An interview with John Gwynne

At Fantasy Book Review we really enjoyed John Gwynne's epic fantasy series The Faithful and the Fallen, which was concluded with the release of Wrath in November 2016. Our friends at TOR are releasing Wrath in paperback on May 4th and we decided now was the perfect time to see if John would be happy to be interviewed for the site. The great news is that he agreed so to begin with I would like to thank John for taking the time to answer our questions.

Firstly, congratulations are in order for completing The Faithful and the Fallen. What sort of emotions did you feel when you typed the last key on the keyboard, or put the pen down knowing that it was complete and perhaps the end of an era?

Hi Fantasy Book Review, thank-you for the invite, I’m most grateful to be invited on to your blog.

Finishing Wrath was a strange experience. It certainly did feel like the end of an era to me, as the Faithful and the Fallen has been such a large part of my life, and my family’s, for fifteen years. Bittersweet is the best way I can find to describe it. In so many ways it was a wonderful feeling, to be writing scenes that I had imagined for so long, to see the culmination of my characters’ personal stories, and also to have a go at writing my own version of ‘the massive epic battle.’ But it also held its own measure of sadness, because to write all of those things meant I was writing the end, saying goodbye to characters that have lived in my head for the better part of fifteen years. Perhaps they have become a little too real to me, but it did feel sad, to be reaching the end of Corban’s story.

Throughout certain online book communities such as Goodreads and Fantasy-Faction, I must admit that The Faithful and the Fallen is a fantasy series that I see recommended frequently to other readers. For someone reading this interview who is unfamiliar with you or your work how would you describe your series and what is this potential reader likely to expect? 

Whenever someone who doesn’t read mountains of fantasy asks me to describe my books, my answer is usually ‘Lord of the Rings meets Braveheart.’ By that I mean that I’ve attempted to write something that is epic in scope, but with a strong historical, and especially Celtic, feel. A more in-depth answer would be to say that the Faithful and the Fallen is my attempt at epic fantasy, and by that I mean large landscapes, a wild land of dark forests and grim fortresses, populated by men and giants, though they are not the top of the food chain. The Banished Lands is a harsh place inspired by a mythological Dark-Ages Europe, prowled by wolven and draigs, giant bears and white wyrms. And, if that isn’t bad enough, a long-simmering war between angels and demons is about to erupt. Within this feral land I’ve tried to write characters that are real, not good guys and bad guys (although there are good guys and bad guys), but people who are motivated by the things that matter to us. Love, greed, family, friendship and self-preservation. And battles. Lots of battles.

One of my favourite parts about reading your series was how well-crafted, fascinating and diverse the large cast of characters were which led me to feel a plethora of emotions. Who are your favourite characters? Is there a particular character in the books that is most like you in real life?

I’m really pleased to hear you liked the cast of characters.

My favourite characters? Crikey, that is a hard one, because I enjoyed writing all of the Points Of View, as well as the side characters. I could probably narrow it down to a few. Maquin was one of my consistently favourite characters to write. Corban, of course, and Coralen. Tukul was great fun to write, his pragmatic view of life, also Camlin and Lykos. Out of all of the side characters, I would have to go for Brina and Gar. Brina’s caustic wit and Gar’s unwavering loyalty. Two characters that I get the most emails about, though, aren’t even human. Storm the wolven and Craf the crow seem to be favourites amongst my readers, and I must say I am very fond of both of them. They could even be my favourites, too.

As to whether there is a character most like me, the answer is not really. There is a little of my son Edward wrapped up in Corban, and there’s a character in my new series, a young man called Drem, who is inspired by another one of my boys, William.

It is widely commented on how stunning, intense and scarily realistic your battle scenes seem. How did you go about writing these scenes? (A particular routine, certain research, perhaps even visiting medieval battle day reenactments...)

That’s very kind of you to say, thank-you. I’m delighted that you’ve found the battle scenes gripping.

I consider myself a self-confessed geek and closet amateur-historian, and so of course that includes a long-time diet of Greeks and Trojans, of hero’s and monsters, Beowulf and Grendel, of Theseus and the Minotaur, of Rangers and Ring-Wraiths and wizards and Balrogs. Also included in that diet is a host of historical conflicts, such as the berserker Viking holding Stamford Bridge against a whole army, of Caesar’s Gallic War, of the Battle of the Teutoberg Forest, of Boudicca’s Revolt…

I read a lot of historical texts, as well as historical novels – especially the likes of Bernard Cornwell, Christian Cameron, Conn Iggulden and Giles Kristian. And I am a keen supporter of Medieval re-enactment. I’ve been to the Medieval Festival at Herstmonceux Castle every year since it began twenty-four years ago. All of the above contributes to the sense of history meeting fantasy, at least, in my mind it does.

As to the way I write a battle scene, whether it’s a one-on-one duel, or a full-scale battle, I approach it in the same way. I have a general idea of the way the conflict is going to go, the key events within it, but not always exactly how that is going to happen. I put on the head of the character I’ll be writing the scene from, and then start to visualise it in my mind, walking through the beats, working out how their personality would act/react. And then I start writing…

I personally read and loved your series and have reviewed all four books on Fantasy Book Review. Following on from this I am intrigued to know what made you decide to be a writer?

I’m delighted that you enjoyed the series, and I really appreciate you taking the time to share your reviews on your blog, thank-you.

As to what made me decide to be a writer, well, it kind of happened by accident, really. I used to teach at Brighton University, but stepped out of that due to the poor health of my daughter, Harriett. She is profoundly disabled, my wife and I being her sole carers. Early in 2002, which is when the Faithful and the Fallen began, I have a vivid memory of returning home from watching The Two Towers at the cinema with my family. We were sitting around the table and having dinner, and Caroline, my wonderful wife, said.

“You should try writing a book!”

I told her that was a silly idea, explaining that there were necessary ingredients to writing a book that I was most definitely lacking, such as characters, a plot, and talent. But then my children were caught up in the excitement of it all and so my resistance began to crumble. I had been thinking about taking up a hobby, one that I could do from home, as that’s where I spent most of my time because of looking after Harriett, as well as our vintage furniture business, which is also run from home. So eventually I thought.

“Why not. It might be fun.”

So that’s how I started writing the Faithful and the Fallen, as a hobby.

Which author would you say is your greatest influence as a writer?

That really is a tough one, because there are so many authors and books that I’ve loved, and all of them in some way seeped into my mind and formed a unique blend on how I view fantasy. If I were to narrow it down I’d have to say Tolkien, of course. The epic scope and depth to Middle-Earth is just staggering. Gemmell is close behind – from my first read of Gemmell’s Legend, back when I was a teenager, I was hooked. His blend of flawed characters and breathless pacing is wonderful. And I’d add to that list Bernard Cornwell. His trilogy on King Arthur, called the Warlord Chronicles, had a profound effect on me. Apart from being just downright awesome, it showed me how history and fantasy could be combined to wonderful effect.

Wrath is currently sitting nicely on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.49/5-stars but do you read your book reviews? How do you deal with the good or the bad ones?

I must confess that I do look at my reviews. I can’t speak for other writers, but I imagine I’m not alone in this practise, or in my feelings about my reviews – it’s a strange thing, putting your creation out there for public consumption. On one level it’s incredibly personal to you, a part of you, almost, but you have to learn to let go and put some space between you and your books. I think it’s something you get better at as time goes on. I have, anyway. My first negative review felt like a punch in the gut. Now it’s more like a poke in the eye. J It’s always lovely to read a review where the reader enjoyed the series, to hear they were entertained and hopefully moved emotionally – that’s really the goal – and a positive review will still always put a smile on my face, just as a negative one will make me feel sad, but I try and look at it objectively and not take it too personally. Books are hugely subjective, and nobody has exactly the same taste. That’s what I keep telling myself, anyway.

If you could go back in time and offer any advice to a younger John Gwynne prior to releasing Malice what would it be?

Write faster.

Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2017 that you are excited to read?

Absolutely. At the top of my book radar this year are:

  • Tyrant’s Throne by Sebastien de Castell.
  • Fall of Dragons by Miles Cameron.
  • Red Sister by Mark Lawrence.
  • Book 11 of Bernard Cornwell’s Last Kingdom series.
  • The Green Count, by Christian Cameron.

I saw that the Gwynne family decided to call their dog Valour. How was that particular name chosen and are there likely to be anymore The Faithful and the Fallen inspired pet names in the Gwynne household anytime soon? A crow called Craf might make a cool pet?

My family are animal-mad, and dog-mad in-particular. My boys named our latest dog Valour. If you see him you would understand immediately why the name Valour fits him perfectly, he looks so full of courage and nobility. The truth, though, is that he’s a complete coward and would sell his soul for a biscuit. Appearances can often be deceiving. And you’re absolutely right, a crow as an addition to the Gwynne’s would be great, even better if it could talk a little, although I’m not sure everyone in my house would agree. I could use the crow to spy on who exactly it is that empties the fridge of all the cheese!

Your work rate for writing and releasing books is generally seen as phenomenal. I am already immensely excited for your next book DREAD (which is set in The Banished Lands many generations after the events that conclude Wrath.) I believe it is due for release in November 2017 by TOR and is the first in the Of Blood and Bone trilogy. I know I am eager but do you have provisional release dates for book #2 and book #3?

I’m so glad you think that. I love writing, and although life has a habit of clamouring for attention, it does feel nice to keep my books coming out at a steady pace, as long as there are a few people out there that are willing to read them.

There has been a slight change to the title of book one of the new series. Its title is now A TIME OF DREAD. The change was made primarily to differentiate between the two series. A TIME OF DREAD is finished, has gone through the first edit and at present I am knee-deep in the copy edit. After that it’s pretty much done – at least my end, it is. I’ve started writing book two, though there’s a way to go on that yet, but I’m expecting to finish it some time this summer. I’m not aware of any provisional publishing dates for book two and three, but I imagine there’ll be roughly a year between each instalment. I’ll keep you posted.

You may not be able to say too much about DREAD but could you give your fans one example of how it will be similar to The Faithful and the Fallen and one example of how it will be different? 

Well, A TIME OF DREAD is set 130 years after the events of WRATH, so it is mostly an all new cast of characters. Mostly…

I’ve written this book to be accessible to new readers, so you don’t have to have read the Faithful and the Fallen first, but of course if you have then it will give an added depth to the story. The events of the Faithful and the Fallen are now the history of A TIME OF DREAD, but as we know with our own history, accounts are not always accurate, and the tale often depends upon who is the teller. The victors tend to be the ones who write history, with their own perspectives and prejudices worked into the weave. I don’t want to give too much away, but the Banished Lands of A TIME OF DREAD is a place where angels and demons now tread, and their war is far from over. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions today John. Best of luck and I will hopefully talk to you again soon.

Thank you for having me on here, it’s been a real pleasure.

Interview conducted by James Tivendale