Author Spotlight: Peter Newman
Peter Newman co-writes the Hugo and Alfie Award winning Tea and Jeopardy podcast and is also the voice of the butler, Latimer.
His debut novel, THE VAGRANT, was published by Harper Voyager and won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best newcomer in 2016. It was followed by THE MALICE, and then THE SEVEN.
There are also two shorter stories set in the same world, available as ebooks. THE HAMMER AND THE GOAT (which is set parallel to THE VAGRANT) and THE VAGRANT AND THE CITY, which is set between books 2 and 3.
He has also written for WILDCARDS, and Fantasy MMO ALBION ONLINE.
Book 1 of his new series, THE DEATHLESS, is released in the UK on June 14th 2018.
Thanks for joining us today, Peter. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Only one? I’ve been really lucky lately with books. I loved The Poppy War by Rebecca Kuang. It’s a really assured debut featuring great characters, dangerous gods, and it goes to some very, very, dark places. Can’t wait for book 2.
I’m also reading Tessa Grafton’s Queens of Innis Lear at the moment and it reminds me of early A Song of Ice and Fire. I know, I know, everything is always compared to that series, but this has classy prose, lots of factions and politics, and all the characters, no matter how nasty, are well rounded and compelling in their own way. I also recently read The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber. It’s not fantasy but it is amazing and-
Oh sorry, did you say one book? I’ll stop there.
All of those books sound great! 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?
I’d like to say wizard, but the truth is I’m probably a warlock, as I suspect my abilities came from a dark pact rather than innate talent or training. My weapon of choice would be illusory magic. I’d much rather pretend to be one of the monsters than have to take them head on. And who knows, maybe it’d be the start of a beautiful friendship.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
Type. My writing is so small and scrawly even I struggle to read it sometimes.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
It depends on what kind of work I’m doing. I like to have music while I write. I tend to pick a particular album (or set of albums) for a novel as the association helps me get into that world. This is particularly important for me as I often have to move quickly between projects that are set in completely different universes. I often use game or movie soundtracks. For The Vagrant series, I listened to the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack. For The Deathless, I’ve been listening to the soundtrack for The Dark Knight. It’s often the opening tracks that are the most important, as once I’m in, I don’t really hear the music.
I edit in silence, though, as I often like to read the text aloud.
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!
In the colder months, I write in a slanket, which is like a backwards dressing gown that has a pocket for your feet. I love it! In terms of plotting, I tend to know rough character arcs, a start point and an end point, and maybe a few moments that will happen throughout the book. The I’ll plan a few scenes out, write them, and look up to see if I’m still on course. Then I’ll plan the next few and repeat until finished. The other thing that is unusual about my writing set up is that I’m married to another writer (who is amazing btw). We work very closely together at each step of the process, from plotting over coffee, to reading early drafts to each other (I highly recommend reading work aloud to another living human as, for me, it really focuses the mind, making me far more rigorous than when I’m alone), to proof reading, etc.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
Role playing games, films, and computer games. This changes all the time, but for The Vagrant series, things like Final Fantasy and Warhammer that have these incredible fusions of fantasy and tech, definitely inspired me. Seven Samurai had a huge impact too, as it dares to take its time, to give later scenes more impact. Also, the playwright, Harold Pinter, who taught me that silence can be as nuanced as language.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
A Series of Unfortunate Events. It has a very distinct style and I can watch it with my son, which is nice.
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?
If I can involve other people, then I’d either go walking somewhere like the cliffs of Cornwall, to build up the appetite for a really big meal, or I’d role play – current faves are 5e D&D and Seventh Sea (this would also involved lots of food). If left to my own devices, I’d probably either read or play something on the PS4. Some quick recommendations you didn’t ask for: Pyre (choose your own adventure with great storytelling meets fantasy sport), Stardew Valley (farming sim with romance and dungeon delving), and Earth Defence Force 4.1 (local coop anime style game where you fight giant insects with lots of ludicrous weapons). And omg! I’m so excited that Divinity: Original Sin 2 is coming to consoles. It’s a couch coop tactical rpg. Amazing.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
I quite like punctuation marks in general, but if push came to shove, I’d get rid of the exclamation mark. Partly because it’s often abused!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (See?) And partly because I’d like to think I could learn to live without it. Good writing can convey an exclamation mark even if it isn’t there.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
I’m currently working on a Wild Cards story for Three Kings, which is set in the UK and features some of the characters introduced in Knaves Over Queens (out this month!). It’s really interesting as I’m in close collaboration with four other authors all forging the story together, and it’s a completely different way of working to normal, almost like a book version of a TV writer’s room. For those of you who don’t know, Wild Cards is a series of super hero novels that has been in existence for many, many years. All of the different stories are edited and woven together by Melinda Snodgrass and George RR Martin.
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?
Probably Emma (Newman) as I know we work really well together, I rate her writing, and it’s a trillion times easier when you’re in the same geographical location. If that’s too dull (or soppy) for you, then I’d like to work with Jen Williams because whatever we came up with, it’d be damn fun.
I for one would definitely read either/both of those collaborations!
Peter, what’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Almost all writing advice is circumstantial. Every writer has her own process, and so I’m wary of any prescriptive ways of doing things. I believe that giving yourself the time and freedom to find your own best way of working is ideal. Write what you want, how you want, and as often as you want…Unless you’ve got a deadline.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d go back to a time before Harry Potter was a big deal and then bet all the money I could on it being a huge success. Or maybe I’d go into the future and record all the sport results…
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?
When I started out, I’d get really down if I was blocked. These days I’m more philosophical. Sometimes I get blocked because there’s a plot issue I haven’t worked out yet, and I know that I’m getting closer and closer to it being a problem. Or I’ve written a scene that wasn’t good enough, and I need to go back and fix it. Other times, I’m just too tired or distracted. If I’ve tried and tried, and no words are happening, I’ll take a break. If that doesn’t work, I’ll try and figure out what’s behind the block. And if THAT doesn’t work, I’ll seek professional help (generally either Emma, or my agent).
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Devil’s Cape by Rob Rogers is a great super hero story that I thoroughly enjoyed and nobody ever talks about. It’s about a city where the villains have won and taken over, and any superhero stupid enough to go there tends not to come out again.
Alternatively, there’s Guns of the Dawn, by Adrian Tchaikovsky. What a book! It’s like Sharpe with a female lead and warlocks. It’s a stand alone that is beautifully structured and incredibly satisfying. Please, please, read 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’m going to pitch The Deathless as it’s new and you don’t have to read any of my previous works to enjoy it. But, you know, please do read my previous work.
It’s a bit like Grimm’s tales but with high level politics and demons. Features: immortals reincarnating into the bodies of their own decedents, flying suits of magical armour, five legged dogs, floating castles, intrigue, and lots and lots of tension.
It sounds amazing! (Our reviewer T.O. Munro certainly enjoyed it; you can read his review here.)
Thanks again for joining us today, Peter. Good luck with the release of The Deathless!
Peter Newman is the author of The Vagrant series. His new book, The Deathless, is released in the UK tomorrow.