An interview with David Tallerman

David Tallerman is the author of around a hundred short stories, as well as comic scripts and poems, countless reviews and articles and at least two novels. His first novel, Giant Thief (review here - 8.2/10), was published through Angry Robot Books in early 2012, and there are with two sequels following close on its heels.

Reviewer Ryan Lawler caught up with David to chat about the difference between short stories and novels, what's in a name, society's love of the anti-hero, and much more.

Ryan Lawler: Hi David and welcome to Fantasy Book Review. Can you start by letting us know a bit about yourself and what lead you towards a career in writing.

David Tallerman: By day I'm an itinerant IT Technician, roaming the UK in search of computers to fix.  It's a job that's literally taken me the length and breadth of the country.  Right now, I'm living near Leeds and working in London, which is every bit as difficult as it sounds.  I spend an awful lot of time of trains!  But hey, trains are great places to write, so it could be worse.

As for the writing side of things ... I guess the only answer to what led me into doing it as a career, what's now effectively a second fulltime job, is that it seemed too important to approach in any other way.  I realised a few years ago that I'd probably never be happy unless I took it as seriously as I felt it needed to be taken.  Since then, I've written vast quantities of short stories, film scripts, comics, poetry and - at time of right now - just under three and a half novels.  The first of those novels was Giant Thief, which came out a couple of months ago; its sequel, Crown Thief, is with my publisher Angry Robot right now and should be out this September.

Ryan: You have been a prolific writer of short stories. Was it difficult to transition your writing to full length novels?

David: Yeah, a little.  Because I was so conditioned to short fiction writing, I came at Giant Thief by treating every chapter as sort of a short story in its own right, and there are advantages and disadvantages to that approach.  It took me the second novel to really feel like I was playing to the benefits of the form.  There's so much more that you have to keep in your head with a novel, every scene has to work not just in its own context but within the wider whole of the story entire; you have to think about things like character arcs and subplots and pacing and story beats that don't necessarily have that much impact on short fiction.  It's a big mental leap to make.

Ryan: You must have a hectic writing schedule. Do you get much time to enjoy and obsess over any weird hobbies?

David: Sadly, things are pretty scant on the weird hobby front these days.  Nothing quite prepares you for the demands of writing a novel in a year around a full time day job, but it doesn't leave much in the way of free time.  I listen to a lot of music and watch a lot of films; those are the things that keep me more or less sane.  Does decorating count as a hobby?  I've been doing a heck of a lot of that lately.  I bought a hundred year old house that hasn't seen a lot of love in recent decades, and I'm busy renovating it, with the help of my folks, into the writer's sanctuary of my dreams.

Ryan: Giant Thief introduces us to Easie Damasco, the happy go lucky thief who steals anything and everything in sight. How much of your own personality do you see in Easie?

 

David: I always hope that one of these days someone will come up to me at a Con, tell me how much they enjoyed one of my books and offer to buy me a drink, so I have to be careful what I say here.  I'd hate to think that people might avoid purchasing me alcohol because they were worried I might have off with their wallet!

All I consciously gave Damasco was my sense of humour, or at least the snarkier aspects of it, and his random outbursts of kindness towards animals.  But there are days when I wonder if we're not a little bit more alike than I'd care to admit!  Certainly when I was writing much of Giant Thief, I'd moved to a new city and I was living quite a secluded life ... I think Damasco got stuck with a lot of that.  He's the perpetual outsider, not quite sure how to get inside or even if he wants to.  Perhaps if I'd been going out more in those days he'd have ended up a little less obnoxious!


David: That's a tough one.  I haven't read any of the books that Giant Thief has been drawing comparisons to when I wrote it, and although I'd like to now - I'm really itching to read some Joe Abercrombie, for example - I just haven't had the time yet.  Truth be told, I'm far more up on movies than books, and I know there's been a massive resurgence in crime cinema over the last decade or so.  You just have to look at some of the films that have been coming out of South Korea, or lately, Australia.  I guess that people are a little more willing to root for the bad guys when things aren't going so well; perhaps there's something about a global recession that makes readers that bit more tolerant to characters that aren't following the rules.  Maybe, too, hard times make us a little less willing to overlook the scarier things that are going on out there in the world.

Ryan: I seem to be reading a heck of a lot of thief and heist stories at the moment. Do you think there is any reason in particular why these stories are so popular at the moment?

David: That's a tough one.  I haven't read any of the books that Giant Thief has been drawing comparisons to when I wrote it, and although I'd like to now - I'm really itching to read some Joe Abercrombie, for example - I just haven't had the time yet.  Truth be told, I'm far more up on movies than books, and I know there's been a massive resurgence in crime cinema over the last decade or so.  You just have to look at some of the films that have been coming out of South Korea, or lately, Australia.  I guess that people are a little more willing to root for the bad guys when things aren't going so well; perhaps there's something about a global recession that makes readers that bit more tolerant to characters that aren't following the rules.  Maybe, too, hard times make us a little less willing to overlook the scarier things that are going on out there in the world.

