Interview with Matthew Ward (LEGACY OF ASH)
Matthew Ward is a writer, cat-servant and owner of more musical instruments than he can actually play (and considerably more than he can play well). He’s afflicted with an obsession for old places – castles, historic cities and the London Underground chief amongst them – and should probably cultivate more interests to help expand out his author biography.
After a decade serving as a principal architect for Games Workshop’s Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 properties, Matthew embarked on an adventure to tell stories set in worlds of his own design. He lives near Nottingham with his extremely patient wife – as well as a pride of attention-seeking cats – and writes to entertain anyone who feels there’s not enough magic in the world.
Thank you Matthew for giving me the opportunity to have a chat with you.
Firstly, congratulations on your new release! How does it feel to have Legacy of Ash out there in bookshops across the world?
Like so many achievements it’s both wonderfully aggrandising and incredibly humbling. I think it’s always going to feel that way. It’s something so few folk get to experience, and certainly something I’ve had doubts about ever seeing.
So, could you tell us a bit about your novel? What can readers expect?
Legacy of Ash is a character-driven epic fantasy, driven by moments of darkness and acts of heroism (not always from different characters.) Grand battles, magic, dreadful deeds, meddling gods … but mostly its about the people caught up in tumultuous times.
The story’s all about a new generation looking at the world they’ve inherited and deciding how to move forward. Whether they should heal the wounds of the past or double down. With the Tressian Republic on the brink of war, and fresh upheaval looming between its counties, there are no right answers and a lot of brutal choices to be made.
Who were your favourite characters to write and why? My personal favourites were Viktor, Anastacia, and Kurkas. The first two were so powerful, and the latter made me laugh on several occasions!
I love my secondary characters. I’ve always loved secondary characters. (Favourite Star Wars characters? Wedge Antilles and Lando Calrissian. Favourite Ghostbuster? Winston Zeddemore, and so on.) Ana and Kurkas are great fun because they get to say what we’re all thinking – often without thought to the consequences. For those with more serious story arcs, I love Sevaka Kiradin and Revekah Halvor for the decisions they make, and why.
One of the things I appreciated most about your book was the level of world building and fantastical elements you included, such as the Simarka and Kraikons. Could you explain a bit about your world building process please? What sparked your imagination?
I grew up on Tolkien, so I’ve always seen a world as a product of language and history – those little echoes and fragments that shape us long after the reason has been forgotten.
In the case of Aradane (the world of Legacy of Ash) it all begins with the gods – what they stand for, how they manifest and how they’re worshipped. Even though those gods have long since been forgotten, they shape everything – the history most of all. You build those foundations right, and you get to a point where you’re no longer creating a world, but remembering it.
And what are some of your other favourite fantastical creatures/monsters?
I love what we might call ‘gothic’ monsters – the sort that owe collective lineage to the forests and rivers of Eastern Europe. Vampires, rusalki, werewolves … the perils that watch the world of lights and machinery from mountaintop, river and forest. The old world clinging on amid the new.
The battle sequences in your book were outstanding, they were full of tension and incredibly entertaining; were they as exciting to write and plan out as they were to read?
Honestly, I find battle scenes draining. I learnt from reading the best (Bernard Cornwell, Timothy Zahn), and try to keep them as filmic and visual as I can without losing track of the characters – who are, after all, the reason we care. It makes for a precision machine whose cogs have to turn ‘just so’ if you want the narrative and emotional beats to land as you want. The larger the battle, the more moving parts. So yes, draining – but it’s worth it when they come together.
I recently discovered that before Legacy of Ash, you had written quite a few other fantasy novels, including a few set in the Tressian Republic (which sounds awesome by the way!) Have you always known you wanted to write in the fantasy genre? Which fantasy books would you say have influenced you the most?
I find fantasy more freeing than other genres – the only rules are those you set for yourself. Even when writing in broadly science fiction settings (which I’ve done in various forms over the years) I get drawn back to the more fantastical elements. As far as influence goes (and Tolkien’s works aside) mention should be given to Jonathan Strange & Mister Norrell by Susanna Clarke for kicking my brain into gear.
What piece of advice have you found the most useful (or even least useful) during the writing process?
Oh, there’s so much terrible writing advice out there! Most of it’s awful because it’s merely the adviser expressing regret over something they used to do that didn’t get the results they wanted. Problem is, every book, every writer, every publisher etc. is different. What works for you invariably won’t work for someone else – or at least, not in the same way – because they’re not writing the same story as you, and they’re not doing it the same way for the same purpose. That’s not to say that you can’t learn even from bad advice, but figuring out how to apply it to your own circumstances is a learning curve in itself.
The best advice I’ve ever been given is to write something I wanted to read – something I’d a passion for scribbling down. Not just because it transcended the trap most advice falls into, but because it means that, if nothing else, you’ll have a book you can be proud of at the end.
I completely agree.
We live in a time where a lot of fantasy books are now being adapted. If your book was to be adapted would you prefer it to be a television series or a film, and who would you ideally cast for the main characters?
I used to do this for fun whenever I finished a book. Problem is, I watch less and less television and many of my favourite actors are (sadly) no longer with us. Still, I’ll have a go: Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) would make a wonderful Viktor. Aaron Tayler-Johnson and Emma Watson as Josiri and Calenne Trelan. Eva Green (Penny Dreadful) as Anastacia. And there’s a small role buried away for Mark Strong, but I’ll let readers work out which that is. The Raven, sadly, could never be anyone other than the late John Hurt…
Oh, John Hurt would have been perfect! And I definitely see Emma Watson as Calenne.
Whilst we’re on the subject of adaptations are there any upcoming ones you are looking forward to?
Nothing that springs to mind. I read very little and watch less TV, so I’m a tough crowd as far as that goes. I’m looking forward to Disney+ finally landing in the UK so I can watch The Mandalorian (I and three sheep living on the Derbyshire hillside seem to be the only ones who didn’t pirate it, and spoilers have been hard to avoid, alas).
It seems to be a general consensus that people LOVE the ending of Legacy of Ash. If you can tell us without spoiling too much, was this ending something you had planned from the beginning or did it naturally evolve from the writing process?
Unusually for me, the ending was pretty much the only thing I was certain of. At least, so far as it relates to the main characters (plenty of the folk who now feel indispensable forced their way into the story and refused to leave). The start? I had a completely different plan for that about three years ago, but the ending and all it entails? Nailed on from the beginning.
And lastly, what can readers expect to see in your sequel? (Come on spill some secrets, we won’t tell anyone!)
More of what readers have loved, going by the reviews for Legacy of Ash. Expanded roles for some of the more popular characters, higher stakes, heartbreak and (my favourite part), we get to see more of the gods. It’s going to be grand.
We can’t wait! Thank you for your time Matthew! The paperback of Legacy of Ash will be released April 9th 2020, you can preorder a copy here.