Interview with Matthew Ward (LEGACY OF STEEL)
Today, Matthew Ward stops by the Hive on his blog tour for LEGACY OF STEEL – Book 2 of his Legacy Series. You can find out more about this epic sequel, which came out just this week, on Goodreads.
Be sure to check out the rest of Matthew’s blog tour, too!
Hi Matthew, welcome back to The Fantasy Hive!
Thanks for adding us to your illustrious list of train stops on your blog tour. We’re thrilled to have you back and look forward to pelting you with rotten questions! (Hopefully not rotten at all, but pelting you with ripe questions just didn’t sound right).
Firstly, congrats on the release of Legacy of Steel! How does it feel to have a sequel out in the world?
Honestly? A bit strange. I don’t think it’s ever going to stop feeling odd. It certainly shouldn’t. It takes a lot of work and a fair amount to luck to be in this position, and I don’t think anyone should ever take it for granted.
I confess, I’m a little bit isolated from the wonder of it all, due to the ongoing yo-yo lockdowns we’ve been having here in the UK … I haven’t yet quite had that moment of seeing one of my works on a bookshop shelf, but that’ll come in time, I’m sure.
Maybe that’ll make it more real? Might be.
The Lockdown(s) certainly aren’t making things easy. Hopefully soon we can all venture out once more and see copies of The Legacy Trilogy on bookshop shelves!
For newcomers to The Legacy Trilogy what can new readers expect to experience?
The Legacy Trilogy is about consequences – characters confronting the choices of the past and finding their true identities along the way. It’s about how we choose to define ourselves or allow others to do so for us, and the courage it takes to bridge the gap in-between.
It’s nice to see epic fantasy tackle such a key element of life. It’s definitely something we can all relate to, and of course it is always great fun watching (or reading) characters dig themselves out of the holes they dig. If they get out of them at all…
Could you, in as non-spoilery a way as possible, tell us what we can expect from Legacy of Steel?
Like every book in The Legacy Trilogy, the characters are dealing with the repercussions of old decisions. The difference is that this time a great many of those decisions were their own. No good deed goes unpunished, and no moment of selfishness goes unremarked.
As far as what that means in the specifics? War on a terrifying, world-altering scale. And all of our characters will be forced to re-examine who they are, what they want … and how far they’re prepared to go to achieve it.
‘War on a terrifying, world-altering scale’ SOLD!
In this new and strange age of lockdowns, guidelines and more lockdowns, the genre has seen blog tours replace the more traditional physical touring of book shops and conventions. How have you found the whole process? Do you think blog tours will become more common after the pandemic is behind us?
I’m still fairly new to all this, so I don’t really have a basis for comparison. I will say that one thing recent events have hammered home is the scope of what virtual events can replace, and what they can’t. I’d imagine we’ll continue to see a mix of in-person and remote events once the dust has settled (and it will), but it remains to be seen what the ratio will be.
Absolutely, one thing I’m really missing is interaction with my friends. I definitely took for granted how being among friends and family alleviates stress and worry. That said, through video calling I have spent much more time with my overseas friends and the outreach that can be achieved through virtual means cannot be ignored.
For me, Legacy of Ash was wonderfully nostalgic in all the right ways. I felt as if I was reading a classic epic fantasy that had somehow slipped me by and that made it all the more special. Did any favourite books influence your writing?
I can’t say that I set out with a ‘write this, but mine’ mindset. Direct inspiration comes on a much smaller scale. Character X, but if they were Y. Event A, but with outcome B, because C. Things like that.
At least, that’s where it starts. By the time I’m writing, they’ve long since become their own things.
Style-wise, on the other hand, I owe a lot to writers like Bernard Cornwell, Tolkien, Alistair MacLean and Timothy Zahn, for battles, world-building and characterisation respectively. But again, this is more about the detail of the craft, rather than the end product.
I also learned a lot from episodic, story-arc TV (Babylon 5, the Battlestar Galactica remake) and comic books. There are no finer tutors for getting to grips with multi-PoV, character-driven, well-foreshadowed stories.
A varied and impressive list from which draw upon. I love the idea of analysing comics to help strengthen fiction.
Did writing a sequel present any new challenges for you?
Most of the challenges were inherited from the first book. While the overall narrative for Legacy of Ash began and ended where I’d intended, the balance between the characters was a little different to the one I’d foreseen. Certain characters more or less demanded arcs (Rosa and Sevaka particularly), and as they’d originally been very minor characters in Legacy of Ash I needed to think about how best to build their stories into the one I had planned.
There are also a couple of big leaps into the fantastical in Legacy of Steel, and I’m always nervous when doing that. While there’s always a temptation in fantasy to handwave and blame ‘magic’, I like things to make sense … if only to me.
For me, seeing minor characters develop within the story and become integral cogs to the machine is one of the great pleasures of reading and writing. Conversely, I do find it pulls me straight out of a story (usually fantasy) if magic or some unexplained phenomena inexplicably solves, cures, or kills something/someone. So it sounds like Legacy of Steel is going to be right up my street!
