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G. R. Matthews Interview – Six Kingdoms

G. R. MatthewsG. R. Matthews is a self-published writer with eleven books under his belt. He is also head mod on the Fantasy-Faction Facebook Group and the official Bureau Chief of Fantasy-Faction proper. Recently he signed with Jamie Cowen from The Ampersand Agency LTD and now has a manuscript out with an interested publisher!

We can’t wait to say, “We knew him when…,” but for those of you who don’t know him as well as we do, he’s graciously taken time out of his schedule talk with us today!

On with the interview!

For those who don’t know your bibliography, can you provide a (very) quick summary of what you had written thus far?

The Stone Road (cover)A quick summary, right. Up until now, I have completed eleven full novels. That is the three books of The Forbidden List, set in Ancient China, a Wuxia type series that I am really proud of, with magic, martial arts, betrayal, a dragon, a panther, and a panda.

Four books in the Corin Hayes series, set in the future with a broken main character whose only skill is stubbornness, and perhaps sarcasm. Corin is a man of no particular note or specialness, who is trying to rebuild his life, trying to earn enough money to pay his rent and purchase sufficient alcohol to forget. Each book is a standalone but, like Jack Reacher, there are subtle links between them.

Now it gets a little confusing, there is a standalone book that kind of sits between the Forbidden List and Corin Hayes—it doesn’t join them together, but it links the history of the world a little (not published yet). This one was written as a cross between The A-Team and World of Warcraft. A band of mercenaries are given a task to cross a Southern England teaming with monsters from myth and legend to seek the one piece of information that might give humanity a chance to fight back. 

There are also some short stories: “Ace” (set in World War II, but with fantasy elements), a few that follow other characters from the Forbidden List (e.g. “Outlaw Mountain”), and a Corin Hayes short (which is really the start of the fifth book in the series, but reads well as a standalone).

And there are three more finished books too.

Erm…that wasn’t quick, was it?

What got you into writing?

Am I allowed to answer reading? That isn’t a joke or stupid aside. It is the truth. Like a lot of folks, I read a lot of books for pleasure when I was young, and still do now. It probably really started around age thirteen—I read before, but never so much, so quickly as when I discovered fantasy and sci-fi. Arthur C Clarke, Isaac Asimov, David Eddings, Elizabeth H Boyer (World of Alfar series is criminally under-rated or not talked about as much as it should be), Louise Cooper (Time Master series is fantastic, simply fantastic!), Magician, Daughter of the Empire, Dragonlance Chronicles and Legends—I still shed a tear at two points through that series (no spoilers as I learned recently that Mark Lawrence has not read them).

Any other hobbies you do besides writing?

Silent City (cover)I play the guitar (self-taught) and sing (though my family wish I wouldn’t) for fun. I like computer games—bought a VR system and am playing Skyrim (I can be the hero—and accidently bark my knuckles against desks, shelves and other obstacles as I swing the sword). And RPGs—Dungeons and Dragons, Numenera, Invisible Sun, City of Mist, I play them all. Even started to turn Corin Hayes’s world into an RPG using the Cypher System—who doesn’t want to roleplay a life underwater and battle with submarines.

What are you writing now?

As of this moment, I am in the planning phase of the sequel to Seven Deaths of an Empire. Creating a cast of characters, a new geography for the lands further north, getting the individual arcs sorted, and events in order takes a little bit of time. I’ve gone from being a pansters to an architect over the years. Next step is the spreadsheet of events and arcs, and then I can start writing.

Can you provide us with a small preview of your upcoming new series?

Here you’ll have to define upcoming.

Seven Deaths of an Empire is the first in what I hope to be a series all set in the Six Kingdoms at different points of its history. Seven Deaths follows an apprentice magician and an old general as they seek to hold the fraying Empire together—it was originally pitched as the death of Alexander crossed with the rise of Nero.

