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Jonathan French Interview – The Grey Bastards

Jonathan French

Photo by Casey Gardner

Many of you will remember both Jonathan French and his book, The Grey Bastards, as the winners of the 2nd annual Self-Published Fantasy Blog Off in 2017. Since then the book has been picked up by Crown Publishing and was released last month to high praise from both his longtime fans and first time readers. Today he is here to talk a bit about the book, its inspiration, and what is instore for his characters in the future.

What inspired you to write about half-orcs on war boars?

It was a beefy stew of ideas! I was playing way too much D&D (5th edition had just come out) and I was obsessed with painting any miniatures sculpted by Tre Manor, especially his orcs and half-orcs. At some point I was wearing a Sons of Anarchy t-shirt with the simple SAMCRO logo (fans of the show will know what this is). I looked down and, rather stupidly, noticed CRO spelled backwards was ORC. So, I told my wife, “My next D&D game is going to be Sons of Anarchy with half-orcs.” She replied, “You mean on hogs instead of…hogs?” And I said, “Yes,” like it had been my plan all along (it wasn’t). Then she said, “Why do it as a game? Write the fucking book.”

I did as I was told, banged out the first chapter, showed it to her and we both agreed it had legs, so I went ahead.

The worldbuilding is so rich, what was your starting point?

The hub of the wheel in that regard was the idea of a mounted gang. I grew up watching Westerns, so I had strong notions of men on horseback in dangerous lands. I knew that most of the Spaghetti Western films I loved were filmed in Andalusia Spain. I also knew a little bit about the historical era of the Reconquista. The more I researched, the more I saw how perfect an analog of medieval Spain would be for the setting. It all just sorta dovetailed together and I was seeing connections everywhere.

You put a unique spin on many common tropes for fantasy beings, like religious halflings and insane centaurs. Where did you get the inspiration for these elements?

Grey Bastards (cover)The spin on halflings came from a cemetery in my birthplace of Nashville, TN. The name of the place escapes me, but I remember there were mausoleums set in tiers in the side of a hill. It looked like a creepy version of the drawings Tolkien did of The Hill housing Bag End. So that spawned the idea of halflings living in tombs, but I needed a reason why. I once read a theory that some Bronze Age cultures may have visited their dead relatives inside the barrows and handled their remains. The two ideas combined to form a culture of halflings that have a deeply religious devotion to fallen human warriors.

As for the centaurs, there is a long tradition of them being portrayed as unhinged in some way, and I’ve always been fascinated by the Dionysian Mysteries. It’s vaguely hinted at in the book that the cultural history of the Bastards’ world has roots in a fallen empire. Rather than use Rome as the analog, I conceived a more Hellenic Empire, and thought about what would have been left over from such an era. The centaurs represent the last living vestiges of that Imperium (and quite possibly the cause of its fall).

Who is your personal favorite character (Jack not included), and why?

Oats, for sure. Because he’s exactly who I would want as my closest companion. He’s big and intimidating and always has your back, but he’s not a lout or a bully. There’s a real empathetic side to him and, in many ways, he’s the only Bastard that really understands what a family is. He was also easy to write; his actions were always clear and I never had to fret over his motivations. He’s Jackal’s rock, and anchored me during the writing, as well.

If you could insert Jack into another fantasy story, which would it be, and why?

The Grey Bastards (cover 2)I’d love to see how he fares inside the Tower of Babel in Senlin Ascends! Jackal dealing with such a complex and esoteric culture would cause unending mayhem. I think he would do quite well early on and not flounder the way Thomas Senlin does in the face of all the decadence and skullduggery. That said, I don’t know that he’d endure the mental war of attrition the Tower wages with the same vigor as Senlin, ultimately. Those two protagonists meeting would be a trip, too. Oil and water! But with both their respective series unfinished, and much development for both Jackal and Senlin still to come, it’s entirely possible they will find some commonality.

What kind of changes can we expect from the self-published version to the new version?

There are a few very minor changes. Mostly, just a bit of polish. My goal from the start was to make sure that the readers of the self-pubbed version DID NOT have to re-read the new version. The editor I worked with was very good and understood my stance. Hopefully, what we achieved is the same story with some of the motivations now a little sharper, the plot wound a bit tighter. So, anyone with the self-pubbed version will not be lost when the sequel hits the shelves next year. I promise! That said, for serious Bastards fans there is a new scene between Jackal and Hoodwink that we were excited to include.

Grey Bastards leaves us at a crossroads. What can we expect from Jack in the future?

If Josiah Bancroft agrees, he’ll be leaving the Lots to climb the Tower of Babel! In all seriousness, it’s tough to say without getting all spoilery. He’s always wanted to be more than just another hog-rider and that ambition will continue, though quite a bit less selfish in nature. His world has expanded and the next time we see him, he’ll have grown along with it. I think Jackal fans will be pleasantly surprised by the changes in him!

We would like to thank Jonathan again for speaking with us today. The Grey Bastards is out now! To learn more about The Lot Lands series and his other works you can visit his website or follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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