Littafi X Daniel T. Jackson: Author Interview

The writer of the widely-acclaimed Illborn Saga answers a few of our most creative questions yet, with choice quips and interesting insight into his writing style and what to expect in subsequent books in the series…

First of all, you write beautifully. Some books contain great stories written poorly, while others pieces are artfully penned, with zero plot intrigue. You blend the elements of both with admirable effortlessness. Drawing from your own experiences and growth, how would you describe your style of writing?

Thank you, that is very kind of you to say, and it is also a very interesting question.

I break a good novel down to three elements in my own mind; (i) story, (ii) characters, and (iii) prose.

My prime emphasis as a writer is on creating a compelling story with interesting characters. For me, the prose element sits in the background. A compelling story for me must have interesting events and action, must have an element of mystery and intrigue, and should elicit emotional reactions from the reader. Interesting characters should feel realistic and unique, and should leave the reader guessing sometimes as to what course of action they are going to take (and I like a bit of moral greyness in my characters!).

When it comes to prose, I prefer to write in a way which is clear and easy-to-read (so that the prose gets out of the way and let’s the reader enjoy the story), rather than concentrating on flowery description. I am less of a fan of writing where it feels like painstakingly-crafted purple prose takes precedence over story and characters.

Not many writers can say that they hit the jackpot with their very first book. A little over a year post-release, 200+ reviews on Goodreads alone, with the average rating sitting pretty at over four stars, just how much effort did you put into writing Illborn?  And, what advice would you give to upcoming Fantasy writers who are seeking to make a similar impact with the Fantasy readership?

Thank you, I have been delighted by the reaction to Illborn in its first year after release. I genuinely did not expect my self-published debut novel to achieve the sales and critical success it has had, and it was wonderful to see it pass 500 ratings on Goodreads with a 4.27/5.0 average rating.

I put a massive amount of effort into writing Illborn. I had developed the story idea over several years, and I spent a lot of time fleshing out the story, characters, world, lore, etc before I ever started writing.

The writing process itself took me approximately 18 months, and far in excess of a thousand hours. In the absence of any expected support from a publisher, I imposed a rigorous quality standard on myself, and there were 5 or 6 rounds of edits of the book.

My advice to upcoming fantasy writers is that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Spend the time to make your book as strong as it possibly can be before contemplating publishing it, then share it with people you trust to try to make it even better. Challenge yourself on the three criteria of story, characters, and prose; for each of these, how can you improve the book? Then, after publishing, make sure you engage extensively with the relevant reading and writing communities.

Writer’s block is a thing. What activities do you do to keep the creative juices flowing?

I have never really suffered from writer’s block. A large part of this (I believe) is that I am a planner rather than a pantser. I generally know where I want the book to go and what the next developments are going to be. Therefore, my main question is how to frame and approach the next scene, rather than having to work out what that scene is going to be.

When I am struggling to develop a scene, I typically force myself to continue writing. My view is that if I write 3-4 pages of text that is not very good, I will still be able to return to it and (after editing) possibly extract 1-2 decent pages of work (which is better than having written nothing). Sometimes, if I am bogged down in a difficult scene, I will jump ahead to write a scene which I have been looking forward to.

Illborn is classified as High Fantasy. While some reviewers have noted the presence of certain standard high fantasy themes in the book, there are several considerably dark themes throughout the book, just bordering on GrimDark as it is. What themes do you like to explore as a writer, and can we expect similar “greyness” in your characters in subsequent books?

I personally would describe Illborn as epic fantasy rather than high fantasy or grimdark, but I can see how readers might attach it to other categories. There are indeed some darker themes in places in Illborn. Part of that relates to my earlier answer, that I think that a good book should elicit emotional reactions in a reader. Sometimes those emotions might be happiness and delight, but sometimes you might want the reader to experience shock, fear, or even anger.

Lots of dark things happened in medieval times in the real world, so it feels realistic to me that there would also be some darker events occurring in a medieval fantasy story.

Readers of Illborn will recognize that there is “moral greyness” in some of the characters. To the extent that the arcs of the characters’ development will continue into book two of the series, I think (without giving any spoilers) that it is reasonable to expect that there may be greyness of actions and choices in the subsequent books, too.

Illborn, your first book is over 700 pages long. Is this precedent something your fans should come to expect? Is writing Malazan-sized tomes unintentional, or should we expect larger epics by default?

The Illborn Saga is going to be a 4-book series, and I expect that all of the books will be of a similar “epic” length to Illborn (although not quite of a Malazan size!). I believe that the whole series will end up being somewhere in the range of 2,500 to 3,000 pages long. Illborn was 700 pages long because of the multiple-POV approach.

There are 4 main characters, and for each character, I wanted to ensure that there was a satisfying and self-contained story.

I do not believe that I could have reduced the overall length to any extent without sacrificing core story elements, and indeed I did not want to do that. In summary, someone who purchases and reads Illborn (and subsequent books) is going to get a lot of story!

You’re required to pass a tough quiz testing encompassing knowledge of the works of any Fantasy author of your choice. You cannot fail any question. Which Fantasy author would you choose, and why?

Haha, that is an incredibly difficult question. I will just stick to traditionally published authors in my answer.

I would not pick any of my favorite fantasy authors (Robert Jordan, George RR Martin, Steven Erikson) because they have written too many books! Too much to learn! I have only read one Patrick Rothfuss book (The Name of the Wind), but I might pick his because it would not take very long to read and learn his entire back-catalogue!

An oft-overlooked Fantasy fanbase exists in Africa, eternally enthralled with stories of swinging swords, foul, arcane magic, and large-scale battles featuring screaming horses, broken lances and disemboweled mercenaries. Would you be willing to expand your promotional efforts to include bookstagrammers, book bloggers, and Fantasy readers in the Black Continent?

I am responsible for all of the marketing and promotional efforts for Illborn. I would be delighted to engage more with bookstagrammers, book bloggers, and fantasy readers in Africa. If anyone interested in the Illborn Saga and my writing follows me on Twitter or Instagram, I will follow them back. I enjoy engaging with my readers.

Illborn is published under Troubador Publishing and is available on BookDepository, The Broken Binding, and Amazon. You can reach out to the author via Goodreads, Instagram, or Twitter. 
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