Good Afternoon, Readers and fellow Wordsmiths:
Alas - the rain is pattering and the thunder is growling, but the tune is a merry one indeed. I've always been fond of a bit of a storm. There's something whimsical to it - despite the crackling thunder. It's almost as if it means to put on a show - as if its pounding temper were just a facade for its overall purpose: holding a beat for the music of Nature. Regardless, I've a pot of tea in hand (though I don't drink tea), a cozy blanket or three (I often get cold), and a warm spirit in my heart. But to make the afternoon even better, I've a wonderful author to introduce to you all today. Please give your greetings and utmost attention to Mister Simon Williams:
First off, would you mind telling us a little bit about yourself, Mr. Williams?
I’m a writer of what people have termed “dark fantasy” and speculative fiction, and I’m based in the UK. I don’t consciously write for any mass market as such- I write the kind of thing I feel I’m comfortable with. I started off writing much more traditional fantasy years ago, but although I still like to read those sort of works, I try to create original, thought-provoking fantasy and futuristic novels and stories. Sometimes it works, sometime it doesn’t. Thankfully it seems to be working a little more these days!
How exciting! Now, I understand you’ve recently released an ebook version of Oblivion’s Forge. Can you tell us a bit about it - and your series in general? Entice us!
Oblivion’s Forge is the first book in a series generally termed “The Aona books” (Aona being the name of the world where they’re set), of which I expect there will eventually be five. This first book concerns the travels and trials of a number of people through a world which appears to be descending into madness. Many thousands of people are succumbing to a strange fever coupled with insanity and dreams of either a “great light from the east”. At the same time, mysterious, immensely powerful beings known only as the marandaal prepare to break into this world- and in response to them, the ancient, malevolent guardians of the world- who once enslaved all the younger races- rise again.
In essence the Aona books are about these opposing evils, and the people of the Younger Races who are caught up in this struggle- some of them possess the same ancient, magical talents as their old masters, and others are their guardians, charged with protecting them from their many enemies- and even their own sorcery. I don’t think of these people as heroes in the traditional sense- much of the time they’re simply trying to survive and come to terms with reality as it has become.
Do you have any other published works? Tell us about them.
I had a number of short stories published in various fairly small-circulation magazines during the 1990s. These were mainly speculative / experimental fiction rather than fantasy as such. I’m actually compiling an anthology of these, together with a number of new short stories, which I hope to bring out soon. What people will make them I have no idea!
More recently, Oblivion’s Forge was published in 2011 and its sequel, Secret Roads, was published in April 2012. Ever since completing Oblivion’s Forge I seem to have become a *lot* more productive, so I’m hoping the third book, provisionally titled The Endless Shore, will be out around the end of 2012.
What was the hardest part about writing Oblivion’s Forge?
When I originally started writing it, it was very different- much more traditional fantasy with a whole different set of plotlines. I struggled with it for a few years before finally realizing that it wasn’t right simply because the style wasn’t right. I pared it down, removed most of the more traditional elements and stereotypes and concentrated instead on the characters themselves. So in a sense it developed partly into a psychological horror as well as fantasy. Somehow I was far more comfortable with that- and suddenly the book that I’d struggled with for nigh on twelve years (yes, really!) was completed less than a year later.
I admire your dedication. It requires a certain amount of wisdom on the writer's part to admit when something isn't working out with his or her own story. And it sounds like you took the time to mold your work from what it was into what it should be: what was right for you. Bravo!
Is there a message in your novel that you want readers to grasp?
At its core, the Aona series is about ordinary people (albeit some with extraordinary talents) struggling to survive and make sense of a world which is rapidly spiraling out of control and into chaos. I guess the message is that even in a world as terrifying as Aona becomes, an ordinary man or woman can somehow, with a bit of courage and a lot of luck, do an extraordinary deed, make a difference, even change the course of wider events.
Another message is about the nature of power, particularly the inevitability of its corruption. The various men and women of the younger races who are the main characters in the books suffer doubts, experience great rage and the desire for revenge- they have difficult choices to make and they don’t always make what most readers would probably call the “right” choice.
I think this is something every reader can relate to and thus appreciate. It makes the characters seem like real people rather than cut-and-paste templates.
Would you mind telling us about your path to publication?
When I was younger and starting out, I would check out publishers and literary agents to make sure they dealt with the genre, carefully make sure I formatted the required document in the right way, double check all their other guidelines to make sure I didn’t fall foul of any of them, and then (after sending an initial letter if required) send the manuscript or the part of it they required.
