ABOUT THE AUTHOR
I’ve been involved in creative work all my adult life.
I began writing and taking photographs for outdoor magazines while completing my BSc in Environmental Science at the University of Stirling in Scotland. The degree led to postgrad work including a research expedition in Zambia, while the writing and photography led to a freelance career in mountaineering, travel and science-related journalism for publications ranging from The Herald, The Independent, Rock#Ice and The Readers Digest, as well as short fiction published in Interzone, and contributions to various non-fiction anthologies and other books. It has taken me to remote and challenging places all over the world, from Australia to Chile, and Pakistan to Iceland.
In 2003 I completed a year-long course in music at Lews Castle College Benbecula, in the Western Isles of Scotland, where I was taught by some of the leading figures in the acoustic music scene. Soon afterwards I became a regular and eventually host at musical sessions around the town of Dunkeld in Highland Perthshire. In 2008 I formed the duo Tattle am with award-winning Scottish cellist Seylan Baxter, touring globally with a busy schedule. I discovered electric guitars in 2011. After a break, Tattie Jam will soon be gigging again, and touring its workshops for musicians.
I now live in Dunoon, on the coast of the Cowal peninsula in the south west Highlands of Scotland, where I write novels and run a small music studio. When I can find the time I enjoy sailing, windsurfing, mountain biking, hillwalking, trekking, surfing (badly!), reading (mainly science fiction), and wine – particularly New Zealand sauvignon blanc.
Hi Ru. Thank you so much for doing this interview.
My pleasure – thanks for asking!
You have many interests: writing, music, and photography? That’s amazing. How did you decide on doing fantasy novels in addition to your other work?
I’ve been writing for a long time – since writing for magazines in my late teens to get myself through university. To be honest I don’t really pay much attention to genres. It’s the story that always interests me, rather than a particular pigeon-hole someone’s put it in, which is something that goes for reading books as well as writing them. As you’ll have noticed (or perhaps guessed!) the Fate and the Wheel books are somewhere towards the fringes of Fantasy. I think it was Arthur C. Clarke who said ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’. I like the idea that whether something is fantasy or not might depend on your point of view – or, perhaps more importantly for a story, the point of view of the characters.
All that said, I find myself reading science fiction and fantasy more than other genres because I don’t think any other genre can get anywhere close in the scale of canvas on which the story can be painted, or the depth and scope of the questions which can be asked.
Was writing something you always wanted to do?
I wanted it to be at least part of what I did from a very early age. I used to get into trouble at school for turning English assignments into SF epics. I used to illustrate them, which didn’t got down well …
I’m always in awe of writer’s stories. I write reviews. I teach students how to write research papers, but I am not at all creative. How did you form the idea of The Fate and the Wheel series?
This is a bit of an odd one. My brain is very visual, and books I write tend to present themselves cinematically: I get a film playing in my head, which I’m able to edit, and then I describe what I see. What became Fate and the Wheel started life as an unusually detailed and vivid dream. I was able to dip in and out of sleep and write notes – something which, unfortunately, hasn’t happened since. What I dreamt was a short story. Since that happened, I had further dreams and daydreams which expanded the scope and scale hugely, although it kept the central characters’ journey of existential discovery at its core.
I read A Time of Ashes through Storytellers on Tour. I loved it so much, I immediately read Hunting Gods. They are among the most complex fantasy novels I have read. The best place to start is the world building. You didn’t just create one or 2, you created numerous worlds, each with its own unique characteristics. Some were beautiful and some were terrifying. What was the process in creating those worlds? They were also incredibly vivid and draws the reader right in.
I’m so glad you enjoyed them – if my writing manages to connect with just one person, that makes it feel worthwhile. Good question. To some extent, I think each world was intended to reflect aspects of our own world seen through a distorting lens. I’ve travelled enough to see cultures as defined, to a significant extent, by their environments. Not just in terms of what they can do in those environments, and how they relate to them – from more-or-less harmonious co-existence to domination and exploitation – but in terms of their characters. There’s a lot of that, I hope, running through the books. In my opinion, all characters need to behave believably, given their nature. They can’t simply serve a plot. That’s something that goes for peoples and civilizations as much as individuals. If you get your world-building right, and the characters inhabit those worlds believably, I think you’re half way there.
