Valour is book two in a four book series titled ‘the Faithful and the Fallen.’ Malice and Valour are already on the shelves; book three, Ruin, is written and going through the editing process, and at the same time I am writing the fourth and final book (whilst my mind is under attack from ideas for a new series). It’s been an amazing ride, and one that’s swept up my whole family along the way.
It’s a strange feeling, writing the last one, as ‘the Faithful and the Fallen’ has been a huge part of my life for...counts fingers... twelve years now. Crikey, that’s a large chunk of time, during which the characters have grown in my mind to become - almost - real people. (Yes, I am slightly insane, as my wife and children will happily attest).
It’s a bittersweet feeling, writing the last book. It feels really cool to finally be writing scenes that I’ve been imagining for over a decade, and incredibly satisfying, but also sad to see the end, sometimes quite literally, of a lot of characters. People do tend to die in my books. Frequently. But here I am writing about the end when I haven’t told you about the beginning...
I’ve come pretty late to writing, and even then it came about in quite a convoluted manner. My daughter Harriett is profoundly brain injured and needs a high level of round-the-clock care. My wife was her main carer, while I laboured away at university climbing the academic ladder and teaching. Harriett's health deteriorated to a point where it became clear that I was needed at home, so I stepped out of teaching and joined my wife as Harriett’s full-time carer. That’s also when I started writing - prodded by my wife and kids, whom I’ve always told stories to - part over-active imagination, part big-kid syndrome. So for me writing began as a hobby.
I’m forty-six now, so I started writing/working on ‘the Faithful and the Fallen’ when I was thirty-four. I may not have written anything before then (apart from a pile of essays and the odd dissertation at university) but I’ve always read. As far back as my memory functions reading and stories have been part of me. One of my earliest memories is my primary school teacher rounding us all up and opening the first page of ‘The Book of Three,’ by Lloyd Alexander. After that it was a slippery slope of Hobbits and Ring-Wraiths, giant spiders, wooden horses, dragons and minotaurs and knights searching for grails. Mixed into that came a growing love of all things historical.
Once I’d decided that I was going to have a go at this writing malarkey I came to the abrupt realization that I didn’t actually have the faintest idea of how to write a novel. The only way I knew how to write was the way I had learned at university. Read, read and then read some more. So I did - the stuff that I get passionate about - ancient history, especially the Romans and Celts, but also a truck load about the Greeks and the Steppe and Persia, about Boudicca and Attila the Hun, about Remus and Romulus and the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, notes about the theories of Atlantis, about how swords were made 1000 years ago and about wolf-pack behaviour and bears and Komodo dragons and swords and axes and war-hammers and...well, lots. Also world mythologies, again Celtic and Greco-Roman, Norse, Slavic, Eastern. Then of course Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost, some Blake, Dante, Machiavelli, its all gone into the pot. I think I probably researched more than I needed to (about two years!) firstly because I enjoyed it but also if I’m honest towards the end because I’m a procrastinator and was a little anxious about starting and finding out that I couldn’t do it. Eventually, though, with a good deal of prodding from my wife and children, I began to write.
‘Malice’ was my first novel, and because it was the first thing I’ve ever written creatively when I started writing it was for an audience I can count on my fingers - my wife and three boys. And me, of course. So by that logic I tried to write something that would appeal to all of us. In my mind it was a game of two goals; firstly I wanted to write something that was epic, a la Tolkien and Braveheart, (films were almost as influential in my mind as books - films such as Braveheart, Gladiator, Last of the Mohicans, Spartacus), and at the same time I wanted to write something that had a heart, something that felt intimate, built around characters, reminiscent of the multitude of Gemmell books that I’d read as a teenager. So epic and intimate became my mantra.
Once I finished Malice I gave it to my wife and children to read, plus a few mates. Feedback from them was good - but hey, what did I expect from family and friends. So I started googling how you get a book published, and became promptly very disillusioned and resigned to anonymity. Nevertheless I purchased the Writers Handbook and started looking at agents that specialised in fantasy. One chap’s name kept cropping up, both in the Writer’s Handbook and in my online searches.
John Jarrold. He had worked in the business for over three decades, running fantasy imprints such as Orbit and Simon and Schuster, editing authors such as Michael Morcock, Guy Gavriel Kay and Robert Holdstock, as well as representing contemporary writers like Mark Charan Newton and Adam Nevill. He became my ‘dream agent,’ the man always at the top of my list, so it was no surprise that John was the first agent that I approached.
To my surprise and very great pleasure John loved Malice and agreed to represent me. That was a good day. Mead was consumed.
John worked with me editorially for a while and then put ‘Malice’ out to publishers. Soon after there was a pre-emptive offer from Tor UK. This was just before Christmas 2010. Needless to say I accepted and there was much celebrating in the Gwynne household that Christmas, involving more mead drinking and enthusiastic jig-dancing.
Since then it has been a roller-coaster tale of writing and editing - structural edits, copy-edits, page-proof edits - the amount of work and effort from my wonderful editor Julie Crisp and the team at Tor that goes into polishing a book from its submission stage to being ‘on-the-shelf’ came as quite a shock to me - plus many cover-art discussions (now that is great fun, one of my favourite bits) and a very pleasant trip to the David Gemmell Awards where Malice won ‘best fantasy debut of 2012,’ a huge shock and immense joy. After I was picked up off of the floor I have been grinning about that pretty much ever since.
And now I’m writing book four, as well as feverishly writing notes on the new tale that is bombarding my mind. But that’s another story...
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