Most of the time I would hear nothing back. In more recent times, when enquiring initially by email, I would occasionally get a response, although one or two of these were along the lines of “Why would we want to publish / publicize work of this kind?” Generally speaking, I haven’t found agents to be particularly pleasant or helpful, which I expect is partly to do with the vast numbers of manuscripts they get sent- most of which I’m sure they never even get around to reading.
So I eventually decided to do the publication myself- in part because I wanted to at least be the master of my own destiny- an agent or editor, even if they actually read my work, would have probably wanted a number of wholescale changes to it, which could eventually mean it’s no longer entirely my work but a collaborative effort. I may sell more books doing it my way, or I may not- but the important thing for me is for the work to be mine.
Do you relate to any of the characters in your work? Tell us about him/her.
To an extent I relate to Vornen, who readers meet at the beginning of the book and who is quite central to the storyline- I’d like to think I’m mentally in a far better place than he is, but nevertheless I can relate to some of the things he goes through- self-doubt and self-loathing amongst them.
That said, the character I find most interesting of all (which I feel is a form of relating) is Nia, the assassin and spy who readers meet briefly towards the end of Oblivion’s Forge, but who is a major character in Secret Roads. She somehow developed into a very complex character with all sorts of things going on psychologically- and I love writing about people like that. It’s the thoughts, fears and inner struggles of such characters that make it a joy to write.
Can you describe your writing style for us? What processes do you go through while writing? (i.e. outlines, character maps, index cards, etc…)
I’d say I try to write atmospherically and emotionally but with an economy of description. I don’t believe in noting down every little detail and regurgitating it for the reader. A few lines here and there can swiftly build a powerful image of a character or a place or an event- any reader with a certain amount of imagination can then flesh out the rest of the details in a way their mind sees fit. In short, it’s about setting the scene and catalyzing the whole event.
When did your fascination with writing begin?
At a very young age. I was an early reader and I was reading the likes of CS Lewis, Alan Garner and Susan Cooper from around the age of eight or nine. It was around that time that I really started to get into the fantasy genre- if I had to pick one author who influenced me in that regard it would have been Alan Garner. His book The Weirdstone of Brisingamen opened up a whole new world for me- I was literally lost in it for a few days. If it hadn’t been for this genius I might well have been a different sort of writer (although do note- I *still* would have been a writer!)
Does your writing reflect past experiences or is it mostly drawn from imagination?
Thankfully I haven’t experienced anything quite on a par with the events in the Aona books, but I do draw on memories of things in my life or how I coped or dealt with something, and use that to empathize with the characters. The rest of it is imagination, or as I prefer to call it, visualization. I can close my eyes and have a very sharp image in my mind of a particular scene, down to tiny details- as if it was a film. I find this helps immensely.
How do your philosophies of life tie into your work?
I’m not sure that they do, especially. I guess there are parts of me in various characters, and some of the things they say and do are the same things that I would, but I try not to use my books as a political or moral platform- I wouldn’t want my beliefs or set of values to affect how a story turns out- instead I want it to run its own course.
A wise course indeed. One must always tread carefully.
What would you say is one of your writing “quirks”?
I always have to have a title for anything I write, whether it’s a short story, a novel or an article / essay. It absolutely has to have a title, even if I discard that title at a later point and use something completely different!
I find I am much the same: everything must have a title!
How did you choose your specific genre?
It chose me, really. As I mentioned, there were a few authors who I really enjoyed reading when I was a kid, and they completely turned me on to fantasy- after that there was no going back.
Does the Muse come easily for you? How do you deal with writer’s block?
It comes and goes. I deal with writer’s block by simply gritting my teeth and writing the story, even if I know that what I’m writing is rubbish. Sooner or later, the very act of writing triggers the inspiration, and then I can move on with things again (and if necessary, get rid of the crappy bit!)
Would you call yourself a “plotter” or a “pantser”?
I create plotlines and I often plan quite far ahead- for example I know exactly what the eventual concept of the Aona books is and what I want to happen at the end- but I do so in quite a sketchy way, with random notes in a whole array of different notepads. I don’t know exactly what various characters will be doing or saying before I get around to writing the scene. I also like to leave the plot slightly open to sudden ideas or bursts of inspiration I might (hopefully!) have further down the road.
What sort of creatures can be found in your work?
I don’t have any of the traditional fantasy creatures, so you won’t find dragons, elves, dwarves, gnomes, trolls etc. in my works. In the third Aona book I do introduce a race called the orkar who you can think of as a *little* bit like orcs in appearance- I wanted to introduce a race who have been continually thought badly of in this world, who appear fearsome, even horrifying, but who are actually highly developed and, in their own way, quite civilized. I wanted to challenge people’s preconceptions of the race, which also happen to be the preconceptions of many people *in* the books.
