The Aspect Series by Mark Holloway is quickly becoming a contender for one of my favourite series of all time so I was beyond excited when Mark agreed to an interview to celebrate the release of book #2, The Soul’s Instruments.
I was lucky enough to be sent an ARC of the second book and I can confirm that it is just as epic as book 1 (I may have even liked it a little more!!) Check out my full reviews for The Soul’s Aspect and The Soul’s Instruments.
Mark has also entered The Soul’s Aspect into SPFBO 8 and I have everything crossed for it to do well – it definitely deserves every bit of praise!
I’ve got some great Q&A’s featured here so grab yourself a cuppa tea (or coffee) and settle in – be prepared to be darting to purchase this off Amazon when finished!
Synopsis of The Soul’s Aspect
A healer forced to become a killer for an empire that would grind his country to dust.
Kehlem, the sickly son of a widowed physician, has devoted his life to learning his father’s craft. Wanting to finally step out of his father’s shadow, he embarks on a project of his own, seeking out the help of Themia, the town’s newly arrived Alchemist and a rare wielder of magic.
But Themia has secrets of her own, secrets carried from the heart of the empire itself, secrets that would steal Kehlem away from his home and into the empire’s Academy for magic users.
The Isale Academy beckons, but can Kehlem survive the academy and its brutal regime? And if so, what would he have to become?
Interview with the author
Thanks so much Mark for agreeing this interview and congratulations on the release of The Soul’s Instruments – it’s honestly fantastic!
- Can you describe The Soul’s Aspect in 3 words?
Cosy. Painful. Tender.
- Where did the idea come from?
I’ve always loved coming of age stories, but in too many of those stories, the plot and theme revolves around how the poor, naïve teenager is able to ThinkOutsideTheBox™ and figure out a singular solution to defeat the big bad guys.
It’s natural, I think, to write a story where the teenage protagonist thinks they know the solution, and can save the world – I was a teenager once, and I still shudder to recall how arrogant I was at that age. But an essential part of growing up is realising you are not infallible, you don’t have the answers to everything, and sometimes life is shit and out of your control.
So then, a coming of age story which is true to the themes many of us can associate is the failure part of try and fail. And so The Soul’s Aspect came to life as an honest story about a well meaning protagonist where failure is always an option, and more importantly, when shit does hit the fan, the consequences are always proportional. Consequences are yet another hard fact of life many of us realise as we grow up!
- The magic system is really unique and led to some philosophical thinking on my part – would you consider yourself a spiritual person and was it always your intention to create such a spiritual concept?
I’m as much as an agnostic can be! I don’t believe in an afterlife, or higher power – frankly I don’t care one way or another. If there is something else, then great, wonderful (although they certainly would have some explaining to do), if not then that’s fine as well – I wasn’t here before I was born, I’m happy to return to that state when I die.
One thing I do ascribe to, is the fact that all living (and indeed, non-living) are made from matter, matter that at some point has belonged to something else, before it was created in the forge of long dead stars. It’s comforting to know that when I die, after my atoms return to rot and ruin, that they will be reborn in the belly of a worm, or in the flight-feathers of a crow. This was where the Aspect was born, I just gave it a teeny tiny nudge towards the mystical.
- Your worldbuilding is amongst the best I’ve ever read – where did the inspiration come from and was it always your intention to make it super cosy?
Well firstly, that’s very kind of you, thank you! I think for the most part – and this does evolve in the later book – the worldbuilding for The Soul’s Aspect will be familiar to most fantasy readers, in that I wanted to immediately evoke that feeling you got when you picked up a coming of age story as a kid. Cosiness then, was an intentionally by-product of that thinking, and something I really wanted the book to evoke for the reader.
I know if I think back to my favourite books, I don’t recall the plot or prose directly, more that I recall how the world made me feel. Capturing that feeling was essential for me.
As for inspiration, Barrowheld came into its own while I was rewatching Gilmore Girls (Dean is the worst isn’t he?), and I tried to capture that innocent naivety that Stars Hollow oozes as a set. The landscape of Casere (and to some extent, Vin Irudur) are inspired by my own travels and explorations. I’m very lucky to live close to ancient woodland to roam around in. The Aldridge woods were inspired by forests I’ve visited in Wales, whereas Vin Irudur was largely driven from my journeys into the Scottish Highlands.
- What school/discipline would you most like to study if you were an aspiring Aspector?
Fabrica, 100%. Which is odd because I work in the pharmaceutical industry as part of my day job, so healing makes more sense, but knowing myself, the urge and desire to mess with objects and create impossible, tangible things would be too much of a lure. We don’t get to see too much of what fabrica can do in The Soul’s Aspect (don’t worry, you get a lot more in The Soul’s Instruments), but to me, the art of fabrication would be limited by only the imagination of the user.
- Do you have a favourite quote from The Soul’s Aspect?
‘That afternoon, in the dormitory as Thain and I sat opposite each other on arm chairs, I let myself unravel. I spoke for hours on end. I told Thain everything. Once I started, I found I couldn’t stop. It was like picking at a thread in a woven rug, and before long the structure I had held so rigid was reduced to loose yarn in my hands, and I couldn’t make sense of the start or end.’
Something I recognise in myself is a slow processing of emotions. It takes me a little while to get my thoughts in order because my mind is otherwise cluttered. That feeling of trying to voice complex emotions, and then losing it entirely as it becomes clear how one thread weaves into another – it’s something I think many of us have experienced, especially when we were teenagers.
