Author Spotlight – Lee C. Conley
Joining us for today’s Author Spotlight is Lee C. Conley!
Lee is a musician and writer in Lincolnshire, UK. He lives with his wife Laura and daughter Luna in the historic cathedral city of Lincoln. Alongside a lifetime of playing guitar and immersing himself in the study of music and history, Lee is also a practitioner and instructor of historic martial arts and swordsmanship. After writing his successful advanced guitar theory textbook The Guitar Teachers Grimoire, Lee turns his hand to writing fiction. Lee is now studying a degree in creative writing and working on his debut fantasy series The Dead Sagas as well as also generally writing speculative fiction and horror.
Welcome to the Hive, Lee. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
Hello, pleasure to be here. Well, I have just finished The Faithful and the Fallen by John Gwynne and I must say it has shot up to rank amongst one of my all-time favourite series, up there with R.E Howard’s Conan and Erikson’s Malazan books. I’ve already bought the rest of Gwynne’s books which are currently staring and whispering at me – but that’s normal right?
Also, being an indie author I try to read as many other indie titles as I can. Some particularly good ones I’ve read recently are The Thousand Scars by Michael Baker, The Game Bird by Aidan Walsh and The Blighted City by Scott Kaelen, all definitely worth checking out.
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?
Well this quite often happens to me, ha ha. I would have to pick a fighter class and my weapon of choice would have to be longsword. When I’m not writing, I teach Historical Martial Arts, and compete in quite a few tournaments, in particular with longsword as my main discipline, but also sabre, sword and buckler and tomahawk and knife. With such real-life weapon proficiency I would have to pick a warrior class and play the high DPS or Tank role in the party. Leading heroically from the front, trying not to run off into every fight we come across without consulting the party, generally Leroy Jenkins-ing – You know, the usual fighter stuff.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (In silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? 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 a little bit about your writing method!
I do like silence usually, but more recently I have quite enjoyed writing to fantasy soundtracks with no discernable lyrics, the various Conan soundtracks and Skyrim soundtrack are particularly fun to write to at the minute.
I think I might have an odd method of writing. I do a combination of writing by hand and typing straight into the laptop. I like to write with a pad and paper then type it straight up into a second draft, then I sit and tweak it into a third draft before moving on to the next chapter. Slow going but I find it produces my best work, but sometimes I do the same straight onto my laptop. I also sometimes write two or three chapters simultaneously if I’m working to plotted notes. So, as for plotting, I definitely use it as a writing tool and again I have a strange method. If I’m starting a new project I will just sit and pantser write and see what comes out. Once I have something I like and some good ideas for direction I will plot it out a bit and keep going. I like to throw ideas down and brainstorm and see what cool things I can think of and try to incorporate. On some of my Dead Sagas stuff, the plot gets quite complex in parts so I carefully plot those parts out and mostly stick to the main plot points in my notes. How the story evolves though, just comes out as I write. Sometimes a good idea will spill onto the page out of nowhere or come to mind randomly and I’ll have to re-plot and incorporate it. Other times I just free-flow pantser mid manuscript and see what happens. It varies but as long as I’m getting good stuff down I’m happy.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Straight off the top of my head my biggest influences are, R.E. Howard, Tolkien, Steven Erikson, Stephen King, George R.R. Martin. I think these guys are definitely big influences on me, also Abercrombie and Gwynne have astounded me with their craft recently so I could probably add those guys too.
Which one would I work alongside most? Probably Erikson, the scope of his writing can be mind blowing.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
Last thing I watched was Kingdom, a Korean medieval zombie show and it was fantastic! A bunch of folks were telling me “Lee you need to watch this, it reminds me a bit of your books but not” so I thought I’d check it out. I really enjoyed it, their zombies are really quite terrifying and the writing was great too.
I do play a lot of games when I can, I’m a big fan of all the TotalWar games but recently I’ve been really enjoying Red Dead Redemption 2, I love the wild west and it’s an amazing game. I’m a big fan of Games Workshop games too, both tabletop and digital, the Mordheim and Battlefleet Gothic games are amazing and I have to mention the hundreds of hours I’ve poured into Warband: Mount and Blade too – Top game!
The world shifts, and you find yourself with an extra day on your hands during which you’re not allowed to write. How do you choose to spend the day?
If left on my own I would probably play some guitar or play some games, drink some nice scotch or some rum. But I am rarely alone these days, married life has that effect. I would likely generally hang out with the family. We like going on adventures in wild places. I like to teach my daughter about history and wildlife. So we would probably go somewhere like the woods or visit old ruins and pretend to fight monsters or something fun and silly like that.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
Well I have a few projects in the works right now. I’m working on some short stories, I’ve got a secret sci-fi project in the works. I’ve been writing some fantasy short stories also, some are Dead Sagas related in the same world and setting, and others are completely separate and new.
