James Barclay was such a discovery for me, and I ripped through his first books. Well, they were about the Raven, a group of four fighters that got themselves in some rather sticky situations. If you got into the Raven you, like me, would have almost cried at the end of the first series. I think James must have too, as he brought them back for a second series. All seven books were fantastic stuff.
When I asked James to do this interview, I had to ask the question about the Raven. His reply was that even he missed them.
But the good news for us all is that James wrote another series, which were just as good if not better. If you have not read James Barclay, then I suggest an immediate trip to your local bookstore and start with the Raven books. Go on, do it now. I’ll wait for you!
What genre would you like to write a book in (that you haven’t yet)?
Historical fiction. I’m a big fan of Thomas Harris and his historical fiction is fantastic, Pompeii particularly. I’d love to set a novel in one of my favourite periods of history (Ancient Rome, World War II for instance) but that’s for the future, I hope.
Where do your ideas come from? Do you have a standard formula for plots or do stories come to you as a whole construct?
Ideas beget ideas. Some come from the smallest thought, some just pop in there ready to run with. Some arise while drafting another novel entirely. For the series I hope to write next, the germ of the idea came from a game I was playing with my son, who was three at the time. Never ignore a thought.
No, I don’t have a standard formula. Stories never come whole either, they emerge and evolve during the thinking and planning processes.
When you start a new story, do you have a title for it? Does that trigger the story?
Well, I’ll probably have a working title but it never comes first. Titles are very important as they’re the first hook for a reader but they have to fit the story, not the other way round.
Do you see the future of fantasy as bright? If so, which authors are driving it?
It’s incredibly bright and getting brighter but I don’t think any authors are driving it. The fantasy-buying public drive the genre. The sheer breadth of subject, the talent of the authors and the capacity for innovation are bringing more and more readers to the genre. The genre’s increasing popularity brings more writers in and so on. It’s a virtuous circle but it does mean a writer has to be good to survive within it as the fantasy audience is very knowledgeable as a whole.
What themes are being overused?
Same as always. Peasant boy becomes king/mighty wizard. Evil overlord destroys everything for no discernible reason… See above answer, the authors of such works don’t last long. Actually, I think it’s happening less and less. The increase in quality means authors are very aware of the need to be original and when taking on a popular theme, they must find a new angle.
Are movies of books ruining the book?
I don’t think so. You have to see them as a different interpretation and enjoy them for what they are. Some films are great, some are terrible or course but all are adaptations and those who go to the cinema expecting an utterly faithful recreation of the pages they loved are always going to be disappointed.
Do you see ebooks threatening traditional publishing?
Only in the sense that it may mean fewer paper books are sold. Traditional publishers are embracing ebooks and those that will do best are seeing the potential of that medium. It’s another arm of publishing rather than a threat. The only problem, if you can call it that is that ebook publishing will lead to a flood of books that should never have seen the light of day because anyone can publish. But in the end, readers know what’s crap and what’s not (with one notable grey and shady exception, and there will always be exceptions) and the crap will wither and die.
Do you prefer to read established authors or debut authors? How do you choose which ones to read?
I enjoy both. I try and keep up with some of the new authors in the fantasy genre and will read books recommended by those whose opinions I trust. But I don’t read all that much. Having two small children and a very busy working life precludes too much reading right now.
What is it about fantasy that appeals to you?
Breadth, scale, imagination, wonder, magic, heroes, conflict, character, the amazing authors working in the field… many many things.
Can I get an autographed book? (lol)
Sure, if you send me one.
Do you have a group of people that you show a new story to? How much impact can they have on the whole story?
I have one regular reader who’s a good friend of mine and I trust her opinion. I first knew her as a fan of The Raven and she’s a really good proof reader as well as having terrific insight into what works and what doesn’t. Aside from that, I work very closely with my editor and she always has a positive impact on my work.
Do you set yourself a word limit for each book?
Only recently. My latest elves series had a target of 120,000 per book and I’ve worked pretty closely to that. I won’t set that limit for the next series but my editor and I will have a good idea of the word count we’re targeting. It’s arbitrary, though. Some books need more words, some need less and you don’t really know until you start which way it’ll go.
Do you have a target each day?
Early in drafting, I like to get 2,500 words in a day. That’s about a chapter and means I’ll have written at least one whole scene. As the drafting goes on, and I’m more in to the swing of the work, the word count rises. Come the end I like to be doing 5,000 a day if I can.
Do you write constantly or have breaks between books?
I have breaks, but only to plan and propose new series and develop ideas in other fields like screenwriting. Apart from holidays, I try not to step away from writing entirely as it can be hard to get going again.
Do you have characters running around your head? Do they dictate events and their histories to you?
Only when I’m writing a novel. Often, key characters suggest themselves when the ideas come along. But yes, they dictate events as the drafting progresses. They live within the pages and sometimes what I planned changes because the character becomes a different entity than the one I’d envisaged. But they don’t dictate their histories – what has gone on before the book starts belongs to me.
After so many books, how do you keep them unique?
Well, first off, I’m glad you think they remain unique so I must be doing something right J. I, like many authors I’m sure, have the desire to improve with every book I write. I want my latest book to be my best book. Part of that is making sure I’m not going over old ground. It also means knowing when it’s right to stop writing a series (like The Raven) and move on to something new.
What is your biggest (self-imposed) time waster?
Waste time? Me? How very dare you, sir. Well, all right, there are a few. A lot. Loads. Social media became a curse during the writing of my last book and in the end, I had to turn off the internet most of the day to stop me dropping in to see what irrelevancies were being spouted. I also love listening to Radio Five Live and that had to go too. I used to be able to write with it on in the background. Seems that’s not true anymore.
Do you remember the first time you saw your book in a shop?
Yep, Dawnthief, Waterstones, Leadenhall Market in London, July 1999. I came over all misty eyed and stuff. It was a truly wonderful moment and I will treasure it forever.
Do you read other people’s writing?
Published, yes, but see the answer about how little time I spend reading these days. Unpublished, not any more. I’ve had too much bad reaction to honest, constructive comment in the past to do it anymore and, frankly, I’m too busy with my own work.
Would you read mine?
See previous answer J.
James Barclay can be found in these haunts:
James Barclay Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/James-Barclay/e/B000APNSKY/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1347579906&sr=1-2-ent
Twitter: @Barculator (one of the best twitter names I’ve seen)