John Gwynne talks to Forbidden Planet
8 January 2018
We're very pleased to have had a chat with author John Gwynne - about his new book, and what it really feels like to be a Viking!
Before we talk about your new book A Time of Dread, we'd like to talk about your early life and career. How long have you been writing stories and when did you first decide to do it as more than just a hobby?
In my head I’ve always been a story-teller, but I didn’t start writing until I was in my 30’s. I’d been teaching at Brighton University, but due to health problems with my daughter Harriett, who is profoundly disabled, I stepped out of teaching and joined my wife at home as Harriett’s full-time carer. We worked from home to pay the bills, starting a vintage furniture business, and during this time my wife Caroline suggested I try writing a book. I laughed and told her not to be ridiculous, pointing out that to do that there were certain ingredients required that I was definitely lacking. Things like plot, character and a large dose of talent! Then my children jumped on the idea, though, and any dad will be able to tell you how that turns out. I ended up thinking, Hmm, why not give it a go…
Can you tell us a bit about the new novel and series in your own words and tell us where some of the inspirations for the narrative originated?
A Time of Dread is book one of my new series. It is set in the Banished Lands, which is inspired by Dark Ages Europe and Norse and Celtic mythology. The Banished Lands is a place that angels and demons have made their battle-ground, and all the races that live within it have been sucked into that war. It’s a tale of love and friendship, betrayal and loss, the bonds of family and revenge. And shieldwalls.
It is set in the same world as my last series, taking place 130 years after the events of Wrath. You don’t need to have read the first series to enjoy this one, though.
The major inspirations I’ve drawn upon for this series are the fall of the Roman Empire, Attila the Hun, and the Norse epic the Volsung Saga.
You've already written a highly successful fantasy series. How did this help prepare and inspire you for writing A Time of Dread?
Thank-you, that’s very kind of you to say. As a writer I think you’re always trying to hone your craft, to put down what’s in your head in a clearer, more exciting, emotionally moving way. The best way to learn is to write, and for me every book has been a learning curve. I hope that they’re improving as I go.
Also, for me, the heart of the story is the characters. I love all of the cool stuff that goes along with epic fantasy – sweeping landscapes, monsters, epic battles – but for me the essential ingredient is the characters. If I don’t care for the characters – either loving them or hating them – then I’m not likely to be swept up and emotionally moved by the events that happen around them, so I try to write characters that are interesting and relatable. That’s my goal.
We understand that you’ve recently taken up Viking/Dark Age re-enactment. How are you finding learning to fight for real? Is it like the stories?
I LOVE it! Viking re-enactment has been so much fun. The group I’ve joined have been incredibly welcoming and are a great bunch to fight with and alongside. I am a newbie, and very much still learning the ropes, but standing in a shieldwall with my three sons around me has been a fantastic experience. It’s exciting and exhilarating – though obviously without the threat of death, which removes those terror-inducing, fill-your-breeches moments. The closest I’ve come to that is a few bruises. Some things can only be written from the imagination.
It also feels very cool putting my war-gear on, drawing my sword and raising my shield.
That’s when I’m not getting stuck in my chainmail shirt, of course!
Moving forwards, will you continue with this new hobby – and how do you think it will affect your writing of future books?
Most definitely. Re-enactment has always appealed to me – partly because I think I’m still a big kid inside – but it is also extremely informative for my writing. Learning how to hold and use a shield and spear, the various grips, strikes and blocks, and more than anything the sheer physicality of fighting – the day after my first training session I woke up and thought ‘what the hell is wrong with my left arm? And then realized it was the result of holding a shield for four hours straight. There have been so many details I’ve experienced since I’ve started re-enactment that you just can’t think of from the comfort of your armchair, so I hope that my re-enacting will add a level of detail and authenticity to my writing that wasn’t there before. It’s all research. At least, that’s what I tell my wife…