Please welcome Anna Stephens to The Qwillery as part of the of the 2017 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. Godblind is published on July 11th by Talos.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?
Anna: Hello Qwillery, and thanks for having me!
I started writing … well, I’ve always written, ever since I was a child. Books and stories were hugely important to me from a very young age – from being told bedtime stories, to reading bedtime stories, to beginning to make up my own.
I was 14 when I told my best friend I was going to be a published author one day – and here I am!
As for the why, I write because I can’t not write. It’s very difficult to have any sort of life when characters are using your brain as a trampoline and the only way to get them out of your head is to put them on paper. And even when the deadlines are pressing, or the summer is in full swing and I want to be out in it, or I’ve been invited somewhere and can’t go, I love to write. I enjoy it far more than I don’t enjoy it, and that’s all anyone can ask for as a job, I think.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
Anna: I would say I’m a hybrid. Godblind has existed in one draft form or another for more than a decade, so it was definitely a pantser process to get it where it is today.
For the sequels, I have an in depth outline for them both, because of deadline constraints – apparently I can’t take a decade to write each sequel! – and while I’m sticking largely to that outline, there’s an element of organic growth in the plots as well. Nothing’s set in stone, no character is safe, so it’s interesting to see where my subconscious takes me.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Anna: Reining in my inherent love of melodrama.
In first drafts, absolutely everything that can possibly go wrong for a character will go wrong! It’s amazing any of them survive with that I throw at them. Over subsequent rewrites I’ll thin out all of that and just keep the necessary points to further the plot or flesh out the character’s personality.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
Anna: I think influences can be found absolutely everywhere – TV, film, music, other books, real people, fictional people, the news, society.
Although I’m writing fantasy, I want the world and the society and culture and place I’ve created to feel as real and relatable as possible. Some people have said they don’t like an instance of sexual assault in the book, and one person said that they’d expected better, from me or the book I’m not sure – is it because I’m a woman writer? But the thing is, sexual assault is, sadly, all too prevalent in this world. If I’d written a happy utopia of complete gender parity and respect for all women, warriors or not, I’d probably be accused of writing Mary Sues and people would find it less believable, not more.
Maybe some women and men will find a couple of scenes uncomfortable. Maybe they don’t want to believe we live in a world where women can be accosted or have their arses slapped in public by total strangers, and that’s fine. There’s fiction out there that doesn’t address those issues and I wish them joy of reading those books. But although I’m writing fantasy, I’m also attempting to write reality.
By highlighting issues in fiction, I believe we can address them in our own culture. Perhaps a man reading one character’s creepy come-on will realise he did that once and it’s unpleasant for the female character, so maybe he shouldn’t do it in real life. For me that’s a win.
TQ: Describe Godblind in 140 characters or less.
Anna: A war between gods and cultures, unstoppable and yet which must be stopped, threatens Rilpor. Blood rises and the Red Gods rise with it.
TQ: Tell us something about Godblind that is not found in the book description.
Anna: It’s a novel, ultimately, of hope. When all seems lost, when people are dying, the characters have faith in the end goal, and hope to reach it. They’re not so hard and bleak that they’re just trying to survive as long as possible in a world gone to hell, they’re actively trying to prevent it from getting worse. They’re striving for a better world. Even the ones on the ‘wrong’ side believe that, that the world they want to create will be better.
TQ: What inspired you to write Godblind? What appeals to you about writing grimdark fantasy?
Anna: I didn’t know I was writing grimdark until I was told I was! To me, I was just writing the world I saw and believed in. I have read – and still read – high fantasy, with noble paladins and wise old women, and I thoroughly enjoy it, and for a long time I tried to make Godblind like that. But things kept happening that didn’t fit into that world and so in the end I just wrote it the way it wanted to be written.
As I’ve already mentioned, I want to write the most honest and real world I can, full of people making mistakes, messing up at critical moments, making fools of themselves. Full of good characters, evil characters and everything in between – which is most of us. We all have the opportunity to be bad or good multiple times a day, or thoughtless, ignorant, casually cruel. I just wanted to write a book that reflects the gamut of human interaction and experience – but with swords!
Many years ago, when I wrote the first, highly terrible, version of Godblind, I wanted to write about a woman who became a warrior. And she was what people would call a Mary Sue – she went from simpering, pampered princess to steely-eyed warrior with barely a blink. And I never liked her. I wanted to write about women in war, but I couldn’t get on with her.
So I changed everything about her except for her name and her desire to fight, and she became Rillirin, and once I made her real, everything else became real as well. I think she was probably my version of Paks from Elizabeth Moon’s excellent The Deed of Paksenarrion. And while I love that book, I can’t write that book. I can’t write that sort of world or that sort of high nobility, because I don’t see it in the world around me – which is sad.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for Godblind?
Anna: I did a lot of battle research. I made extensive use of a book called Infantry Warfare in the Fourteenth Century by DeVries in order to learn about battle formation, ambush, numbers, positioning of archers and cavalry etc. I read a fair amount of historical fiction as well, so I combined the two.
I researched medicinal plants and the time it takes to travel by foot, by horse, in a forced march etc, to try and make movement through the country of Rilpor as honest as possible.
I did some internet research into decomposition, speed of death, wounds, healing and medical procedures, but not too much as I was worried the internet police might raid me!
TQ: Please tell us about Godblind's cover?
Anna: The amazing artwork for Godblind was designed by Dom Forbes, who works in-house at Harper Voyager, my UK publisher. Dom read the book and then produced what he got from it, that’s really all I can say.