I also had – and will have – fun with utterly un-earth-like worlds, such as ‘The Gods’ Barbecue Pit’. It was a lot of fun building a very alien ecosystem from the ground up, and seeing what my long-suffering characters made of it. A lot of that came from a degree in Environmental Science. Knowing, to some extent at least, how Earth’s ecosystem works gives you tools for designing a new one from basic principles. Which is great fun.
You also have many characters, each unique, each tangible. While they all “grew” and adapted to the circumstances they found themselves in, what was the process of creating so many varied characters? Do you have a favorite? Were there characters that were more difficult to create than others?
I’m probably a ‘seat of the pants’ writer when it comes to characters. They have to grow and then evolve organically, and some change radically from my first idea of them as a book develops. Characters which began life under-developed or as supporting characters sometimes end up as favourites, and take on a life of their own. An example was Tilmesh, in Hunting Gods. I had an arc mapped out for him – but he just refused to bow out. I found myself smiling when he was on the page.
This might sound weird, but ultimately they have to feel like real people to me. If I don’t know almost instantly how they’re likely to react in a given situation, I don’t think they’re likely to spring off the page. If a character starts not doing what I wanted them to for plot purposes, I know I’m getting somewhere.
Not sure of a favourite. I like all the characters, in different ways – even the utterly vile ones. I think it’s about understanding their motivations and what gave them their outlook. People are largely heroes in their own stories – as true for ‘villains’ as much as anyone else. I’m not that interested in who is or isn’t a ‘hero’ – most of my characters are a blend of bad and good. I do like Coll, though. I had a blast with his often horribly misapplied home-grown morality. Then again, I like Murrin too – and I was pleasantly surprised at the chemistry between Coll and Murrin when they got together. Murrin’s someone I’d like to have a drink with. But I have a big soft spot for Sheehan, too – in many ways her journey is the most wrenching, and her response to it, if anything, makes her scarier than Coll. If pushed, my favourite might be Homollon. I empathise with the world-weary stoicism which comes from being the lovechild of a woolly mammoth, an ankylosaurus and a battle tank.
Related to the previous, do you have a favorite? Were there characters that were more difficult to create than others?
There were some that just appeared, more or less fully formed. I always knew how I was going to write Sheehan, Seeli, Murrin and Coll, for example. Others, especially Tilmesh and Olient, evolved more slowly, as I began to understand more of their motivations and my plans for them grew.
As an Environmental Scientist, I look at the creation of ecosystems and organisms very closely. For me, they need to make sense. Fantasy can certainly come up with any organism and put it in the plot. However, the organisms you created were organic and beyond imaginative. Homollon is a very good example. He is described as having “wheels”. At first, I thought, OK, its fantasy, it’s a creature that moves differently. Then you had this brilliant twist when Murrin looked closely at a damaged “wheel”. It was not a wheel as we think, it was symbiotic organisms that made up the wheel and “repair” the damaged parts. Honestly, that was genius. How did you come to create Homollon and the unique species that are in each world? Did you base them on anything?
I didn’t base them on anything specific. Mostly I was just using evolutionary principles, asking the question: ‘how could a macroscopic wheel evolve in nature?’ There are numerous problems a naturally occurring example would need to overcome. A symbiosis just seemed the simplest and likeliest solution.
I think this is related to the previous question. Sheehan hahe Seeheeli of the Shi’iin is amphibious. When she goes into the water, she changes shape. I loved the fact that she didn’t turn into a mermaid. They seemed almost dolphin-like to me. Many of the characters are human/humanoid, but many of them are also totally different. What made you decide to include an amphibious race? How did you decide what they would look like and communicate?
