Interview with Joe Abercrombie (THE WISDOM OF CROWDS)
Joe Abercrombie is the author of the FIRST LAW series and the SHATTERED SEA series. His novels have been shortlisted for the World Fantasy Awards, British Fantasy Awards, John W. Campbell Award and the David Gemmell Legend Awards. Joe formerly worked as a freelance film editor and is now a full-time writer who lives with his family in Bath.
The world of the First Law collides with the industrial age in a new trilogy – The Age of Madness – which began in September 2019 with A Little Hatred, continued a year later with The Trouble With Peace and concludes in September 2021 with The Wisdom of Crowds.
You can keep up with Joe by following him on twitter where he posts as @lordgrimdark.
Welcome back to the Fantasy Hive, Joe Abercrombie.
Congratulations on completing another trilogy! Had you always planned to return to the next generation or did something specific draw you back?
After the three standalone books I really felt the need to try something slightly different – to take a stab at some books in a different world, at a different length, with a different style – which is why I took a couple of years to write the Shattered Sea books. I think that helped to cleanse the palette a little bit. But I was always intending to come back to the First Law world, and some of the locations and people and hanging threads of the original trilogy. I don’t like to revist the same points of view, though, and I’d already moved time along a fair bit in the standalones, so coming back to a new generation of characters, with some familiar faces taking the role of the parents, masters and mentors, seemed to make good sense.
This being the third trilogy (we’re grouping the standalones into a trilogy) in the First Law world, was it hard to bring the entire series to an end? Was it hard to wrap everything up? Concluding the current story arcs whilst also reflecting on the iconic characters from the previous series?
Honestly hadn’t considered this the absolute end for the world. I expect I will come back to write more books in it at some point, though possibly not for a while.
But I don’t think I’m one for wrapping everything up anyway – I was always a little frustrated with the neat endings you got in a lot of fantasy books – the great evil defeated, the rightful king returned, our heroes happily paired off, peace for a thousand years. In the real world, after all, the end of every conflict contains the seeds of the next, there are always loose ends left over. I like my stories to reflect that. That said there certainly are some stories, and some long-standing character arcs, that come to a close of one kind or another with this book. Having a lot of past books, a lot of water under the bridge, is tough in some senses because it gives you a lot to keep straight, a lot you have to do justice to, but it also gives you a lot of material, characters, history to draw on, and that’s a great advantage.
Your books are known for their grim and dark nature, their cutting humour, their heart-racing action. How have you managed to strike that balance between each element? Is it something you’ve found difficult or have you ever gone too far in one direction or another, leading to rewrites?
I’m certainly always rewriting and revising and fine tuning to try and make things as effective and vivid as I possibly can, and sometimes you might choose to make things darker, sometimes less so, just in order to keep the range and stop things getting stale. You never stop trying to make scenes more effective one way or another. But I guess the question implies that darkness, humour, action, are poles on spectrums that are opposite, and I’m not sure I see it that way. To me things can be grim and funny at once – I guess in general I’m aiming to get the most reaction out of the reader, and that rarely means reining things in.
We’ve heard it said (by Robert Frost) No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. So tell us Joe, did you make your heart a stone or have you made yourself cry?
Oh I cry very easily at films and TV and other people’s books. I pretty much start crying at the title sequence of It’s A Wonderful Life. I don’t tend to cry much over my own stuff, though, unless it’s the odd 1-Star review. When you read a scene as a reader it rushes over you, hopefully, and hits you hard. When you write one, you’ve usually planned it some time in advance, you spend a day or two drafting it, you come back to it again and again to revise and refine it. So the experience for me is less like being an actor, where you’re in the moment and the emotion, more like being a watchmaker, where you’re calmly trying to make every part tick as well as it can.
That’s a beautiful allegory, and there were certainly moments that made this reader cry.
With so many characters in the First Law world, which one of the side characters would you say was the most interesting to write? Or which was the hardest? Is there one you’d write a spin off standalone about?
In the Age of Madness Isern-i-Phail was a lot of fun to write, as were some of the older characters I hadn’t visited for a while, like Ardee. Often the ones that come easiest and really burst onto the page are the intense, exaggerated characters who don’t necessarily sustain a narrative themselves, though. I think King Jappo of Styria is one character who could hold up a standalone. Time will tell….
Would 100% read a standalone about Isern-i-Phail!
If your books were turned into an open-world game, which type of character would play as?
Probably some northern barbarian, devil-may-care warrior. Javre or Whirrun. Then there’s not too much complicated magic and whatnot to think about…
Exactly the same reason I never go for the magic-user either, blunt force always seems more straightforward.
You mentioned last time you were here that you like worlds that change and progress; can we expect to return to Midderland to follow the next generation or two? Or do you have plans for something different next?
Definitely something different next. I’ve got no definite plans for the First Law world, but if I was to return I expect it would be for standalones set in some corners of the world we haven’t yet seen. Then perhaps in the long run there’s another trilogy to be done that would bring us back to Adua…
… Alright then, keep your secrets! Always leave them wanting more, eh?
Thank you so much for joining us today Joe, and good luck with the release of THE WISDOM OF CROWDS.
Do you have your copy yet? Pick one up from: