In November 2020 I complete my Oron Amular trilogy with the publication of Power Unimaginable. One of the highlights of the evening was answering questions from my fans. Since time was limited on the night, I’ve gone back and written up full answers to all the questions that came up. Read on for an insight into my writing method and how this book came together…
How many hours are there in your day? I could swear you have more! Seriously, please tell us about your writing rhythm. (Will)
Haha, I get that a lot. Alas, I do not, in fact, have a 36-hour day, though that would be splendid. Instead, I just have to be very disciplined with my time. I sacrifice many hours that might otherwise have been spent bingeing on Netflix in order to write, and I count that a worthwhile sacrifice. It’s not easy finding enough time to write, what with having a full-time job and a young family, but I use every chance I get. My wife has been wonderful in committing to Monday being ‘story night’, which gives me at least one evening every week to dedicate to writing. With a good few solid hours I can get a lot done, and around that I just add on as many smaller writing stints as I can during the rest of the week. At this pace it takes a long time to finish a novel and get it print-worthy, but with more time in the future, I hope to write more and faster. There’s so much of Astrom I want to unveil!
Will there be a sequel? How many books do you think you have in you? (Andrew)
Yes indeed, the sequel is already in the works. A first draft is already written, in fact. Oron Amular was originally written in 2002, and Starbane followed in 2003. Yet, just as Oron Amular required many years of re-drafting and editing, so Starbane now needs the same. I spent most of 2019 doing exhaustive planning for a complete rewrite, and started actually writing it late last year. I’m now a few chapters in, and hope to have a complete draft by the end of 2021. I have dozens and dozens of books in mind – at least 60 – but whether I get time to write them all is the crucial question. If I can write full-time, then you can look forward to a prequel of Curillian’s adventures in his youth, the great deeds of his ancestors, novels set in Oron Amular’s earlier centuries, and a major series following another character. There’s lots to look forward to!
What books, film, TV, etc., have inspired your writing? (Andrew)
Oh, where to begin? Just about everything I read and watch inspires me in some way or other – if only in showing me how not to write and how to avoid spoiling character arcs. My formative influences were Tolkien and Stephen Lawhead, but since then I’ve been greatly inspired by other great writers, notably Bernard Cornwell, Brandon Sanderson and Conn Iggulden. I take ideas from films as diverse as Pirates of the Caribbean, Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Kingdom of Heaven, and many others. Anything with lots of action in a historical or fantasy/sci-fi setting, basically! I’ve read widely in ancient and medieval history, and both the great stories of history and the legends of Greek and Norse mythology have influenced me. I can thank the likes of Homer and Herodotus for giving me a taste for the epic and the exotic. And this answer wouldn’t be complete without mentioning the Bible, from which I’ve soaked up many themes, principles and character traits.
When starting a new book, how do you develop theme, plot, characters, story arc, etc.? (Will)
That’s a really good question, and it doesn’t have a simple answer. Plenty of ideas just occur to me, seemingly out of thin air, with no explicit or obvious source. That soup of inspiration, into which all the books I’ve read and all the films I’ve seen are poured, will constantly surprise me with what it churns out on the other side. Some ideas I firmly believe are direct inspiration from God, and I can only hope to do them justice. At the very centre of the process, however, is the historical framework I’ve created for Astrom. I do not write stories in isolation; they all have their seedbed in the history of Astrom and so all inter-connect with the others in some way. Even if particular novels are separated by centuries of time or thousands of miles of terrain, they will still be influenced by each other; by what comes after and what went before. Thus it was with Oron Amular, which is inexplicable without the preceding story of how the League of Wizardry entered a terminal decline after fighting a great war against an evil power that had been millennia in the growing. All subsequent stories will also slot into this framework, for which I already have scores, if not hundreds, of broad brush-stroke ideas for characters, events and momentous deeds. When I come to turn these into novels, it’s a case of taking those broad brush-strokes and adding more detail. Lots more detail. And that can take months, or even years. I already know most of the major characters, who have been brewing in my imagination for years, but I must begin to ask myself, what are they really like, and whom do they interact with? What drives them, and how would they react to these different circumstances? I need to know how they would react to each other, and how each plays a part in either achieving or thwarting some great aim or need. I plan to write a much longer blog-post about this creative process, but I hope this whets your appetite for now.
