FP Special nr. 1 – Interview with James Barclay

Puoi leggere la versione italiana cliccando qui.

1 Hi James, can you tell us about yourself?

Hi there. I’m a British fantasy author and have reached the grand old age of 46 with all my limbs intact. I’m married to Clare and we have a son, Oscar, who was four in January 2011 (and a second child on the way in June this year too). We also have a dog, Mollie and we live very happily, if rather noisily, in a place called Teddington which is about half an hour south west of central London.

I had a career in financial services marketing and advertising that began in 1987, which went hand in hand with my novel writing between 1998 and 2004. It was in March 2004 that I managed to go full time as an author. That was a great day and I’ll forever be grateful that I get paid for doing the thing I love the best. Not many are so lucky.

Besides seven books about The Raven, I’ve written an epic duology entitled, ‘The Ascendants of Estorea’ which is based in a Roman-esque society and deals with the birth of magic in a land that has not seen it like before and manifests itself in four teenagers. I’m currently writing a new trilogy concerning the history of the Elves of the Raven’s world and I’ve also written two novellas; ‘Light Stealer’ which deals with the invention of Dawnthief; and ‘Vault of Deeds’ which is a comedy.

Oh and before I forget and before anyone needs to be nudged back to consciousness, I’m an actor too. I’ve recently played the role of a detective in a gritty Brit-pic called ‘The Estate’(on DVD in May) and I’m in the cast for the director’s second film too. I’m also playing a role in a short film written and directed by ace writer Sarah Pinborough which is due to shoot in May.

Being English, I’m a lover of many sports in which the English are not the best like cricket, football and rugby union. I play tennis badly, I love films but hardly ever get to the cinema and I love cooking too. I also love playing shooters and strategy games on the PC but mostly I love watching my son grow. That is simply wonderful.

2 When did you discover the pleasure of writing?

I’ve always loved writing. My mother still has stories I wrote when I was five or six. I have dreamed of being an author since the age of 11. I really cannot remember a time when I didn’t write. It’s been a life-long love affair and I cannot ever see myself stopping.

3 When did you find the passion for Fantasy?

I grew up reading science fiction and fantasy as well as adventure stories of all sorts. My brother gave me so many books to read when I was young… Mike Moorcock, Brian Aldiss and of course, Tolkien. I’d read ‘The Lord of the Rings’ three times before I was twelve. It was no surprise that I took up fantasy role playing games like ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and ‘Dragon Quest’ and even less of a surprise that I fell into writing fantasy – after all, it was, and is, what I know best.

4 Which are your favourite writers?

These days I tend only to read one book by any author unless I am blown away by the first one. But I’ve read nearly every book by the late, great David Gemmell and the same is true of Tolkien. Others I enjoy (not all fantasy) are Patrick Rothfuss, C J Sansom, Terry Pratchett and Robert Harris.

5 I read that you started writing young. Can you tell us something about your first work?

As I mentioned above, I began to write very young indeed. The very first story I remember is about an Inuit in a Kayak travelling down an icy river. I wrote that when I was six, I think. In terms of longer work, I turned out some terribly derivative pieces of work (good ideas, but badly delivered). Mostly, they were sci-fi/fantasy fusion and read like long and poor episodes of Star Trek. But they were all part of the learning process. I’ve kept them all and I’m proud of them in my own way.

6 Noonshade is your second book. What’s about?

It’s about the consequences The Raven are left with at the end of Dawnthief. There is a rip in the skies over Balaia and on the other side of it is a dimension populated by dragons. The Raven have to find a way to close the rip before Balaia’s defender dragons are overwhelmed and the world is laid to waste. There’s much more to it than just that of course but that’s the central plot.

7 What kind of relation do you have with your dragons? And your point of view about this mythological figure?

I was very keen that my dragons had intelligence and purpose and weren’t just big fire breathing lizards collecting gold for no apparent reason. So I gave them a society, servants, an appreciation of beauty, a love of family and conflict among many other things like a full range of emotions. I think this makes them more credible as sentient beasts. Readers of Noonshade will have to make their minds up whether they agree or not. Dragons are a favourite fantasy creature and like many favourites they are drawn from ancient human mythology. I love the many ways they are portrayed in fantasy. I love their sheer power for good or evil; they are kings among mythical beasts.

