Author Spotlight – Stephen Aryan
Stephen Aryan is originally from the North East of England but now live in the West Midlands with his partner and two cats. When he’s not writing novels Stephen is usually working in the woods, pretending to be a forest ranger, or you can find him reading comics, drinking real ale and watching genre TV.
He is the author of the Age of Darkness trilogy (Battlemage, Bloodmage, Chaosmage) and the Age of Dread trilogy (Mageborn, Magefall, Magebane) from Orbit books.
Welcome back to the Hive, Stephen. Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I recently read The Ember Blade by Chris Wooding. It’s the first book in a new epic fantasy series and it was just a wonderful story that is incredibly well told. It was funny, surprising, exciting and as ever Wooding is excellent at creating interesting and three dimensional characters that you can’t help caring about. He’s particularly good at making sure all of the characters in the cast get a share of the spotlight. I highly recommend it.
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 normally be a wizard of some kind, but I think for a change I’m going to go with a holy paladin, a gloriously armoured tank of a man covered in plate mail carrying a huge broadsword. The sword has to be something with a really cool name and a long history that makes it special. And there has to be some kind of redemption to the character’s story. I like a good bit of redemption and holy smiting!
When you’re not smiting your way 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? D’you write in your underwear, or in a deep-sea diver’s suit?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
Normally I write with background music, always soundtracks with no lyrics, and I have a few favourites I dig out when I need to get my head into a particular space. Sometimes it’s hard to knuckle down and write and on those days the music acts as another part of my writing routine that tricks my brain, like Pavlov’s dog with the dinner bell! I always work in Word but I jot down bits and pieces on post its notes and in notebooks, but those always get typed up.
Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser?
Plotter. I tried doing a whole novel by the seat of my pants once. Never again. The final product was…not good. I plan the start, middle, end, and milestones. The really creative part for me comes from not knowing how I get between the milestones and there are little leaps of faith. So, a bit of both styles, but mostly structured. I set word counts when I write but that’s just my way of doing it to keep me moving, especially as I’ve always got one eye on the calendar and my deadline.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
Restricting it purely to fantasy – the biggest influence on my work is undoubtedly David Gemmell. Anyone who had read one of my books can see it. His style of storytelling focused on creating amazing characters that felt incredibly real and yet all of them were flawed. Long before anyone coined the phrase grimdark, he was doing it, creating worlds and characters that were shades of grey. There are definitely parallels between our styles. There are lots of other writers from my early days of reading fantasy who left their mark including C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Ursula Le Guin, Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman. There have been a lot of others since then but those are my earliest influences.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it? Alternatively, what games have you enjoyed recently?
I’ve just watched What We Do In the Shadows, but this is the TV series on BBC2 from FX, not the film. I loved the film, which is an utterly ridiculous and funny docu-drama comedy from the mind of Taika Waititi about a group of vampires living in modern day trying to cope with the 21st century. It’s hilarious and I love a really good comedy TV show.
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?
Assuming the weather is nice on this magical day I would spend it working outside in the woods. In the evening I’d chill by the fire with a cold beer and read a book. Alternatively I might just spend the whole day locked in a room for twelve hours with friends playing an epic game of the BattleStar Galactica board game with BSG music by Bear McCreary blasting away in the background to set the mood. Either is good.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I can’t tell you a lot other than it’s a story set in a totally new world. So it is completely different to my other books and is not connected. Also there isn’t a single wizard in sight! I also broke many of my own rules in the process of writing the first draft. I jumped around when working on the story. I wrote without any music at all in the background. All kinds of unexpected stuff happened. So that was weird and kind of terrifying.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
The most helpful advice I’ve ever received was to finish the book. It’s my go-to piece of advice when people ask. I believe that a lot changes when you actually crawl to the end of the first draft and finally finish the book. Some of them will be things you weren’t expecting. You may also have forgotten some of the details along the way and a reread can be surprising. Once the book is done you can stand back and look at it, squint and see what you were trying to do and then begin to make meaningful adjustments.
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?
Most of the time I just grind through. Some days the writing flows, other days it’s a real struggle. If I am having a really bad day or several days in a row, then I give myself a bit of time off to recharge. Even though every part of my brain is screaming at me to get back to work, the break can really help refill the tank.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I’d probably like to hop around to a few places to see the ancient wonders of the world when they were still pristine. So I’d hop over and see the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, then check out the pyramids of Giza just after they were built. Also because I’m a massive bookworm I would love to visit Library of Alexandria and just see how big it really was in person. I could get lost in the stacks for days!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
When We Were Animals by Joshua Gaylord. He’s published two books under a pen name, Alden Bell, that are amazing and I rave about all the time, but I think Animals is probably his best work to date. It’s kind of hard to describe because, like all of his work, it’s a mix of things and the story works on many layers. He has a way with words and phrasing unlike any author I’ve ever read before. It’s startling and exquisitely written.
Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle us with an elevator pitch? Why should readers check out your work?
A group of students join a wizarding school and find out it’s not all they expected it to be. Meanwhile a group of people are intent on destroying all magic in the world because they believe it is dangerous and responsible for recent destruction. They will do everything to achieve their goal, even if it means murdering every child born with the gift.
The Age of Dread trilogy kicks off with Mageborn, Magefall and wraps up this August with Magebane.
Brilliant! Thanks again for joining us, Stephen, and good luck with Magebane‘s launch!
Stephen Aryan is the author of the AGE OF DARKNESS trilogy as well as the AGE OF DREAD trilogy, book three of which – MAGEBANE – is available now.