My main big work in progress at the moment though is The Dead Sagas. I’m working away at book two, A Ritual of Flesh and have some parts of book 3 plotted out. I am not far off finishing a working draft for A Ritual of Flesh, but even when that’s done, it will be some months in editing and publishing before its ready.
So what can I tell you about A Ritual of Flesh? If you’re a fan you’ll be intrigued to hear this one takes place largely in the city of Arn, and is largely focused on the apprentice. The storylines of Bjorn, Arnulf and Nym are all continued also. We also get a few new major characters come into play with their own point of view chapters. I am trying to keep that same sinister, horror-like atmosphere from the first book, but with the intrigue of the city.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
I always used to hear “Write what you know” and at first I always thought that a good piece of advice. But, the more I think about it the less I like it. I write dark fantasy about risen medieval corpses, dark forces and monsters. These are things I am happy to say I have no real life knowledge of. Certainly I do my research into historic magic practices and the beliefs, myths and legends of times past, and sometimes present day, but these things are still fiction (probably… hopefully). How can a writer of fantasy fiction write what I know? I don’t know many folks that know much about, or deal with, say, dragons, magic and the like in their daily lives. I suppose for writers of fiction in a modern setting, or non-fiction, writing what you know is possibly a good piece of advice but it seems much less relevant to a writer of speculative fiction. So I guess that is my least favourite writing advice. I think “Write what you love” much more apt. For me my most useful piece of advice was “just keep writing”, just sit there and grind words out, edit them, re-write them, but just keep doing it, no matter how much like it feels it will take forever.
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?
As above, if I’m having trouble I just sit and write, regardless if it feels rubbish. There is usually something salvageable in there and it gets words on paper. Recently I was having one of those days, it just didn’t flow and progress was slow. I just hammered out the chapter a few hundred words at a time and by the third draft and a few re-written sections it turned out pretty good. In the more complex chapters I will also often work to plotted notes, which can sometimes be slow going. Even a few hundred words in a day is words down and is still progress, no matter how small.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
This is an excellent question and one I have often pondered. I think after much thought I would visit pre-Roman prehistoric Britain. The culture of the ancient peoples of the islands I call home has always fascinated me, not just historically but spiritually. The Neolithic monuments such as Kennet long barrow or Stonehenge have always fascinated me. I would love to have seen the culture that produced them in the flesh, find out the long lost secrets of our forgotten culture. On a personal level I would love to discover the truth of their belief system, I hold Pagan leaning beliefs myself but often find the modern interpretation of our native religions somewhat contrived and lacking in authenticity. To know the truth of the Celtic peoples of the British Isles, how they lived, how they fought (as a practitioner of swordsmanship the way people fight has always been on great interest to me), is something I would greatly desire to see.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Tuff Voyaging by George R. R Martin is fantastic but also compared to his other works, really obscure – Which is odd considering how huge ASOIAF has become. It’s a humorous and quite dark sci-fi about an eccentric starship pilot who wanders the cosmos alone with his cats. And, it’s really good.
I also love historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell in particular. His Saxon stories with Uhtred and his Sharpe novels are huge but his Starbuck chronicles are unfortunately less well known and perhaps underappreciated – and they are amazing. It’s the story of a northern man fighting for the south in the American civil war. I love most of his books but it always surprises me how few people have read these are they are truly worth checking out if you are a fan.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
The Dead Sagas is a dark fantasy with horror elements. It’s dark, it’s scary, emotionally impacting. It’s full of fast paced action and intrigue. A Ritual of Bone kicks off what is shaping up to be a huge and epic story about an early medieval fantasy world struggling against the horrors of the risen dead. What can I compare it to? It has been described as Vikings vs The Walking Dead and is perhaps also an ideal book to fill a void left by a certain well known TV show which promised us a war of the dead but in many minds fell short on the undead action. The Dead Sagas will not disappoint in this regard and has a fresh new take on several established genres, one being dark fantasy, but notably its blend with Zombie-horror. It features the more traditional slow walking zombies, but also has terrifying running zombie-ghouls and also a dark, menacing evil paranormal element – All with a twist. If you like the sound of an action-packed medieval zombie horror fantasy epic, please do check out The Dead Sagas. Volume one is entitled A Ritual of Bone.
Fantastic! Thanks again for joining us, Lee, and good luck with book two!
Lee C. Conley is the author of A RITUAL OF BONE (Dead Sagas #1), available now.