I was definitely using dolphins as my ‘model’. There’s a history to the Shi’iin and their form-shifting, the discovery of which will be part of Sheehan’s journey later, and which is bound up in a fundamental way in the history of the Thousand Worlds in general. I can’t give away what’s going on yet, but again I was asking questions from an environmental and biological point of view. They’re essentially dolphins in the water, so they’d use sonar. I wanted them to be identifiably dolphin-y in their human forms, too, so they retain dolphin-like markings and take time to grow hair. Fantasy gives you almost literally unlimited scope for imagination.
Well, you probably get this quite a bit, will there be a third book? That was quite a cliffhanger in Hunting Gods, but wow!! I need to know what happened!!
I hope so!! I have five books planned, though given how cut-throat publishing is, a time-frame for writing them might depend on the success of the first two. To which end – if anyone’s read them and enjoyed them (this doesn’t just go for me, but any author’s work you’ve enjoyed, particularly if they’re with a small publisher, self-published, or not so well-known), please leave a review or a rating. It really does make a difference – the whole of modern marketing is based on it. A book without regular ratings on Amazon or wherever is more or less invisible.
If there is anything else you would like to share?
My partner and I are hopefully going to get a sailing channel up and running on YouTube – basically our mistakes in buying and sailing an old boat. Editing will take a while, but hopefully we’ll have the first vids up by Christmas.
Thank you so much, Ru, for this amazing interview and sharing your creative process with readers. A Time of Ashes and Hunting Gods are brilliant and I look forward to the next installment.
Book Blurn: A TIME OF ASHES
Content Warning: Abuse (prisoner, emotional, sexual), Animal cruelty, Hate crime, Body horror, Gore, Bullying, Degenerative Illness, Genocide, Violence (brief graphic), Racial bigotry/Racism, Torture
A quest through a thousand worlds. An aeons-old foe. Not even the gods can help. It’s killing them, too.
IN THE YEARS BEFORE THE CORRUPTION CAME, Murrin Kentle lived in a world where the largest island could be walked across in a day, and humans traded and fished in bladeships made from the bones of the gigantic and bizarre sea monsters patrolling its stormy, bottomless oceans. As a truthkeep of the Brotherhood of the First Mind, it’s been his duty to fight the decay of knowledge with religious fervour. A fervour he has increasingly struggled to maintain.
Before the Corruption came, Sheehan hahe Seeheeli was a carefree countess of the Shi’iin. Amphibious and fiercely matriarchal, her people have maintained an uneasy coexistence with the human scholars dominating the islands. Then an emissary of the gods brings news of an impending catastrophe. Now, she and Murrin must embark on a desperate voyage in the hope of salvation, although both the subject of their search and the path they must take remain stubbornly obscure.
Before the Corruption came, a wild young man named Coll grew up in a desert town, consumed by rage over what was done to his mother. His thirst for retribution will set in motion a train of events not even the gods could fully have foretold.
NOW THE CORRUPTION IS HERE, and nothing in Murrin’s world, nor any of the worlds of the Sundered Realm, will ever be the same.
Book Blurb: HUNTING GODS
Content Warning: Contains strong elements of horror
THE KINGDOM OF TYS IS BESIEGED. As war rages, its neighbouring lands burn. Amidst the chaos, thrust into the role of a warrior, a wounded scholar seeks allies for a mission borne of little more than blind hope. The Corruption, however, has other plans, and its agents may be closer than anyone realizes.
In a mysterious ocean far away, Chet Karspin, Captain Jarosh Harmal and the hard-pressed crew of the bladeship Fat Chance find that they have traded death by fire for more insidious perils. As they struggle to postpone the inevitable, it becomes clear that they and their increasingly battered ship are at the mercy of forces on an unimaginable scale.
Held in the seemingly impregnable Castle of the Four Winds, ocean-dwelling sisters Sheehan and Seeli begin to appreciate that a dungeon offers a fate kinder than some of the alternatives. Yet even in the depths of despair Sheehan will find herself called upon to make decisions affecting the fates of worlds.
Part Two of the epic Fate and the Wheel series, Hunting Gods is part action thriller, part journey of existential discovery: a fantastic tale of loss, revenge, redemption, companionship, and endurance in the face of horrific adversity – a worthy sequel to the thrills and emotional charge of A Time of Ashes.