At Grimdark Magazine we are huge fans of the epic fantasy author John Gwynne. Through our friends at Pan Macmillan, Gwynne recently released A Time of Courage, the incredible finale to his Of Blood and Bone trilogy. We thought that now would be a good time to interview John for the site. The great news is that he agreed so I would like to thank John for taking the time out of his day to answer some questions for us.
Hi James, it’s great to be back here at Grimdark Magazine, and to be chatting with you again. Thanks so much for the invite.
I’d like to say congratulations for completing Of Blood and Bone with the release of A Time of Courage. How did you feel when you finished writing A Time of Courage, knowing it was the end of another epic series, and also the seventh, and perhaps final novel in The Banished Lands?
Thank you, James, I really appreciate that. Thinking about A Time of Courage and the Banished Lands, it didn’t really hit me that it was THE END until I sat down to write the acknowledgments for A Time of Courage. Looking back, it’s been quite the journey, beginning in 2002 when I first decided to take up writing as a hobby and started working on Malice, the Faithful and the Fallen and the Banished Lands. Eighteen years and seven books later…
So, finishing A Time of Courage was quite the moment for me, especially when considered in the context of my daughter Harriett having just come through the most terrible of times, including a long stay in hospital and some very dark moments. I don’t even think I can describe how I felt. I do remember hoping readers would feel that A Time of Courage was a satisfying end to the tale I began in Malice. I wanted it to have a sense of hope running through the book, even in the darkest of times, some kind of reflection of what we had gone through with Harriett. And I clearly remember thinking that I wanted the Banished Lands to go out with a bang…
If you had to choose a character from the Of Blood and Bone trilogy to be stranded with, and to hopefully survive with, on a desert island then who would you pick?
Ha, that’s easy, it would have to be Craf. I think I’d enjoy chatting to that lazy, cheeky old crow.
If you were somehow magically transported to The Banished Lands is there a particular city or part of the world that you’d like to live? How would you keep yourself busy whilst there?
That would have to be Dun Carreg, where Corban began his tale, or perhaps Brina’s cottage, which is close by. That part of the tale felt like my ‘Shire,’ where life was good and happy for a while.
How would I keep myself busy? Perhaps finding someone to teach me the running mount in the weapons field, or spending my time helping wolven escaping from bogs…
Your next series, The Bloodsworn Saga, starting with The Dragon Unchained is set to be released through Orbit books in 2021. Could you tell our readers what they can expect from that series? How it is different from your previous works? Also, can you also tell us something that you have not yet told your readers about The Bloodsworn Saga, such as a character’s name or a fact about the world they reside in?
The Bloodsworn Saga, I am so excited for you to read this.
My first inspiration for this story is Ragnarok and Beowulf; a world where the gods are dead, fought to extinction, and now filled with Jarls and petty-Kings and Norse monster-hunting mercenaries – though the bands of warriors in this tale are grittier and less heroic than Beowulf and his band of heroes.
I’ve delved deep into Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklore to build this new world; a world of ice-blue fjords, of snow-peaked mountains and dark, mist-shrouded forests, a world where dragon-ships prowl the seas and creatures of tooth and claw stalk the land. A world where the remains of the gods and their tainted off-spring are valuable commodities and are hunted in the pursuit of power.
But most of all this tale is built around the characters. I hope that they will be the heart of the story, and that they will carry the reader into a world of danger, into a world of oaths and betrayal, of love and friendship. Into the world of the Bloodsworn.
I find it hard to objectively evaluate my own writing, but the few who have read it so far have told me it’s grittier than the Banished Lands, and that it feels both more historically authentic and more fantastical. There are three POV characters, Elvar, Varg and Orka.
I’ve absolutely loved writing book one, it felt wonderful to just let loose in a new world. I hope that you’ll join me in following the Bloodsworn as they carve a bloody path across Vigrið, the battle-plain.
What are the books that have influenced you most as an author?
There are so many, but if I had to narrow it down three names come to mind. Tolkien, Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell. A combination of those three would be my perfect read. Tolkien’s epicness and beautiful prose, Gemmell’s flawed characters and pacing, and Cornwell’s all-round perfection – character, gritty historicity and vivid, brutal battle-scenes.
Stepping out of the specifics of your books for a moment, I’d like to ask you about writing in general. What is the most challenging part of your artistic process?
Time management, and by that I mean actually sitting down to write. It’s something I’m getting better at, but it doesn’t come naturally. My lifestyle is pretty hectic and disorganised – there are many, many medical appointments surrounding my daughter, and two of my other sons still live at home so there are a lot of distractions. It doesn’t help that my sons love their Viking re-enactment (as do I) and are often sticking their heads into my writing room and saying “Fancy a scrap in the garden,” whilst waving a sword or axe at me. So, it isn’t the easiest thing to sit down and make time to research or write.
If you could invite three people to your fantasy Warband, alive, dead, or fictional, who would they be and why?
