Next month will see the publication of The Iron Ghost, the follow up to The Copper Promise. Written by Jen Williams, The Copper Promise was oodles of sword and sorcery fun, which I just loved. I’m really looking forward to tucking into this second offering featuring, Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith, but I’m making myself wait until closer to publication. In the mean time, I hope you enjoy this interview with Jen and if its piqued your interest and you haven’t read The Copper Promise yet, go catch up before February 26, when Headline will be publishing The Iron Ghost!
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Jen Williams?
I’m a writer from south east London with an affection for mead and a tendency to wear odd socks. I live with my partner and our cat in a bit of the city where all the pubs appear to be named after wild animals, and I write chunky fantasy books that tend to be heavy on monsters and magic.
How would you introduce people to the world of The Copper Promise series?
The Copper Promise series follows the adventures of two sell-swords, the man who initially employs them, and the resulting trouble they all get into. Wydrin Threefellows, the self-styled Copper Cat of Crosshaven, is a woman with dubious morals and a love for tall tales, tavern fights and the sweet weight of coin in her purse. Her partner, Sir Sebastian, is a disgraced ex-knight who thankfully has a more sensible approach to adventuring and generally spends his time stopping Wydrin getting herself/him/random bystanders killed. In the first book, The Copper Promise, the pair are hired by Lord Aaron Frith, a man grievously injured and looking for the means to carry out his revenge, and during the course of their initial quest they accidentally unleash a potentially world ending force of destruction on the world. Like you do.
The trilogy is essentially an adventure fantasy series, with a big emphasis on outlandish monsters and action. The second and third books follow the adventures and conflicts of this unlikely trio.
The Copper Promise was originally released as four novella’s and then released as one book. The Iron Ghost was written to be published as one book (I presume) from the start. In what ways did the experience of writing The Iron Ghost differ from writing The Copper Promise?
Well The Iron Ghost is actually split into four parts too, partly because I enjoy structuring it that way, and partly because coming up with titles for the parts is really fun. Writing the second book was certainly a different experience though – for one thing, I knew it would be released as a single book, so I didn’t have to be quite so strict with the length of each part, and more to the point, this was the first book I’d written completely under a contract and with people waiting for the results. This was a reasonably scary experience, and there’s no doubt that I felt a great deal of pressure writing The Iron Ghost; pressure to write a decent sequel to a book I loved a lot, pressure to do the characters justice. But it was very exciting to be continuing a story I was so invested in, and being given space to play with those characters again was a joy.
Almost every review I’ve read for The Copper Promise mentions something along the lines of how much fun the book exudes. Was that what you were aiming for and will the reader get more of this in The Iron Ghost?
Absolutely. I am a big fan of all sorts of fantasy, but at the time I started writing The Copper Promise it felt like the sort where characters knock about on quests, face up to monsters and wield wild magic was a bit thin on the ground. I am also a big fan of humour in books, because I believe it makes the characters more realistic: people are funny. One of the (many) things I love about George R. R Martin and Joe Abercrombie, both writers known for writing “gritty, realistic” fantasy, is that there is a lot of humour in their books. Yes, sometimes it’s the darkest, most painful gallows humour, but without that you get, in my opinion, characters who don’t deal with things like normal humans do. When faced with war or giant god-dragons who want to destroy the world, sometimes the most human thing to do is to crack a joke.
The Iron Ghost is a darker book than The Copper Promise (I think of it as the Empire Strikes Back of the trilogy) because the conflicts and the difficulties the characters face are much more personal, and therefore much more dangerous. Having said that, the emphasis is still very much on exploration and adventure – I love the sense of wonder you get from exploring fantasy worlds, and it’s something I try to introduce in each book.
What drew you to writing a sword and sorcery series, albeit an updated version?
I have a great love for Fritz Leiber’s Lankhmar stories, particularly the interactions between Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. You know that they are best friends, even when they’re arguing or fighting, and that sense of companionship infects every story. The world of Lankhmar, with its seedy taverns and haunted mountains, is just incredibly attractive to me, and I’m naturally more interested in the sorts of characters you get in sword and sorcery – the ones who are just trying to get by, rather than trying to rule a kingdom. I love those sorts of characters because when they step up to the situation and do something heroic, it’s not just because they’re the “chosen one” or fulfilling a duty; it’s because, in the end, they know it’s the right thing to do. Wydrin, Sebastian and Frith struggle with these sorts of choices in The Copper Promise, and I think that’s part of the joy of sword and sorcery.
Is there another subgenre of speculative fiction you’d like to explore? Or perhaps even another genre entirely?
Part of me longs to write pulp science-fiction. I have this theory that Farscape is essentially fantasy set in space, and I would love to write a book like that one day; a gang of misfits and rogues trapped onboard the same spaceship, knocking around space together. Anything that involves “rogues in space” makes me very happy. Fantasy-wise, I keep fiddling about with ideas for a steampunk/faepunk book set in the world I wrote about in a short story called Constance Withers and the Wall. That one is deeply unlikely to happen, particularly as I feel my heart lies in epic fantasy, but it might generate a few more short stories over the years.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
Currently I’m right in the middle of writing the third book, which has been enormous fun so far, but next month I’ll be doing a few things to celebrate The Iron Ghost making its way out into the world. On the 24th of February I will be doing the reading honours at the regular Super Relaxed Fantasy Club, which takes place in Holborn every month (all fantasy fans welcome!). Following that on the 26th of February, I’m very excited to be launching The Iron Ghost at Forbidden Planet on Shaftesbury Avenue, where there will likely be cake, and I will happily draw dragons inside everyone’s copy of the book. February also contains Valentine’s Day, my birthday, and the return of VIKINGS to our TV screens, so I am happy all round really.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
I do have a life outside books, but it’s sometimes difficult to remember what that is…
I’m a fan of Lego – I’m gradually making mini-figs of all my characters – and I have a lot of affection for those periods of history that involved swords and questionable sanitation. That’s really about reading books again though, isn’t it? Um. Video games! I’ve always been a gamer, and in the last few years I’ve become unhealthily obsessed with the Bioware games Mass Effect and Dragon Age. Bioware have, I think, come very close to giving you the same intimate experience of reading a novel, along with being able to smash monsters about the ear with a very large sword. This concept is very dear to me.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
2015 is going to be a good year for books! I would certainly suggest looking out for Den Patrick’s The Boy Who Wept Blood, the follow up to last year’s The Boy With the Porcelain Blade, one of the most original fantasy debuts I’ve read, and speaking of debuts, I have a sneaky early copy of Pete Newman’s The Vagrant, which looks amazing. I’m also really looking forward to Zen Cho’s Sorceror to the Crown, which has been described as “Georgette Heyer crossed with Susanna Clarke” – I’ve read some of her short stories and I already know this is going to be a treat.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
I am afraid I must be the sort of person librarians hate, because I have no real system at all. Essentially I have the “best” bookcase, on which I keep all of my best book loves – the Fritz Leiber, Tove Jansson, Stephen King, George R R Martin, Robin Hobb – and then all the other bookcases are filled at random, although I do at least try to keep books from the same author together. I know, I am terrible. The weird thing is, I still know where everything is, it just means that no one else can find anything.
Bio: Jennifer Williams is a fantasy writer and Lego obsessive who spends much of her time frowning at notebooks in cafes and fiddling with maps of imaginary places. She is represented by Juliet Mushens of the Agency group, and is partial to mead, if you’re buying. Her debut Fantasy novel, The Copper Promise, is published by Headline and available now.