He actually produced three versions, but we all agreed we liked this one the most. The crow/eagle is more representative of the novel than something that actually happens, a symbol of many things depending on your point of view – the Red Gods rising, crows stalking a battlefield, hope overcoming all. It’s very interpretive, which I like a lot. I think people will individually get something different from it, and maybe they’ll view it differently after reading it compared with how they saw it before.
TQ: In Godblind who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
Anna: Crys was the easiest character to write, I think. His voice and outlook are probably the most closely aligned to mine – the mischief, the gentle mockery of authority, the sense of humour. Do I find it strange the character most like me is male instead of female? Not really, it just happened that way. Of course, he’s also heroic and noble and self-sacrificing, so he’s not completely like me. I like to think I’d be those things in a tough situation, but I’m not sure I would and I’m definitely not claiming to own those qualities.
Hands down, the hardest character to write is Galtas, because Galtas is a bastard, through and through. I wanted Galtas to be every creep in a nightclub, every wolf-whistler on the street, and every condescending, arrogant misogynist I could think of. His interactions with women, which thankfully are few, made me physically uncomfortable to write, and I hope that comes through to readers. If people like Galtas, I’ve really messed it up!
TQ: Why have you chosen to include or not chosen to include social issues in Godblind?
Anna: Including allusions to LGBT and gender equality was extremely important for me, because I’m passionate about those things. The easy acceptance among the Watcher people of LGBT people, the absolute trust in women as warriors among the Wolves, was my little version of utopia, I suppose.
But then I wanted to highlight the opposite to act as a foil against it and to show how ridiculous those contrary beliefs are. Hence I included the laws against homosexuality, the treatment of Tara who is the only female soldier in the West Rank, and Galtas’s supposition she only made it to captain because she slept with the general.
All those teeth-grinding, maddening, misogynistic assumptions that continue to be vented in the real world are in Godblind, no doubt much to the surprise of some readers who see this as my opportunity to stamp out such themes. But believe me, I’m not writing them because I think they’re true, I’m writing them in order to highlight their pervasiveness and to tackle them within the novel, even if that’s just by showing how little sense they make.
Would any man, when he’s about to have his throat slit, be stupid enough to reject the help of a woman or a gay man? Well, yes, some probably would, but then they’d be dead and so would their particular brand of bigotry, so it’s not a total loss.
TQ: Which question about Godblind do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
Anna: Will you allow us to turn Godblind into a movie?
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from Godblind.
Anna: This is one of my favourite quotes concerning Crys. I think it sums up a lot of things about him:
‘So, Captain Tailorson, it appears you have led a varied and interesting career in the last two years with the North Rank. Any particular reason for that?’ Commander Durdil Koridam eyed him from behind his desk.
‘Demoted to lieutenant for brawling with common soldiers, a month in the cells for smuggling a family over the border into Rilpor, promotion back to captain for outstanding gallantry under fire . . . Outstanding?’
‘Major Bedras found himself surrounded by the Dead Legion. It seemed appropriate to save him.’
‘From the Dead Legion? Alone?’ Durdil’s grey eyebrows rose a fraction.
‘There were five of them, sir, youngsters on a blood hunt to prove their manhood.’
‘And how did they manage to surround the major?’
‘Couldn’t say, sir.’
‘No, though I note from General Tariq’s subsequent report that the major is no longer a major.’
‘As you say, sir.’
‘And the family you allowed into our country?’
‘A woman with three children, starving and filthy. Husband killed by the Dead, fleeing to save her children’s lives. It was . . . it was the right thing to do.’
‘You are a soldier, Tailorson. Right and wrong is for your superiors to decide.’
Crys met his eyes. ‘Right and wrong is for every man to decide. Sir.’
TQ: What's next?
Anna: Next is definitely the next two books in the series. I’m deep into drafting the sequel to Godblind at the moment, so that’s taking up most of my writing time. However, I’m also a member of Birmingham Writer’s Group in my home town, and I try and produce at least a few short stories every year to contribute to that. Hopefully, once I’ve delivered the manuscript for the sequel, I’ll be able to produce a few more.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Anna: Thanks so much for letting me waffle on, it’s been an absolute pleasure.
Godblind Trilogy 1
Talos, July 11, 2017
Hardcover and eBook, 384 pages
For fans of Joe Abercrombie, Scott Lynch, and Mark Lawrence comes a brutal grimdark fantasy debut of dark gods and violent warriors.
The Mireces worship the bloodthirsty Red Gods. Exiled from Rilpor a thousand years ago, and left to suffer a harsh life in the cold mountains, a new Mireces king now plots an invasion of Rilpor’s thriving cities and fertile earth.
Dom Templeson is a Watcher, a civilian warrior guarding Rilpor’s border. He is also the most powerful seer in generations, plagued with visions and prophecies. His people are devoted followers of the god of light and life, but Dom harbors deep secrets, which threaten to be exposed when Rillirin, an escaped Mireces slave, stumbles broken and bleeding into his village.
Meanwhile, more and more of Rilpor’s most powerful figures are turning to the dark rituals and bloody sacrifices of the Red Gods, including the prince, who plots to wrest the throne from his dying father in the heart of the kingdom. Can Rillirin, with her inside knowledge of the Red Gods and her shocking ties to the Mireces King, help Rilpor win the coming war?
Anna Stephens is a member of the Birmingham Writers’ Group, a friendly bunch of geeks with a penchant for Doctor Who bordering on collective obsession. She has a second Dan black belt in Shotokan Karate and is no stranger to being punched in the face, which is more help than you would expect when writing fight scenes.