I am excited to be able to bring you another interview with yet another amazing speculative fiction writer! Peter Newman smashed his way onto the speculative fiction scene earlier this year following the release of his much anticipated debut novel The Vagrant. Writing with vision and creativity, The Vagrant stormed its way up our listings of favourite books and firmly remains at good odds to take out our Book of 2015 award. Pete was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to sit down with me and chat about various things such as writing, gaming, and the infamous Goat! Enjoy!
Peter Newman, welcome to Smash Dragons!
First up, tell me about yourself. Who is Peter Newman?
Peter Newman is a writer who lives in Somerset with his wife and son. He also works as a trainer and Firewalking Instructor. He sometimes pretends to be a butler for the Tea and Jeopardy podcast, which he co-writes, and which has been shortlisted for a Hugo Award.
Why did you start writing? Was it for the fast cars, piles of cash, or recreational drugs?
I’ve always been telling stories in one way or another. As a child it was via the medium of my toys, as a teenager (and beyond!) it was through role playing games, and now it’s through writing. From the options above I’d say it was the drugs that lured me into writing because writing is a drug. It gives you wild highs and dangerous lows, can isolate you from your friends and make you neglect personal hygiene. It’s also really good fun and, unlike most other drugs, you get something to keep at the end.
Your fantasy debut, entitled The Vagrant, came out earlier this year. We here at Smash Dragons adored (and still do) it. I’m curious, how does it feel now to see your book sitting on the shelves as opposed to when it first came out?
It’s wonderful! It’s scary too, but mostly wonderful and nothing beats going online to find that someone has sent you a nice message about your book. One of the nicest things about it being out in the world now is that my son gets excited if he finds my book or one of Emma’s in a bookshop.
And thank you for the review, it really does mean the world to me that people enjoy my work.
What was the inspiration behind The Vagrant? Did he suddenly just appear in your minds eye one day, or was it a long period of evolution?
He pretty much turned up without warning. It was weird actually, as it forced me to excavate the story around him as I went. Various things become clear very quickly (like the end point of the story and major arcs) but at the very, very beginning, it was just a man and a baby in New Horizon.
What were the most challenging aspects of getting The Vagrant finished? Were there days where you contemplated throwing in the towel?
It was a very slow book to write and it’s frustrating to spend hours on something and only get down a thousand words where I might normally write two or three in the same slot. It never once occurred to me to stop writing it, I think because I always knew where I was going.
I was fascinated by the world you created in The Vagrant. Tell me, where did you draw your ideas from when building the universe for the book?
Thank you! The world crawled out of the dark recesses of my brain and I think came from a mulch of games and books I’d enjoyed growing up. There’s definitely a bit of Warhammer in there, a bit of Final Fantasy, a bit of Seven Samurai and bits and bobs from myth as well. If drunk and pressed, I might admit to a tiny bit of Thundercats as well.
The hero of your book (apart from the titular Vagrant) is arguably the Goat. Will she return for the sequel? And will there ever be an Order of the Sacred Goat to stand proudly alongside the Order of the Sacred Teacup?
Personally, I love the Goat, and while I’d certainly say she’s important, possibly even one of the protagonists, I’m not sure she’s very heroic! I’m always wary of spoilers but I will say that goats feature in the sequel. Unfortunately I don’t have time to start an Order of the Sacred Goat but that’s a lovely idea. I’d be happy to support it if anyone else wanted to make it a thing though.
Take me through a day of writing with Peter Newman. Do you plan or pants it?
I usually have a chat with Emma (my wife) over coffee about what I’m planning to do. When it comes time to write, I’ll already know the start of the book, the (rough) end of the book and anything from one to three scenes ahead of where I am. Then I’ll go into my writing cave, put on some music and get going. I like to pick an album for each book as it helps get me back into that headspace. For The Vagrant it was the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack.
Can you give us an update on how the sequel to The Vagrant is going?
Happily. It’s written and I’m working on edits at the moment. Really excited about it!
Why fantasy? What is it about the genre that just gets your juices going day in day out?
For me, fantasy is all about the characters and their journeys. Good fantasy goes deep I think. Like life but with dragons and swords and better special effects.
You mentioned that fantasy is all about the characters and their journey. In your opinion, what makes a good character?
Now that’s a question! We could write essays or run panels around that one. But, for me, a good character is one that feels real and engages the reader. It may be we’re rooting for them, it may be that we hate them but either way, they’re compelling. For the former, see any of Robin Hobb’s characters. For the latter, see any of Joe Abercrombie’s.
Who would be your favourite fantasy character then?
