Interview with GR Matthews (Seven Deaths of an Empire)
G. R. Matthews began reading in the cot. His mother, at her wits end with the constant noise and unceasing activity, would plop him down on the soft mattress with an encyclopaedia full of pictures then quietly slip from the room. Growing up, he spent Sunday afternoons on the sofa watching westerns and Bond movies after suffering the dual horror of the sounds of ABBA and the hoover (Vacuum cleaner) drifting up the stairs to wake him in the morning. When not watching the six-gun heroes or spies being out-acted by their own eyebrows he devoured books like a hungry wolf in the dead of winter. Beginning with Patrick Moore and Arthur C Clarke he soon moved on to Isaac Asimov. However, one wet afternoon in a book shop in his hometown, not far from the standing stones of Avebury, he picked up the Pawn of Prophecy and started to read – and soon Sci-Fi gave way to Fantasy.
You can follow him on twitter @G_R_Matthews or visit his website.
GR Matthews has two series and a few short works out in the wild that have been self-published. Now his first traditional published book with Rebellion Publishing is on its way! Seven Deaths of an Empire will be out on 22 June in the US and 24 June 2021 in the UK.
Hello and Welcome to The Hive Geoff!
As one of your very first fans, let me start by congratulating on the amazing book news!
Thank you! I am, as you know, looking forward to this immensely – with equal doses of fear and excitement. It has been a long road to travel – but a journey I’m glad I’ve been on.
For a start tell us a bit about yourself please!
I was born on a farm, orphaned at a young age, and grew to be the greatest sorcerer in all the lands, eventually defeating the Gods and taking my place as ruler of the new pantheon.
Or, rather more realistically, I grew up in a small village in Wiltshire, surrounded by chalk hills with White Horses carved upon them, amongst the barrows and hillforts, with the stone circle of Avebury a little to the south and not too far from Silbury Hill. A career as a fantasy author was destined clearly.
I now live in Kent where I teach teenagers, and try desperately to keep up with the latest slang, and getting irritated with every new craze which Tik-Tok serves up to them in thirty second chunks of entertainment. My own family allow me enough time to play computer games (though I’ve lost my tower PC to my 14 year old) and to write.
And I play and GM RPGs a lot too… a regular Saturday morning group which has just finished a long “The One Ring” Campaign, and moved on to Alien (we’re all going to scream and die – we may even be heard(update: I was the lone survivor)), and another group of friends where we play Adventures in Middle Earth, Star Trek, Lost Lands, and City of Mist. I really miss our local Game Cafe being open (Playopolis, Rochester) – as good as Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 are, in person is by far the best!
And next obviously about the upcoming book… What is it about?
Seven Deaths of an Empire is about loyalty, honour, and duty, and the sacrifices you will make to stay true to your ideals. It is also about double-dealing, assassins, magic, battles, and conquest.
Each death, and there are more than seven, but the book and plot hinges upon those seven “important” deaths, moves the story closer and closer to a conclusion. Each changes the story, the plot, each reveals something more about the world and the politics. Each death teaches the characters something new about themselves, about how they grow as a person, and how inflexible they are.
Mostly though, it is about magic, battles, stabbings, and poisonings.
Bordan is the aged General coping with the death of the Emperor (that’s not a spoiler, but it is “death one” from where you start counting) and keeping the Empire together as nobles try to gain the upper-hand.
Kyron is the Apprentice Magician, the callow arrogance and ignorance of youth, who joins his Master on the journey back to the capital city to deliver the Emperor’s body and ensure the succession of the heir to the throne.
It doesn’t go smoothly.
Here’s a little YouTube trailer to set the tone.
How did you snag a publisher for it?
Snag? Probably the truest word in a very long story.
My editor, Kate Coe, actually accepted a book from me years ago, she reminded me recently, at BristolCon before she went to work for Rebellion/Solaris. She read it (Silent City, Corin Hayes book 1) and didn’t hate it. Which was a good start.
So, years of writing books later and trying to get an agent (my agent, Jamie Cowen, always got back to be with tweaks and good advice even when rejecting my manuscripts), I entered a PitMad thing on twitter. I put four books up, three of them were finished and the fourth was totally on spec and had only about 20k written, but I had a plan and synopsis already written. Sure they would A. Choose none or B. Choose one of those I’d actually finished. They chose option C – the book I’d barely started – “Sh*t” was my first thought, followed by a “Yay”, and then a “what have I done?”
