I am delighted to bring you yet another cracking interview here at Smash Dragons. This week I had the amazing opportunity to chat with author Marc Turner. For those of you who don't know Marc, he recently released his debut fantasy novel When the Heavens Fall in May. To coincide with the release of the paperback edition of this title here in Australia (available from the 1st of August), Marc kindly offered to sit down and chat to us here about various things such as writing, getting a tattoo, and feet reading.
Marc Turner, welcome to Smash Dragons!
Thanks for having me.
Tell us a bit about yourself, and your novel When the Heavens Fall.
I was born in Canada, but grew up in England. I did a law degree at university, and stuck it out as a lawyer for about ten years before finally coming to my senses and deciding to try my hand at being a writer. I write epic fantasy novels, of which When the Heavens Fall is my first.
When the Heavens Fall tells the story of a mage who steals an artefact, the Book of Lost Souls, that gives him power over the dead. He uses it to resurrect an ancient civilization in order to challenge Shroud, the Lord of the Dead, for control of the underworld. And what could possibly go wrong with a plan like that, right? Quite a lot, as it happens. Shroud responds by sending his elite followers to seize the Book. But the god is not the only one interested in the artefact, and a host of other forces converge, drawn by the magic that has been unleashed.
The paperback edition of your book is out on the 1st of August here in Australia. I’m curious, how has the journey been so far following the initial release of When the Heavens Fall earlier this year?
It’s been a breakneck ride, that’s for sure. The book came out in the US and the UK just two months ago, but it feels much longer. Seeing my book in my local bookshop was obviously a momentous experience as well as a slightly surreal one, particularly since my surname follows closely on from Tolkien. Pretty lofty company to keep on a bookshelf, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Since then, there’s been little time to pause and reflect. When the Heavens Fall is the first in a series, and I’ve been busy promoting it while editing book two and writing book four. Sometimes all at the same time.
What motivated you to write When the Heavens Fall? Did you face any particular challenges whilst getting it off the ground?
When it came to motivation, I guess there were pushes and pulls. On the pushes side, I was in a job I wanted to get out of. On the pulls side, I’ve been writing on and off for as long as I can remember, without ever committing myself to a project the size of When the Heavens Fall. Before I went the extra distance I wanted to know if my writing was up to the mark, so I wrote the first two chapters and sent them to a “book-doctoring” organisation that arranges for published authors to read and comment on your work. The feedback I got was very positive, so that inspired me to take the plunge.
I did face some very particular challenges on the road to publication, but I’m not sure they are things I should be sharing! Come and find me at a convention and ask me again.
Magic plays an important part in this story. Tell me, if you could pick one of the magical powers in your novel what would it be and why?
Just now I’m thinking Vale’s ability to change the speed at which he moves through time would come in handy. With a power like that, challenging deadlines would become a thing of the past.
Describe When the Heavens Fall in 25 words or less.
Lord of the Rings meets World War Z.
Who was your favourite character to write in When the Heavens Fall? Why? In your opinion what makes a good character?
My favourite character to write was probably the high priestess, Romany. Romany is a mix of ruthlessness and entitled haughtiness, so I suppose I should be concerned at how readily her voice came to me. In particular, her conversations with her patron goddess, the Spider, were enjoyable. The two of them have a testing relationship. There’s mutual respect there, but they also like scoring points off each other, and that made their scenes fun to write.
As to what makes a good character, that’s a tricky question. To start with, I think there’s a world of difference between a “bad” character and a character you don’t like. Too often the two are equated. For me, a “bad” character is one that is clichéd, or lacking in depth, or who follows the plot rather than driving it forwards.
I think a good character needs to one you can sympathise with on some level, but of course different people will sympathise with different characters. Personally, I like characters that show some element of inner struggle. Characters that are shades of grey, rather than all white or black. I dislike all-white characters as much as I dislike all-black ones, which is why you’ll never find any traditional “hero” types in my books. I just don’t find them interesting enough to want to write about them.
In When the Heavens Fall, I have four POV characters, two male, two female. One of the advantages of using multiple POVs is that you can include a variety of personalities – and you should do, else you will end up with different flavours of the same person, and the reader will struggle to tell them apart.
I’m always interested to see which of the POV characters in When the Heavens Fall my readers like best. I’d say a consensus is forming as to who is the most popular, but I’m not going to say who it is! Even when people agree on a favourite character, though, they rarely agree on the other characters.