After writing this book, I was lucky enough to find an agent (Jamie Cowen, Ampersand Agency) who likes my writing and loves the book. This was after pitching a few books at him and acting on all the advice he gave in return when writing the next. With more luck coming my way, we find the book is under offer from publishing house, about which I can say no more at the moment, except it is likely to see the light of day (should all go well) in 2021.

Any advice for an aspiring writer?

Corin Hayes Omnibus (cover sm)I still view myself as an aspiring writer, even eleven books down. I can only speak for my journey (outside of the clichés (and truisms) of read a lot, write a lot, and take criticism with broad shoulders and a smile). Years ago, I became really frustrated with my lack of skill, progress, knowledge, and inability to get past chapter three of a book. I had ideas, but not the framework I needed, the discipline, the understanding of the process, so I went back to University to study Creative Writing and Literature.

I learned techniques, the tips and tricks of the trade. Keeping a journal and notebook was an excellent idea, which I maintain to this day. I had to read other people’s work and critique it, and they did the same for mine. I had tutors who would read, advise and encourage—and unlike some accounts I’ve read of Creative Writing Courses, they had no bias against fantasy and sci-fi. Scripts, plays, poetry, novels, short stories, all had to be studied, read, commented upon and practised.

I loved it and The Stone Road was born of that process. It was going to be my final piece but was also going to be too long.

Since then I have written and written, planned, researched, and written. I hit the magic million words give or take 10k in 2019 having finished 11 books.

Out of all the novels you had written thus far, which character is your favorite and why? Or, if you can’t pick a favorite, which character has been the most fun to write and why?

The Blue Mountain (cover)Favourite? That’s like picking my favourite child (I have two)—impossible!

Zhou from The Forbidden List. There is such a change in him from book one to the end of book three. I really wanted to be fair to him by the end, considering how much he loses and suffers throughout the story.

Xiongmao, from the same series. She is competent, older and wiser than the men. I think you see her also in a few other books—a similar character, if not exact. It always seems to be that women have the wisdom, while men have…erm…the recklessness? If it wasn’t for the women in the books, the villains would never be overcome.

Corin Hayes is just fun to write. I can let go and enjoy the ride with him. His voice just comes so naturally, which may say more about me than it should! He is also the easiest to write because it is first person, I am in his head, recording his thoughts, his experiences even though it is set in the future and underwater.

Emlyn from Seven Deaths. Young, determined, with her head screwed on and not afraid to stand up for herself.

General Bordan from Seven Deaths. Old, pragmatic, caring, and doing his best despite all the chaos going on around him while holding firm to his ethics.

What’s your writing style like? Are you a pantser or an outliner? Also, is there any routine you do to get yourself ready to write?

Nothing Is Ever Simple (cover)No routines, just an internal drive and deadlines. I started off as a pantser, and that’s still how I write Corin’s stories. 

However, the fantasy side of things has become a little more complicated, with three series set in one world. There is a sense that everything has to be coherent, nothing can compromise a previous or later story.

And in themselves, the themes and characters have developed a complexity that necessitates planning, or at least some form of outlining. A3 sheets, divided into grids, with notes about each character arc, in each chapter—just a line or two, something to keep me focused and honed in upon.

Scrivener is god-send for this too—each little chapter having some further notes, and a section on worldbuilding I can copy from one story to the next often means I don’t have to go searching for characters, magic, science, geography.

Any tips for anyone looking to do self-publishing?

  1. Be good at marketing, or learn to be. It is my weakness. If you want advice or guidance here talk to Rob Hayes, Graham Austin-King, and Dyrk Ashton—all so much better at it than me. Which neatly leads me onto…
  2. Forge friendships with other authors, ask for advice and be free with your own, remembering that advice is not always good advice. Be smart and filter through it.
  3. Expect the world, but be prepared to build that world one sale at a time.
  4. Have a thick skin—and grow it thicker.
  5. Read the good reviews—don’t cry over the bad ones.
  6. Don’t be a dick (a Steve McHugh motto)—I see it too often out on social media or through emails. The fantasy community isn’t as large as you think it is. You will get a name for yourself all too quickly, for good or ill.
  7. Write for you first. If you don’t enjoy the story, it is unlikely your readers will.
  8. Just had to have the number eight because it is Chinese New Year as I type this, and symbolism is important.

