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J. P. Ashman Interview – Black Guild

J. P. Ashman

Today we have with us J. P. Ashman, fellow Factioner and author of the Black Powder Wars series. The second book in the series, Black Guild is out now!

Now some of you may not have heard of Ashman and his dark fantasy series. But that is about to change. However before we get to the interview, here’s a bit about the author, from the author himself.

I was born in Lancashire, England, and am Northern lad through and through. My parents love wildlife, history, fantasy, and science fiction, and passed their passion on to me. They read to me from an early age and encouraged my imagination at every turn. My career may be in optics, as a manager/technician, but I love to make time for writing and reading every day. I’m now living rurally in the Cotswolds with Wifey and our little Norse Goddess Freya. I’m inspired daily by the views we have and the things we see, from the deer in the fields to the buzzards circling overhead.

Writing is a huge part of my life and my medieval re-enactment and tabletop gaming background lend to it. When I’m not writing the genre, I’m either reading or playing it. I plan to keep writing, both within my current series, and others to come, whether short stories or epic tomes.

And now on with the interview!

You’re a self-published author that I came to by hearing great things from authors I had enjoyed such as Mark Lawrence. Can you talk a bit about your experience with self-publishing your work?

Black Cross (cover)It’s been a learning curve, that’s for sure. A learning curve that continues to…curve. I’ve received loads of help and advice and support from the online fantasy community. Be it from fellow self-published authors like G. R. Matthews, Laura M. Hughes, and Phil Tucker (plus many more), to trad-published authors such as Mark Lawrence, John Gwynne, and Richard A. Knaak (again, plus many more).

Help and learning aside, I enjoy the freedom self-publishing brings. I can do it my way, both the writing and the publishing. I publish in ebook, paperback, and hardback formats, I have books in brick and mortar bookshops and I choose my own editor and cover artist. Plus, I get more royalties per sale than trad-published authors. Alas, I don’t get the same number of eyes on my books, but that’s improving with time, and help and advice from my friends.

Reviews are so very important for authors, especially self-published authors. Trusted testimonials by writers and readers alike help new readers choose you and your book as their next read. Help authors out, no matter how big or small they may seem, and leave honest reviews anywhere and everywhere! We do appreciate it.

Black Cross is a massive epic of a debut novel and seems like it would have been quite an undertaking. How did the story come to you? Describe the journey that resulted in this amazing novel.

It didn’t really come to me as such. I’ve loved fantasy my whole life, be it books or movies, video games, or tabletop games and, I guess, I always had ideas in my head. I told Wifey I wanted to write a book but couldn’t. She scoffed and told me to – she’s straight forward like that. So, I did! I started writing about a magical plague I thought up and…the rest just happened. I wrote the first draft in pen, stored it away for quite some time and then busted it out to type up. The typing up turned into a re-write and a naïve, early release on Kindle. It was later, after the SPFBO competition that I brought in an editor and heavily edited and re-wrote parts once again.

The Black Cross you know was born.

Black Cross, while an extremely original work definitely pays homage to classic fantasy. What books influenced you most while creating the world of The Black Powder Wars series?

Lots of things influenced and still influence me, not just books and not just fantasy books. Historical novels and textbooks, documentaries and movies; years spent re-enacting the 13th/14th Centuries and a general love of history. Movies and video games to tabletop games like Warhammer and HeroQuest.

There was a fantasy series that well and truly grabbed me, though. The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson. Many POVs from all walks of life. Huge settings and cinematic scenes. Powerful magic and monsters, personalities and a complex mix of plots and storylines. I think that general influences aside, this series influenced my writing style the most – not that I’m claiming to be anywhere near on par with Erikson.

Your books often change tone completely depending on the POV character. My absolute favorite characters were Biviano and Sears, and of course Longoss is also fantastic. What was the inspiration behind these great characters, and some of the other characters in the book?

Dragonship (cover)I think of my fantasy worlds like I think of real life, complex and rammed with characters from all walks of life, some lovely, some shitty; murderers and assassins to healers and innocent children, the world is full of them all. My fantasy world is full of them too! I like to see events from all angles. I wanted to see how a fantasy war affects different characters. I wanted to get in their heads and enjoy discovering them and showcasing them.

Sears, Biviano, and Longoss began their lives as a means to an end and then, well, then they grabbed me. They were easy and fun to write, their personalities coming so naturally that they practically wrote themselves, as cliché as that sounds. It’s hard to explain. They’re…real, to me.

Your books deal with some very dark themes. Prostitution, and violence towards women being one of them, although unlike some books classified as grimdark, there seems to be a hopeful quality. Did you find these sections difficult to write, and am I right in thinking that you had some kind of overall moral compass in mind?

Very difficult. I think the mistake some readers make when reading such scenes is believing that the author writes it with a light heart, for affect or shock value. The opposite is true for most, I’m sure. Such things haunt me. I can’t comprehend how anyone can want to harm anyone else, but it happens. As mentioned above, the world is full of people who differ greatly, as is my fantasy world, Brisance. There are horrific people in both and in writing such things, I hope to make people feel horrified, sick even. They should! Witnessing such horrors should strike you and make you want to be that bit nicer the following day, to balance the injustice of the word, fantasy or real.

