Getting To Know Steven
Following on from Ellen’s interview…
Tell us a little bit about you, what do you do during the day, the night (ooo errr!) and time in between?
During the day I’m a co-assistant chief delegator (!) for a national retailer. I am legally and professionally qualified to host a party in a brewery, which is always a good thing for a writer!
Favourite TV show and why?
I have to go old school – it’s over 20 years old now! – and say Babylon 5. The scale of the ambition and the storytelling is still capable of blowing me away, even if the effects are badly dated. Characters like Londo and G’Kar are brilliant creations.
Favourite book and why?
Just one? Oh heck. I’m going to say The Barbed Coil, by JV Jones. It may be a Portal Fantasy (very untrendy these days, apparently), but I think it’s one of the best standalone epic fantasies around. Wonderfully detailed, a comprehensive magic system, a heroine with agency – you should read it.
We’re lovers of cats here at Grimbold, what are your thoughts to our feline overlords?
No furballs, please.
What are you afraid of the most?
Do you have any writing rituals?
Not really. I find I can write pretty much anywhere and as I work strange hours anyway, I have to fit writing in around that. In a previous job I had to learn to ignore people leaning over my shoulder and being deliberately irritating while I wrote. One thing that might count is the fact that everything gets typed onto an ancient Acer Aspire One that runs on Linux (so that I can’t get distracted by Championship Manager and other games).
We’ve in an elevator and you have 30 seconds to tell me about Heir To The North… go!
Baum is an old soldier. Meredith is a hidden prince. Malessar is the evil warlock they have sworn to destroy. But none of them is exactly what they seem, and it is down to Cassia, a storyteller’s daughter, to dig out the truth behind Baum’s quest to resurrect the kingdom of Caenthell.
Your favourite character in the book and why?
Oh, that’s unfair! I’ve had these characters in my head since 2008 – I can’t just pick one! They’ve all got histories and desires and faults, even those who aren’t actually human… but anyway, one of my favourite parts was narrating Malessar’s past actions through the eyes of people like Arca. And Malessar himself, as the titular villain of the series, was definitely fun to write.
Any pitfalls or struggles when writing Heir To The North?
The real struggle for HTTN was finding a way from A to B. I had a definite end in mind for Cassia’s story, and I had a place to start – the trick was filling in all the details. And then it was all about finding the time to write. I got incredibly stressed by work and other things for a couple of years, which made writing more difficult. You just have to keep on keeping on, though – if you really want to tell the story, you have to make room for yourself.
5 books you recommend:
Apart from The Barbed Coil, here’s five that should be on anybody’s TBR pile:
The War of the Flowers, by Tad Williams. I just love my standalone Portal Fantasies.
Adrift on the Sea of Rains, by Ian Sales. Compact, stark, claustrophobic and properly researched SF.
Throne of the Crescent Moon, by Saladin Ahmed. A breath of fresh air in fantasy fiction.
Alchemist of Souls, by Anne Lyle. A great mash-up of alternate history and magic in a swashbuckling style. Tudorpunk!
The Emperor’s Knife, by Mazarkis Williams. Sharply-carved characters and storytelling.
And I could mention so many more too… but that’ll have to do for now!
Here’s a taster for Heir to the North (unedited):
Attis paused and took a deep breath. “Baum is a dangerous man,” he said, his voice lowered even further. “If you think that young swordsman of his is trouble enough, think again. I knew Baum fifty years ago – he hasn’t changed, girl. Not a bit. He’s more than he says he is. Tell your idiot father to keep his head down if he wants to keep it on his shoulders. And you – be careful, and stay away from Keskor. Rann Almoul will not forget this night.”
Cassia felt the trembling return, the muscles in her arms and legs threatening to betray her. She held tight to the bags still on the mule’s back.
“Thank you, sir,” she said, her voice cracking. “I’ll tell him.”
Attis opened the gate. Halfway through he stopped and looked back over his shoulder. “If I thought you had even half a chance, I’d tell you to take that mule and run now.”
There were so many questions, but there wasn’t enough time. “Why?” she heard herself say. She wasn’t even sure which question she had meant to ask.
The old moneylender stared at her, and he seemed to shrink a little, bowed by an unseen weight on his shoulders.
“Because I had a daughter too. Once.”
The gate closed.