Discussing the Wisdom of Crowds with Joe Abercrombie

With The Wisdom of Crowds being released this week, Gollancz gave me the opportunity to interview Joe Abercrombie about the influences for The Age of Madness and Bayaz, the risks of putting new characters into a world fans already love, and what the author can’t wait to see in this epic age of televised SFF.

[GdM] The Age of Madness has strong themes of rebellion and instability. How much of an impact did current world events across your home in the UK and the US influence the writing of this latest trilogy?

Well . . . certainly some, I guess. Everyone who writes fantasy (and everyone who reads it) are people living in the real world, so I don’t think you can escape, or would particularly want to escape, being influenced by everything that’s going on around you, and your opinions and attitudes naturally find their way out in what you write.

That said, I started writing this trilogy way back in 2015 and the decision to set it during the early stages of an industrial revolution, then a social revolution, went back a fair bit further than that. So a certain amount of social turmoil was baked into the concept and that was part of the appeal for me – there’s a lot of conflict and drama inherent in the period and the setting – rich against poor, tradition against innovation, monarchy against democracy. That we seem to have entered our own little political and cultural age of madness in the UK and US since I started writing it was to some degree coincidental. I think the political mood certainly had an impact. But at the same time I found I’d written about a few things – riots, corruption, statue toppling – that then became major issues in the news and the writing became almost a little too on the nose. So if anything real events gave me an opportunity to reconsider and refine some of what I’d written, rather than inspiring me to do it in the first place.

[GdM] When writing The Age of Madness, did you see advancing the age of the setting and the generation of characters as a risk? What made you want to take that leap?

I guess every book feels like a bit of a risk to some extent – you’re always wondering whether readers will like new characters and new approaches – and there are definitely some fantasy readers who are very attached to their medieval worlds and start to get a bit uncomfortable as things turn more modern, even if the mindsets of many of the characters in classic fantasy are very modern. But I don’t think you can worry too much over what any imagined group of readers might think – apart from anything else it’s almost impossible to anticipate what people actually will end up liking or objecting to – so you’ve really got to write to your own taste if you’re going to produce anything worthwhile. And I don’t want to write in a world that feels static or to endlessly come back to the same characters. You have to move things forward, keep things fresh, keep yourself interested and challenged. A reader might spend a week or two with a book and be keen for more. A writer spends years with it, and more often than not is ready to move on afterwards.

[GdM] What were the periods and places in history you drew your influence from for this trilogy?