Author Spotlight – Tej Turner (BLOODSWORN)
Tej Turner is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. His debut novel The Janus Cycle was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and its sequel Dinnusos Rises was released in 2017. Both of them were described as ‘gritty and surreal urban fantasy’. He has also had short stories published in various anthologies.
Tej Turner has spent much of his life on the move and does not have any particular place he calls ‘home’. For a large period of his childhood, he dwelt within the Westcountry of England, and he then moved to rural Wales to study Creative Writing and Film at Trinity College in Carmarthen, followed by a master’s degree at The University of Wales Lampeter.
After completing his studies, he moved to Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day and writes by moonlight. He is also an intermittent traveller who every now and then straps on a backpack and flies off to another part of the world to go on an adventure. So far, he has clocked two years in Asia and a year in South America. He hopes to go on more and has his sights set on Central America next. When he travels, he takes a particular interest in historic sites, jungles, wildlife, native cultures, and mountains. He also spent some time volunteering at the Merazonia Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ecuador, a place he hopes to return to someday.
Welcome to the Hive, Tej! Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your work?
I write from two quite different places within the spectrum of SSF subgenres.
The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises are an urban fantasy duology. They are contemporary and take place in a more surreal version of our world. The writing style is first-person, and many of the events which happened to the characters were inspired by my youth, so they have elements of memoir.
Whereas Bloodsworn (my new venture) is the first instalment of a medieval epic fantasy series and takes place in an imaginary second world I created.
Despite these differences, there are some similarities between the two projects. They are both quite gritty and dark. They both feature characters who are coming of age but are (due to misfortunate circumstances) somewhat older than their years. My stories often focus on the underdogs of society, and I do not hold back when it comes to depicting the struggles such people face (because to do so would be dishonest about how the world works) but I like also to find ways for them to better their circumstances or become empowered whilst still keeping their authenticity.
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 think I would be a Druid. I am outdoorsy. When I go abroad (either for a holiday or a longer trip) I am much more likely to go on a long series of forays through the wilderness or visit a place of historical interest than stay in a swanky hotel, eat at fancy restaurants, or laze on a beach. I am also, like Druids are known for, fascinated by history and folklore. They are subjects I study in my spare time.
If I am a Druid, I guess a staff would probably be the most fitting. And I do actually own a real-life staff, believe it or not.
When you’re not trawling through dungeons, how do you like to work? (For example, in silence, with music, or serenaded by the damned souls of a thousand dead shrimps? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Intense planner or is your system more organic?) Tell us a little bit about your writing method!
I use a mixture of planning and intuition. My writing tends to be mostly character-driven, so I almost always know what kind of journey each of them will take during their time in my narrative – the pivotal events which shape them – but, once that structure is in place, I often fill in the smaller details as I go. I do occasionally make more detailed plans, and sometimes it works out, but just as often I will end up changing it the moment I reach that given point anyway.
This practice was slightly different for my two urban fantasy novels (The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises). Both of them began as short stories, and they just kept growing and growing. I didn’t even write them chronologically. They were intermittent projects that I fluttered in and out of. Every now and then (between writing other novels/stories) I was suddenly struck by a stroke of inspiration and felt compelled to return to them, and they just seemed to write themselves. It was quite a weird experience because I often found myself adding in details which made no sense to me at the time, but later on down the line it all came together perfectly and made sense. At the risk of sounding a bit pretentious, I almost felt like I was ‘channelling’ something.
As for the actual physicality of it; I often listen to instrumental music whilst writing. Nothing too loud or distracting. And I write by hand as little as possible (if you ever see my handwriting you will understand why). Even from the first draft, everything I do is typed.
One practice I do use (which may sound a bit unusual, but it is one I would recommend other writers to try if they are still finding their feet) is that once I have a first draft finished; I print it out, grab a red pen, and go through it. If I see anything which doesn’t feel right, I scribble it out and write a note in the margin about how to make it better. I am brutal, and will often massacre entire paragraphs and restructure entire pages.
Once I have finished, the pages are often covered in red marks. I then open up a new Word document and write the entire chapter again from scratch, using my annotated print-out of the first draft as notes.
This is how I create my second drafts. From there, all future refining is done on screen.
Your new novel Bloodsworn, due for release in January 2021, is a dark fantasy set in a euro-centric secondary world. In comparison to your urban fantasy duology starting with The Janus Cycle, how was it moving away from that genre? Were there any particular challenges you faced?
