Today is a special day at FanFiAddict, we have Adrian Selby here with us, who has kindly found the time to stop by and talk about his writing experience, Snakewood and The Winter Road, and his new book, Brother Red, which is out on 28/01/2021 and you can pre-order it here, among other places. And I highly recommend you do – and you can find out why, here.
Snakewood, his debut, introduced us to the world of Sarun and can be purchased here, is about as follows:
Mercenaries who gave no quarter, they shook the pillars of the world through cunning, chemical brews, and cold steel.
Whoever met their price won.
Now, their glory days are behind them. Scattered to the wind and their genius leader in hiding, they are being hunted down and eliminated.
One by one.
To say the least, it is worth reading. A face-paced romp of betrayal, fightbrews, twists and excruciating turns.
Adrian treated us again with The Winter Road, a prequel story to Snakewood, that focused on the founding of the Post that we saw in action in the first. It’s a tale that’ll pull your heart out and put it back in again and get it pumping so hard you won’t want it to stop, and can be purchased here. The summary is as follows:
The greatest empire of them all began with a road.
The Circle – a thousand miles of perilous forests and warring clans. No one has ever tamed such treacherous territory before, but ex-soldier Teyr Amondsen, veteran of a hundred battles, is determined to try.
With a merchant caravan protected by a crew of skilled mercenaries, Amondsen embarks on a dangerous mission to forge a road across the untamed wilderness that was once her home. But a warlord rises in the wilds of the Circle, uniting its clans and terrorising its people. Teyr’s battles may not be over yet . . .
And we come, finally (I know, shutup already and let Adrian speak?), to the interview …
So, welcome to FanFiAddict, Adrian, we’re very happy to have you here and appreciate the time you’ve taken out of your pre-release schedule!
Thank you for having me 😊
Straight into it: Tell us a bit about how you got into writing; what was your journey – in brief – to publication and how far a long down the line was your debut, Snakewood, born?
I feel a bit sheepish saying it but Snakewood was my first attempt. Well, not strictly true, I had wanted to be a writer since I was a kid, and did write a novel by hand as a teenager, a dreadful angsty novel (protagonist gets great power, causes him great suffering, spends most of novel on a stretcher being taken to a limp equivalent to Mount Doom where he saves the world but dies. Eugh).
I got into my thirties always thinking I was a writer, though I’d written nothing. But then I took a good hard look in the mirror when I was thirty five and realised that I either needed to write a novel and prove to myself I was a writer, or give it up. I couldn’t bear the thought of the latter. Resolve hardened, I realised that if I was going to give it a go, I was going ‘all in’, no stone unturned, no ‘let’s start writing something and see how it turns out’. I spent years doing the research before I felt I could commit words to, er, Word, then wrote the first draft of Snakewood. It altered rather a lot by the time the proofs were finished! (Thank god for Jenni Hill, my editor at Orbit, and the copy edits managed by Jo Kramer).
With regards to the way you write, has anything changed since you wrote Snakewood? Do you plot the same, pants on the edge of your seat or a mixture of them both?
My approach is the same, I have to lay out character biographies because if I know the person well, what they would and wouldn’t do in a plot becomes obvious and so it helps me sort out how things should play out in order to get the novel to go where I want it to go. Then I do a reasonably detailed path to the finish to feel confident I’m not going to hit a saggy middle and that the stakes are being suitably raised throughout. I then start writing and things end up changing along the way, but I always have that plan to refer to and evolve. The thought of winging it terrifies me.
I’ve been a massive fan of your books since I found The Winter Road on release and kind of backtracked to Snakewood – very unorthodox of me, but would you say there is a reading order or could new fans dive right in at Brother Red/does each subsequent book rely on knowledge of the last?
They are standalone novels, though The Winter Road sets up all that follows, so if you want to approach the books chronologically, as well as orient yourself to the world of Sarun in a more straightforward way to the more structurally experimental Snakewood then that might be the place to start.
By all means start with Brother Red, too, for while it throws references backwards to The Winter Road and forwards into and even beyond Snakewood, you might enjoy discovering the legend of Teyr Amondsen or the importance of Kailen after having your appetite whetted in this new book.
A little bit more about your world – Brother Red is set in the same shared world as Snakewood and The Winter Road, but like the other two, they stories of their own. Can you tell us a little more about how your stories interrelate?
I’m a little limited by spoilers, but the one arc these three books have is in the origin, rise and (moral) fall of The Post, a merchant guild created by Teyr Amondsen in The Winter Road. Her hard life and its attendant material success allowed her to construct the beginnings of this fictional version of the British or Dutch East India Companies; a vast, global merchant guild backed up by a private army that soon comes to influence and sometimes rule countries and kingdoms alike. Brother Red shows the moment that The Post, driven by a particular villain, makes a fateful decision that begins its path to unbridled power, wealth and corruption. Snakewood is set in a world where The Post is a dominant force, but events are in motion that threaten to change the world order and its dominance. A future novel will look at how that plays out while allowing me to ‘pull the camera right back’….
What piece of advice would you give to a new author? Is there anything you’ve found out now that you though, ‘damn, that would’ve been handy?’
My atypical route to being published means I’ve learned very little the hard way. But finding the money to pay a good freelance copy editor, I mean a good one, is money I’d gladly spend if I never got another publishing deal. A good copy editor finds so much in your text and your prose that you can’t see and friends couldn’t see either, that you’ll be horrified you ever considered it ‘finished’.