Who are your literary influences? If you could sit down for one day with another author to pick their brain who would it be and why?
The authors whose work I would say have influenced me most are Joe Abercrombie and in particular Steven Erikson. I loved the depth of his worldbuilding, and the way he brings multiple storylines together at the end for a suitably climactic finale. That’s something I’ve tried to do myself in When the Heavens Fall.
Unsurprisingly, Erikson would also be the author whose brain I’d like to pick. I enjoyed the final book in the Malazan series, The Crippled God, but I remember being left with a whole series of unanswered questions. So if I could speak to Steven Erikson I’d try to get him to fill in some of the blanks. With thumbscrews, if necessary.
Tell me a random fact about yourself.
I once had my feet “read” by a man who believed he could tell someone’s personality from the shape and position of their toes. He’d even written a book about it. I was doing some freelance journalism for magazines at the time, and the foot reading formed part of my article. As an insight into my character, it was surprisingly accurate, too. Or at least the nice bits were.
What is your take on the speculative fiction genre at the moment? What does fantasy fiction need more of?
You may be surprised to hear that I don’t read much fantasy at the moment. Writing seems to take up all my time. As such, I’m probably the last person to ask for an opinion on the speculative fiction genre just now. Having said that, I think more books by that Marc Turner guy could only be a good thing.
What drew you to the genre in the first place? Can you recall a particular moment where you fell head over heels for fantasy fiction?
The first fantasy I can remember reading was Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings. At the time, it was unlike anything else I’d read before, and after reading it I devoured everything I could find by the likes of Raymond Feist, Stephen Donaldson, and so forth. I’d struggle to tell you what drew me to the genre back then, but now I enjoy fantasy for the high stakes, the expansive scale, and for the opportunity to lose myself in a secondary world.
Every author has their own particular methods and idiosyncrasies when writing. What are yours?
There’s one technique I have that I suspect most people will find unusual. I write books with multiple POVs, and I write the story of each character in turn. So I’ll write the whole story of character one, then the whole story of character two and so on. I’ll then edit them separately as well. It’s only comparatively late in the process that I’ll start weaving them together into the finished book.
It takes a lot of planning at the outset to make it work, and I have come unstuck at times. But I find that it helps me maintain a consistent character voice.
What is the most loved book on your shelves? For example, mine is a battered copy of Moorcock’s Stormbringer that my dad owned before he passed away.
Can I say my own? Well it is my debut!
Complete the following sentences –
My weapon of choice for gladiatorial combat would be…
A gun. But then I did read King of Thorns recently.
If I had to get a tattoo that was inspired by my book it would be…
The dragon that appears on the US cover of Dragon Hunters. I have a few favourite quotes from When the Heavens Fall, but they’re probably too long (and thus too painful) to consider.
The best and worst aspects about being a writer are…
The best aspect would have to be the planning stage of a book, when you can let your imagination roam, thinking up new characters and storylines. Before you have to do any real, you know, work.
The worst aspect is when I have one of those days when the words won’t come together, no matter how hard you try. Sometimes I re-read what I’ve written and I think I could teach my dog to do better. And I don’t even have a dog.
How is your next book coming along? The cover art for it looks amazing too by the way!
I recently finished the final edit of book two, and it was an interesting experience. I wrote Dragon Hunters maybe four years ago, so there were parts of it I’d actually forgotten. It features different characters from When the Heavens Fall, and in some ways it’s a different type of story. I can’t really expand on that much without giving spoilers, but it takes place in a different part of the world and over a much shorter time period – just four days. As such, there isn’t really a quest element to it. I’m looking forward to seeing what people think of it when it comes out.
Can we expect you down under here in Australia anytime in the future?
Absolutely. That was you offering to buy my plane ticket, wasn’t it?
Finally, best writing tip for aspiring authors?
For the minutes or hours you're writing, the thing in front of you should be the most important piece of fiction you've ever written. Every chapter, every scene, every paragraph has to be the best you can make it. And you should have fun doing it too, because if you don’t find the writing enjoyable, you can’t expect the reader to.
Marc Turner, thank you for chatting to us here at Smash Dragons!
The pleasure was mine.
When the Heavens Fall is available from all good bookstores and online retailers. We here at Smash Dragons loved it, and highly recommend that you head online immediately to buy it.
Until next time peeps, be nice to each other and keep on reading!