Post-SPFBO 2019 Finalist Interview: Rob J. Hayes
Rob J. Hayes was born somewhere south of the cockney wastelands in a small town called Basingstoke.After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey, Rob ran away to live on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.
Hey Rob, thanks for doing this!
Congratulations on your strong SPFBO 5 finish! With a score of 7.70 out of 10, your book shares fifth place with Kalanon’s Rising – are you pleased with Never Die’s showing in the contest?
Thank you! I am very happy with how Never Die fared. I wrote the book to be a bit of fun, a love letter to martial art films and anime, so for it to have reached the finals of the SPFBO is WAY more than I ever imagined for it.
Having read winner M. L. Wang’s blog post, The Real SPFBO was the Friends We Made Along the Way, it seems that all you finalists bonded over the five long months it took us judges to pretend to read your books and arbitrarily review each and every one of them. We’re all, collectively, going through some hard times right now – has this group of authors lightened some of that burden? More importantly, have you and M. L. Wang come up with a collaboration that will feature yet another Whispering Blade?
It has. We have an awesome group and all 10 of us get on really well. It’s good to have a group of peers you can run to and share with and commiserate… and occasionally moan to. Having that point of connection is even more important at the moment when human interaction is at something of a premium.
No new Whispering Blades, but I wouldn’t put it past Miracle to fit an even cooler Iron Gut into her next story.
When I read Never Die around its release date, I recall being impressed not just by the colourful cast of characters but also by how cinematic its action sequences were. I wasn’t alone in comparing your novel to an adrenaline-fueled anime script – but what would you define as its greatest single strength?
I think overall the interactions between the characters (the banter) are what resonates with most readers. For me though, it’s the ending. It’s probably the most explosive ending I’ve ever written and I think it really sticks the landing.
Outside of SPFBO, you’re soon coming to the end of what’s been an insane release schedule of your latest trilogy, The War Eternal. Along the Razor’s Edge was an excellent opening chapter – how do you feel about its reception, critically and in terms of sales?
It’s been a really positive experience overall. Sales have been pretty fantastic. It’s probably the best launch I’ve had since my debut trilogy back in 2013, and the world (and Zon) was a very different place back then. Critically, I’m also more than happy with how it’s done. I always knew it wouldn’t be a series everyone would get on with, but I think more people are liking it than hating it and that’s always a good thing in my eyes.
Your latest post goes in-depth in your struggles with the follow-up of Razor’s Edge, The Lessons Never Learned. As someone who shares in those fears of having lost it often enough, I wanted to thank you for being so open with your own struggles. You made the point that the title was somewhat ironic, as you “learned more while writing this book than any other before or since.” Could you share with the readers the most valuable lesson you came away with?
I think the most valuable lesson was that if I’m struggling with a book, if an idea I have starts not working, it might not be the book that’s the problem. It might be me. That first version of book 2 was terrible because I was in a terrible place emotionally and it translated into the words I was trying to force onto the page. It wasn’t until I realised that and dealt with some of the issues of my real life, that I was able to go back to writing the series. It was a harsh lesson to learn, but so damned valuable that it continues paying dividends.
That last question was… a lot. Let’s get back to basics. If anyone reading this isn’t familiar with your work, which novel would you have them start with?
That’s always a tough question as all my books are very different to each other, but I will always say start with my latest work. Along the Razor’s Edge and the whole The War Eternal trilogy are the best stuff I’ve written so far (in my eyes), so there’s no better place to start. Unless you want some samurai and sword fights, in which case start with Never Die. Or if you want pirates and vulgarity, start with Where Loyalties Lie. Or if you want witch hunters and heresy, start with The Heresy Within… I’ll stop there.
Before we close this off, I’m going to put you on the spot – which SPFBO finalist’s novel will you point them to, excepting your own?
Well… The Sword of Kaigen by M.L. Wang won the contest and is fantastic! There’s no better place to start than there.
Thank you for doing this, Rob – it’s always so much fun picking your brain. I’m eager to see what comes next after Eska’s spectacular Gods-defying adventures.