As most serious nibblers will be aware, we have recently acquired a new contributor; fantasy author and reviewer of things, Samuel Z Jones. As Badger co-hosted his online book launch party, he sent her a copy of his most recent book The Baron Moruna to read, presumably so she’d know what she was talking about. Here’s what happened next.
So, it’s been a while since I have written a feature, in fact I haven’t put my feature writing hat on since Rockonnection ceased to be, and that was several years ago now, so it was time to kidnap another minor celeb, chain them to a radiator in the basement and seriously get to the bottom of their creative intentions. As Sam now works with us here in the Newsnibbles office, he was surprisingly easy to abduct, and just followed the trail of vegetarian antipasti down to the basement, where I was able to tether him to a chair.
Whilst I was waiting for him to come to, I was able to glance at the copy of The Baron Moruna, which I always carry in my back pocket, because long books make me look clever. The first thing that struck me was ‘he doesn’t write at all like he talks,’ and I was impressed. It was like reading an epic fantasy novel, it could have been from any era, with classical tones and stylings that set the scene right off and tell you this is fantasy.
Some years ago, when we first met on a writing website that is no more (I was pretending to be human then, I have since realised that badgers sell more books) I read his first novel in the Akurite Empire series, and was impressed by the fact that a male writer was confidently able to write strong female characters, without stereotyping. This is set in the same world, but years later, and the characters in the first book I read are now characters from history, which reading it makes me feel like I am part of the world too, I know their history, I understand more what’s going on, he has created an entire world with history and future and real people. It was at this point that he started to come to, so I decided to ask him: How do you go about building a world?
That’s a big question. And the subject of my dissertation. Short version: Begin by creating the space for the world to exist in. Sense it, learn to touch and hear it, hanging in that liminal non-space between your inner self and the external world. Find or imagine or create a crack in reality, and peer through. On the other side will be someone, somewhere. Speak to them. Widen the gap between worlds and make a space where you can sit and talk. Make it a place in that world, furnish it, get comfortable. This first person you’ve met here will be your chief narrator, your guide in this otherworld; talk to them, let them tell you stories, and introduce you to their friends. Ask them about their world, and write down what they tell you. When you know a few people there and have heard of a few places, start walking, and write about everything you find and everyone you meet there.
Well that seemed fair enough to me, but I wanted more specifics, so I jabbed him with a pointy stick and persisted; but how did the world of Akurite Empire come about?
Pretty much exactly like that. I was making little bubble-worlds, mini-excursions across the ether, until I ran into a character there who offered to be my guide and tell me his adventures. Eventually, he introduced me to one friend and then another, and they told me stories too. I still make a point of visiting that first friend in that otherworld, but he’s retired now and doesn’t mind others taking centre stage.
In this new work there is a character called Ailen (not our fashion correspondent, that’s Aline) who speaks in such a good Scottish accent you can hear it even when reading in your head, so I had to interrupt Sam’s escape attempt to ask: Where did you learn to speak Scottish?
From Robbie Burns. I’m literate in Scottish; I read it, barely speak a word of it. When writing a character’s words, I listen to their accent, their intonation.
Hmm, interesting. With such a vast collection of titles to his name he must have tens of fans, so I found myself wondering who his stories were aimed at. Well, there’s no point in wondering when he’s right there, tied to a chair in front of me, and I’m not shy, so I asked: Who is your main audience?
I write for the grown-up Fantasy fan, the people who grew up on it and never grew out of it, who love the old stories and want new ones from the same wellspring of human abstraction. I write about reality through the lens, so I write for people who want to not merely to escape this reality, but to bring something real back from that otherworld.
It was at that point he seemed to be on the verge of escape, and I knew the only way to keep him there would be to distract him with my brilliant intellect, so I struck another question, like the brain ninja that I am: If you could take 3 books, with their authors to a desert island, who and why?
i: Me, and only one book, the one I’d be working on. When I have finished the epic Fantasy, I look forward to writing about a desert island. Nice, calm, peaceful.
ii: Stephanie Myer. Because she must be stopped.
iii: Hugh Cook. Because he’s dead, and he shouldn’t be, and I only found out the man had a website a few months after he died, and now even his website’s gone, and I feel oddly cheated of speaking to an obscure author who very strong influenced my work.
It was no good, whilst he was dazzling me with he quick witted responses to what I thought were really tough questions he had broken free his bonds, and I found my mind drawn back to the amazing fight scenes that are scattered throughout The Baron Moruna so asked, with some trepidation: Do you know Kung Fu?
“Yes. I do know Kung Fu,” he responded, raising an ominous eyebrow.
Whilst this amazing story has a kickass army of women, ghosts, zombies and adventures on an airship, it leaves one question completely unanswered, a question that it is really essential to know any member of the Newsnibbles’ teams’ position on as a matter of course: Pet Couture, would you?
No. I think it’s cruel. No animal wants bows and bunches in its fur, dayglo anything is not a colour any dog wants to be. Cats do not like being shaved (remember that, kids).
Oh dear, divorce may be on the cards… Well at that point he was free and I was distracted by something shiny, so we left it at that, and will probably never speak of it again, but you can find out more about his worlds by going here.
If you think you would like to be featured in a feature, get in touch and we’ll see what we can do.