In Legacy of Ash there is a large cast of characters and consequently results in a larger book (not a complaint, this is fantasy after all). Are the two things related or was the story always going to be a sprawling epic?
Mostly, I was feeling my way with it as I went along … A lot of it comes from me not wanting to have events reported when they could be seen. I think that plays out well, because if I’d been looking at cutting PoVs, Melanna would have been one of the first to go, as she’s effectively the antagonist for a huge tranche of the book and there’s an alternate universe out there where we don’t see into her head and the story proceeds just fine (if not in as nuanced a way).
On top of that, you have some characters that exist mostly to keep the reader from knowing what’s in another character’s head, like Marek. And then every character has to have their own little arc and a moment in which to carry their weight.
That runs the risk of it sounding a bit undisciplined, but it’s really the opposite. Character, choices and events have to matter, otherwise you’re better off getting out the pruning shears.
I was so impressed with how well the story flowed in Legacy of Ash. In my experience large cast multiple POV novels can sometimes become difficult to navigate. Or I find I can become attached to a character that has few chapters (I’m looking at you, Bran Stark).
I was also impressed with the depth and richness of your worldbuilding. The differences in culture between peoples and the way the new generation are fighting established traditions felt relatable and organic. I particularly loved when Melanna and her father, Saran, are first reunited; how their love for one another was the driving force behind their ambitions, but even though he was a king he could not simply flout the deep-seated patriarchal traditions of their culture for his daughter, and immediately I felt part of a subtle game long played to bring about change.
THAT was basically me fanboying a bit, so I suppose my question really is: did the worldbuilding come easy? Or was it a lengthy part of your process?
The worldbuilding for Legacy began twenty-odd years ago, if in much broader terms than is immediately useful for writing a novel. Big picture stuff, that’s not that present in Legacy of Ash (though more of it creeps in as we go through the trilogy).
The actual character choices (and the worldbuilding that coalesces to make those choices mean something) were happening moment by moment during the writing, depending on the needs of the story.
The Hadari, in particular, gained a lot of depth early on. While they’re antagonists, they’re not bad as such. They’re a mirror to Tressian society, in that gender equality is about the only thing Tressians get right. Their class system is hugely oppressive, they’re supremacist in outlook, and so on.
Conversely, the Hadari are much more egalitarian, but for that one wrinkle about how ‘only sons inherit crowns’. You see this clearest contrasted in Kai’s relationship with Melanna, and Ebigail’s with Sevaka. It distils down the different pressures of tradition, love and pride.
In the end, I think most of the worldbuilding comes out of the characters, more than the world itself. It’s how you know when something matters, or whether it even should.
That seems a very organic way for a story to grow. It must have been nice to have twenty odd years of ideas given life through your characters.
Some people may be interested to know we share the same agent, the great John Jarrold. A lot of aspiring writers will definitely be considering representation. Was your journey to representation a sprint or a marathon? Straightforward or did you have to negotiate some obstacles?
Funnily enough, I found my first rejection from John not so long ago (which was very kind and constructive, I should say). From there, I think it was about five years before he took me on as a client, and another year and a half or so before Orbit picked up the Legacy Trilogy.
So, longer than some, and quicker than others. I think that’s kind of the problem with publishing – especially when you try to explain it. It can take no time, or all the time. Everyone’s path is different. Legacy included, I think I’ve written 15 novels front to back, so I certainly put the hours in before I got here.
As for the rest, it’s like anything else … it’s that constant battle of ‘How old will I be in a year if I don’t learn to speak Minbari?’ i.e. am I putting in the right amount of effort, too much or not enough? What’s the right amount to keep progressing this skill without robbing from the rest of my life. I was fortunate in that I was able to keep plugging away at what I was doing, but for a lot of folk that’s simply not possible.
For all the finality of the end result ‘getting published’ is such a nebulous goal simply because there’s so much luck involved. Most of what you’re doing up to that point is getting better and better at what you do so that when your luck does break your way, you’re ready.
I love that you found representation in John Jarrold after having been rejected by him. When I speak to people seeking representation there is always that fear that rejection is the end of the line. I know John won’t mind me stealing one of his most often served pieces of advice – ‘In publishing there are NO absolutes’. Congratulations to both you and John on the publication of your trilogy!
And finally, if you could include any character from any book, film or game, into The Legacy Trilogy, who would it be, and why?
Is it wrong that I don’t really have an answer to that?
For me, crossovers are either things that belong together, hand in glove (Justice League and The Avengers), or they’re so different that it’s handled in a very tongue-in-cheek way (the cast of Archer gatecrashing the Our Man Bashir episode of Deep Space Nine … Hey, I can dream.)
That being the case, there’s just not really someone I’d want to bring across into Aradane, because I’d rather just make my own character and have done.
Now, if we’re talking about bringing characters across from other stories I’ve written? Well, that’s different …
Well now I’m intrigued!
Thank you for taking the time to answer my questions. I realise many of them lean towards writing but that is one of the aspects of reading that I love. And I’m sure many people dropping by to read this will find your answers as fascinating as I have. Best of luck with the blog tour and we hope you will come back to The Hive when book three is released.
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.