Yikes! Where to start with that one? I love too many of them to have a favourite but here’s a few off the top of my head (in no particular order):
1) Iroh (from Avatar: the Legend of Aang)
2) The Fool (From Robin Hobb’s Farseer Trilogy)
3) Nighteyes (From the same)
4) Corwin (From Zelazny’s Amber series)
5) Tyrion (From George Martin’s ASOIAF)
6) Hester (From Philip Reeves Mortal Engines quartet)
You also happen to write for (and appear on) the amazing podcast Tea and Jeopardy (link). Tell me about the show, and what inspired your partner (the lovely Emma Newman) to get it off the ground?
Tea and Jeopardy is part interview, part audio drama, with a good measure of silly thrown in. Each episode a wonderful and interesting person turns up to the Tea Lair and takes tea and cake with Emma. We usually have novelists on but we’ve also had agents, editors, people who write for TV and eccentric steampunk professors. The Tea lair is different every time, one episode might be in a volcano, the next in a spaceship, the next inside a giant robot, and so on. After the interview, the guest usually faces some kind of peril that they have to escape from, often instigated in part by the butler, Latimer. There are also singing chickens.
A desire to see more women podcasting was the thing that first got Emma thinking about it. There are a lot of good podcasts out there but at the time it felt that most of them were very serious, analytical, worthy things. We didn’t feel we had a lot to add there so we decided to go for something light and a bit silly instead.
Who would win in a cage match between yourself and Latimer? Who would your partner support if she were ringside?
Latimer. I’m rubbish in a fight unless it’s to defend a plate of chips. I’d like to think Emma would support me. To be honest, I’d be counting on her for a rescue.
If you could sit down with three other authors for the day to pick their brains who would they be and why?
Ohh, good question. Hmm. I’d go for:
1) Roger Zelazny. That man was a genius! I loved the way he combined such incredibly imaginative worlds and concepts with really fast paced action.
2) Robin Hobb. From her I’d want to learn about the artful way she balances tension in her books and how she creates such nuanced characters. I’d also want to fanboy at her.
3) Neil Gaiman. His stories are somehow both personal and mythical. I’d definitely be wanting a bit of that.
Everyone always asks about what your favourite book is. Lets shake things up a little. What would be your LEAST favourite book that you have read in recent years?
I’m afraid I only answer questions like that in the pub!
You are a passionate gamer and role player. I’m curious; apart from D&D what other tabletop and role-playing games are you a fan of?
I have really enjoyed playing: Warhammer, Gurps - Supers, Exalted, Amber, Star Wars, Hunter, Vampire, Champions, and various custom systems. D&D 5e is a beautiful thing in my opinion. Although I’d add that my love of those games is as much down to the skills of the GM and the atmosphere made by the players as it was to each particular system.
I have to ask, how is your Paladin (and the campaign) going? Can you give us a loose update on his adventures?
The campaign is wonderful! Astonishingly talented GM, very good players. We have a lot of fun and the party is always either effective or hilarious. We’re currently on the brink of a final epic attempt to save the world. My Paladin is doing okay. He’s not the brightest fellow, nor the most selfless, but he’s improving with age.
Best tabletop gaming experience?
It’s hard to answer this without being very boring as I think you kind of have to be there to appreciate it…
I once played in an Amber game run by the most amazing friend of mine (hi Dan!). I loved the pants off that game! It ran for years and the characters and plots were incredible. His ability to stick a knife in my character’s heart and then twist it regularly, coupled with his ability to make me (as a player) feel cool and epic were a powerful combo.
Hypothetical question… if you were a character in your book how long do you think you would survive for?
Depends where I was in the world. If I started in the same place as The Vagrant does in Chapter One, I’d say about thirty to forty minutes.
Complete the following statements:
Tea is better than coffee because…
… Latimer said so and he’s standing right behind me and I think he’s got something sharp on that tray, send help!
When I am Emperor of the Earth I will rule with…
… chocolate and ice cream.
When I think of Australia I picture…
… Middle Earth with more sunshine and bigger spiders.
What’s next for you? Do we live in false hope that you will someday grace our fair (and by fair I mean incredibly dangerous, and filled with things that wish to hunt you for sport) shores for a visit?
I’ve never been to Australia before and I’d love to go there one day. No plans at the moment but if the chance ever came up I’d grab it with both hands.
Finally, best tip for aspiring writers out there?
Write, write and write some more, and when you’re waiting to hear back from test readers, or potential agents or publishers, keep writing.
Peter Newman, thank you for talking to Smash Dragons!
You can find out more about Pete, The Vagrant, and his lovely partner Emma and her amazing podcast by clicking below. I would implore you all to go and buy The Vagrant right now... it is that good!
Oh and stop by the Tea and Jeopardy page.. it is one of the best podcasts I've listened to... ever. If you like what you hear then go that one step further by becoming a patron of it. I know I will be in the near future!
Thanks must also go to Lou Abercrombie too, for the wonderful picture of Pete at the start of this interview. You can find her website here.
Until next time peeps... be nice to each other, and keep on reading!