Author Spotlight: Adrian Selby
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Adrian Selby!
Adrian studied creative writing at university before embarking on a career in video game production. He is a Tolkien fanatic and an online gaming addict, and lives with his wife and family on the south coast of England. His debut novel SNAKEWOOD is an epic and inventive fantasy about a company of mercenaries and the assassin trying to destroy them. You can find Adrian on Twitter, tweeting as @adrianlselby.
Thanks for joining us, Adrian. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth. It’s the story of a farmer who loses everything in the Norman invasion of Britain in the eleventh century. It is told in a faux-Chaucerian English, first person, and the protagonist’s ‘voice’ has made me question everything I’m doing. Kingsnorth puts us inside the (ignorant) mind of an eleventh century man in a frighteningly realistic way. Amazing, and a must read if you write fantasy.
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?
If it’s DnD then it’s a mage, though in MMOs I always play healer. I like the classes that don’t get any ick on their outfits, just cleanly delivered death or crowd control and healing from a respectable and civilized distance. In that respect a good old staff is my preferred weapon.
When you’re not trawling (cleanly) through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
It’s typing these days. It would take way too long to write now I’m a quick typer, and even then I’d have to transcribe what I’d written by hand into a word processor. It did initially take some time to get used to think through typing, back in the 80s when I first learned to type, but, for those that haven’t done it yet, it becomes second nature. Does anyone still hand write?
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
I prefer silence, but for the two books I’ve written I’ve done so sat in the corner of our living room, TV on, kitchen just behind my monitor! I confess not to have tried the shrimps, perhaps in their serenade they can reveal secrets of the land of the dead, stories I might tell of the kings and queens, caverns and cold depths of the deep blue seas, indeed, anything more regarding The Dark Parliament (see below). Can you hook me up with the shrimps, actually?
Sure! 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 plot. I architect. I have to know whether the thing I’m about to do is actually ok or not. It then changes course occasionally, but without the structure I quickly get lost. And there’s nothing worse than getting lost in your pants, because clothes constrict the flow of genius. Basically, I hate getting dressed on the weekend, and for modesty’s sake I concede to baggy track pants or running shorts and a vest. I’m sorry to say there’s nothing unusual about my writing method. I try to write all the time and keep a glossary and research as I go. Except Saturdays. I play videogames on Saturdays, sorry, I mean spend quality time with my family.
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
That’ll be the TV. I love a good documentary and it’s history I enjoy. Of course, general drama scores insofar as all stories are about people in conflict and I am fascinated by the work of scriptwriters, but history has the most impact on how I shape my worlds.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
Doctor Who because Doctor Who. Really happy we’ve got Jodie Whitaker as the Doctor. Two episodes in she’s a bit breathless and shouty, and I know she’s capable of far more as an actor, so hopefully the scripts will give her a chance to reveal a more austere and serious side, something more indicative of the great age that on rare occasions weary the otherwise indefatigable Doctors.
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?
Reading and a bit of exercise. I never do enough reading. There’s so much research I need to do, so many biographies I want to read, history too, alongside the fiction I enjoy. I think with the non-fiction I rarely get chance to read it because I usually want my computer to hand as there’s so many notes I want to take. It just can’t be done on the bus! I wish I just had a sleep compressor. I hate losing seven hours a day to nothing!
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
The apostrophe. So many crimes committed with apostrophes in the world and they trigger me awful. My favourite recently was on an electronic bus stop sign: ‘Service’s are subject to delay’s and cancellation’s’. Dear God.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
A soldier finds a baby’s body hidden in some barrels she’s been escorting as part of a trade caravan. When she tries to investigate it she uncovers a plot to bring down a kingdom and an evil more powerful than she could possibly imagine.
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’d love to work with Kim Stanley Robinson because his research is off the chain, Hilary Mantel because I would love to know how she conjures up such amazing writing or, most of all, Tolkien, so we can tell the story of the Fourth Age and, I would hope, the two lost wizards.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
Read widely, all genres, fiction and non-fiction. All stories are people. The rest is dressing.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d go find Jesus. I’d listen to him, see if I could discover for myself why, of all those proclaimed Messiah, his influence prevailed when he merited so little record during his lifetime by Josephus or anybody else. It’s part of a future book idea I have.
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’m inefficient. I sit there. Staring at it. I won’t leave my desk until I’d originally planned. My fear is that if I go off and do something else and try to come back to it, I’ll start to want to do that when it gets a bit difficult the next time. I’ll find it easier to quit. No. I will sit quietly and look at the page and seethe.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I just wrote a piece for SFX magazine about the divine A Stranger In Olondria, by Sofia Samatar. It is the best prose I’ve read in the genre. It is a story of a gentle scholar. He cannot use a sword, I don’t think he fights, but he explores and falls in (a strange sort of) love and grows up. The worldbuilding is remarkable, Samatar is an incredible writer. If you want something that takes the epic out of epic fantasy then get it. Here’s one of many exquisite sentences: “But preserve your mistrust of the page, for a book is a fortress, a place of weeping, the key to a desert, a river that has no bridge, a garden of spears.”
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!
In a world where soldiers are a brotherhood of junkies, their dealers are warrior chemists and kingdoms are drug cartels, I tell stories of flawed people surviving and desperately holding on to what’s right in the face of tragedy, betrayal and sometimes insurmountable odds.
For an elevator pitch that involves sharks, what about Moby Dick meets The Abyss: There’s a shark that’s spent years hunting and trying to kill a giant white squid that killed his offspring, and the chase leads to the depths of the Mariana Trench where the shark finds The Dark Parliament, who run the deep, and the shark gets caught up in a struggle to stop the squid from triggering what they believe will be the world’s destruction through the activation of an ancient artefact, but the squid believes will be their salvation through the flooding of the world. Turns out it’s only sharks that can understand the codex, and our protagonist has a choice to make.
Amazing, Adrian. Thanks so much for joining us today, and good luck with your new release!
Adrian Selby is the author of SNAKEWOOD. His latest novel, THE WINTER ROAD, is released in November 2018.