I hope to make people laugh at other times. Life is full of the dark that makes it hard for us to go on and the light that makes us want to live. The rough comes with the smooth, two sides of the same coin and all that. I try to express that in my stories. I’m not celebrating torture or the like, I’m exploring how such things can come from a situation – how it can alter a person. The same goes for the light hearted stuff and the full on humour. Dark times or events can bring people together. Humour can get people through the darkness, too. On the flip side, the world can be joyful and magical and my fantasy shows that in equal measures to the horrors.

In a year, you can lose a loved one and see another born. You can lose a job and gain another. Lose a friend and make some more. Some fantasies are dark throughout, others lighter in tone. I try to blend the two, even if that means swinging from the light to the dark and back from scene to scene. That’s life, real or fantasy.

I’ve had the chance to read Black Guild, book two in The Black Powder Wars, which was equally brilliant. Can you give readers a brief synopsis of where we’re at when Black Guild begins?

Lost Lore (cover)Uh oh…I was talking to Phil Tucker tonight about writing those [synopses]. I hate it! I’ll try my best, whilst answering the question of where Black Guild takes off after Black Cross. Here goes:

Cheung, Eatrian assassin, has been tasked with the assassination of King Barrison of Altoln. We briefly glimpse Cheung towards the end of Black Cross and the sequel picks up shortly after book one, following Cheung as he sets out across Brisance. His mission is the least of his worries, however. After choosing to ride with the colourful Caravaneers, he finds himself experiencing alien feelings. He finds himself gaining friends. But how will this affect his mission? How will this affect the previously isolated assassin, trained from a young age for one thing only? How will it affect Cheung when the lives of his new friends are threatened?

You’ll have to read it to find out whether he stands with them or leaves them. Whether he betrays them or betrays his masters.

Many new characters are introduced in Black Guild and many of those from book one are either absent or less focused on. Can you explain this decision?

Black Guild was originally twice the size. For those who have read Black Cross, you will know it’s a tome. A sprawling, epic fantasy. Black Guild was the same, but bigger! My editor and beta readers suggested I cut it in two. They were right, Black Guild needed to be split, but I didn’t want to do the part one/part two split like some authors do. It just didn’t feel right to me, for my story. So, I decided to look at the individual storylines within Black Guild and realised that several didn’t really meet within that book, or maybe briefly. This intrigued me. I studied it and decided I could (and liked the thought) create two books which are set at the same time in the series. This means some characters won’t be seen until book three and many in book two won’t return until book four, because book two and three run side by side!

However, there are some characters from book one that don’t enter book two or three. That’s my series, folks! I love reading about the lives of characters that play a part in the grand scheme of a series. I love it even more when, chapters or books later (like the Malazan series) they re-appear, crossing paths with someone else. That is why I have multiple POVs. That is why some characters do not appear in each book. It is intentional and I hope people get it and appreciate it for what it is. It’s risky, but it’s my world, my story and my choice.

What are some of your favorite books in the fantasy genre that have come out over the last year?

Argh! So many! I’m just going to throw two at you: Age of Assassins by R. J. Barker and The Court of Broken Knives by Anna Smith Spark.

The cover art on both of your books is fantastic. Can you talk a bit about the artist that brought these covers to life?

Black Guild (cover)PEN ASTRIDGE! She’s the bomb, obviously. I hit a serious writing slump in 2017 after the loss of my father. A friend came to the rescue (Taya) and encouraged me (relentlessly for six weeks) to let her run a crowd funding campaign to snag a new cover artist. My last cover artist and I lost contact when he moved away and I decided I wanted to revamp the Black Cross cover. Many more friends, writers and readers in the community flocked to the crowd funding Taya ran and so did Pen. She contacted me and asked if I wanted to work with her and I jumped at the chance. I’d seen what she’d done for Mark Lawrence and Graham Austin-King and it all started there.

Pen is working on the Black Powder Wars series as a whole now and it’s great. She’s super easy to work with and has an incredible imagination. So professional, too. I couldn’t be happier with what she’s done for Black Cross and Black Guild. Excited what’s to come next!

What’s next for you over the coming year?

Moving back to my home town with Wifey and Poppet, some 170 odd miles away. Looking for a new day job despite just completing my professional optical technician qualification. Planning an Environmental Science degree for the end of the year and, oh, wait, you mean writing? My bad.

I’m prepping the release of Black Arrow, third in the Black Powder Wars series, which is set to release at the end of this summer! I’m also planning and writing Black Prince, the fourth book, as well as a novel set after my Dragonship short story. And a weird riverside story that includes a talking eel, magic wielding…things, and a foul mouthed female humanoid that’s trying to escape her old life, but can’t quite seem to. It’s definitely a work in progress. Well, they all are. Exciting times!

Thank you again for speaking with us today!

Black Guild is out now! And if you want to learn more about it and Ashman’s other works you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter @JP_Ashman.


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