Following on from my previous blog post (Wings of Storm Book Review) I thought what better way to learn and find out more about the book Wings of the Storm, the author Giles Kristian and The Rise of Sigurd trilogy than with an interview with the author himself.
How did you get into writing? Also did you always intend to become an author?
I was probably seventeen years old when I realised I wanted to be a writer. And I might even be able to pinpoint a particular moment: when I was reading Seamus Heaney’s poem, “Digging”. Becoming a writer was very far removed from my world and the family business, which was steel. No one in my family had ever been to university and we weren’t big readers. But when I read “Digging”, it resonated so powerfully with me that I’ve never forgotten it. In the poem, Heaney sees his father digging the flowerbeds. He remembers as a child watching his father in his younger, stronger days digging in the potato fields. Remembers that his grandfather, before that, was an expert turf digger. But Heaney knows that he has ‘no spade to follow men like them’ because he is a writer, not a farmer. For me, the last three lines say it all.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.
That was when I knew it was OK to follow a different path, when I admitted (to myself at least) that I wanted to express myself through creativity and figure myself out through writing. I got into uni to study English Language and Literature…then dropped out to be the lead singer in a pop group. As you do. Over the course of my music career I wrote loads of songs but when I left that all behind it seemed the right time to throw myself into fiction. The quiet, contemplative nature of writing proved a therapeutic and welcome antidote to years of the, often rather nasty, music industry. I wrote a novel and got nowhere with it so I wrote another, funding this ‘word addiction’ by writing advertising copy and making music for movie trailers. I moved to New York with the manuscript of RAVEN: Blood Eye under my arm, and after enough rejection letters to wallpaper a small room, I was eventually taken on by the prestigious Writers House literary agency. Even so my agent struggled to find the right publisher (or a decent deal) for my Viking novel. Historical fiction was a tough sell in the States. Still is. Then, on a trip back home I approached A.M. Heath, one of the UK’s leading literary agencies, via a mutual contact. Fortunately, they saw the potential in my manuscript and offered to represent me.
I was back in New York when my agent Bill Hamilton phoned one morning with the news that Transworld (Penguin Random House) wanted to sign the RAVEN: Blood Eye trilogy. I had told them I planned a trilogy because, well, I thought it sounded better, and so I got writing in earnest. But the journey was long and emotionally fraught. I wrote RAVEN Blood Eye in 2004, got a publishing deal in 2007 and it hit the shelves in 2009. It was, I am delighted to say, a bestseller.
Now, I know that the inspiration to write your first historical novel comes from your own family history. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
My mother is Norwegian and as a child I spent many, many holidays in and around the fjords of Norway’s west coast, not far from Bergen. We had a family home there for twenty-one years and I love that part of the world more than anywhere else on earth. It’s where my soul feels most at peace. Then, as it happened, in 2003 I visited the Oslo Viking Ship Museum for the second time, on a stag weekend with a group of…er…excited friends. I stood there entranced by the Oseberg and Gokstad ships in their miraculous state of preservation, and I got to thinking of the men who, over a thousand years ago, sat on those benches and manned those oars. They were like us, I thought, comrades out for adventure and perhaps an ale or two. I imagined the friendships and rivalries, the companionship and the dark humour, and it was all so clear. When I got home, and when my head was clear again, I wrote the first lines of RAVEN: Blood Eye. It seems I’ve been living with Vikings ever since.
How did you feel when you got your first publishing break?
I was so desperate to be a published writer that it physically hurt. I would wander around my local bookstore in Nolita, Lower Manhattan, New York, trying to imagine what it would feel like if my book (then just the manuscript of RAVEN: Blood Eye) was sitting on one of the shelves. I would attend the weekly author talks and soak it all up. Didn’t matter what the author had written about – I just wanted to bask in the glory of a writer, a real writer, talking passionately about their book. I was working with designers in a movie marketing company and they would kindly mock up book covers for me which I would then wrap around Bernard Cornwell hardbacks, just to visualise what it might feel like to hold my own book. Yep, I was that desperate. And maybe it’s just as well I admit that, because I never took a creative writing course and I don’t have a degree and I never really read books as a child. Before I got my publishing deal it seemed to me there was this secret club and you had to know the rules to get in. I bought books with titles like How To Get Published and So You Want To Be A Writer, desperate for any advice, any advantage. But it turns out there are no rules. None. What you do is you write a good story in an engaging way. Then you get it in front of a literary agent or a publisher. That’s it. Not saying it’s easy, but if I can do it…
Tell us more about your book, Wings of the Storm.
Wings of the Storm is the thunderous finale to The Rise of Sigurd series. Sigurd and his band of oath-sworn warriors are winning fame and reputation fighting in Sweden for an ambitious warlord. Meanwhile, Sigurd’s sister, Runa, is learning the arts of war among a sisterhood of shieldmaidens dedicated to the goddess Freyja. But Sigurd needs riches and an army if he is to face his hated enemy, the oath-breaker and betrayer King Gorm. And while many think that he is Odin-favoured, Sigurd has also drawn the eye of another god: Loki the Trickster. A daring raid goes wrong and Sigurd finds himself a prisoner of the powerful Jarl Guthrum. Bound like a slave, he is taken to the temple at Uppsala, where the blood of human sacrifice flows to appease the gods.
