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What If… – Guest Blog by Tom Lloyd

Knowledge Not Confined 2 Books by madam-lara-croftWriting—It’s all basically the same whatever genre, right?

No, of course I don’t believe that! If I did, I’d be trying to make my fortune in romance or something. There are a few reasons why I’m not (much to the disappointment of my friends, family and every person I’ve had to tell, “No, not that kind of fantasy.”). However, it boils down to me not be very interested in the genre and if you’re not interested, you’re never going to compete with talented writers who love it.

I’m a fantasy writer by trade and have been doing that for over a decade now. But to my shock and horror, a few years ago I found my mind straying. I love other genres but never truly had a decent idea that wasn’t filtered through the prism of SFF, so this was a bit of a surprise.

The idea itself is a historical fiction novel called Verona In Autumn, a sequel of sorts to Romeo and Juliet. (As it happens I’m crowdfunding publication for it through Unbound. Click here to read a proper description, sample chapters or pledge a little money to help it see the light of day.) So historical, with high literary pretensions even—this really wasn’t like me. And yet there was a crucial detail that explained everything—the “What If” factor.

“What If” is why I became a fantasy writer. Hells, it’s why I became a fantasy reader. What if magic was real? What if there were dragons? What if gods walked the land the way they did in ancient myths? What fun could we have with all that?

That’s how my brain works. Maybe it always has but after years of training as a writer, it’s very much hard-wired this way now. When I went to watch Romeo and Juliet with my wife it wasn’t the first time I’d seen it at all, but it was the first time I’d done so as a parent. I saw more clearly how these children were failed by the grown-ups around them and naturally wondered, “What if they didn’t die?”

Princess of Blood (cover)The whole purpose of the play is to see the brief-burning love of these children consume them both and from that fire, a better city rising. Immediately I was fascinated by throwing a spanner in the works. This play is a tragedy, our heroes die, so what if they didn’t? What if the natural impulse to save young lives is followed? Romeo remains a man sentenced to death if he returns to Verona. Juliet will not be parted from her love again and her family all believe her dead. Crucially, the families have even greater reason to hate and none to reconcile. Two young lives are saved, but could that spell the ruin of the city?

I started the book as a writing exercise. I was a bit burned out after Princess of Blood and needed to do something different. I’d started Knight of Stars and it was like wading through treacle, brain-first. The plot didn’t fit together, the characters weren’t fun anymore…I needed a break and I couldn’t get this idea out of my head. So, I wrote a bit and then some more. I even did—whisper it—some actual research! I started writing it in the present tense, partly because it hinted at the way a play reads but largely just because I’ve never done that before and wanted a challenge.

Knight of Stars (cover)Fast-forward a year and I had a book. Not just a brief intellectual exercise but a readable historical fiction, and more than that. This holiday of sorts also gave me a break from the writing day job and time to remember what I loved about it. I returned to Knight of Stars and junked most of what I’d written. It’s a coincidence that the story there is of my unheroic mercenaries heading off on holiday of sorts, getting drunk and blowing stuff up in the process, but it’s a nice mirror too.

Back in fantasy I found myself enjoying it again. The Cards told silly jokes, got drunk, shirked duty, started brawls and spent about a third of the book hungover from all the fun they’d been having. In short, exactly the sort of book I’d wanted but had struggled to write first time round. It’s released on the today (27th of June) and is a very welcome addition to the God Fragments quartet, but it was made all the better by Shakespeare and “What If”.

I hope you’ll enjoy them both, but perhaps in slightly different ways.


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