An Interview with David Wragg

Hi David! Thank you so much for taking the time to do this interview with me here at Grimdark Magazine. At the time of writing I’ve almost completed my readthrough of The Hunters and I’m absolutely loving it so far. Comparisons to Joe Abercrombie meets Mad Max: Fury Road feel very much warranted and I’m looking forward to sharing my full review with readers soon.

In the meantime, I’ve compiled a list of questions I’d dearly love for you to answer—both for myself and Grimdark Magazine readers—so without further ado, let’s jump right in:

[GDM] As previously mentioned, you have a new book coming out, The Hunters. Can you tell us a little bit about it in your own words?

[DW] Certainly! The Hunters is a fantasy Western, largely concerned with strained family dynamics in times of mortal peril. It takes place in the wild, untamed frontier lands of the Serican Protectorate, and features a middle-aged woman called Ree with a chequered past who’s looking for a quiet life, and her 12-year-old niece Javani, who is looking to make her life considerably louder. One day, two separate bands of killers arrive in the little mining town where they’re scratching a living, looking for a white-haired woman and a child in her care, and Javani gets her wish…

David Wragg - D H H ​​literary agency[GDM] The Hunters is set 13 years later in the same world as your Articles of Faith. Can veteran fans expect any crossover between the two?

[DW] Oh, they absolutely can. I won’t spoil anything (and will stress that there’s absolutely no need to read the first series to enjoy this one) but there are some major connections and some very minor ones too, and by the end of the Tales of the Plains trilogy you’re going to be seeing one of two familiar faces again. They won’t always be using the same names, mind, and will have aged a bit (and probably lost a finger or ear or two), so some deduction may be required…

[GDM] What was it like embarking on a new project outside of the Articles of Faith series?

[DW] In some ways, no different, and in others a total change. The idea for The Hunters came from a fortunate confluence of factors – wanting to write something set in the same world, feeling the need to follow up on some of the looser threads from the end of The Righteous, and liking the idea of a fantasy Western. The events of The Righteous gravitate to an arid place called Serica which encompasses enormous plains, mountains, and deserts, and following a story into those plains seemed such a natural fit I couldn’t resist.

In terms of the story, though, I wanted to do something a little different – leave some of the shades-of-grey cynicism behind, and centre the female characters of the world a little more. If Articles of Faith was about absent father figures, The Hunters has far more of an interest in lost mothers.

The Hunters by David Wragg[GDM] The Hunters really transported me to a sun-baked, rough and ready fantasy Wild West. Did you do any research into our real-world Wild West, and if so, are there any fun or interesting titbits you discovered that didn’t make it into the book?

[DW] Enormous quantities, and thoroughly enjoyable it was too. One point of interest though is that the setting is a Westernised version of the Persian plateau, essentially a chunk of present-day Iran (Articles of Faith was set in an analogue of 13th century Transcaucasia, and they travelled far enough across the map to reach Persia by the end of it). This gave me a tremendous amount to work with in terms of interesting period settlements and constructions – the wind catchers, caravanserais and icepits, the glorious terraced paradise gardens of the Guildhouse – but the one thing I was very sad to lose was a section where Ree and Javani sneaked into the Guildhouse via its underground water channel, which shed a little light on how the settlement operated so well, even on the dry side of the mountains. Oh well, maybe in a sequel!

[GDM] Westerns are such a towering genre of cinema—and in literature too. What are some of your favourite Westerns and did any of them directly inspire or influence the writing of The Hunters in some way?

[DW] It’s hard to trace a direct line, but I’ve certainly hoovered up a great deal of Western fiction in both book and film/TV. In terms of favourites, Lonesome Dove is hard to beat, but I’d say True Grit has it pipped. A lesser known but equally majestic work is Oakley Hall’s Warlock, although how much direct influence it had I couldn’t say – it’s just a damned fine read. The more obvious filmic influences are inevitably somewhere between Fury Road and the old Mel Gibson film Maverick, if only for its goofiness.

