Hey Peat, I’m excited to have you here for a chat! I’ve been reading your blog for a good while now and it’s definitely one that stands out in the crowd for me. Before we get into all that bookish goodness though, outside of being a fantasy mega fan you’re also a big ice hockey guy. As someone who’s never watched an NHL game in my life, why hockey? And how do you manage to make so many astute comparisons between sports and writing?
Well I didn’t grow up a hockey fan. I grew up obsessed with football. Then I went to a rugby playing secondary school at around the time money began to distort the Premiership, so I ended up a rugby person, and the thing I appreciated most about that was the combination of grace and co-ordination with physicality. Great skill is impressive, great skill while someone’s assaulting you? That’s my music. It just produces so much unpredictability and “how did he do that?”. I was aware hockey had that combination too but it’s not something easily found here, so I just stayed interested.
Then I started to date an American and one of the first things she said to me after we agreed we had a definite relationship was “Congratulations, you’re now a Pittsburgh Penguins fan, you don’t have a choice”. Which, due to the above, was something I went along with very readily. And lo and behold, I found it was everything I’d hoped it would be. There’s endless “wow” moments. But, since I didn’t really understand the game in the same way as someone who grew up with it, I went looking for an education and I think that’s what led me to the sports and writing comparisons. I’ve always enjoyed trying to make comparisons between things in the hope of picking up some new clever way to approach things – I’ve got an old, old, frankly bad blog post somewhere talking about comparing writing to metal song structure – so when I saw hockey writers using comparisons, particularly a guy named Jack Han, I started thinking that way too. Thank you for saying I do it well – I’m never sure whether I am.
Ice hockey aside, one thing we do have in common is a keen interest in history, something I’m sure a lot of fantasy fans reading this share. We’ve talked briefly in the past about Eleanor of Aquitaine and the Thirty Years War, but what period of history fascinates you the most? How do you view the relationship between history and fantasy writing?
I have a lot of favourite periods, but one of my very favourite unknown ones is the time of Norman rule in Southern Italy and Sicily. It started with a group of adventurers and mercenaries getting hired to help the prince of one of the cities, and ended with a sophisticated state where Byzantine, Arab, Italian, and Norman influences all combined to create something exciting and new. The word admiral comes from there as they had Arab sea captains.
And the relationship between history and fantasy writing is hard to overstate, isn’t it? One of the reasons I fell in love with fantasy was that it was a mix of history and mythology. All fantasy writers are, a least subconsciously, on the hunt for inspiration and history has so much of it. That said, I do think some fans get overly obsessed by it, and make the mistake of believing fantasy books must be historically accurate and that should be the expectation. They don’t, and it shouldn’t be, and I like all these anachronistic “never were” lands as much as the very historically accurate ones.
Let’s get into then. How did fantasy get its hooks into you and why decide to blog about it?
It all started with my parents reading me The Hobbit when I was maybe seven or so. I liked that so I dug out copies of Lord of the Rings, I think possibly somewhat to their surprise as I was a late reader. Apparently I only learned how to read so I could read the football scores at about five or six. Anyway, I fell absolutely totally in love with Lord of the Rings and started searching out everything like it. Warhammer, CS Lewis, Eddings, Pratchett, McCaffrey, Le Guin, Fighting Fantasy… everything. It’s never relinquished my hooks in me since, and I can’t imagine ever relinquishing my hooks in it.
Blogging, I am mildly shamefaced to say, started when I had a self-published book to promote. I needed some ways of making connections, so I started blogging. As it turns out, I didn’t publish that book and I don’t think anyone will get to see it anytime soon, and I soon discovered that a) blogging is an awful way of getting attention b) I really liked doing it for its own sake so who cared anyway. That said, it took me a few years to become a regular engaged blogger. Things only really took off for me on that front when a friend complained about a lack of reading material on the blog so I ‘threatened’ him with daily blogs. He’s definitely won that one.
You do write mainly about fantasy, but what other genres are in your wheelhouse and what makes them interesting to you?
I’ll dabble in anything but my second love after fantasy are all the various types of mystery and thriller, especially when they happen in different locales. I love Lindsey Davis’ Falco novels. I love John le Carre’s books, particularly the Smiley ones – it’s insane just how foreign the Britain of the 60s and 70s already feels. The reason I love them is much the same reason as I love fantasy novels; I love books that take me to some deed and some place I’ve never been and will never do, that makes my reality go away for a little and then look different when I come back. But I’m willing to try anything that does that.
While a lot of other blogs focus on the shiny new releases, you have a clear appreciation for older books and their impact on the genre. What is it about the history of fantasy that fascinates you and why do you think it’s important we keep talking about older stories?
Well, for one thing, I am an instinctive contrarian and devil’s advocate who will start asking “why is this so” or looking for other things to do, to a borderline pathological degree. Everyone wants to talk new and shiny, I start looking for other things.
But more than that, people started talking about how the 80s/90s were all Epic Fantasy, or Grimdark is a new thing, or how everything is Tolkien, and I got curious and started looking to see myself. I am one of nature’s research monkeys, someone who can’t resist diving down rabbit holes when people ask questions. Why ask a question when you can look for an answer? And the further in I go, the more I like this rabbit hole. There’s so many interesting things to find and a lot of the time, when I’m telling them to people, they don’t know about them. The history of the genre isn’t super popular or talked about right now.
There’s another angle here though and that is my tastes are picky and old fashioned in some regards; the prose is often chewier these days, narratives more sprawling, the use of myth more muted. I can’t guarantee liking everything new and shiny. Looking back through the genre’s history increases the odds of finding what I like. I don’t think I’d be constantly looking back if that wasn’t the case.
