British fantasy writer Joe Abercrombie regularly delights readers with new novels and a fresh take on the genre. His next book, “The Trouble with Peace” from The Age of Madness trilogy, is expected to arrive in mid-September. In an interview with PanARMENIAN.Net, meanwhile, the author of the brilliant fantasy series The First Law talks about what the future holds, a possible screen adaptation of his books, and much more.
First off, how has the Covid-19 pandemic changed your plans? Has the situation affected the release of the second book in The Age of Madness trilogy?
It’s changed many things, of course, but as far as the release dates go I think we’ll be able to stick to the original plan. We wanted to release the books a year apart, and the second one will be out in English mid-September 2020, a year after the first. The plan is for the third to come out mid-September 2021. I think if this was the first book in a series we’d be more worried, but once a series is up and running it probably does more damage to delay than to stick to the plan. Of course things might change, and the whole way the promotion works will be completely different, since bookshops are still shut and book events and festivals are unlikely to be coming back any time soon.
Does the world right now inspire you? Do you see plots today that you could later turn into pages in a book?
I don’t think I’m a writer who necessarily takes whole events or people wholesale and transfers them to a book, but certainly I’m affected by what’s going on. How could you not be? So The First Law certainly picked up some elements of the drift into the global financial crisis which was happening around the time I wrote it, and the new series, Age of Madness, certainly reflects the political situation over the past few years.
In the “The First Law” universe, are you planning a new collection of stories, standalone novels or a third trilogy?
I’ve still got to finish off the third book so I’m focussed on that for the moment and not looking too far ahead – I expect whatever comes next won’t be in the First Law world. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see another three standalones appear at some point. Short stories tend to be written when I’m asked for one, and collected into a book later. That might take some time to appear, I suspect.
You have the universes of the Shattered Sea and The First Law. Are you planning to continue developing the Shattered Sea, or create an altogether new world in your multiverse?
I certainly wouldn’t say no to more stories in the world of the Shattered Sea, and I expect I’ll always go back to work in the First Law world, but I imagine what I write next might be in a different world.
Photo: Bookandacuppa blog
Which historical era is the most interesting and inspiring for you? If there was a time machine, which one would you like to see with your own eyes?
That’s a big question – so many different eras are full of fascinating events, how would one pick a favourite? I’ve drawn inspiration from all kinds of different events and periods – the dark ages and the Vikings, the Italian renaissance, the Holy Roman Empire, the American Civil War, the Wild West, most recently the early industrialisation of the 17th and 18th centuries. I guess Ancient Rome might be pretty cool to see. And they had good plumbing so that’s a plus.
Are there specific heroes in history who inspired you to create a particular character? What are some of your favorite books on history that you would recommend to readers who love your novels?
I don’t think specific heroes or characters that map exactly in quite that way, but certainly events, details, situations. So the disaster of the charge of the Light Brigade, for example, arose partly out of the particular personalities and relationships (intense animosities, indeed) between several of the generals in the British chain of command, and the man chosen to carry the order. The characters aren’t the same, but in the Heroes I have a different kind of military disaster result from a different set of personality clashes. For sure I am hugely influenced by history, and military history especially. Shelby Foote’s History of the American Civil War is one of my favourite books in that line – history written with a novelist’s eye for character and drama.
In real life, we see a movement against corporations, an environmental movement, and in “The First Law” we saw the development of the world from the Middle Ages to the early stages of the industrial revolution. We are now reading about revolution, discontent with the rich, and see obvious parallels with the Luddite movement. The impression is that the people come to the fore. Will the similarities make your readers empathize with the hero more than with the “oligarchs”, officials and murderers? And do you think those who are fighting against evil things in real life are mostly positive characters, or are they as complex and ambiguous as your heroes?
I tend to think that right and wrong are complex constructions rather than absolutes, that everyone has complex mixtures of motives, and that heroism and villainy are often matters of where one stands. That’s not to say that there’s no such thing as good and bad, but that sides and causes are rarely one or the other – certainly a great deal less than we often see in classic fantasy fiction, where we can sometimes tell who’s in the right by the colour of their armour. I like to try and present the world through the eyes of each character, hopefully coloured by their own reasons and justifications, so who the reader empathises with is to some degree up to them. I wouldn’t expect any clear outcomes or lessons, though. I like a world without them. It feels closer to our own.
photo: Tony Healey
Do you travel? Does that influence your writing or specific plots and characters?
I’ve probably travelled a lot more since becoming a writer, to go to festivals and events around the world. As writers we make a living making things up, but there’s no substitute for the authenticity that comes from a genuine experience or a specific sense of place. A visit to the palaces, cathedrals and countryside of northern Italy was very useful when finishing of Best Served Cold, for example, which takes place in a set of feuding city states not unlike renaissance Italy.
We know you used to work as a TV editor, and that you are a wonderful writer now. Do you see yourself as anything else but a writer? Or is there a chance of turning to another genre?
There are all kinds of books and genres of course, but once you’re established in one and have an expectant readership and a hungry publisher there’s always a gravity to staying in one area – especially with fantasy which is a broad cloth and can include all kinds of different work – I’ve already written a revenge story, a war story, a western and an industrial parable within one fantasy world, after all. So I imagine I’ll stick to fantasy for now, though there are lots of styles of writing other than books of course…
You are being asked this question all the time, but here it goes: are you negotiating for a film/TV show based on your books? Have you ever been close to such an agreement?
Yes. I will say no more.
Are you interested in writing scripts for your own novels, when/if you sell your books' movie or TV rights?
Yes. I will say no more about that either…
According to an article on The Guardian, “the first time [you] sat down to write what [you] believed would be “the great British fantasy novel”, it didn’t go well”. The second time round, when you were more or less sure of your success, did you ever think that your books are going to find their way to such remote places as Armenia?
Well, you dream of success when you first start taking writing seriously, of course, but you never for a moment expect it. I love what I do, for the most part, but it’s a constant source of amazement that anyone else is interested in this nonsense that I dreamed up in the middle of the night entirely for my own amusement. So the idea that it’s being translated into other languages and that people are enjoying it so far away is humbling and delightful.
Photo: Lou Abercrombie
Have you ever read about Armenian history? Is there a chance your Armenian fans will see a familiar motive in your works?
I must admit I’m not well versed in the area. Europe tends to be mostly what I know. On the one hand that’s a shame, one wants to draw one’s influences as widely as possible, and I love it when I see fantasy – which for a long time was very much stuck in the European middle ages – branch out into other times and places. But I also think it’s important to bring the authenticity that comes with having deep roots in a place and a culture, so there’s a risk in drawing too much on other people’s history without a lot of careful thought and research.