Friday, 9 April 2021

Interview with Sebastien de Castell

 This is very very late. Due to health reasons pushing me to go on an unexpected hiatus, I never got to post this interview during the publicity for Crownbreaker. I'm still not well enough to go back to posting regularly, but with Way of the Argosi coming out in just over a week, I thought what better time to post that interview that I was really excited about! So here it is, late but here. 

1. Through the book (Crownbreaker) Kellen visits so many different places with different politics and agendas and is pushed around and manipulated a lot, especially by the Jan'Tep. Did you have this all planned out before you started or did it mostly crop up organically? Was there anything you added along the way?

As soon as I knew Spellslinger was going to be a six book series, I wrote synopses for each instalment. I honestly didn’t expect to stick very close to them – it was more a matter of giving my publishers the sense of confidence that we knew where the story was going. However looking back on those synopses now, I’m surprised by how closely the books ended up following my original ideas.

Of course, there are always changes as you go. Charmcaster is the book that’s least like what I initially envisioned. I had this idea about a mechanical bird and as soon as that came into the picture, I knew I needed to build a whole society around the skill necessary to create such a creature. Then because the Gitabrians were to be explorers, inventors, and traders, the notion of coin magic started to interest me. So there are always ideas that crop up as you’re writing, and some of them change the story in drastic ways, but they’re almost always worth the extra effort.

2. Kellen is so many things, but he's certainly not the most likely of hero's, which is part of what makes him so unique and fun to read. What would you say were the most important characteristics you wanted him to have?

More than anything, when I think of being a teenager, I think of being conflicted. Some of the most intense emotions and inner conflicts we encounter come at us when we’re in our teens, and exploring these in a meaningful way requires a character who isn’t sure of everything around him. So the most important quality Kellen needed was to be perpetually conflicted. He begins the first book convinced that magic is the most important force in the world, that his people created the greatest nation, and that his family are noble and caring. Once that certainty is taken away from him, he starts calling everything into question. All six books in the series push him towards different positions that others hold as both sacred and obvious, but Kellen’s always asking himself where he stands on those issues and what he really believes. That’s what makes his life so difficult throughout the series, but to me, the best kind of hero is one who’s always questioning.

3. The (UK) cover art of these books have been fantastic and really seem to depict the individual books as well as the playing card motif of the series in general, do you think they do the series justice? Do the characters match your mental pictures of them?

I adore the covers and was incredibly appreciative that Hot Key Books allowed me to collaborate so intensely with their terrific art director, Nick Stearn, on setting the direction for the covers and the inner artwork. The cover images always respected the text of the characters, but never looked exactly as I myself imagined them – which is part of why I like them so much. Each one changed my own perception of the character for the better, starting with Ferius Parfax, but continuing with Seneira, Reichis, and so many others. It’s really been a joy to participate in that process.

4. Obviously there are already audio books of the series, but with your love of performance and the fantastic readings you do at your own events, have you ever thought of doing your own version?

I love doing public readings because it’s the one time you’re really getting to tell the story directly to fans of the series. However Joe Jameson’s narration is far superior to what I could do. He doesn’t just read the book aloud, he interprets the text the way an actor does (though in his case, he has to play dozens of parts and give each one their own voice and flavour.) For me, one of the best rewards of having the series in audio is that listening to them gives me an entirely new perspective on the story.

5. How has writing for Young Adults compared to writing your adult series? Do you prefer writing for one market over the other or do you tend to just write and not worry too much about the audience?

I’m very conscious of the audience simply because my publishers are incredibly conscious of them. There are a number of ideological constraints on writing – both for YA and adult markets – that don’t get discussed very much even though they probably should. For example, we tolerate incredibly amounts of violence in YA fiction, but swearing can get a book in all kinds of trouble. We often talk about the need for not talking down to teen readers, but it’s often adult readers of YA who insist on keeping some subjects out of bounds because for some of them (not all, of course) choosing a YA book is about wanting to read something they feel is safe. In my life I’ve never had a teenaged reader complain about swearing.

But it goes beyond that, too. Book 4 of the Spellslinger series had to have an 18+ warning on it in Russia because one of the characters is gay (despite there being no sex of any kind in the book). Why? Because Russia has a law that was passed to “protect” anyone under 18 from "gay propaganda". But there are internalized constraints, too – ones publishers and authors put on themselves because controversy can ruin careers. The argument is always the same: putting “this” (whatever “this” happens to be) in the book could harm readers, so let’s leave it out. No doubt sometimes that’s the right thing to do, but freedom of expression is something we all need to be concerned about, because the argument against it will always be that the risk of harm outweighs the importance of any given story an author wants to tell.

6. Now that the series is finished have you got any plans to return to these characters or this world? Are you sad to bring the series to a conclusion or happy to move on to new things?

I never really think of the final book in a series as saying goodbye to the characters. First of all, they live on (and continue to have adventures) in the imagination of anyone who enjoys them. That’s how it should be. We don’t need to treat characters like gold mines that we just keep digging in until they collapse on themselves. There will be more Spellslinger books in future – but it’ll be when there’s something worth exploring for which Kellen and Reichis are the best characters for it.

In the meantime, I’ve got two Argosi books due to come out starting next year, and loads of Greatcoats books in the works, so I’ve got lots to do!

7. Finally, and probably a question you've heard a million times before, but any tips for new writers, especially ones who want to start writing their own fantasy series?

Fiction is lying, and the first and most important lie is the one you need to tell yourself: your book is special. You know why? Because it is special. There are going to be loads of bad things about it, but there are also going to be some wonderful parts, and those are the parts that help you discover yourself as a writer.

Despite the claim that we’re all becoming “snowflakes” and getting participation medals for everything, the truth is that much of world around us seems dedicated to telling us that a first novel will be awful, that too many people are writing books, that if you’re not “this” kind of person you shouldn’t be writing “this” kind of story. Who knows? Maybe all of it’s true. But anyone who listens to those voices will get so discouraged when the writing gets tough that they’ll abandon the book, stick it on a shelf, unfinished, and never reap the incredible benefits that come from finishing your first novel.

My first effort was a terrible mystery novel that will never be published, but it changed my life for the better in so many ways. It expanded my mind, gave me confidence (that led to promotions at work), and made the world around me more interesting. Most importantly, it gave me the urge to write my second book years later, and that one got me a four-book deal that launched me into this amazing career.

So if you want to write your first fantasy novel, write it fearlessly, putting all the things you want into your story, ignoring the voices of disapproval coming from inside your head (and elsewhere), and tell yourself that this book – this one you’re writing now that feels like it’s off the rails? It’s worth finishing. It’s special. Keep telling yourself that as many times as you need to in order to come back to the keyboard and write the next scene. When you get to the end, no matter what you or anyone else thinks of the finished book, it will have transformed you from someone who talks about writing books to someone who actually writes them. What could be more special than that?

The Way of the Argosi comes out on the 22nd of April 2021 and follows the path of Ferius Parfax, a character that was introduced in the now finished Spellslinger series. 

I received a copy of Crownbreaker from the publisher. 

No comments:

Post a Comment