Terry Pratchett and David Gemmell are two authors that have had an obvious impact on you as a reader. Why have these two writers in particular had such an effect on you and what do you think their legacy is?
Oh wow, that feels like a hard one to encapsulate. I guess the big one is I find them endlessly readable. Something about their writing retains the emotional impact even when I know it’s coming. They tell a story the way I’d like to tell it, see the world in a lot of ways I see it. I really like the questions behind their characters. What if you’ve got the instincts of an evil witch but you refuse to let yourself be evil? What if you’re a coward but your greatest fear is of being scared? More than maybe anything else, people are contradictions, and they’re great contradictions.
Their legacy is… hard to say too. I mean, it’s not hard to find authors talking about how much they mean to them when their names are mentioned, but will that keep going on and on, will their books stay alive? Will we look back and see all these major books that wouldn’t have been written without them? We don’t know yet. But I very much hope so.
One thing that makes your blog stand out is your insight. You write a lot of original discussion posts about influences and the development of themes in fantasy over the years. What has been your favourite discussion post and are there any that you’d like to explore in more detail in the future?
You know, I had a good long think about this and I struggle to think of a favourite. The one about American Epic Fantasy was the most popular one, which made me happy, but so many of the posts you’re talking about are me feeling things out, unsure I know enough to hold forth. Which does mean pretty much everything is there for being explored more. I’d love to do more on the development of Epic Fantasy in that commercial boom, and the various themes and moods in fantasy. Also more early fantasy. I’m also planning to do a bunch on Pratchett. And, well, whatever strikes my mood of people ask.
Aside from reading and blogging, you’re also a writer yourself, currently in the querying trenches I believe? What’s the book about and what was your experience of writing a fantasy novel?
The Girl and the Knight is the tale of a once-famous knight, Albric, who’s now living in obscurity and shame. When mobsters seek to abduct and kill a girl named Sia, he comes to her rescue – but this is a problem too big to be solved by heroic violence. To save her, he must clear her of the murder they accuse of. But what does a knight know of finding killers? Sia is ready to help him – insistent, really – but what if she was the murderer?
And with the murder getting complicated by palace politics and the spectre of a bloody civil war, who should he protect – and who should he stand with.
The experience… I hated it, I loved it. I’m doing it again. It’s pretty rough sticking so much ego and energy into something where it’s so hard to see progress. It’s hard having the idea and not being able to get it to come out the way you want to, it’s hard when you’re a more discerning reader when you are a writer. But when you get it right – when you hit the point where you something exciting and that you’d want to read – it’s like flying.
That sounds really kinda cool. You’re a notoriously picky reader and serial DNFer, but what books have you been reading lately and would you recommend we read any of them?
You’ve caught me on a period of starting a lot of books and not getting engaged in them and, for one, not really DNFing, so this list is going to be longer than a conger. I’m also likely to DNF a lot of them – I need to clean the decks – but maybe I can sell some people on them in the process.
The Maleficent Seven by Cam Johnston – Worth a look for anyone looking for a D&D-esque version of Suicide Squad.
The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro – Definitely has that literary slowness to the narrative which is a tough sell for me but could work for peeps who like that thing; very strong evocation of place.
Changa’s Safari by Milton Davis – It’s all about a trader on the east coast of Africa pre-colonialism which is a sell for me, and it’s got a old school adventure feeling to it.
Mask of Mirrors by MA Carrick – There’s lots of worldbuilding and strong character voices; lots of intrigue and mystery. I think it needs some patience, but there’s a reason it’s so popular.
The Unspoken Name by AK Larkwood – It’s like Tombs of Atuan meets Swords & Sorcery worldbuilding meets grimdark morals.
The Baker Thief by Claudie Arsenault – My first foray into Solarpunk; good for those looking for mysteries and diverse characters. I found it a little slow after a great opening scene, but worth a look.
Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks – Think a lot of us have heard of this one, right? It’s intriguing but the characters aren’t quite working for me.
We Break Immortals by Thomas Howard Riley – It’s an ARC that so far has a very Sandersonian vibe to it; the opening scene is like a SWAT team hunting down a mage.
The Axeman’s Jazz by Ray Celestin – It’s a murder mystery with a lot of emphasis on the history of jazz; it’s set in New Orleans and we see Louis Armstrong early.
The Black Wolves by Kate Elliott – Epic Fantasy with a modern mindset and lots of great characters. Ignore the blurb on Goodreads, it’s pretty misleading.
The All Consuming World by Cassandra Khaw – A friend got two ARCs so I got the spare! It’s pretty readable given my hate of present tense.
Winterlight by Kirsten Britain – Another ARC from a friend; they hadn’t read the series, I’m quite happy to dive in out of order so straight into book 7 I go
Night’s Master by Tanith Lee – A made mythology, with lots of inspirations from the One Thousand and One Nights. Poetic prose.
I think there’s a few I’m forgetting but it’s a big enough list without thinking of everything… kids, don’t read like I read.
Finally, to finish on a light note, what’s a cool little fact or snippet about yourself that we probably don’t already know?
I was born with a club foot that was semi-corrected using a surgical process that was so new at the time that they took photos for medical textbooks. So whatever happens for me in the future, that will always be my first appearance in a book; a tiny little baby limb.
Haha quite the claim to fame! Thanks so much Peat, it’s always a pleasure talking to you and I’m already looking forward to all of your future posts!
Thanks for having me! Answering these questions was a blast and looking forward to seeing your posts too.
You can read a lot more of Peat’s thoughts on fantasy, music and beer over on his blog and follow him in Twitter at @PeatLong. I highly recommend you do both. Did you enjoy this interview? Subscribe to Parsecs & Parchment for more reviews and bookish chat!