8 Who is your favourite character in Chronicles of The Raven, and why?

My favourite is Hirad Coldheart. That’s because of the sheer passion he brings to everything he does. He believes utterly in The Raven, his loyalty to his friends is absolutely unshakeable. He loves them and would die for them without hesitation. Hirad is arrogant, short-tempered and brutal but his soul is true. He is the heartbeat of The Raven and they could not truly function without him. He’s a wonderful character.

9 What is the message you want to convey to your readers?

I don’t think I’m trying to convey any message in particular. I deal with all sort of themes in my books like the strength of the group over the individual, the consequences of misusing power and the power (both for good and evil) of religion. But what I want is for my readers to enjoy my books, to feel excited by the action and affected by the tragedies and sorrows. I want them to believe in the Raven and embrace them like friends. The Raven is a team which succeeds through courage, belief, love and honour – noble attributes we could all do with adopting.

10 Can you talk us about Legends of The Raven, not yet published in Italy?

I can’t say a great deal without spoiling both Noonshade and Nightchild (the third in the Chronicles trilogy and yet to be published in Italy). The Legends of The Raven series carries on the story of The Raven and picks up with the consequences left over at the end of Nightchild. What I can say is that besides The Raven themselves, readers will enjoy more action with dragons, and a great deal more on the Elves who populate a continent to the south of Balaia. There are new enemies including demons and old enemies rising up alongside worsening of relations between the colleges of magic that eventually descends into open war.

I’ll say no more…

11 Which are the main differences between your two trilogies?

I don’t think it’s a question of differences, because the second trilogy is a continuation of the story of The Raven. It’s more about further development and new stuff. There’s even more depth to the relationships of the heroes, readers will learn a great deal more about dragons, elves and the politics of magic during the second trilogy. If there is a difference it is in complexity and quality and that is because I aim to write a better book every time I begin a new draft. The tension, pace, emotional force, character development and action are there as strongly as before if not more so. Personally, I believe the Legends series to be ‘better’ books but they should be because I should improve as a writer over time.

12 Tell us something about Balaia.

Balaia is a small continent divided in two by a mountain range. To the west, steppe lands, mountains and tough terrain make hard living conditions for the Wesmen tribes who live there, ever envious of their eastern neighbours and united in their hatred of magic. To the east, rich farm and forest land, benevolent prevailing weather and a wealth of natural resources benefit the humans who live there.

Eastern Balaia is a country where trade is king and where land is constantly disputed by the Barons and Lords who dominate it. Near the mountains separating east and west lie the four college cities, each one powerful in its own right but not powerful enough to control the country alone. On the south eastern coast lies Korina, an independent city state and the focal point of wealth and trade.

It is an often dangerous place where magic lives with normality in a sometimes uneasy balance. Magic itself is a difficult and dangerous force to control. Very useful in combat, defence and in other more peaceful applications (like disease and pest control), it is limited by the talent of the individual and its prolonged casting brings on exhaustion.

Balaia is the home of The Raven.

13 Would you like to try with other genre?

Good question. I’m not sure. I am writing Young Adult fiction and it is contemporary but with fantastical elements so it’s a linked genre. I have ideas that are further towards the science fiction end of the genre too. But in terms of a big change, then maybe historical fiction is an option should the right idea present itself. I’m more likely to step outside the genre with my work in screenplays and teleplays, I think.

14 Do you have a favourite moment for writing?

I’m very much a morning person. I get up early to walk the dog and clear my head before getting my son ready for nursery. Then, I’m at my desk from around 9am and work solidly until about 1pm on a normal day. I work in the afternoons too, of course but I’m definitely sharper earlier in the day. Evenings I spend relaxing, doing emails and administration stuff if I have to.

15 How would you describe your work to a person that never read it?

High octane heroic action fantasy thrillers with characters to love, believe in and who are flawed, just like the rest of us. Books to hasten your pulse, make you laugh, cry, and cheer the sheer courage of heroes facing terrible odds and managing, somehow, to win through… but at a cost, always at a cost.

16 What are your future projects?

I’m currently writing my series on the Elves of the Raven’s world (and as I mentioned, these books take place well before the Raven books are set. Following that I’ve got a new trilogy I am hoping my publisher will want (so I can’t say anything about it right now). Also on the go are Young Adult works, a teleplay I’m writing with Tim Lebbon, a couple of screenplays I’m developing when I have time and on top of all that, a couple of acting projects. It’s busy and I’m loving it right now.

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