How many hours a day do you write and are all the hours productive or are there ‘tons of paper on the floor’ so to speak? (Kurt)
Hi Kurt, thanks for asking. On my Monday ‘story nights’ I write for about three hours straight, in which time I might write anything from a few hundred to a few thousand words. Some of it is rubbish and gets deleted, but most survives to be refined and improved. Some of it is pure prose, typed on Word documents, but some of the effort is in creating timelines, sketching character outlines, drawing maps, or other elements of worldbuilding. Happily, very few of my hours are completely unproductive, and writers’ block is a rare blip for me. Possibly because I’ve been developing this stuff for years, possibly because I’m always thinking about it, and so when I come to write the pent up ideas flow very naturally. I try and keep the study tidy, but when I’m deep in my world it does tend to get covered with dozens of old notebooks, maps and supporting documents, all of which I need constant reference to. Beyond Mondays, I might hope to work on my world and writing for another half dozen hours a week, sometimes more, sometimes less. Would that I could double or treble that allocation!
What are the physical differences between armists and humans? (Dominic)
I should, perhaps, have elaborated more on this in the book, only the quest swept us along so quickly that there was scarcely time. That was why I then added a guide to The Races of Astrom to the second and third books, to help shed a little more light without interrupting the flow of the narrative. Armists are definitely human-esque, and in their latter days (in which Oron Amular is set), you could be forgiven for thinking them human if you saw them. As a rule, they are shorter and stockier than us, like a related branch on the human family tree, but not quite Homo Sapiens. In their origin they were a mountain-race, crude and primitive, with only a rudimentary language and many peculiar customs. Yet they met the elves early on and took on much of their culture. Over the course of thousands of years they became more refined and sophisticated, losing much of their original coarseness. Think of a Stone Age tribe becoming gradually transformed into Roman citizens and you have a fair analogy. Like the Romans, armists are shorter than us, fairly olivine in skin with a preponderance of dark eyes and dark hair. They are tough, enduring and very strong, but just as capable as humans of both great ugliness and astonishing beauty.
When you write your characters, do you have real life people in mind? (Will)
Not usually, no. Some of my characters have names inspired by people I’ve known, but very few resemble real individuals in word or deed. Of course, everyone I meet contributes to the general inspiration of humanity and what people are like, but from that mixture come very few whole personalities – more often it is isolated character traits which then come together to form different characters.
Any updates on an audio book recording? (Abbi)
I must confess to being very behind schedule on this one, because good opportunities when it’s quiet enough to narrate are few and far between. Most of those times are taken up with writing my next book, so recording the audio book of Oron Amular has rather slipped down the priority list. It is definitely still something I want to do, but you’ll have to be patient I’m afraid.
How did you come up with the story? (Oscar)
Hi Oscar, thanks for your question. At quite a young age I remember watching a cartoon where a mysterious figure was giving away prizes to contestants in an underground labyrinth, and I thought something similar would make a really good story. I loved the idea of an enigmatic person giving out different powers to those who had earnt them. I also had another idea for the story of a young orphan who was gifted in magic but needed training to use it properly. I wedded the two things together, and so the concept of Oron Amular was born. Then it was just a case of giving the backdrop world some colour and thinking up the reasons behind the plot – what were the prizes, why were they being given away, and who would be involved. Once you have the basic idea, the fuller story tends to grow quite naturally.
Are there are any plans to meet any more wizards in the future? (Matt)
Most certainly. Sharp-eyed readers will note that we meet three living wizards in Oron Amular, two of whom we will meet again in the sequel. There are others alive at the time also, and they will surely play in the role in the great events to come. In days long past there used to be thousands of wizards in the League of Wizardry, but time and mischance has almost eradicated their order. Now only a few remain for the present stories, but if I’m spared, I will go back and write novels of the older days when workers of magic, both good and evil, were widespread and highly influential in the affairs of Astrom.
