Author Spotlight: Peter McLean
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Peter McLean! Peter is the author of Priest of Bones, the first novel in the War for the Rose Throne series. He was born near London in 1972, the son of a bank manager and an English teacher. He went to school in the shadow of Norwich Cathedral where he spent most of his time making up stories.
By the time he left school this was probably the thing he was best at, alongside the Taoist kung fu he had been studying since the age of 13. He grew up in the Norwich alternative scene, alternating dingy nightclubs with martial arts and practical magic.
He has since grown up a bit, if not a lot, and spent 25 years working in corporate IT. He is married to Diane and is still making up stories.
Thanks for joining us today, Peter. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I have literally just finished King of Assassins by RJ Barker, which was an absolutely perfect conclusion to the Wounded Kingdom trilogy. I love the setting of the Tired Lands, and there’s a depth and richness to Barker’s writing that really brings it to life. The main character, Girton, is one of those people you alternate between wanting to hug and wanting to slap through a wall to save him from himself, but his master, Merela Karn has, become one of my favourite fantasy mentors.
Okay, time to escalate things: reality warps and you suddenly find yourself leading a D&D-style party through a monster-infested dungeon. What character class are you, and what’s your weapon of choice?
Ah, that depends – if we’re a low level party I’m an axe-wielding barbarian, but anything past level 10 or so and it’s wizard all the way. As everyone knows, warriors are linear but wizards are quadratic – I definitely want to explore that idea in a story one day!
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
Keyboard all the way for me – I type faster than I can write by hand for one thing, and even I can’t read my handwriting.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I must admit I’ve never tried the dead shrimp method so I won’t knock it, whatever works for you. Personally if I’m drafting I like a thundering heavy metal soundtrack of music I know so well I don’t really hear it anymore so much as simply feel it. For editing I like peace and quiet.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit? Tell us something unusual about your writing method!
Bit of both (but not the deep-sea diver’s suit, that would be weird and probably a bit sweaty) – I work to an outline but it’s a fairly high-level one, with just the main plot milestones from the beginning to the end. I tend to pants my way from one outline bullet to the next, which is probably why all my stuff tends to grow arms and legs while I’m writing it – sorry, beloved editor.
Apart from usually writing the last scene first, I write in a completely linear fashion from the beginning to the end with no jumping around. One other thing with me is that once I write a scene, it happened. I virtually never go back and change events, so if the outline has to flex to meet the demands of where the story has gone then that’s what happens.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
There are things that aren’t books, seriously? I’m not sure I understand the question… Well yes, there’s RPGs, and I used to be a keen AD&D played back around 2nd Edition, but I was already reading fantasy before that and reading got me into gaming rather than the other way around. My mum was a huge Tolkien fan and she read me The Hobbit when I was about six or seven, so it’s all her fault really.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I really don’t watch much TV, but I’m currently enjoying Joanna Lumley’s Silk Road Adventure. The whole history of the Silk Road is absolutely fascinating (and a serious source of plot bunnies!) and the photography of these wonderful places is stunning. Plus, hey, it’s Joanna Lumley.
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write or otherwise do any work. How do you choose to spend the day?
At the coast with my lovely wife, soaking up the fresh sea air. Bonus points for it being a windy winter day with cold, crisp sunshine sparking off the waves.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Semi-colons are the devil’s work and must be destroyed. Every single time I think of got the hang of the miserable things my copy-editor changes all the rules yet again. That must be it, it’s the only possible explanation for my total inability to use them correctly.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
As it’s still in final edits, my WIP at the moment is technically Priest of Lies which is coming out next summer and is the sequel to Priest of Bones. So:
People are weak, and the poorer and more oppressed they are, the weaker they become – until they just refuse to take it any more. Then they will rise up, and the gods help their oppressors. Follow Tomas Piety to Dannsburg and discover what happens when a man who lives by his reputation finds himself thrown into the merciless arena of royal politics in a city where that reputation simply doesn’t exist.
If you could co-write or co-create a series (like The Expanse, or the Malazan Book of the Fallen), who would you choose to work with and why?
I don’t actually think I’d be a very good co-author as I’m too much of a control freak, but if I was going to pick someone to work with in that way I’d choose Ed McDonald, author of Blackwing and Ravencry. I love Ed’s work and I think our writing styles and sense of character voice could work really well together.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
To quote Stephen King, “Write a lot, and read a lot.” I’d also say you need to read your genre, but you should read outside it as well.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
England, when Stonehenge was being built. I’d really like to know how they did it.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
To be honest I’ve just taught myself to power through days like that. Especially with my Black Library tie-in fiction, deadlines are often tight and it just needs to be done to hit the dates. If I’m not under deadline pressure and I don’t feel like writing then I just don’t write that day, simple as that. Not every waking moment has to be spent working.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
The Singular and Extraordinary Tale of Mirror and Goliath, by Ishbelle Bee. It’s a weird but beautiful piece of highly stylised Victoriana, part dark fantasy and part adult fairy tale. It is very, very, odd and almost certainly won’t be for everyone, but I absolutely adored it.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with what we like to call a ‘shark elevator pitch’? (It’s exactly the same as an elevator pitch, but with sharks.) (Well, one shark. Which, by the way, is currently picking between its rows of teeth to try and dislodge the remains of the last author who stepped onto its elevator.)
Ahem. So: why should readers check out your work? A shark elevator pitch of your own book(s) in no more than three sentences – go!
I write crime thrillers in fantasy settings. My stuff is very much for adults, and some of it might bite you, but it will make you feel something.
Hopefully not sick.
Hopefully! Thanks again for joining us, Peter, and good luck with your latest release!
Peter McLean is the author of the Burned Man trilogy and the War for the Rose Throne series. His latest novel, PRIEST OF BONES, is out now.