Author Spotlight – G. D. Penman (DUNGEONS OF STRATA)
G. D. Penman is the author of the Witch of Empire trilogy, Dungeons of Strata, and many other books.
Before finally realising that the career’s advisor lied to him about making a living as an author, G. D. Penman worked as a tabletop game designer, as the VIP Manager of a national telecoms company and literally every awful demeaning job that you can think of in-between.
He is a veteran of the battlefields of Azeroth, The Northern Realms, Lordran, Tamriel and Thedas, but he left his heart in Baldur’s Gate.
Nowadays he is fulfilling his destiny as a fat, bearded man by writing fantasy novels and smoking a pipe.
He lives in Dundee, Scotland with his wife, children, dog and cats. Just… so many cats.
Let’s start small: tell us about a great book you’ve read recently!
I just finished reading Spiderlight. I think Adrian Tchiakovsky’s standalone fantasy quest books are probably the best in the business, and this one was no exception. His inhuman protagonists are another big selling point, and boy did this one deliver with Nth, the giant spider made into human form. Extremely satisfying!
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?
From my buff physique you might assume I’d be a warrior. From my impressive beard and knowledge of many obscure things you might assume I’d be a wizard. But no, I would be the most vital of character classes; the bard.
A warrior might solve the problem of the goblin in front of you, but when the time comes to lay low the Dragon Queen of the Netherflight, it is always some conflicted half-dragon that gets brought in to resist the call of their blood and save mankind. Same deal with half-demons, half-abominations, you name it.
Without bards like me running around seducing monsters, where do you think this never-ending supply of mixed-species kids are going to keep springing up from? You think the paladin is going to take one for the team? I think not!
I’m opting not to answer the weapon of choice question, as the implication of what I’ve been using to slay monsters all this time should be more than enough.
It always comes back to dragon laying with you…
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Why?
In the good old days I used to hand-write my books in a seemingly endless supply of reporters notepads, then type them up when I got home from work – giving the raw copy a little tidy up and edit as I went – but nowadays my raw copy is a little bit less… raw and I can just clack away on the computer.
I did try to write by hand again recently and I made it about two hundred words before my hand started to cramp up. Civilisation has made me soft and complacent, when the next generation of barbarous fantasy writers come sweeping down from the highlands, they will wash me away like a doodle on a beach.
And how do you like to work – in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps?
Silence is my usual preference, but when I need to drown out the sounds of the damned shrimp or my damned children, I resort to music. As long as singing is in a language that I can’t speak it is fine, but the moment that I start parsing the meaning of lyrics some old transcribers instinct kicks in and I inadvertently start typing the words I’m hearing. Jazz, classical and ambient music all do the trick. As does Mongolian Metal.
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 am a gardening plotter, and if you want to find out what I’m wearing you could at least buy me a drink first.
By necessity due to the amount of projects I have on the go, I need to outline my work. I don’t have time to wait around for inspiration to strike. I’ve got to whack the books into shape myself without any divine intervention.
With that said, I try to leave myself a little bit of wiggle room within my outlines in case anything particularly interesting happens to pop up as I’m going. I tend to let the characters steer the plot, and while they’ll normally follow the route I’ve planned for them, it sometimes helps to give them a little room to manoeuvre.
Sully does come across as the kind of character who would take control!
What are your most significant non-book fantasy influences?
That game with the dungeons and the dragons certainly had an effect on me, although I didn’t actually play it for a great many years; there are just so many other tabletop games out there! I played a lot of wargames and boardgames in my day too. Current favourites are Mysterium, Scythe and Tsuro.
I love video games, and have been playing all of the fantasy ones since Gauntlet, Ghouls and Goblins and the original Warcraft were on the go. That then proceeded to MMO beta testing, action RPGs and a solid decade of replaying my dearly beloved Baldur’s Gate. Through lockdown I’ve been playing Animal Crossing, which lets me fulfil the truly out-there fantasies of going outside, owning a home and having neighbours that I want to talk to.
What was the last thing you watched on TV and why did you choose to watch it?
I watch a lot of cooking videos on YouTube, although not by choice. The family put them on and wait for inspiration to strike so that they can have fancy snacks. As for stuff I choose to watch; I tried to rewatch Evangelion, then realised it was less about giant robots and all about depression. I have enough of that in my life.