Which method do you feel is better: publishing or self-publishing?

The Red Plains (cover)I can’t answer this right now. Come back in two years and I’ll some have experience of both sides—then I can give you an informed answer! 

Who’s your favorite author ATM? And, if you could collaborate a novel with another author, who would it be and why?

I still haven’t recovered from Sir Terry’s death, so it would still be him. Though I am not vain enough to suggest that I could ever match that level of skill. Always thought I could finish off the lost third book in the Space Mavericks series…

How many unpublished manuscripts do you have? And, if you do, will any of those be published anytime soon?

At present: four. As I said above, one is currently under offer and two others are linked to that world, though the start of different series.

The other one floating around, “Last Winter Sun”, I don’t know what to do with at the moment—a few folks have read it and liked it well enough. I suppose, at present, I am in a holding pattern while I see how this publishing lark plays out.

Three Times The Trouble (cover)What’s your day-to-day life like?

Hectic. I work full-time in education, mainly around child safety and safeguarding, sit on a council committee (again to do with child safeguarding), have two of my own kids, a forgiving wife, and try to cram in some writing in the evenings.

Top five favorite novels (aside from science fiction or fantasy)?

– Jack Reacher (the series), though I remember the early ones more fondly.

Cypher System/Numenera Rulebook

– I’ve also got some Middle Earth D&D rulebooks which are beautiful.

The Time Traveller’s Guide to Medieval England is always in reach.

The Time Team to What Happened When is on my shelf too.

Favorite action movie?

Big Trouble in Little China—I could watch that again and again…and do.

What inspired you to write your first trilogy, The Forbidden List, and which character do you love more: Huang or Zhou?

Unfair, but Zhou. He has everything ripped from him, no one believes in him, he is disliked by most (which is probably fair), but his journey is of redemption and family.

My inspiration was simple; I love martial arts movies—always in the original language, with subtitles. I am not a fan of dubbing at all. Ever since I was young (a long time ago) I watched them and looking back can see how they’ve evolved, understand a little more of the cultural history behind them. I’ve also studied a few martial arts—though I am barely competent anymore—and it just seemed the natural thing to write about.

How much research have you done for your novels?

Back in Blue (cover)Enough to make sure the flavour of the worlds and characters come through. Enough that the reader can find the hooks and build the world around those in their mind. Enough that I don’t insult, parody, or cause offence (I hope!). Enough to tell the story. Enough for the reader to enjoy.

Do you have any pets?

We had two hamsters—sadly departed—and looking for a dog at present. I grew up with a dog (and a cat), and I want the same for my kids (and they do too). My wife, not so much. My father’s advice is, “Just turn up with it anyway.” That’s what happened to him and he survived.

What makes a good story?

Good characters, good plot, interesting events, words, words that are strung together in the right order, some emotion, some more emotion, a little challenge, a big challenge, a moment of doubt and eventual success.

Marinate in the fridge for two months.

Bake for 30 minutes at Gas Mark 6.

Leave on a cooling rack for three days.

Slice in to page size pieces and serve.

Standing Up (cover)Lastly, is there anything you wish to share with your readers?

*cough* My books—buy them! *cough*

More than anything, I want to share my love of reading—there are a million worlds to discover, a billion characters to follow, a zillion events to experience, a quintillion moments of joy and sadness. (I may have made those numbers up).

Thanks again to GR for spending some (more) time with us! You can learn more about his various series on his website and follow him on Twitter and Facebook!

You can also sign up for his newsletter (which goes out today!) and get a free copy of his newest short story “Standing Up”!

And if Corin Hayes sounded like an awesome series, you can get the Corin Hayes Omnibus for just 99(c/p) for a limited time, by clicking here!

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