I actually started writing Bloodsworn before those two novels. Bloodsworn was the first novel I ever began (in my adult years, at least), but it has gone through extensive redrafts in the time since then.
I am glad that it is being published now – rather than an earlier date – because that gave me the time I needed to perfect it.
I think this was the main challenge I faced with this project; knowing exactly when it was ready.
As writers, we are always honing our skills. That first novel you begin can be tricky. For many of us, the narrative will be one we have put a huge amount of thought into – because we have spent so many years in our imaginations, shaping the story, characters, and world, before we put pen to paper – but sometimes we haven’t perfected our technique enough to do that story (which we have thought out so well) justice.
If there is one piece of advice I would give to aspiring authors out there it is this: with your first novel, you are still learning how to write. Once it is done, put it aside for at least a year before you consider it as being anywhere near polished enough for publication. You will probably pick it up after that and (with newly-improved skills) have a much better idea of how to tell your story.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences?
Too many to give this answer justice, but I will give it a try…
My parents started it off. Some of my earliest memories were them reading the Chronicles of Narnia to me. That kindled my imagination, and from there, I discovered Tamora Pierce at my village library. I read almost everything I could get my hands on back then but she was my favourite author for quite some years until I progressed to adult fiction.
After that, some of my favourite authors have been Jeanette Winterson, Maggie Furey, Tanith Lee, Storm Constantine, Freda Warrington, Charles de Lint, Peter V Brett, and Juliet Marillier.
Are there any writers or creators whom you’d love to collaborate with?
There is not a particular name which comes to mind (or maybe I just don’t want to put anyone on the spot 😉) but something I would be very open to doing sometime (if I found a willing artist) is a graphic novel. I grew up watching anime and I love manga too, so it is a medium I love. I lack any drawing skills whatsoever though.
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?
On days I don’t want to write, I will usually edit. Or, failing that, I will watch documentaries about history and mythology and tell myself it is ‘inspiration’ (it probably is, to be fair).
Bloodsworn has a beautiful Celtic-inspired cover. How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
The cover was designed by Alison Buck from Elsewhen Press. They consulted me before they began and the Celtic knotwork was their idea. I love Celtic knotwork, so I had no objections.
Because Bloodsworn does not have one singular main character but several, we (Elsewhen Press and I) collectively decided that each book should have one of them feature as the inspiration.
This first cover is inspired by Kyra, who is a great archer and huntress (hence the bow, arrow, rabbits and deer in the central motif).
The current plan is to keep to the same layout of Celtic knotwork for each book, but change the colour pallet and central design in the middle depending on which central character’s ‘turn’ it is to feature on the cover.
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?
I would go traipsing around the countryside somewhere. Or visit a historic site. I am a wanderer by nature. I have actually spent three years backpacking around Asia and South America (all documented on my travelblog on my website).
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Definitely NOT something with wings because I am scared of heights! I love horses, so probably a unicorn.
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
There are a LOT of great, underappreciated authors out there… I guess one book I would like to mention (because it really impressed me but I have not heard many others mention it) is Automatic Safe Dog by Jet McDonald. It was published by Eibonvale, who are one of my favourite Indie Presses. They tend to publish speculative fiction which is more on the literary side. Another author they publish (whose work I would highly recommend) is Douglas Thompson.
Finally, can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
By the time Elsewhen Press sent me an email saying they wanted to publish Bloodsworn I had actually (believe it or not) started yet ANOTHER (third) project.
This one is also based in a medieval second world, but with a twist: the planet is tidally locked (as in it doesn’t spin; one side is permanently day, and the other is permanently night) and the characters live in the belt in the middle of the planet where it is constantly twilight. This has required a lot of world-building, but I am very happy with what I have created, and the setting has helped to conjure quite a unique atmosphere.
Sounds quite different!
It is currently under the working-title “Children of the Gloom”. Once it is done, I will probably put it aside for a year or so (like I usually do with new projects) and refine it at a later time when I can look at it with a fresh perspective.
Whilst Children of the Gloom is in hiatus, I will continue with the Avatars of Ruin series (the sequels to Bloodsworn). I actually finished a draft of Book 2 a couple of years ago so I already have a head start. That one is going to be called, “Blood Legacy” and I will pick it up soon and start redrafting it until it is ready to send off to Elsewhen Press.
Thank you so much for joining us today Tej, and good luck with the release of your new series!
BLOODSWORN is due for release January 2021; find out more HERE.