Author Spotlight: Becky James (THE KING’S SWORDSMAN)
Becky James is the author of The King’s Swordsman series and co-author of the Dark Tides series. Based in the UK, she has a deep love of the British countryside, canals, and all things fantasy; she devours anything that has magic, swords, good friends and good times. She is a massive extrovert, but nearly all her friends are introverts, so she knows how not to energy vampire them. She will still talk your ear off though.
Her series can be found wherever books are sold, and she is often floating around the socials!
Welcome to the Hive and our Women in SFF feature, Becky. Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your newest instalment in the King’s Swordsman’s series, The Limit of the Lonely Man?
Well, it’s book 3 out of 8 planned! This instalment takes place a few weeks after book 2. It’s not as dark, but still packed with feeling. There’s growing pains as the characters learn to work together and the themes of friendship, loyalty and honour is very much a part of all the characters.
Can you tell us a bit about your other instalments in the series? Which order would you suggest reading them in?
If you like sword and sorcery portal fantasy mixed with a bit of multiverse (think the good doctors – Doctor Who and Doctor Strange!), then The King’s Swordsman series is for you. It follows the adventures of a cocky swordsman and his exasperated companions. I’m over the moon to have people say good things about the series and how they enjoyed hanging out with these guys as much as I have.
I’d definitely recommend picking up the novella Dough Boy, which is free on my website, before diving into Book 1, The Tenets in the Tattoos. It’s not necessary, but it provides an interesting perspective on one of the characters you’ll spend time with!
The official series reading order is:
- Book 1: The Tenets in the Tattoos
- Book 2: The Bind of Blood and Bonds
- Book 3: The Limit of the Lonely Man
- Book 4: The Tempered Turns of Time
There are two novellas exclusive to newsletter subscribers, and those are bonus content; they won’t affect your enjoyment of the series, just more time to spend with the characters!
You describe your series as being upper YA / clean NA, perfect for fans of sword and sorcery mashed with contemporary fantasy. Could you tell us more about this please? What exactly is upper YA, and what inspired you to write in these genres?
Oh boy, starting with the big questions! This comes down to: what exactly is the New Adult genre? To my mind (and many other authors!) it’s stories about characters who have left the nest and are dealing with the issues of new adulthood such as college, jobs, leadership, caring roles, and more. However, NA has lately been confused with, ahem, open doors steamy stuff. So as not to disappoint readers, I’ve been branding it as upper YA / NA to get across that the focus of the story isn’t romance (although there is a smidge, it’s fade to black and not the primary driver of the plot), and the storyline is beyond that of “chosen one saves the world in between homework.” The characters are out of school and parental control, and are dealing with many of the issues that come about at that age: making new friends, finding your place in the world, taking on responsibilities, and other things that makes one an “adult”!
The King’s Swordsman deals with themes like finding where you belong, being comfortable with who you are, and what makes a good leader, which a lot of adults are discovering for themselves throughout their lives.
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!
My writing process, huh? Well, characters will stride into my life first and foremost, and then loudly demand that their stories are told. It took a few years to build up my writing skill to the point where I felt able to do their stories justice, although I’m still learning things every day. I write very character driven stories, so I’ll often only get a glimpse of the plot and then they will react to it faster than I can type!
I usually write early in the morning or on public transport. I’ll be working on a Google doc to start with so I can use both laptop or phone, and then transfer it to Word for prettifying and self-editing before it goes to betas and my editors.
I’ll listen to music when running, and have a story playlist where songs relate to how the characters are feeling, but I write in silence. I like to get up before anyone else and have time when no one is asking for a snack or where something is: just me and the page.
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 stories are heavily UK influenced, from the mythology and folklore to the settings (semi-rural British countryside and our canals feature a lot. Slightly obsessed with canals). I’ll feature the dreaming spires of Oxford next to steel-crash impacted Sheffield, and there needs to be more about the laylines influencing Milton Keynes and the real story behind the Magic Roundabout in Swindon. Creative writing was my favourite subject in school, and I’m also a scientist, which is not incompatible. Scientists need a great deal of imagination to figure things out, and I tend to ground the magic systems into something close to reality while still letting it just be – it is magic, after all.
The magic system in The King’s Swordsman is elemental based but also tied to the intelligence of the wielder, so while it is physically taxing to use it, the applications are really only limited by the imagination of the magic user. Not everyone can use magic on Oberrot, and you can take away the physical penalty by using special blood – that of people from another world, Earth!
Now let’s discuss your characters! Can you tell us more about them? Over the course of the series which characters have you enjoyed developing the most? And do you have a favourite type of female character you enjoy writing?
My favourite thing about being an author is being able to share the characters. They have been with me for long enough – it’s time they went off to make new friends!