Do you listen to music when you write? If so, which genre(s)?
I almost always listen to music when I write, and I have a pretty huge collection of music of almost every genre. I could literally be listening to anything from progressive trance to black metal to 80s/90s/00s pop to indie to grunge to post-rock to drum ‘n’ bass… you get the picture!
Do you have a new project in the works? Can you tell us about it?
One thing I never lack these days is a new project on the go. Apart from the next Aona book (The Endless Shore) I’m writing a new standalone experimental novel called The Spiral, and then there’s my anthology of short stories which I‘m compiling. And as if that wasn’t enough, last week I had an idea for another fantasy series- that doesn’t yet count as a project, but I suspect that it soon will.
Always so many projects; never enough time. *shakes head* But it's often a good thing, I find.
What is the toughest criticism you’ve received as an author? The best?
Back when I wrote much more traditional fantasy, I had a number of people mention that my work was derivative and didn’t really cover any ground that other writers had already covered- which is one of the reasons I began to move away from that (sub)genre.
As for the best, well I’ve received a lot of good comments about Oblivion’s Forge and Secret Roads recently, which is enough to confirm to me that I’m on the right track- in other words, the fact that I’m writing what I want and what I feel I was always meant to write is helping me craft works that I feel proud of.
Indeed - you should be very proud of your accomplishments!
Formalities aside, let's delve into some rather 'random' questions, shall we?
Which would win a fight: minotaurs or dragons?
Dragons every time, unless of course the fight takes part in the minotaur’s maze in which case the dragon would get stuck, or lost, or both. ;)
If you could possess any superpower, which would it be?
The ability to absorb other super powers, of course! (Like a few of the characters in Heroes)
Willpower, followed by serenity.
If the world is my oyster, who owns the rest of the beach?
Favorite ‘writerly’ snack?
Cadbury’s Whole Nut or Fruit & Nut milk chocolate
Paperback or hardback?
Paperback- I just like the feel of a tatty old paperback. Hardbacks annoy me if they have dust jackets that keep coming loose or sliding off.
Black or white?
To me, white represents sterile conformity or cold, clinical blankness- whereas black is something I can fill with anything from my imagination. I can’t seem to think of white as a blank canvas for some reason…
Oceans or mountains?
I love travelling on the sea, but very few things can compare to the view from the top of a mountain, especially if you climb higher than the cloud level…
Pen or pencil?
Pen- I hate the faint outlines that pencils make, and I love to scribble things out and make a mess rather than erase them tidily. ;)
Violin or piano?
I can actually play the piano, so that would be my instrument of choice. In fact I’ve written a few tracks as “theme music” for my books, but that’s another story altogether…
Thank you again for speaking with me today, Mr. Williams! You've lent us a brilliant description of yourself and your work, and I am pleased to have you here today.
Simon always wanted to be a writer, and didn't ever feel like doing much else, a fact which in time became quite clear through his school reports. As soon as he picked up his first writing pen, his parents breathed a heartfelt sigh of relief (yes, I know. Two people but just one sigh. Go figure...). "At least he's given up scribbling on the wall with crayons" they declared. That wasn't strictly true, but moving on...
So he spent much of his childhood writing. Major influences during these years included such luminaries as C S Lewis, Susan Cooper, and the incomparable Alan Garner, whose masterpieces of Celtic fantasy had a profound effect.
Nevertheless, Simon was still obsessed with sci-fi at this point, and wrote his first novel at the age of thirteen. It was a cheesefest- an utter cheesefest. Within a couple of years he had embarked on a (very) traditional fantasy trilogy which still occasionally provides a degree of mirth.
During the 90s he wrote a number of experimental novels, and an entire scribblefest of short stories. Most of these defied genre definitions. Some also defied belief. A number of them were published in various small-circulation magazines.
Inspired by the fact that several thousand people were actually reading (even enjoying) his stories, the intrepid Mr Williams promptly stopped writing them. He turned again to writing fantasy.
A combination of steadily advancing age and rapidly advancing laziness meant that it took a long time to really get going with the Aona books. But at long last, creativity is flowing ("creative juices" sounds a tad biological somehow), the first book is published and he's positively jogging along with the second. It's a truffle shuffle with real intent. All of which proves it's better to be neither the hare nor the tortoise.
Learn more about the World of Aona.