Ha, okay, let’s think about this. Thor, because lets face it, having the God of Thunder on your team would probably help in most situations, although he could also end up getting me into a lot of trouble. Nona from Mark Lawrence’s Book of the Ancestor series, because she is so loyal to her friends and you can count on her to guard your back, and Samwise Gamgee, because you always need someone with a bit of salt and seasoning in their cloak, just in case you get the chance to cook a roast chicken.
Are there any books that have been/ are being released in 2020 that you are excited to read?
Bernard Cornwell’s The War Lord. It’s the final book of his Last Kingdom series, featuring the iconic Uhtred of Bebbanburgh. A wonderful, wonderful series and I am so excited to read the finale, but also already sad that it will be the last one.
Throughout The Faithful and the Fallen and Of Blood and Bone, is there a scene, in particular, that stands out in your mind that you are really proud of writing?
There are scenes from each book that pop up in my mind when I think of the individual books, but if I was to narrow it down to just one scene…that would probably be a scene from Ruin, where Corban walks out of the safety of the fortress of Drassil to duel Sumur. I loved writing that scene – the duel and then the following part, where Corban is charged by horsemen and just stands there, feet set and sword raised, waiting for them, unaware that Storm, Shield and his entire warband were hurtling through Drassil’s gates to try and reach him. It felt like a defining moment for Corban, who began his tale in Malice as a fourteen year old boy daydreaming about being a warrior.
On the back cover of A Time of Courage, you have amazing blurbs from Adrian Tchaikovsky, Anna Smith Spark, Mark Lawrence, Giles Kristian, James Islington, and Christian Cameron. How does it feel to get such praising and positive feedback from your peers?
Surreal. Utterly surreal. Those are all writers who I admire and respect enormously, and it always makes me nervous when I know that a writer who I love is having a look at one of my books. To know that they enjoyed one of my books really is a staggering feeling. And a huge, huge relief
I have commented many times in my reviews how much I love your characters that are animals or creatures, such as Craf, Storm, and Wrath. If you could have a pet creature from the Banished Lands what would you choose and what would you name them?
It would have to be a talking crow. I love my dogs, and would be pretty happy having a wolven like Storm around, but I think there would be a lot more fun with a talking crow.
When writing moments that move your readers do you find yourself getting emotional too?
There have been a few scenes or moments I’ve written where I felt so deep in it that I could almost touch and breathe it, the scene is so vivid in my mind. My quest is always to try and put what I can see in my head down on paper. There have been a couple of moments when I felt very emotional during the writing of a scene. The end of Ruin. A certain moment in Wrath. And a few moments in A Time of Courage. It’s a bit like a prickling of the hairs on your arm. Those moments are rare for me, but when they do happen I feel like it might have come out okay.
Have you ever thought about fantasy casting for your stories? If they were to get big-screen or Netflix adaptions, which actors do you think would be a good fit for one of your characters?
Haha, yes, of course I have. When writing Maquin I always pictured him as Mads Mikkelsen – especially in his Valhalla Rising role.
Do you remember the moment when you came up with the mantra “Truth and Courage” and did you know then that this phrase would become so important to your novels and to your fans?
I do remember coming up with it – it was after I’d watched Gladiator and Maximus said ‘Strength and Honour.’ I thought that was cool and it would be great to have a kind of mantra for my hero. I wanted something that felt like it summarised the heart of my story, which at its core is a good vs evil tale, but hopefully with a contemporary, realistic edge. Truth and Courage felt like two principles that were really at the heart of how I was imagining Corban. But I had absolutely NO idea how central that phrase would become to the whole series, and really the whole seven books set in the Banished Lands.
A Time of Courage is currently sitting nicely on Goodreads with an average rating of 4.66/5. How does it make you feel knowing that your books are being so well received? Do you ever read any of your reviews? How do you take the good and the bad ones?
To see your book going down well is an amazing feeling, and to see A Time of Courage with the highest Goodreads rating of any of my books so far is wonderful. It is a relief, more than anything. I did not want to fumble the end of this seven book tale, I wanted the Banished Lands to go out with a bang, both in terms of epic scale and the events that happen in the book, but also on an emotional level for the characters who have fought and died their way through the saga. Everything I write and ever will write will have family and friendship at its heart, and it was important to me that this did not get lost in the sheer scale of the events that happen in A Time of Courage.
On the whole it seems that my readers have enjoyed this last adventure in the Banished Lands (for now), and that does make me feel happy.
And yes, I tend to read all of the reviews. It’s a great way of finding out what works for readers and what doesn’t. It’s also a great way of ruining your day. When I was first published a good review would have me walking on air, and a bad review would put a raincloud over my head. Good reviews still have that effect on me, but bad reviews, not so much. They are something you just have to get used to, and they don’t affect me like they used to. It’s a part of publishing, although it is a difficult thing to come to terms with. Writing is so deeply personal, you’re not just making a product, you’re putting something of yourself into your books, and they feel like a part of you. Publication Day is something like your child’s first day at school, and if they come home and you hear that someone has been mean to them you feel extremely protective. It can feel a bit like that when publishing your book.
Thank you John. I hope you are staying safe and you and your family are well.
Cheers, James, it’s been a pleasure chatting, and thank you for the invite and the questions.
Read A Time of Courage by John Gwynne