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Anna Stephens Interview – Darksoul

Anna StephensToday we have the honor of interviewing the fantastic Anna Stephens! You might remember Anna’s debut novel Godblind, was our number ten pick for Best Fantasy Novel of 2017. For those who are unfamiliar, Anna is a UK-based writer of grimdark and whose second novel, Darksoul has been highly anticipated by many a Fantasy-Faction fan.

So let’s not waste time. On with the interview!

Hi, thanks for answering my questions! Your second novel will publish in a few months. Your first, Godblind, has built up quite a reputation. How does it feel as a writer after your initial success?

Thank you for interviewing me! I’m enormously gratified by how well-received Godblind has been in the grimdark and wider fantasy community. It’s a very worrying time when your debut novel is coming out and you wonder whether you’ve made a terrible mistake, or even worse, that your publishers realise they’ve made a terrible mistake and cancel your contract! So for it to have done as well as it has is an enormous relief and has really helped me to dig deep and work hard on the sequels.

Of course, I’m now going through exactly the same range of emotions in the run up to Darksoul being published – what if people who like Godblind feel let down by Darksoul? What if it’s rubbish, etc.? So all in all, while wildly exciting, publishing books really does put you through the emotional wringer. Not that I’d ever want to do anything else, of course.

Godblind had a beautiful map with it. Will the sequel, Darksoul, have a map? Is it going to be any different?

Godblind (cover)I was really lucky that HarperVoyager hired the wonderful Sophie Tallis to draw the map based on a very rough version that I’d been working from for years to help me work out where my characters were. There was a little bit of discussion about a second map, but in the end we decided to stick with what we’ve got and not complicate matters. Hopefully I’ve explained locations well enough in Darksoul that people can work it out.

Does this series have any official name? Or are we bound to call it Godblind Trilogy for now? Is it actually going to be a trilogy?

Ha, yes, it is officially known as the Godblind Trilogy, and anyone who’s read Godblind will understand the significance of the title, which relates to a particular character. As that character is a main plot driver throughout the full trilogy, we decided to keep it simple and call it that. And yes, definitely three books.

Your first book had a bunch of viewpoint characters. Will Darksoul have some new viewpoint characters?

Again, it’s something we debated, but a lot of readers found there were too many viewpoints to really keep up with. The thought of introducing new ones would just complicate matters, so I’m sticking with those who are already established.

Godblind has become quite famous for some of its violence. Does Darksoul have as much violence as well? Just a few hints if you will, please.

Darksoul (cover)Well, we left events at the end of Godblind in some considerable turmoil, so I think it’s safe to say that the characters have some pretty desperate situations to try and escape from. The capital city, Rilporin, is being besieged by the Mireces and their allies, and those within are conducting a desperate defence, while hoping for reinforcements that may never arrive. It’s a different type of book in that respect, with the main focus being in one place rather than roaming all across Rilpor. That, in turn, allowed me to examine some other character traits.

A siege is, by its nature, an exhausting and numbing experience, and a game of cat and mouse as each side attempts to outwit the other and cause greatest harm to the enemy while preserving as many of their own troops as possible. It was an interesting experience focusing on that rather than the escape and chase and flow across the landscape that occurs in Godblind.

I, myself, like a healthy dose of action in my grimdark. Should we expect Darksoul to have some gorgeous action sequences?

Oh yes, while it may be a siege situation, main characters are on both sides of the conflict and like to get stuck in and get their hands dirty. As the siege progresses and events unfold, the situation becomes more frantic as the defenders struggle to hold the walls against seemingly overwhelming numbers. There’s also a single combat scene, a ritual dual, that I had great fun writing, as well as a couple of character deaths. Heroes and cowards abound as the siege progresses. And of course, no siege would be complete with some complete bastard turning traitor.

Would you tell us a bit about your influences as a writer? What are you reading habits as a whole?

Dragonflight (cover)I’ve always been an avid reader, and an avid writer, ever since I was very young. My gateway into fantasy book was Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey, and from there I devoured an awful lot of heroic and epic fantasy before tumbling down into the grittier side and realising that the book I’d been writing for years belonged alongside them, not with the likes of Elizabeth Moon’s Deed of Paksennarion.