So, anyway, they chose Seven Deaths of an Empire. I sent the first 10K in (after some fine folks in the Fantasy-Faction SPFBO Judges group had had a quick look over it), took some advice from Adrian Selby on how to improve the synopsis, and the knuckled down to writing the next 60k… which, of course, turned into writing the next 140k of the book.
Kate got back to me, just as I collapsed after writing the first draft. Sometimes, publishing being a slow business (followed by short bursts of manic energy and deadlines) works for you.
“Can you send the finished manuscript?”
“Erm… I’ve got a first draft?”
“OK, send that and we’ll look.”
Which I did, and they did, and they offered me a contract – I received the email while in Playopolis, playing games… you see why this Game Cafe has a place in my heart.
Next step, agent… Jamie, help!!
Which is the basics of how it went – give or take a few manuscripts, soul searching, dark nights, glasses of wine, and worn out keyboards.
It really did take years to get to this stage, and it is all the little things over those years which made a difference – to my writing, to being involved in the fantasy community online and at an event or two, to being part of Fantasy-Faction.
It hasn’t been luck, though there have been a few dashes of that on the way, it has been hard work and a lot of taking chances, taking every opportunity which came up, and seeing where it led (quite often into a brick wall, but you stand up, dust yourself down, and try again).
If you lived in ancient Rome, what would you go to see first? Would you stab someone or be stabbed? Or just relax in a nice bath while eating grapes?
If I lived in Ancient Rome I think I’d quite like to be a Philosopher or an Explorer. Have the time to sit and think, to experience and try to make sense of the world around us – it would probably help to be wealthy too. I suppose it isn’t too different to my job as a teacher – though there is little time to think, or relax, or ponder, so actually nothing like it.
I am certainly against the whole stab or be stabbed idea… though if pushed, I much rather be the stabber than the stabbed.
Eating grapes is fine, but crushing them and fermenting into wine is a much more refined method of consumption (and still one of your five a day as a work colleague often tells me).
As you already have quite a backlist of self published books, there’s one obvious question: How different was the whole pre-launch workload from your self published books to this one?
A good question, to which I probably don’t have a really good answer. What I can say is that, for me, there are a lot more stages and people to work with. There is a team of folks all coordinating books, editing, art work and on and on. There’s something comforting about all these people caring and helping, and that’s a change from being self-sufficient or a very small team (of two).
The biggest difference as we get closer to launch is in marketing and publicity. This is traditionally the bit I’m terrible at – but the team at Rebellion (Hanna and Rosie) have been amazing and always ready to help! Having books on Netgalley, having reviews coming in all the time (and good ones at that), is very different from my self-publishing forays!
I am lucky enough to have read all of your books so far, so I know the tone and style between your series differ widely. How difficult is it to switch between your more complex and grimmer series, and your sarcastic but fun series Corin Hayes?
Ah, Corin… I could write him forever because it is just so much fun to inhabit his head – a cross between Deadpool and Jack Reacher (with no healing factor or real fighting skill, but a stubborn streak a mile wide).
The difficult part of switching between the styles is recognising the voice I want to use. I’ve tried, from the Forbidden List, to Corin, to Seven Deaths, and some other books inbetween, to develop the voice until I understand it and absorb it into me. You can definitely see that by reading the first three Corin Hayes books – how the character stays the same, but the voice gets clearer and stronger.
Seven Deaths of an Empire is different still, and to make my life easier harder I decided to tell the story from the point of view of a teenage boy (and after 22 years of working with them, I’ve tried to do them justice; the misplaced arrogance, the fragile self-image, the struggle to find an identity) and an old man who has seen it all and survived it.
Who was your favourite character, and who was hardest to write in Seven Deaths of an Empire?
I loved writing Bordan for the world-weariness mixed with the drive to always do the right thing. Kyron grows as the book goes on, and having him exposed to the wider-world and understand the impact of his decisions was definitely interesting. And Emlyn was just a joy – her teasing, her bluntness – was a great counter-point to the characters around her. And Vedrix too… so many!
Do you have a book you read recently you’d definitely recommend to us?
I read Anna by Sammy HK Smith and that was a fantastic, harrowing experience. It drags every emotion to the surface and confronts you with the reality of situations – I think a lot of people will love it, understand it, and be affected by it.