[GDM] Who or what did you sacrifice to the cover gods to obtain such wonderfully vibrant, quirky character art for your books?

[DW]: Unfortunately, the contract I signed with my own lifeblood prevents me answering, but I can say that I have been very lucky indeed – Gavin Reece is a superstar artist and one of the best things about doing a trilogy is getting excited about another two covers after this one.

[GDM] Speaking of characters, we meet so many great ones in The Hunters. Who were your favourites to write? Who gave you the most difficulty and why?

[DW] Aki and Anashe are almost certainly the most fun, if only because they spend the bulk of the book locked in sibling bickering while absolute chaos unfolds around them. Ree and Javani are easy for me to write though, they’re so real to me and their relationship sparks so naturally from their respective ages and viewpoints. Needless to say, it’s more arguments.

I can’t say there were really any hard characters to write – most of them were either great fun or, er, not around that long…

[GDM] I love how all your characters seem to have a little feature about them; something that makes them striking and memorable to the reader such as the taciturn White Spear’s black armour, Ree’s white hair and Lazant’s moustache. Is this something that helps you as a writer in keeping track of such a large ensemble cast? In what other ways do you endeavour to make your characters so distinctive?

[DW] That’s a really good question. I think in many ways I need to make them distinctive to myself first, and fill in gaps in how they present and act as I flesh them out (either in planning or in the actual writing). One of the nice things about writing is you can, for example, decide in the very last chapter that a character has always had a jaunty earring, then run back through the book and add it in all the way through, and you can look like you meant it all along.

Not that I’d do that of course, I always plan everything totally.

[GDM] Alongside all the action, wit, hilarity, banter and cameltastrophes in The Hunters, there are also very prominent themes and messages about what truly makes a family. How important is it for you to balance humour with more serious themes like this?

[DW] It’s amusing to me that often this question gets asked the other way around – I think we understand that serious, weighty books need moments of levity, and the same is absolutely true in reverse. You can laugh your way through something, but if it doesn’t make you feel, it’s not going to leave much of an impression.

Also writing proper full-on comedy is really, really hard and I take my hat off to those who have mastered it.

[GDM] Do you have a favourite line that you wrote from the book? Please do share it with us!

[DW] I do have a favourite exchange, although I’m not sure how much sense it makes in isolation.

‘Here it comes!’

The horses’ hoof-beats were a thunderous crash as they hit the bridge, the wagon’s wheels a rattling roar in their wake. The bench rattled and shook beneath Javani, almost jolting the reins from her hands.

‘Count down to the far side!’ Ree shouted. She sounded further back inside the wagon.

‘What?’

‘How long to the other side! Count down!’

‘What?’

‘Like five, four, and so on!’

‘Oh!’ Javani blinked sweat from her eyes. The red rock of the other side was rushing towards her. ‘One!’

‘Oh for fuck’s—’

[GDM] The Hunters is the first book in the Tales of the Plains What can the reader expect next? Do you have any other exciting projects in the pipeline?

[DW] Weeeell, without giving too much away, Ree and Javani are going to continue their adventures in new and interesting places and new and interesting ways, but they’re going to find that the past has a way of keeping up. One of the attractions of writing a Western trilogy was to explore the notions of ethical behaviour in lawless situations – can we be good for the right reasons, without the machinery of state around us to protect/coerce us? What happens if there is something large and powerful that doesn’t have everyone’s best interests at heart?

I’ll be working on the trilogy for the next couple of years (book 2 is currently in edits, book 3 is currently one chapter long), and after that, it might be time for a change of scene. Watch this space!

Read The Hunters by David Wragg

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Sally Berrow

Sally Berrow

Sally presently resides behind a mountainous pile of books in Greenhithe, UK, kept alive only by tea and surrounded by a menagerie of animals. A lifelong fantasy lover with a tendency towards the darker side of the genre, she hopes one day to write a grimdark fantasy of her own, inspired by the Golden Age of Piracy. She considers wringing an apology from Joe Abercrombie to be her greatest achievement.