Author Spotlight: Cyrus Bales (THE SIX CITIES)
Writing is pretty much all Cyrus Bales has ever known. He started out as a filmmaker in his teens getting shortlisted at international festivals twice before he turned 18. In his twenties he turned to comedy; namely writing sitcoms, until taking a break for personal reasons.
A sociological degree and award winning academic piece later he returned to his passion of writing. In 2018 his one off sitcom special inspired by Brexit was recorded at The Comedy Store then was brought back for another performance at the Windsor fringe due to popular demand.
Ever since then he’s turned his attention to prose, gathering together his varied writing experiences to become what he always dreamed of: An author. He released his debut novel ‘The Six Cities’ in April of 2021.
Welcome to the Hive, Cyrus Bales. Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your work?
A story should be about more than just telling a tale, it should illustrate something about ourselves and the world we live in. I don’t want to write books that people can’t put down, I want to write books that people HAVE to put down to think about.
The Six Cities is a literary fantasy novel that charts the personal experiences of people as their ideologies brutally collide with the reality of political upheaval. Slaying the immortal ghost ruler of a city after hundreds of years is all too often the end of a story, in this case it’s the beginning.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method? Do you find music helps? Give us a glimpse into your world!
From my time writing sitcoms I learned that the most important thing is characters. You have to build robust characters, everything else follows from there. I have the plot planned before I start but more integral is having characters that I know and can understand how they’ll react to anything. As long as I’ve done the work on them the pages can write themselves to an extent. Understanding how each character will react and grow is the best foundation one can have, and if the plot doesn’t work because of the characters I’ll change the plot until it does.
Speaking of worlds, what inspires your worldbuilding? Do you have a magic system/s? If so, can you tell us a bit about it?
My debut novel is actually based off a dream I had, obviously I’ve had to put a lot of work into the initial idea but the magic system and main plotline were all from the original dream. In The Six Cities, magic is mostly forgotten with one significant exception: The Ghost Rulers; the eternally bound souls of each city’s greatest champion, intended as protectors, instead shaped how their cities evolved over generations. I’ve always been a fan of magic as a resource to be tapped into that comes with rules and limitations so I wanted to convey that in this book.
What (or who) are your most significant fantasy influences?
The Death Gate Cycle by Weis & Hickman is a masterpiece that really made me fall in love with fantasy. It’s a perfect blend of character work and world-building that builds to some pretty profound commentary we can take away and apply to our own world.
Brandon Sanderson is also another titan of the genre I’m in awe of. And then there’s Terry Pratchett who I consider not only the greatest fantasy author we’ve ever had, but probably the greatest author full stop.
As a self-published author, you have to encompass many roles yourself: what aspect of self-publishing do you find the most difficult? Alternatively, which have you enjoyed the most?
Marketing is a real slog that takes a lot of the joy out of the process. There are so many great self-published authors vying for attention that it’s really hard to cut through sometimes, and that can be rather disheartening. I loved commissioning the cover though, I found a wonderful artist who surpassed my expectations at every turn.
Are there any fellow self-published creators whom you’d love to collaborate with?
At present I’ve got at least a decade worth of my own projects lined up before I think about collaborations; however I would love to work with an illustrator to create a graphic novel I’ve been planning for fifteen odd years.
What is your process for choosing a cover for your book? Do you have a clear idea of how you want it to look, or do you give your cover artist full creative license?
I wasn’t entirely sure, I knew I wanted to feature a decent look at the environment to make sure readers knew this wasn’t going to be a pseudo-European affair. In the same vein I also wanted two of my main characters present to make sure the audience were aware this was a fantasy book about people of colour; I come from an Indian background and this was very important to me given the dominance of ‘white’ fantasy. The artist I hired, Gary Trow, gave me options and helped create a vision that took me back to finding old paperbacks from the library with classic fine art styles when I was growing up. He kept me in the loop the whole way, constantly discussing and throwing out examples. An absolute pleasure to work with.
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?
I have a personal deadline of a chapter a week. I’ve never failed to stick to it because it’s a pretty manageable one. Sometimes I feel in a slump like the quality isn’t great, but that’s what redrafts are for. The important thing is getting it down. Usually when you start it flows on it’s own, although that initial push to get started on a day can require some mental preparation for sure.
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?
An extra day? A chance would be a fine thing! I’m a big film nerd; to the extent of having a podcast, so I’d probably catch up on my watch list with a tub of ice-cream and indulge in a long bath.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
A giant tortoise or lion-turtle that’s a whole island has always appealed to me. I love things that are just off the charts in terms of scale and it would be relatively slow giving a very smooth ride.
Can you tell us a little something about your current work(s) in progress?
I’m currently working on the first book of a fantasy trilogy I’ve been planning since I was a teenager. The first book is three very different coming of age stories and features history written in poetic verse. I’m nearly halfway through the first draft and I’m aiming to have it released sometime between the end of 2022 and the middle of 2023.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
That the world is a messy place. It’s not numbers or ideologies that navigate through life but instead deeply flawed people; any discussion of society or politics has to understand that.
Thank you so much!
Thank you kindly. Take care.