Then again, I think there's a risk of looking for trends where they don't necessarily exist.  Maybe it's just that thieves and heists are popular because we've had a glut of terrific thief and heist stories lately and people haven't had time to get weary of those tropes yet.

Ryan: Does it say something about our society that we continue to devour these dark and gritty books about morally ambiguous people doing nasty things to others?

David: I don't know that I ever thought of Giant Thief as being dark or gritty.  I wanted it to be very ground-level fantasy, but I don't know that that's the same thing.  Also, the humour was always in the forefront for me ... but then, I have a fairly odd sense of humour.  I find Damasco funny, for example, at least most of the time, and I think I underestimated just how much his despicable behaviour would annoy some readers!

The thing is, life is frequently unpleasant and violent, and there are plenty of morally ambiguous people out there doing nasty things to each other.  To me, Damasco isn't an anti-hero; his behaviour is a more extreme example of how I suspect I or most people would behave in the circumstances he's thrown into.  Most people don't react to danger with heroics.  Most people get scared or angry or frustrated.  Personally, I like to read about characters I can relate to on some level, even if they're not necessarily people I'd want to spend time with.

Ryan: The Giant Thief has a lot of Spanish stylings in the naming conventions, the lay of the land, and overall feel of the book. Did this require a lot of research on your part or did the whole thing come straight from your head?

David: Well, there are bits of Spain and other southern European countries, but I poached from all over really; Mexico offered up a lot of the terrain, and Morocco was a big influence on the city architecture.  I did a certain amount of research in the later drafts, to try and get clear in my head some of the things that I'd described the first time through.  There's a town, in Italy if I remember rightly, that looks a lot like what I imagined Muena Palaiya to be, and that fed into the final description.  I've never felt the need for veracity, as such, since the Castoval is obviously a made-up place and not in any way an attempt to represent historical Spain or historical anywhere else ... but I realised that photo reference is useful for injecting a bit of realism and practicality into my imaginings.

Ryan: I've been caught out a few times calling your book The Giant Thief, and I've seen a number of reviewers do the same thing. How frustrating is that for you?

David: You wouldn't believe how much discussion we had over that 'the'!  I wanted it as just Giant Thief because I like the short, blunt titles you see often in Crime fiction, (which I always figured GT kind of was), because it emphasised the double meaning of a title for a book that's about someone who steals a giant who then gets press-ganged into being a thief, and because The Giant Thief sounds to me like a children's book and not all fantasy titles should have to start with a 'the'!  But there was a lot of opposition, and no one seemed entirely clear on why.

So, yeah, it was frustrating when it got out into the world and about fifty percent of people decided it was called The Giant Thief regardless!  It took me a while to realise that once you have a book published, a big part of your ownership of it vanishes ... it isn't your book in the same way that it was before it went out into the world.  It belongs to everyone who reads it now, and really, they can do what they like with it, even get the title slightly wrong.  It's out of my hands.

I think that was a good realisation, though, and it helped a lot with other aspects of the publication experience.  Negative reviews, especially the ones you occasionally get that are plain factually inaccurate, go down more easily when you realise that the book they're talking about is something a little different from what you created, something that you don't entirely own.

Ryan: So what are plans for Easie Damasco? Do you see his story as open ended collection of episodes or do you have a definite end in mind for him?

David: Book three of the Tales, Prince Thief, will wrap up this arc.  I have a definite end in mind for this episode of Damasco's life, for Saltlick, Estrada, Alvantes and all of the other characters - at least, those that survive that long! - and for the wider story of the Castoval, which in a sense is the real story of the trilogy.  So, yes, we'll get to see Damasco reach a definite point that's very different from where we met him, and we'll see if he can ever really grow a conscience and learn to keep those sticky fingers to himself.  After that?  The truth is that it depends entirely on how well these three sell.  There's another story I'd like to tell with Damasco, something very different, and right now I feel like I'd be happy to write it if people were willing to read it.

Ryan: Aside from Easie Damasco, what's next on the horizon for David Tallerman? Are there any super secret projects you can tell us about?

David: There are a couple of super secret projects that I could tell you about if they weren't quite so super secret!  On the merely slightly secret front, I have a chapbook out at the end of the year through Spectral Press - called The Way of the Leaves - and another novel, currently known as War for Funland, ready at the first draft stage, that I'd like to revisit next year.  I have plans for another novel, or more likely another series, and a novella that I'd really, really like to write soon.  I have about thirty short stories in need of redrafting and sending out.  I definitely have no shortage of plans ... only time!

Ryan: Finally can you name three of your favourite fantasy books?

David: Is it cheating to include series?  No?  Well then...

  • Three Hearts and Three Lions - Poul Anderson
  • The Lyonesse Trilogy - Jack Vance
  • Alice Through the Looking Glass - Lewis Carroll

Ryan: Thanks for taking the time to talk with us David.

David Tallerman books reviewed

Professional Reader 10 Book Reviews