MY INTERVIEW WITH AUTHOR CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL
Name – Christopher Mitchell
Genre – Epic Fantasy
Book – The Queen’s Executioner – there are several strands to the story but the main one – that of the migration, came about because I wanted to tell a story about how ‘civilised’ places could end up behaving very badly, and how fear can make good people do cruel and selfish things. I also wanted to cover other aspects of human life – love, passion, hatred, jealousy, romance, so that while the world may be invented, hopefully readers will be able to connect with the emotions of the characters.
How did you get interested in the genre? I wanted to write the kind of things that I like to read! After spending years reading non-fiction and studying, I began devouring fantasy novels. Many were great, but others annoyed me in their simplistic stereotypes, and I wanted to create something that would break as many rules of the genre that I could get away with, while remaining true to its spirit.
Research? I didn’t do any specific research, but relied on many years of reading and studying history, science, philosophy, and ancient Greek and Latin, along with the experience of living in several different countries before settling back in Scotland. I spend a lot of time with my wife and children visiting mountains, lochs and castles, and that has inspired much of my writing.
About Series? The Queen’s Executioner is the first book in a series of four – called The Magelands, the entirety of which will be released by the end of June 2019. Asking which book I love the best is like asking which of my four children is my favourite! They’re all different in their own ways, but if I absolutely had to choose, I would say that I’m particularly proud of the last third of Book 4 – Sacrifice, where I bring the whole series to a conclusion. I had always planned to write a series, and the overall story arc for the books was the first thing I dreamt up. Originally I envisioned it lasting nine books (!) but quickly whittled it down to four.
Working day? I work full time in a nine-to-five job as a service manager for a Scottish company, which means that my writing hours are restricted to a few hours each evening, once the children have gone to bed. I began writing the Magelands series in January 2016, after three months of preparation, and finished Book 4 in April 2018. Along with the two prequel novels (or ‘Origin’ stories) the total word count for the series comes in at 800,000. I have a small cabin in the back garden where I can write surrounded by all of my books.
New Book? A month ago I finished the first book in the next series, which will follow on from the Magelands, taking place a generation later. In many ways, this new series will be ‘part 2’ of the entire storyline, and when it comes to an end I will be moving away from the world of the Magelands (at least for a while!).
Names of Characters? This is something I spend waaaay too much time on. The hours I’ve wasted agonising over the names of certain characters could probably amount to finishing an entirely new book! There are five ‘peoples’ inhabiting the Magelands, each with their own naming conventions and rules, which adds a layer of complexity to the process, as is the rule to never repeat a name. If I recall correctly, there are something like 250 individually named characters spread throughout the series, and almost all have been pondered over…
Where do your ideas come from? I guess I start at the top, with an overall arc, which could be as simple as a few words, about where and how I want a story to end, then work backwards from there. I split the arc up into pieces that could cover a single book, and add new threads so that each book can also feel like a complete story, as well as building on the overall arc at the same time. This method ensures I always know where the book is heading, even if the details of how to get there remain blurry for a while. Drafting can take on its own life, and characters are always saying and doing things that I hadn’t foreseen or planned! Sometimes I have to rein them in, other times I let them run loose for a while, see where they take me!
The hardest part of writing is persuading myself to get back into the chair each evening after a long day at work. I take it a day at a time. Each evening I tell myself that it would be okay to take a break that night, that it would be nice to put my feet up and read for an evening instead, but once I get into the cabin I’m like, ‘get into that chair!’ It’s like I have to trick myself into it every day….
The best bit about being a writer? There are two great bits. The first is the post-writing feeling I get just after I’ve done, say, 2,000 words in an evening, and I can sit back and relax. The other happens months later (if at all!), when readers write to tell me how much they have enjoyed reading something I’ve written – that’s a feeling that makes it all worthwhile.
Writing advice? Have faith in yourself and keep writing. Nobody becomes a bestseller overnight, every writer has to practice their craft, and it may take years to find your voice.
Reviews? I always read reviews. If someone has been moved enough by something I’ve written to leave a review (good or bad), then the least I can do is read it. Bad reviews hurt, there’s no getting away from it, but the good reviews more than make up for them.
Least favourite part of process? Re-reading my own drafts until I become almost sick of them. I revise, edit and proof my work thoroughly to make it the best it can be, but this process can suck out all of the original joy I felt at writing the draft in the first place!
Favourite Authors? A tough one, but I would have to say Robin Hobb is up there as one of the greatest fantasy writers of all time. It was her novels that drew me back into reading fantasy after a long period of sticking to non-fiction.
Favourite Characters? This is a question where my readers and I seem to differ. My readers seem to all prefer Keira, the badass Fire Mage with the potty mouth and a whisky habit, but personally I love Daphne Holdfast, especially her stoic calm in the face of the hundred horrible things I send her way!
Does writing energise or exhaust? It seems contradictory, but both! My head buzzes with energy, while I feel drained at the same time. It’s an odd experience.
Writing Kryptonite? The only thing that stops me writing is lack of time, otherwise I make myself keep going, no matter how I feel.
Original or deliver what readers want? The reactions from my readers appear to tell me that no one can predict what’s going to happen in my stories, so I’m going to go with unintentionally original.
What question would I like to be asked? “Who has given you the most support?” I would like to be asked this question, so that I can give credit to my amazing wife, who has inspired and supported me since the beginning – in fact it was her encouragement that got me writing in the first place. She reads every chapter as soon as it’s been drafted, and her advice has kept me from making countless mistakes. A true partnership.
Where can fans follow?