I read quite widely. As well as fantasy I love historical fiction and sci-fi, and some thrillers and horror. I did a literature degree and that opened me up to a whole new experience in books, from the classics to the 20th century novel, Shakespeare to Samuel Becket, and a lot of books translated into English. These days, though I tend to stick with the aforementioned genres, if someone raves about how much they loved a book, chances are good I’ll read it. I’m all about the stories and the characters at the end of the day.

Because of all that, it’s hard to really pinpoint writing influences. It took years of refinement for me to come up with the ‘voice’ and writing style that I use today, and several people who know me well and who hadn’t previously read my work, were surprised at how austere it is. They’d expected something more flowery and lavish. I think the style comes from consciously trying NOT to imitate writers I admire – and I admire hundreds – because I was always worried about inadvertent plagiarism.

All that said, Jen Williams’ use of dialogue to perfectly sum up a character, particularly in her current trilogy, the Winnowing Flame trilogy, is exquisite and I would love to be able to do that. I’m thinking specifically of her character Vintage. If you haven’t read Jen, do it!

I know you are a huge fan of movies and music. Care to divulge some of your favorites? Have any of them influenced your writing somehow?

The Dark Crystal (poster)Oh, I’m one of those people who will watch practically anything. The Dark Crystal, The NeverEnding Story, Krull and Star Wars are the films I remember most from my childhood, and there’s a distinct possibility that the epic scope and world-ending consequences, the reluctant heroes and the feisty women filtered into my writing brain when I began telling stories. I’m also a huge fan of Buster Keaton, the silent movies star who was famous around the same time as Chaplin, though (unfortunately) never quite as well known.

There’s something seemingly simplistic but actually incredibly complicated in telling a story in a silent film that I really love. Everything has to be done slightly differently, but at the same time it’s a great reminder that your characters don’t have to say anything to feel something. They don’t have to tell your reader what’s going on, or even show them what’s going on. Some of the best surprises are the ones that nobody sees coming.

Music-wise, I tend towards the heavier end of the spectrum – Metallica, Alter Bridge, Black Sabbath – but I also love The Who and David Bowie, and I’ve recently been getting into blues and folk – Johnny Flynn and The Dead South. So again, a little bit eclectic, but they all need to have excellent musicianship. I can’t stand these pop songs that have a singer on an empty stage except for frolicking half-naked dancers and their entire backing track has been made electronically. A band pulling together, inspiring each other, riffing off each other, is far more interesting to me than a dehydrated, regimented, uninspired backing track that does nothing but showcase a singer’s voice (tracked to make sure it hits each note).

Read any good books recently? Care to recommend some reads for us?

Where to start? Books to look out for that are out or coming out in 2018: Priest of Bones, Pete McLean; The Traitor God, Cameron Johnston; The Queens of Innis Lear, Tessa Gratton; Lancelot, Giles Kristian. Others that I’ve read lately but aren’t recent releases include The Last Days of Jack Sparks, Jason Arnopp; The Relic Guild trilogy, Edward Cox; and anything by Jen Williams.

So, what does the future hold for Anna Stephens? Any other secret projects you are currently working on?

Well, Darksoul is now finished and book three is drafted, so we’re working on refining that ready to go to the publishers. Other than that, I’d like to work on a few more short stories, particularly ones involving Syl Stoneheart, famed mercenary captain, who has already appeared in two publications this year – the Art of War charity anthology and issue 15 of Grimdark Magazine.

I’ve got another project in the works, which is very secret at the moment, so I can’t say much about it. I’m hoping my agent and editor both love it, as it is the first of a planned new trilogy, set in a completely different universe but including some of the same themes that appear in the Godblind trilogy. If we can get that going, I will be a very happy writer indeed.

Darksoul (banner)

We would like to thank Anna again for speaking with us today! Godblind is out now. Darksoul is due out September 4th in the US and August 23rd in the UK. To learn more about the Godblind series and Anna’s other works you can visit her website or follow her on Twitter @AnnaSmithWrites.


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