This book marks the end of an incredible journey for me and the climax to a series which has been an absolute joy to write. I threw myself headlong into this Viking story and wrote it unfettered, instinctively and with passion. For me, there’s no other way to do it.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to write historical fiction or is an aspiring author?
The first thing I’d say is: don’t just talk about writing a book. Actually sit down and, you know, write it. Chances are you already know what you like to read, have books in your head which you would love to have written yourself, and have written your own book with that in mind. Don’t worry about sounding like another author. We all get influenced by the last good book we’ve read, but that’s fine because your voice and your writing is unique to you and will come through. Once you have a first draft or are well on the way to having one, and if you can afford to spend the money, get your work appraised by The Literary Consultancy (there are others too who provide this service). They did a manuscript assessment on an early draft of RAVEN: Blood Eye back in 2005 and the feedback I received was invaluable. I really do believe that their advice opened my eyes and helped me to hone the manuscript until it was ready for submission. Once you’ve finished your manuscript, resist the temptation to tout it around or have your friends read it. Put it away for at least a couple of weeks. When you pick it up again you’ll come to it with a little bit of objectivity and you’ll see so many things that can be improved. You’ll be very glad indeed that you haven’t sent it off yet. The saying ‘you don’t get a second chance to make a first impression’ may be a cliché but it happens to be true.
After that (or even before that), buy a copy of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. It really is the most important book, full of useful advice from publishing professionals and successful authors, as well as listings/contacts for agents and publishers. There’s a new version every year so it’s constantly updated. Trust me, it’ll be the best £16.00 investment you’ll ever make.
Then it’s down to the business of trying to find the right agent for you and your manuscript. Follow the submission advice listed in the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook and while you’re waiting for a reply (and believe me, you’ll wait, and wait, and wait some more) get on with writing something new. This will keep you positive and busy, and nothing improves your writing more than writing. Furthermore, this way when you hook a publisher and they ask, ‘What other ideas do you have?’, you’ll show them you’re not a one-hit wonder AND you might even get signed up for a two-book deal.
Or you may want to self-publish, of course, because these days you can do that with comparative ease and without stigma. I can’t offer much advice there, other than this: pay a professional to copy-edit your book and pay a professional to design the cover.
Other than all that, write because you want to write, because you need to write. Don’t be fooled into thinking it’s a good or easy way to make a living. It’s neither. It’s hard, intense, lonely, poorly paid work…and I love it!
Do you write every day? If so, do you have any tips?
I write five or six days a week and mainly stick to traditional working hours so that it doesn’t take over family life. I have a cabin in the countryside which is where I go for peace and quiet and where the serious business gets done. But I also have an office at home which is warm and comfortable and has good internet, which is better when I’m doing a lot of research. I tend to read the previous day’s writing, editing as I go, before starting a new session. This reminds me where I am in the story and also, importantly, puts me back in the same mood, so that the prose flows properly from one session to the next. Furthermore, editing as I go makes for a first draft which is much closer to the final draft. First draft to get the story down. Second draft to polish it. Third draft to make it sing. Personally, I don’t do loads of rewrites. I’m slow but I try to get it right first time. Depending on the scene I’m writing, I might listen to a particular piece of music to help get me in the mood. Movie soundtracks are great for this. Braveheart, Gladiator, The Lord of the Rings, The Last of the Mohicans etc. Other times I might need silence in order to hear the music of the prose. Coffee is essential. Twitter and Facebook are my enemies. Oh, and if I can, I try to quit for the day knowing roughly what I’m going to write when I next sit down. That prevents the hour of head scratching and thinking So, what now?
What authors do you like to read? And what five books do you feel have really shaped and inspired you as a writer and a person?
I don’t read anywhere near as many novels as I’d like. I keep buying them but never get the chance to read them because I’m always fighting my own deadlines. These days I tend to read outside my own genre. I like thrillers and loved I Am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes. I like Lee Child’s Jack Reacher novels and I like post-apocalyptic stuff like The Road by Cormac McCarthy and World War Z by Max Brooks. As I mentioned earlier, I came to reading novels late in life. I was 15 and off school for several weeks with glandular fever. My mother bought me a fantasy novel, The Crystal Shard by R.A. Salvatore. It was the first novel I had read voluntarily, and it led me to Terry Brooks, David Gemmell and of course J.R.R. Tolkien. Since then, some of the books that have influenced me, or simply inspired me, are The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. Just mind-blowing in its scope and a triumph of the imagination, these eight books, based on King’s multiverse, draw upon The Lord of the Rings, the Arthurian myth, and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly as inspirations. Then there’s Bernard Cornwell’s Arthur trilogy, The Warlord Chronicles. My favourite ever trilogy, these books inspired me to want to write historical fiction. No doubt about it. I read them twenty years ago and they still linger in my mind. Similarly, Conn Iggulden’s EMPEROR series was huge for me. I lived and breathed those wonderful books and they taught me much about the craft of storytelling. Lastly, and more recently, there’s Christian Cameron’s Long War Series. These novels are so well researched, so immersive and so well written that I think they provide a benchmark within the historical fiction genre. I simply love them.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk with me today!
Thank you for being a stop on my blog tour! Where’s the after-show party?
Find Giles Kristian on Social media/online here:
Facebook: Giles Kristian
(Images from Giles Kristian’s twitter page)