- I know you like your music, so tell us, if Kehlem, Broch and Thain were in our world, what would be each of their go-to songs?
Kehlem would 100% be a sad little emo boy, however being as socially stunted as he is, he’d likely only have access to pre-modern songs, so I reckon he’s unironically listening to bands like The Cure. I reckon for much of The Soul’s Aspect, he’s listening to Friday I’m in Love by The Cure. Once he meets Broch and Thain, they’d introduce him to the Lo-Fi genre which would blow his mind.
Broch is a Tame Impala, Alt-J kinda guy, I know it in my bones. His go to would probably be Taro by Alt-J.
For Thain, I’m going to be controversial here, but I feel like our favourite sunny boy is probably into heavy music, so I’m going to say his go to is Blood Brothers – Oceans Ate Alaska.
- If you ever got the opportunity to have your book immortalised on the screen, what medium would you choose for it?
Animation, 100%. I just don’t think fantasy translates that well into real acted shows/movies, with Lord of the Rings the only possible exception. The Witcher is fine, but let’s face it, it is carried on the broad shoulders of Cavil’s passion. Game of Thrones was great up until it wasn’t (and for the most part, is treated a lot like a low fantasy in the earlier seasons).
Shows like Arcane and Castlevania have shown me that adult animation success is possible in the west, and I just think some of the weirder elements of my book (especially some of the stuff that cracks off in book two) would look incredible as animation.
Not to mention a lot of the movements associated with Aspecting were inspired a little by the bending in Avatar: The Last Airbender!
- For those that have already read The Soul’s Aspect, what can they expect from The Soul’s Instruments?
That tone shift that happened in the final third of The Soul’s Aspect? That’s here to stay. We’re going to descend much darker than before, but, more importantly, we’re going to learn a lot. You’ve got questions, I’ve got answers, and some of them you’re not going to like. There’s also a second POV throughout book two, which will blow the world wide open.
It’s not all dark though, and I would never categorise my work as grimdark. There’s always hope, and joy and love to be had. The cosy-despair of book 1 is here to stay!
- What would your advice be for other aspiring authors?
Write. The. Damned. Book. Yes yes. I know. You’ve got things to do, more important things. Yes, I get it. You don’t think you’re good enough.
None of that matters. Write the damned book. And while you’re at it? Write some short stories. Share them. Get feedback. Learn from them!
If you can also grow your skin so it’s roughly a half inch thicker, that’d be grand as well.
In all seriousness, the best thing I did was join a writing community on reddit (which I now help moderate *ahem* /r/fantasy_workshop *ahem*). There I was able to share short stories and chapters from my work in progress and find out what was working and what wasn’t. Helping others by critiquing their work also helped me immeasurably.
Most important thing after that is consistency. When I’m writing, I hold myself to write around 1500 words a day. No excuses. You have to love writing to finish a book, and you need to be honest with yourself throughout.
- What is your favourite book of all time?
Ooh – tough question. The truth is it changes too often, but for the sake of giving an answer, I’d have to say Name of The Wind, if only because the sheer amount of work that went into the worldbuilding in that novel, and the subtle foreshadowing in that book has meant that even on the ninth re-read, I’m still finding new things!
- When you’re not writing, how do you spend your time?
Other than writing, my other main hobby is photography (incidentally, I started both at the same time during the beginning of the lockdown!)
They do work hand in hand though, I think. To me photography is the challenge of capturing a feeling; sight, sound, smell, pressure, temperature, as much as possible and putting it into a single still frame. The same is of course true for writing. A lot of the time, I’ll compose scenes in writing as if I were framing a photo: ‘Okay, where’s the lighting coming from, is it hard or soft? Where’s my subject, are they placed or are they in the scene etc. etc.’
Sometimes I’ll go out and take photos specifically to help inform a scenery description, some of the photos below helped me design some of the pivotal scenes in the forest towards the latter end of The Soul’s Aspect.
Author ‘would you rather…?’
- Would you rather… never read or never write again?
Oh, painful one right off the bat! I’d have to say never read. Reading gives me joy, but with writing, I can maybe give that joy to others, so I have to pick the less selfish choice!
- Would you rather… have books filled with only despair or only happiness?
I’d probably say despair to be honest – there can be sweetness in suffering. All consuming happiness would come across too smug to me.
- Would you rather… be stuck on a boat in the sea with no oars or stuck in a car in a desert with no fuel?
Good lord. I reckon the boat is probably more survivable, so I’d have to go with that (although maybe the swifter death of the desert would be more kind?)
- Would you rather… only ever listen to your least favourite song or have a goat screaming in your garden every night whilst trying to sleep?
I love goats, and their mad eyes, so that’s an easy answer for me. Scream me to sleep, little devil creature!
- Would you rather… have t-rex arms or chicken legs?
I’d say chicken legs, because I feel like that would be terrifying.
- Would you rather… vomit on your hero or have your hero vomit on you?
Vomit on my hero: no gods, no masters.
- Would you rather… see 10 minutes into the future or 100 years into the future?
100 years into the future! If I can find out which areas have flooded due to global warming, it’ll make buying a house a much sturdier investment!
- And finally, a true judge of character, can you share with us your best / worst joke!?
Q: Why do scuba divers fall off boats backwards?
A: Because if they fell forwards, they’d still be in the boat.