Jen Williams talks to Forbidden Planet!

2 March 2018

Listed multiple times for the British Fantasy Award, Jen Williams likes pirates, dragons and cats. She writes sword and sorcery novels with plenty of banter and magic, and drops wicked hints about her latest title being a bit subversive. And she's popped by the Forbidden Planet blog to answer a couple of questions!

Q: The Ninth Rain is described as epic fantasy - did you set out to do classic fantasy, or was it something that just happened?

After completing the Copper Cat trilogy, which was essentially a love letter to the golden age of sword and sorcery, I knew that I wanted to play with a slightly bigger – and more complicated – canvas. I also wanted to challenge myself, so the Winnowing Flame is one long story arc over three books, in contrast to the more self-contained adventures of the Copper Cat novels. And although The Bitter Twins is epic fantasy, I hope that it is a little subversive too. 

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the plot without straying too far into spoiler territory? 

In the follow-up to The Ninth Rain, war has come to Sarn. The Eborans, the legendary heroes of Sarn, have almost all died out, and the war-beasts, their mythical allies, have been born without the knowledge they need to destroy the Jure’lia. It’s up to our heroes, Vintage, Noon and Tormalin, to assemble some sort of fighting force, before it’s too late. 

Q: Was there ever a moment when you thought about writing outside the SFF genre, or has it always been fantasy first for you?

Before I was published, I wrote several books that dabbled in various subgenres of SFF – there was a soft SF crime novel, an urban fantasy book set in London that had a lot of horror in its veins, and even a book that would probably be termed grimdark now, more or less. I think that deep down in my bones I just love the fantastical, and I could only be tempted away from it by crime or historical fiction. 


Q: What have you learned about being an author from all of the other writers you’ve met?

That everyone is secretly convinced they don’t know what they’re doing; that writers like the bar bit of conventions the best; that it’s the best job in the ‘verse. 

Q: We’re curious about the approach you take to writing - research and planning first or a fast and furious first draft? Do you have any specific strategies for fitting writing into your day, or is it more a case of fitting the rest of the day around the writing?

I usually do a very loose plan, with lots of character notes, and then write a first draft from there. I know from experience that the plan usually gets abandoned about 60,000 words in, and I have to write a new one, but that’s all part of the process! When a book is growing organically it means it’s getting a life of its own, which is exactly what you want. Like a lot of writers I have other jobs outside of the writing one, so my books tend to get written around the edges of everyday life – it can be exhausting, but generally if you get your bum in the chair once a day, the book will eventually happen.


Q: You're a well-known presence on social media - is this something that has directly helped with the writing, and are there any particular sites, online tools etc you've found indispensable? Evernote, for example? 

I do like Evernote very much, and have used it in the past as a sort of sprawling encyclopaedia in terms of world-building, but inevitably in the frantic act of writing the book, I tend to forget it exists. When I’m in the planning stages I do use Pinterest to gather a bunch of inspiring images together, which I will often revisit when I’m feeling a bit stuck. Otherwise, I do spend a lot of time on twitter (as I’m sure everyone knows) and in terms of keeping in touch with the community and getting support, it’s invaluable. And it’s also a great source of terrible memes, of course. 

Q: And finally, what can you tell us about the end of the series, because we can’t wait!

Not that much, because I’m still writing it! However, unusually for me I have known from the beginning how these books will end, and I’m looking forward to getting there. It’s going to be emotional. 

 Thanks, Jen! You can join Jen Williams launching The Bitter Twins at Forbidden Planet London on Thursday 8th March from 6 - 7pm!