-jati-s-wager

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B099QM63SQ
Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/B099QM63SQ/

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About Rowena Andrews:

Rowena Andrews spent her childhood searching for Dragons and talking to animals and started turning that into words when she was bored in class. She wrote her first book at fourteen and while it lives forever in the bottom of the sock drawer, the encouragement from her English Teacher meant the writing bug took hold and never went away.

Rowena has a BSc in Geography and a PG Diploma in Coastal and Maritime Societies and Cultures. She moved to Scotland for University, fell in love with the place and never left, and now lives and works on the east Fife coast.

When she’s not writing or reading, she’s hoarding dice and playing Dungeons & Dragons, and submitting to the whims of a demanding cat and dog duo.

Author Links:

Blog: https://beneathathousandskies.com/ 
Twitter: https://twitter.com/R_M__Andrews

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Fate belongs to the Gods. They Weave it. Sing it. Harvest it.

Ravyn was born between life and death, free of the weave of fate. She dreams of distant places and grand deeds far from the eyes of the Gods that she refuses to believe in.

Eleyn is thrice-sworn to the Gods, marked for death and cursed with the knowledge that the Gods are stirring and what that will mean for the world she will leave behind. Unless she can change things, and that means twisting the weave of fate.

But fate is a dangerous thing, especially when it is stolen from the Gods.

Published: 30th November, 2021

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/58311508-the-ravyn-s-words 
Preorder Link: mybook.to/TheRavynsWords