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I write fantasy fiction, mostly. Mainly because it is the thing I most enjoy reading. Fantasy is not all I read though, I enjoy many genres. Whatever you want to write, I think it is a good idea to read as many different types of literature as you can – the more minds who influence your work the better.
Of course, I am influenced by my favourite fantasy writers – Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, David Gemmell, Robert E Howard – but there a many smaller influences working away behind the scenes. One of the things that attracted me to fantasy fiction in the first place was the fact that one novel can have tragedy, farce, satire, violence, death – every aspect of life in a setting created by the author’s imagination.
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I love fantasy because it represents, for me, escapism, a different world where my imagination can spread its wings, where anything is possible. But even fantasy needs to be grounded; gritty and realistic otherwise it is not “believable” to the reader. The work of writers like Charles Bukowski and Hubert Selby Jr. is often disturbing, but I found that tragedy and hardship striking, and I wanted to put the same sharp-edged brutality into my fantasy writing. I think a good story needs some darkness and despair to contrast against the lighter-hearted moments.
And don’t forget, out of tragedy comes the best comedy. I am a firm believer that fantasy needs a bit of comedy in it, as a reader I don’t want to escape into a relentlessly depressing world. Where comedy is concerned, my own sense of humour has been moulded by the likes of Monty Python, Spike Milligan, Rik Mayall – the list goes on. Growing up in a house with two brothers and my parents, all practising lyrical one-upmanship, I learned quickly to find a joke in anything and to make fun of my family. My mother has a sharp tongue, having been raised in a violent slum in West London, she has an irrepressible spirit and a vicious right hook (and even the right hook has perfect comic timing). Thankfully she is barely five feet tall and can’t handle her beer.
My father, by contrast, grew up on a farm on the cliff top in my native Cornwall and rarely speaks, but when he does it is either profound or just profoundly funny. I’ll never forget the night he came home from the pub having imbibed an inordinate amount of whiskey, pointed at the standard lamp and shouted, “take your hat off in the house!”. Other trademark pranks were throwing spiders and fruit at us and farting and blaming the dog (a timeless classic).
Comedy has played a big part in my life and I rarely take anything seriously. I’m a big fan of Douglas Adams, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, to name a few. You can’t have reality without comedy because, like tragedy, it exists throughout life and is impossible to ignore. So, for me, to make a fantasy novel believable there has to be some comedy in there somewhere. As for tragedy, I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who hasn’t been touched by it. I certainly have and I think every writer must draw on their own experiences to make tragic scenes convincing.
I suppose the thing I really love about writing fantasy is putting real-life situations in a world of my design. Imagine The Battle of Agincourt with a half-demon prophet controlling the weather, or a giant warrior with a steel chest and no heart banging on the gates at the siege of Rochester, or the Knights Templar rampaging across the Holy Land lead by a mad, blind sorcerer, or the Spanish Armada being hacked to pieces by a haunted schizophrenic thousand year old woman who controls ravens and…and…nurse, he’s out of bed again!
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