It all kind of blends. I tend to have TV on in the background rather than paying close attention, unless it is some complex twisty plotted show. I probably last watched some trashy reality fashion show, I’m doing some research for an upcoming project, and I’m a messy bitch who lives for the drama.
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?
Having a panic attack about not being able to work for a whole day.
I’m actually having weekends inflicted on me at the moment by my family, just to curb the slight workaholic tendencies I’m starting to display.
I usually end up cooking something elaborate, catching up on some reading, pandering to the whims of my devious spawn… nothing too exciting. I was a bit of a homebody before a global pandemic trapped us all indoors so not much has changed except the dog gets a shorter walk.
If you could choose one punctuation mark to be made illegal, which would it be and why?
Parentheses can all go die in a fire. If you have something to say, you either have the courage to say it in the main text or delete it. Terry Pratchett was allowed to use them because he understood the joke. You are no Terry Pratchett.
Footnotes are on thin ice too.
In no more than three sentences, tell us a little something about your current work in progress!
Since I have three works in progress, you get a sentence for each:
Fashion school competitors trade abstract aspects of themselves on the goblin market for unearthly materials to work with.
Newborn immortals race to reforge the only weapon capable of defeating the Void God who once destroyed their new world.
Learning to master the shades that possess her brings a common girl to the highest courts in the kingdom, and leads her into a war with all who seek to tear the Twin Kings from their throne.
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 write a big sprawling portal fantasy style LitRPG with Luke Chmilenko! Or a big sprawling dragon-war epic fantasy with David Estes! Or a dark fantasy monster hunter trilogy with Bryce O’Connor!
I keep talking to a couple of writing buddies of mine about doing some goofy dungeon stuff with them too, and honestly I can’t think of anything I’d enjoy doing more than banging out our weird ideas someday.
What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?
All writing advice is useless.
Everyone works differently, so accept that your work isn’t going to be like anyone else’s and then lean into that. The things that make you different are the things that make you special. Some writing ideas are going to be more commercial than others but that doesn’t make them better, it just means they appeal to a broader audience. Most people can’t appreciate fine wine, that doesn’t mean the wine is bad, just that not everyone has the taste required to appreciate it.
If you could visit any country at any point in history, where/when would you go, and why?
I am a history fiend, so you are presenting me with a completely impossible question here. For places I’d like to visit; Japan, Mongolia, New Orleans, Greenland, India, Thailand, New Zealand, Brasil… you know what. Everywhere. I want to go everywhere.
Oh wait, I’ve got to go to 1920s New York to get my film noir fix. Then maybe I can finally stomp out the urge to write hardboiled detective mysteries all the time.
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?
This is my full-time job. If I don’t write, my family doesn’t eat. You’d be surprised how effective the threat of death by capitalism is in getting you to churn out the work.
That said, sometimes you just need to be gentle with yourself. Accept that not every day is going to be a five thousand word day, and that the days when things go slow are balanced by the days when your fingers can’t keep up with the blazing speed of your amazing brain.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Poppy Z. Brite wrote some of the best horror in the 80s, foundational to the splatter-punk movement and those books have been basically forgotten by the larger world. Shame on you all.
For fantasy books, The Seventh Bride by T Kingfisher is the best modern fairy-tale I’ve ever read, Tigana is the best Guy Gavriel Kay book, which is saying something, and Madeline Miller’s Song of Achilles is grossly overlooked compared to her more popular Circe while being such a good book that I go back and read lines from it just to have a good sob occasionally.
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!
Ugh. I hate doing blurbs.
Get on with it.
The Witch of Empire trilogy is an alt-history, hardboiled mystery urban fantasy story following a furious lesbian-witch-detective as she navigates having a parrot for a boss, demons, crop-circles, a vampire lover, the machinations of the British Empire, Atlantis, body-hopping serial killers, number stations, more demons and, eventually, war.
The Deepest Dungeon Trilogy is a fantasy LitRPG following the Iron Riot guild as they venture out to try to defeat the hundred floor mega-dungeons of Strata and win their place in gaming history. Playing a VR game that blurs the line between fantasy and reality the deeper that you get.
Thank you so much for joining us today! Good luck with the release of The Wounded Ones, Book 2 of The Witch of Empire trilogy which is out on June 23rd.