Author Spotlight – Graham Austin-King
Graham Austin-King was born in the south of England and weaned on broken swords and half-forgotten spells. A shortage of these forced him to consume fantasy novels at an ever-increasing rate, turning to computers and tabletop gaming between meals.
He experimented with writing at the beginning of an education that meandered through journalism, international relations, and law. To this day he is committed to never allowing those first efforts to reach public eyes.
After living in the north and south of England, and Canada, he settled once again in the north surrounded by a seemingly endless horde of children and a very patient wife who can arguably say her husband is away with the faeries.
Thanks for joining us today, Graham. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of Paternus: Wrath of Gods by Dyrk Ashton. This is the second book in the series but it’s unlike any series you’ve read before. Essentially this is an urban fantasy set in modern day and deals heavily in myth and folklore from all over the world whilst cleverly turning them on their heads. If you fancy reading something where Merlin argues with Galahad whilst hanging out with Egyptian gods and battling fighter jets then this series is for you. Trust me on this, this book is irritatingly good.
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?
Right now I’m playing a cleric of the god of war and fire (if you’ve read Faithless then that probably isn’t a surprise.) I’ve always enjoyed playing the thief though so probably that. There’s something about skulking in the shadows and leaping out behind people with a sharp blade… I should probably stop talking now.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
I type. I type because it’s faster for me but also because nobody can read my writing, sometimes not even me. It’s a occupational hazard but I can often go weeks without touching a pen which doesn’t do anything to improve matters.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I usually work with music but it needs to be something that blends into the background. Once I get into a good writing zone it wouldn’t matter what was playing, though the shrimps does sound like a good idea.
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!
I’m a gardener but not by choice. I understand the importance of plotting and planning and, on an intellectual and a business level, it makes perfect sense to me. The problem arises when I try to do it. I’ve done this a few times but usually I spend three days planning things out and then end up diverting from the plan and drifting off on a weird tangent which ends up being better than the plan anyway. It’s an exercise in frustration.
I write in a very linear fashion. I usually have a good idea of the beginning and the end and just try and connect those dots. I bought a great writing program called Scrivener which allows you to write by scene and chapter rather than by page. The bonus of this is that you can write things out of order if need be – a good tactic if you find yourself stuck. Of course that requires you not to be an idiot, like me. 99% of the time I forget this is an option and spend three days cursing at the screen before I can move past whatever it is.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
I’ve been into fantasy for as long as I can remember. It began with books, but quickly branched out. I’m a child of the 80’s (shut up! YOU’RE old!) and it was a time when home computers were just becoming an option for people. Computer role-playing games were a huge influence on me, it was the first time you could actually be IN the story that I had experienced. Old SSR games based on the AD&D role-playing system like Pool of Radiance, or even Eye of the Beholder (though that came later) were a massive influence. If anyone has played a game called Dungeon Master brought out by FTL software then you’ve been in the original inspiration for my book Faithless. Beyond that then it’s probably role-playing games like dungeons and dragons, which I’ve only recently got back into. I loved both playing and running these games and I’m of the firm belief that writing and running a role-playing campaign is the finest base upon which to build writing skills.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Spirit – Riding Free. It’s a kid’s show. Oh, hold on, you mean by choice don’t you? I watch a lot of things on Netflix, it’s a good way to let you mind switch off. There’s a lot of pulp on there but the last thing that really grabbed me was the Star Trek – Discovery series, and the new Lost in Space. I’m ashamed to admit that I’m a binge-watcher. I may have watched 90% of Lost in Space in three days.
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?
Probably doing something mindless like walking my dog on the beach. He’s a gigantic, brain-dead, golden retriever. You’ve never seen anything quite as daft as this dog. I swear he spent a good five minutes once attacking the waves on the beach.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
The semi-colon must die. Okay maybe that’s a bit harsh but let’s just blend it in with commas and em-dashes and pretend they all do the same thing. Why? Because I don’t really know how to use it. I THINK I know what I’m doing but there’s probably someone out there who could tell me I don’t. I prefer just to get the damned story down and let someone else worry about the dots and squiggly things between the words. That’s what editors are for.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
Three sentences? Are you nuts? Shit, that’s two already. The hell with your rules… YOU’RE NOT MY DAD!
My WIP is an urban fantasy/horror/thriller mash-up in a similar vein to Clive Baker or Dean Koontz dealing with an ex-special forces soldier named Carver, with crippling PTSD and survivor’s guilt. During his time in the forces he and his team were ambushed and systemically killed until Carver somehow stopped a bullet in mid-air by some kind of magic, or just sheer force of will. Now, years later, his gambling debts have forced him into returning to Kabul, to the scene of the crime, but what should have been a simple job soon becomes something far more complex and the past he thought he could bury is reaching out to claim him.
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 know that I’d collaborate well, I want ALL the power. That said there is a grossly under-appreciated British writer named G.R. Matthews who has created a really interesting undersea post-apocalyptic world in his Corin Hayes books. I’d love to see that on the screen, or just play in his world.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Just finish the damned thing. The first draft of everything is always awful (unless you’re Mark Lawrence) but you can go back a polish it up later. Don’t obsess on the quality of the writing, just get it finished and make it shine later.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
Tintagel Castle in Cornwall, England. I’d go back to when Arthur lived there and visit Merlin. What do you mean those are just legends??
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?
I don’t do well when I try and force myself to write. Generally I’m better taking the dog for a walk, or doing something else first, and then coming back to it. I do try and write every weekday, not only does it help with continuity, but it also tends to help things flow better. Money is also a good motivator and there is a momentum that needs to be maintained with self-publishing. If you don’t produce on a reasonably regular schedule (once a year at least) there’s a good chance you’ll be forgotten.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but under-appreciated or obscure.
There’s an excellent book called Skallagrig by William Horwood. It’s not a fantasy but instead is a book about a woman with cerebral palsy, what we would have once called “spastic” in this country. The book deals with a myth, or urban legends, that is passed along through the community of patients in various care homes as patients are moved around. It’s an excellent and often heartbreaking book that I read years ago but somehow stays with me.
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 dark fantasy about forgotten truths. I’ve written books about the fae and the truth behind myths, and I’ve written about forgotten and betrayed gods, but more than anything I write about people. Because if there’s a dragon in a cave and no one around to see it, is it still awesome?
Thanks again for joining us, Graham!
Graham Austin-King is the author of Faithless and the Riven Wyrde Saga.