Which character was the most fun to write? (Chloe)
I have fun writing all my characters, but a few special ones spring to mind. Curillian and Lancoir are good fun because they’re just so cool and can do things I only dream of. It was lots of fun to introduce some new characters who pose more questions than answers, like Sir Theonar and Bishop Nurvo. Roujeark arguably goes on the greatest journey in terms of character development, but probably the most fun to write was Kulothiel. Keeper of the Mountain and Head of the League of Wizardry, Kulothiel is thousands of years old and one of the mightiest figures in Astrom. He has an epic back-story that I could draw on when trying to bring this ancient personality to life and lots of character quirks so that I could blend asperity and assurance with aloofness and authority. By turns Kulothiel is an austere loremasters, fond mentor and burdened steward. He was so fun because there were so many aspects of his character to play with, and by the end I had only shown the tip of the iceberg. Expect Mage-Lord Kulothiel to feature in many more novels in the future!
What was your favourite chapter to write? (Charlotte)
It’s a close-run thing between The Gauntlet (chapter II) and The Wizard’s Lair (chapter III). The Gauntlet is an incredibly long chapter, which reflects the arduous nature of what I put my characters through. I thought of everything I could possibly involve to make their time uncomfortable and test them to the limits, so it really is one thing after another, relentless action and tension. Then although the pace slows in The Wizard’s Lair, the reader is amply compensated by getting fleeting glimpses of what the heart of the Mountain. This is where the wizards once lived and worked, a place of wonders and marvels. From the Hall of Tapestried History to the Tear of Mírianna, it’s a chapter full of great beauty, dignity and antiquity. Both these chapters were equally enjoyable to write, and hopefully to read as well.
When they turn it into a film, where should they use to shoot Maristonia? (Chris)
Well, first of all, I truly hope they do make it into a film. It would be a dream come true to see the world of my imagination brought to life on the big screen. We would need some amazing locations to do justice to the fantastic places of Astrom. Maristonia is a huge country with a wide range of different terrains, from the temperate forests of the north to the semi-desert of the south. The parts we see in Oron Amular are in the central and eastern regions, which have a distinctly Mediterranean feel, akin to northern Italy. We would need a good mountainous coastline for Dagger’s Cove and wide skies for the flat, fertile plains of the East-fold. Mariston itself is a singular city, surrounded by immense circular walls and home to cathedrals, academies, universities, amphitheatres, harbours and palaces. Ancient Constantinople, or possibly Alexandria in its heyday, is the closest parallel our world has, but really it would take some amazing model-work and special effects to authentically portray Curillian’s capital.
Who is your most disliked character and why? (Beverley)
Good question. In my first book there were relatively few characters I disliked, but at the end of Rite of Passage we meet a wide range of new characters, with plenty of rogues among them. Suave but menacing Bishop Nurvo would make your skin crawl. King Adhanor of Hendar is surrounded by bad influences, and Southilar of Aranar possesses more than his fair share of brash bravado. Certainly the most villainous are the outlaws of Aranar who reached Oron Amular by foul means and who are ripe for their comeuppance.
How did you go about creating the characters’ names? (Tim)
Some of them, like Curillian and Roujeark, are very old names, dating back to the first draft and beyond. They had no particular meaning or specific point of inspiration, and I can offer no better answer than that they just came to me. Others, like Southilar and Culdon, belong to later in my writing journey, by which time I was actively trying to give distinct flavours to the different nations and races of Astrom and their naming conventions. As my world grew, so too did the language that underpins many of the names, so increasingly most of my characters have names with specific meanings, and they conform to set rules of pronunciation and style. The older ones must be permitted to operate in a slightly rogue sense, but then, plenty of things in this world have names that don’t really mean anything, whilst still being fun and interesting.
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Those were the questions I was asked on the night. If I’ve inadvertently missed any, just let me know and I’ll go back and supply answers to those. Equally, if you have any other questions not covered here, get in touch at my website or social media feeds. Whether it’s about my books, my world or my writing process, I’d love to hear from you.
Don’t forget to subscribe to my blog and get emails about all things Astrom at my website. Happy reading!