These past few months I’ve been reading a lot of the new releases in the HarperVoyager UK’s digital first imprint, that launched in June. And so far, they’ve all been lovely books. I’ve also had the chance to interview several of the authors and host a guest post too. Today I’m adding another to the list. Andy Livingstone is the author of Hero Born, a fantasy novel which seemingly looks at that most fantasy-of-fantasy tropes: the hero with a destiny. I decided to ask Andy how and why he came to write about this trope. You can find his answers to that an more below.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Andy Livingstone?
I am a former journalist and now a press officer with a local authority in Scotland. I have a wife, four grown-up stepchildren and two highly disrespectful sons with a great sense of humour who keep my feet on the ground. As a child I loved sport but, as an asthmatic child, I had to find something to do when I couldn’t run around –and discovered a complete affinity for losing myself in a book. I adored stories with an element of adventure and, after a chance encounter with The Hobbit introduced me to fantasy, I fell in love with the genre. I have an atrocious memory which makes me the antithesis of an expert in the genre, but the one thing I do know is that I love it.
How would you introduce people to Brann and the Seeds of Destiny trilogy?
Brann is an ordinary, average, nondescript boy from an ordinary, average, nondescript background who is thrust into a world of danger where his only concern is often how to survive the next five minutes. He has no idea of the potential within him, but that potential will (hopefully) be nurtured by circumstances (however unpleasant they may be) and people (whatever their motives may be). He also has no idea of the part he may play in momentous events, which is probably just as well as he has enough to cope with already!
Just in the title of the book, Hero Born, and in the title of the trilogy, Seeds of Destiny, you allude to two of the most beloved, but also most tried tropes, of the fantasy genre. What made you decide to play with these?
I love them, that’s why! I often hear that new writers are told to “write what they know” but I prefer to think they should “write what you love”. If that can come across in your writing, I feel it makes it that much more genuine to a reader and you pour more of your heart and soul into it. I grew up reading about heroes of all shapes, sizes and outlooks, from Waylander to Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser, and from Pug and Tomas to Aragorn. I am fascinated by potential and the releasing of it, and wanted to write about a character who has that hero potential and follow his story as he, hopefully, develops into the hero he can be. A great hero, however, needs a great cause (it would be a bit of a let-down if his hero-potential was unleashed but he settled down in time of peace to while out his days in contentment, or if he was tied up in one small area of the world while all the momentous events were taking place elsewhere, so his destiny must, for my stories, tie in with the a greater and more far-reaching destiny to let him flourish… if he doesn’t get himself killed along the way, of course!
Do you subvert Campbell’s hero’s journey or will Brann follow this classic narrative structure in his adventures?
I love fantasy, but I am horrendously under-educated in the genre. I have to admit I hadn’t even heard of Joseph Campbell or his theory until you asked the question and I Googled it. I have intentionally avoided taking creative writing classes or reading up in any way on “how to write fiction” because, whether it turned out good or bad, I wanted my voice (if I can risk sounding a bit pretentious) and my style to be my own. It is impossible to predict if anyone will like or dislike what you write, so there is no point in trying to do so – all I do is get the story down and hope others do like it, which is the most terrifying part of the process. I have a rough idea in my head of what the story will be but as I write it, it tends to take the direction that feels most natural and the ideas come as I go. It’s just the way my mind works and, if I tried to plan it in detail, it would completely change in the creation anyway! So the simple answer to your question is that I don’t know – we’ll just have to see how things go for Brann!
You’ve previously published several illustrated children’s books together with Lindsay Duff. How has the experience of writing for children fed into your development as an author of adult fantasy, if at all?
None at all, to be honest. What it did do was give me the confidence and the impetus to start writing the adult novel that I had always wanted to attempt. The children’s books began by chance when I was asked to contribute “a quiz or something” to the children’s page of a church magazine. I was useless at quizzes so went for the “or something” and dashed off a wee story about a squirrel and the adventures he had with this friends. I later expanded the stories into books and sent them in to a local publishing company to ask advice on whether they had potential if I worked on them, and was astounded when they phoned me to say they would like to publish them. They too Lindsay on to do the artwork and she, uncannily, caught my characters just as I had imagined them. She did an outstanding job, to be honest. What it did teach me, though was the unpredictable nature of the job – due to circumstances beyond the publishers’ control, they had to pull back from working on new fiction before the second set of four books was published, much to the disappointment of the young author.
You work as a press officer during the day and spent a long time as a journalist. How do you balance “work” writing and “creative” writing? Do they run together or do you keep them to separate days, for example?
They have to run together, but be kept separate, if you see what I mean. I can’t dedicate separate days to each, so have to fit my book writing into lunchtimes and evenings. I have quite a tight deadline for the sequel to Hero Born, so I set myself a daily target of 2000 words, Monday to Friday, and use the weekend to catch up on what I have fallen behind on, in order to meet a weekly deadline of 10,000 words – which should let me meet the deadline. If the book turns out to be the length I think it will be, that is…
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
Due to the above deadline, I have had to pull back in a big way from pushing Hero Born until this next manuscript is turned in, so I have not been actively pursuing appearances recently. However, things like this interview are always a welcome boost, and I am always open to offers for appearances or anything similar!
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Other than the obvious answer of “my family”, I love football and have been a devout fan of Motherwell FC all of my life, even to the extent of having the club crest tattooed onto me! I am shamelessly living the dream in that respect at the moment as my older son has just signed as a full-time professional with the club.
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?
All of the new authors who were signed by HarperVoyager’s UK office keep in contact with each other and have become fairly close, and I have seen first-hand the quality that they have had to attract the eye of such an eminent publisher and been impressed with their books, even if they write in a sub-genre that I wouldn’t normally read. My best recommendation would be to keep an eye on www.harpervoyagerbooks.co.uk where you will see news of all of the digital-first books as they come out.
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 have one bookcase in my study, which hold about ten percent of the books I own (I have kept every one of the books I have ever had, with most either in my loft or in my parents’ house). The ones in my bookcase are my favourites, however, and they are strictly ordered into two sections: Fantasy and The Rest. Within those sections they are, OF COURSE, alphabetical by author. How could they be allowed to be any other way? A different system would undoubtedly unbalance the order of nature and the universe, don’t you know?
Bio: A press officer and former journalist, Andy Livingstone has been writing in one form or another for over twenty years. After publishing several children’s picture books, Hero Born is his first novel for adults. You can find him online at his website, on Twitter, and on Facebook.