The Quantum Magician by Derek Kunsen was so clever. A SciFi book about faster than light travel and people who have been bioengineered to understand the quantum world, or to worship humans as Gods. There is a darkness here, but it is really a heist story – an Ocean’s Eleven in space.
And I’ve just started The Power of Geography by Tim Marshall. If you’ve not read Prisoners of Geography, you must go and rectify that now. A journalist who has been in every flashpoint over the past decades, Tim Marshall explains how national agendas and psyches are a product of their geography which influenced their history, and continues to do so. Brilliant books (and I say that as a Geographer and reader).
Do you enjoy interaction with your readers, or is it something that’s a bit scary to you?
Yes, definitely! Though I do get so socially awkward when anyone offers a bit of praise. I love conventions and the online community of book readers, reviewers, and authors – we all share the love of reading and that’s a great point to start from.
Reviews of your own books: Read them or rather look the other way?
If I am tagged in to a review, I’ll assume it is a good review and read it. If I’m not, I’ll assume the opposite and not read it. I am getting better and not looking at Goodreads every five seconds. It is a strange thing to realise that I finished Draft One nearly over a year and half ago and am now writing book 3 (always hoping this book does well so that book 2 and 3 get published).
Now that writing is a “real job”, what other hobbies have you been using to procrastinate de-stress these days? There’s a rumour you play music?
I can play the guitar, and do. Usually on my own and my singing voice has gotten (a little) better over the years, though it is far from perfect or pleasant all the time. I enjoy that time to unwind. There’s something about playing music or a sport when you reach a certain level of skill (doesn’t have to be high) – your consciousness lets go and your unconscious takes over at which point everything flows so much better, more musically, or you react faster in the sport.
Other than that, it is Computer Games or playing RPGS (Dungeons and Dragons etc) with friends.
What has the future got in store book wise? Seven Deaths of an Empire is the first of a series. How many books will there be and can you tell as anything about what might be up next?
There is a, and I’m not sure sequel is quite the right word, follow up book written which continues the story of the Empire – The Silencing of the North – and I am working on the third book now (no real title yet).
I’ve also got some maps, characters, and a basic plot for another series in my journal and as a scrivener file. Plus I wrote 20k of Romantic comedy (have to get away from fantasy sometimes, just to refresh) which I wrote as something to do and occupy my brain, and one day I’ll finished Corin Hayes #5!
All would be writers dream of billionaire JK Rowling style success, but the reality is that many authors who have books on the shelves of local bookstores also have main jobs that they need to use to supplement a modest writing income and a below minimum wage return on the hours spent writing.
So what most motivates you to write? Love of telling a story, the adulation of fans or the illusory promise of untold riches.
I have stories in my head, I always have, and they need to come out. If people read them and enjoy them then I am exceedingly happy. I’d love the untold riches and keep hoping – but I think that might come from hard work, a dash of luck, and never giving up. They might, but at least I’ve given it my best shot. I think one of my heroes says it best:
“If you trust in yourself. . .and believe in your dreams. . .and follow your star. . . you’ll still get beaten by people who spent their time working hard and learning things and weren’t so lazy.” Terry Pratchett – Wee Free Men.
How do you manage the time constraints between a high pressure day job and the demands of creativity.
Reasonably carefully. I write in the evenings and holidays. I try, everyday, to write a little or put notes in the journal. Some days I write lots and others not so much. It is an ongoing process and journey.
Also, I try really really hard to make work and home (where I write) totally different places – near ten years ago, at a young age of *cough* forty *cough* I had a health scare; a TIA (mini-stroke) at work, brought on by stress, pressure, all the usual suspects etc etc and it was a little bit of a wake-up call. I still work damn hard, but home is for relaxing and taking your mind elsewhere. You’re no good to people if you can’t look after yourself first – or words to that effect.
That’s taking a depressing turn!
Writing is a release. It is hard work, it can be infuriating, and I suffer writer’s-guilt when I am not writing, but it is also exercise for the brain and emotions, it is a wonderful, fulfilling thing to do, to produce a story and characters which people enjoy!
What is your spirit animal for your writing persona?
I’d love to say eagle – soaring above it all on majestic wings, seeing the vista of the world laid out before it.
But probably, wild boar – days of snuffling about amongst the words, with occasional bouts of frenetic activity and pig-headed stubbornness.
Thank you so much for stopping by, and making us even more excited for the release!