Here are five you will meet:
- Thorrn – The main character and first person POV for The King’s Swordsman series is Thorrn. As the self-proclaimed king’s best swordsman, he wants to project confidence and perfection and be the hero everyone can rely on, but he struggles with flare ups of all-consuming rage and he’s completely blind to the privilege inherent in being the son of the captain of Special Forces. While he’s often well-meaning, he can get carried away trying to please the crowd, and doesn’t always stand up to be the man he wants to be. His arc throughout the series is super satisfying as you get to experience it him as he grows!
- Evyn – sharp-tongued introverted library nerd, Evyn will welcome you unless you hurt her, in which case she bites back. Slow to love, she will still help anyone who asks for it, even people who hurt her in the past. Once you’re her friend, you’ve never had such a staunch and steadfast companion.
- Aubin – the apothecarist keeps his cards to his chest. Quick-witted and highly intelligent, it’s hard to tell what Aubin’s thinking, so you must watch his actions.
- Tuniel – the stone mage works to sound out quarries and mines, and is constantly curious about magical theory. Whenever the group encounters some new magic, she helps define and place it in the magic system.
- Gavain – Thorrn’s friend growing up and a swordsman in Special Forces, Gavain is the son of a baker and had to work for every opportunity he gets. He takes them all, too, but he hates that he feels that he’s getting the crumbs from Thorrn’s table sometimes…
I write because these characters have been hanging around me since I was a teenager. Each new iteration brings me closer to the story that wants to be told. A new version of them stepped into my life about two years ago, and this version of Thorrn won’t take ‘later’ for an answer.
I have two female characters in The King’s Swordsman series: one is the shy and anxious Evyn with a hidden strength of character and the best ‘inspirational quotes on a poster’ one liners, and the other is magic-user Tuniel who has to appear cold and aloof at all times. I enjoy writing them for different reasons: Evyn is based on three female friends whose qualities I love, and Tuniel is very opinionated and will see through her decisions no matter what.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences? Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
I grew up reading Tamora Pierce, Robin Hobb / Megan Lindholm, and Anne McCaffrey. McCaffrey is an interesting blend of sci-fi and fantasy but it’s all character driven to a large extent: Hobb very much so as well. Pierce has that wonderful blend of characters coming to terms with hard real life issues and not always making the right choices. The works I most admire are those by Leigh Eddings, as in David and Leigh Eddings, because she’s recognised as the “secret” co-author on some of the books too. The Redemption of Althalus was my first “grown up” fantasy, and I absolutely loved the characters with their balance of humour and heart.
We see such varying opinions from authors when it comes to the time of editing their books. How have you found the editing process? Enjoyable, stressful or satisfying?
I quite like the editing process. I let it sit and then enjoy the first read through where I pick up most of the pacing issues, and then I send it to my trusted beta readers. I switch off comments though as it can frustrate me as they come in, but I know it’s all for the best! Once the pain has settled a little, I’ll try to take an objective look at what they are pointing out, and usually my wonderful betas are right on the money. I really appreciate their time because it really whips the story into shape.
I then send it off for light developmental editing. This will produce a report which will help me focus on craft weak points. I’ll address those, read through it one more time, and then send it off for proofreading.
It’s one of those “kind of awkward to go through, but you learn so much” processes that means, if you’re open to it, you get better each time. There will always be something to learn, and that’s what’s fun about this journey!
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped the artist would portray?
Oh man, I loooove my books covers! I selected my cover artist – the inimitable Fantastical Ink – and gave her a title and a blank slate. What could she come up with? She blew me away with the tattoo-inspired motif and, with each book exploring a new country with its own pride in its national weapon, it’s natural to have one for each 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?
Oh, gosh, I’m not allowed to write? Huh. Well, I am a bit of an exercise freak, as that is where I do my best thinking, so I might go for a lovely outdoor swim and then for a run. But I’d want to be able to take notes on the ideas that spring into my head at this time!
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
I’m researching and playing around with some Celtic myths and legends for a romantic fantasy collaboration project. In some parts of Scotland, it was believed that a Cu Sidhe, a dog fae, could sense imminent death, and in other parts, they thought a black cat fae called a Cat Sidhe could steal the souls of the recently departed. I think it would be fairly useful to have a barometer like a Cu Sidhe about who could sense danger like that!
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
I adore everything that Natalie J. Holden writes. Such an amazing imagination and real, palpable feeling in her novel, The Outworlder. In fact, don’t go out and get The King’s Swordsman, everyone go and check out The Outworlder, please. You really won’t regret it.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects? Or can you tell us a few teasers for your sequel?
I will be writing a more romantic fantasy as part of a collaboration. 9th August is the birthday of my debut novel and my authorversary, so I’ll be publishing Book 4 then, and I cannot wait to share where Thorrn’s adventures take him next!
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I hope that readers enjoy spending time with the characters, laugh with them, and feel for them. I’m all for stories that use the settings and events to explore human nature and character-driven storylines, but I am hoping you enjoy the ride, too.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Thank you for having me!