Of course, being able to accept the often blunt and challenging feedback a good editor gives you is an essential pre-requisite. If you get any feedback that challenges you, I’d say, sleep on it. This is not an easy thing to do, you can burn with the need to counter or find fault in a hard critique, but when that cools, even if you can say to yourself, ‘right, I’ll change this, just to show you’, if you’re like me you’ll more often than not find that they had a point. Jenni Hill and my most recent copy editor for Brother Red both have given me some feedback I found difficult to accept, but I’ve learned that in being willing to adapt to the changes they suggest (note I didn’t say do as they say) over 90% of the time, their suggestions and comments have improved the book.
Is there anything now that you find tougher about writing books than you did back with your debut?
Other than running out of ideas (I have hardly any ideas), no, it’s a lot easier now than it was. It’s because I know I can finish a book, I’ve done it three times (plus the crappy teenage novel) and I feel like I have a better handle on how to approach prose and telling a story. It doesn’t mean it’s better each time, I just find the process easier.
Without really needing to mention it, we’ve all been affected in many different ways by the pandemic, how has this affected your writing?
I’ve had a bit more time to write because I’m not commuting, but there are other things that have affected my ability to write this year, and they’re why I haven’t made any significant progress on the next book.
My absolute favourite thing about your books are the vivid, stunning and fully-realise action scenes – especially the swordfights. Is this something that comes easy for you/is this your forte? Or do you find comfort in fleshing out the world, plotting, dialogue or the exposition?
I dread the fight scenes because I know fantasy authors like Ed McDonald and John Gwynne who walk the walk. I’ve not held a sword in my life. I learned from stuff Ed’s said, and followed up on links he’s provided to some great resources on sword and spear fighting. While the finale of Snakewood was a lot more Hollywood than the subsequent two books, I think The Winter Road and Brother Red are more realistic in terms of how quickly and savagely a duel really goes. If I have a ‘fantasy’ get out clause to ensure my fights can be a little more Matrix/John Wick it’s that the fightbrews in my books give the combatants a hyperreal awareness and I can lean into that in order to make the fight scenes more visceral and personal, especially as they’re all told in the first person. I read some great advice about how to try and keep a fight scene about the feeling and emotion of it, not the choreography of it, and that’s just as well given my comparative ignorance 😊
But world building and exposition I find hard, too, I mean, it’s all just hard, isn’t it, writing a book. I try to take great care and put a lot of thought and effort into ways I can efficiently introduce my world’s sense of place, cultures etc. I don’t pretend I’m good at it, but I do my best to have characters speak or behave diversely and cultural markers or references that can help readers anchor themselves, from physical markers such as ‘kurchpoles’ in the new book, to language.
Your books feature an eclectic mix of deep, multi-layered characters with very genuine, believable motivations: Who has been your favourite character to write so far and is there any one that you relate most closely to?
Teyr Amondsen and the protagonist of the new book, Driwna Marghoster, have both been really rewarding to bring to life. Teyr endures such sorrow but never loses herself. I think her trials have given her a determination and humility I find hugely admirable as qualities in a hero.
Driwna is incredibly loyal to friends and The Post, she shows faith in people and gets their trust and loyalty in turn, but the key pleasure of writing Driwna was how her background as a refugee, and her estrangement from her family, who have become gangsters, test that loyalty.
What good SFF book have you read lately that you’d recommend and does your reading tie in closely with the same kind of fantasy that you write?
I’m afraid I read very little fantasy. A lot of what I read is research as I’m gearing up for a sequence of novels. Beyond that I read whatever interests me, so my most recent fiction reads have seen me finish the marvellous Ravencry trilogy of Ed McDonald’s and the outstanding Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stu Turton. The rest has been some great non fiction – Geoffrey West’s Scale and Yuval Noah Harari’s Homo Deus. Both are the work of wide ranging and perceptive intellects, so you can take their occasional imperfections on the chin because there’ll be many things in them that will spur your own thoughts on what future we have in store for us.
There’s been a trend of character castings recently. If you’re books were made into films, who would you cast as the leading roles?
While I was initially surprised by Robert Stephens as Aragorn in the BBC’s 1981 adaptation of The Lord of the Rings, for he sounded nothing like I’d imagined, I grew to love his Aragorn. All I’d ask is for a well-written screenplay and actors who can deliver it.
Is there anything else that you love to do other than writing? Any secret hobbies we don’t know about?
I’m getting involved with my local Labour Party a bit more, and I do some gaming (loving Guild Wars 2 after a long, long break), but that’s as much as I can manage besides reading and writing I’m afraid.
Mainly because I’m desperate to know, what are you working on now? Are we going to see more from the world of Snakewood, or are you deviating from this (please, no)?
I’m deviating a fair bit from the world of Snakewood. I would apologise but I’m very excited by the the next thing. It’s about a girl from my home town of Barry and her journey to becoming a god. Hopefully I can talk more about it when I have something more concrete to tell, but it’s early days.
Lastly, if you were trapped on an island, what herbs/plants would you hope for and which of your characters would you want brewing it for you?
I’m a big coffee geek, so caffin for sure, and in terms of making the most of survival, I’d have to have Lorom Haluim with me. He thrives in the hostile Hanwo’q jungle and his recipes are literally second to none!
Thank you very much for taking the time to complete this Adrian, and I very much look forward to reading Brother Red!
Thank you, I really hope you and everyone else who enjoyed Snakewood and The Winter Road feel that my girl Driwna is every bit the hero you want her to be as she uncovers and attempts to foil a nefarious plot that turns out to be a move in a very, very much larger game.
Since finishing the interview, I’ve read Brother Red and I can say that it almost certainly is going to be one of my favourites of the year – it’s stunning, beautiful, exciting and heartrending in all the ways a good Adrian Selby novel is. Please read my review when it is up and pre-order the book from your local indie store – if not, anywhere that sells books.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoy Adrian’s novels as much as I continue to do.