I always say I'm my own worse critic. My inner critic haunts me with every sentence I write. This “ailment” has tainted my reading of work that's not my own as well and because of it, I tend to be highly critical, sometimes unfairly so. Some writing drives me completely bonkers; although, on occasion, I find a work that is so captivating I wish I'd written it.
One of those works is Oblivion's Forge by Simon Williams. Oblivion's Forge is a magnetizing read, difficult to put down, written so concisely I’m in awe of it.
We have a rare opportunity to meet the man behind the manuscript. It's an honor and privilege to introduce to you, author Simon Williams.
Welcome Simon, thank you for allowing us to get to know you as well as your work. Please tell us a little about yourself and a brief description of the premise behind Oblivion's Forge.
I’m a writer based in the UK who loves fantasy with a real passion- particularly if it pushes the boundaries of the genre and engages the reader’s mind in new ways. Oblivion’s Forge, which is the first of my Aona books, was many years in the making- in fact it had to be pretty much rewritten several times! It chronicles the start of a major upheaval in the world of Aona, which is about to be the prize in a war between two great evils- the implacable, unknowable marandaal, and their ancient enemies (also once the masters of the Younger Races such as humankind), the choragh. But this is only the backdrop; although the scene is an epic one in a sense, the story is character-driven, and I made a conscious effort to ensure the world and the horrors it faces are seen through the eyes of people caught up in this event, struggling to survive, and struggling to understand the unraveling of hope and sanity that soon starts to happen.
That is very ambitious in scope, and so much potential for a long line of sequels. What draws you to this particular genre of writing? Have you thought of testing your mettle in other genres?
I was drawn into the fantasy genre from a young age- I read the Narnia books and then Alan Garner’s works from the ages of eight to nine- and it kind of captivated me really, partly because of the endless possibilities that I felt it could present.
I’ve dabbled in a number of other genres such as thriller / adventure, but I was never satisfied with my works in these areas, so none of those have ever been printed. I try not to think about genres too much in any case- the Aona books would be thought broadly of as fantasy by most readers, but they have elements of sci-fi and horror and other influences. In simple terms, I don’t really set out to write within the confines of any particular genre- and I do feel there’s a little too much pigeonholing of authors’ works into genres by the media.
I agree, wholeheartedly, with you. Genres have become so categorized and so vast that it's confusing and, often, borders on silly. It seems a travesty to put such creative shackles upon artists.
You have an anthology of short stories coming out, are these in a fantasy setting or more contemporary?
They’re really a mixed bag. Many of them are based in a world which is clearly quite different to ours, and others give the impression of being in a “version” of our world- maybe one which has gone badly wrong in some subtle way.
A reader once compared the impression some of my stories gave him to David Lynch’s film “Eraserhead”. I can’t remember if that was meant as a compliment or not, but I am a huge fan of Mr Lynch’s works so I took it as one!
Currently the stories I’m including are these:
Season of Alteration
Aphrodite Takes a Fall
Death in Bloom
I'm not familiar with Mr. Lynch's work, however, that certainly sounds like a high compliment to me.
I've noticed that you have impeccable word choice resulting in very concise writing ... what is your secret for such tight prose?
Thanks! My writing style has changed quite a bit over the years, and in a way the style I have now is a reaction to the style I initially adopted in my teens and twenties. I wrote a lot of “epic” fantasy and Gothic horror, all of it quite overblown and pretentious really. I grew out of it, and my current writing style (which feels a hundred percent “right” to me, so I don’t intend to change anything) does have a more concise and measured feel to it.
I guess the secret is to try and say something in a few words, in a way that allows the reader to draw a picture or conclusion in their own mind. I don’t believe in spoon-feeding detailed information to the reader; I like to think that a reader of this sort of fiction is of at least average intelligence and that he or she has the intellectual capacity to visualize the scenario from the words I use.
Your dialog is very realistic as well, such as 'had I found you anywhere else, I would have left you to stiffen in the frost,' spoken by Ona in Chapter 1. How do you write such authentic dialog?
Simply put, I try to imagine what I would do and say if I was that character in that situation- in fact I think of the characters as the centerpieces in all my works, so it’s important to me that they speak and act in the way they do.
I find that it definitely is a writer's characters who tell the story to be written. The author is simply the scribe to relay it.
From Chapter 1; “A vastness in which to lose myself”, Vornen's thoughts are a powerful reflection of himself, do you use your personal traits in your character development? If not, where does the inspiration for your characters come from?
You know, every time I experience self-doubt it’s as if the shadow of Vornen has fallen on me for a little while. He and indeed many of the other characters are, of course, influenced by me, in the sense that I’ve used some emotions and experiences with which I’m familiar, in order to build those characters. Quite often, if I’m feeling a particularly way I may even think “Hey, this is how xxxx would be feeling” and I’ll even write something “from them” accordingly- as if they’d decided to scribble something quickly in a pocket diary. It’s about capturing the moment really.
I find it a bit haunting but also very exhilarating that, as writers, we have such connection to our characters. Within telling us their story, and sharing with us their emotions we can create their world and shape their events. What is your process of creating?
I start with a basic idea and a small number of characters, little more than that really. I often have a strong vision of how particular points in the story will work out, and if I’m writing a series I may well write scenarios which are a book or even two books ahead. But much of the finer detail is something I end up putting the finishing touches to much later on. As a result, I tend to have lots of scrappy little notes here and there, and it’s a matter of gradually fitting everything together.
How does this equate to your world building: For example, The Existence, mentioned in the first chapter, and the Chulan people's connection to it, intrigued me. Are there modern day influences and philosophies surrounding “The Existence”, your mythology, languages, races, etc.?
The Existence can be thought of pretty much as the “universe” or “everything”, or even “past, present and future” so a way of encapsulating all space and all time within a word or phrase. Different cultures and races have different ideas about the nature of it, something which is expanded on a fair bit in further books. I guess this all originally came from my love of astronomy (something I’ve had since childhood) and interest in the origins of the universe and theories surrounding that.
Now, bringing together your characterization and world building, you have an uncanny knack of slowly introducing ideas, elements and events, so craftily. I recall Chapter 1 for example; every paragraph gives just enough hint of something to put the reader on the edge of her seat, asking questions; questions that give just enough away to keep us curious, to keep us turning the page out of a hungry need to know the answers to them. How do you build this suspense so seamlessly? How do you know what information to withhold?
That’s a difficult one, because when I do “tell just enough” I’m imagining what it might be for the reader conjecturing what might happen next. I guess I always have the list of events and twists that happen next in the back of my mind, and I’ve become able to select what to say now and what to say later without really thinking about it too much. It seems to work, so I try not to analyze that part of the process too much.
I'm told, or rather, I've heard, that people with other artistic talents more readily excel at the written word. Do you have any other artistic talents?
I can play the piano moderately well, and write music, but that’s about it. I like to draw- I find it very relaxing- but I’m no good at it. And don’t get me started on my acting ability...
Lol, writing does have a way of lending itself well to acting. After all, it is our job as writers to "become" our characters when we write them. Fortunately for us we don't have to embarrass ourselves on stage. With your great characterization, maybe you're better at acting than you believe.
What's the best writing advice you've ever received?
It was something along the lines of “Keep going; keep writing. You’ll know when a book, a chapter or even a paragraph feels exactly right.” That advice helped keep me going on many occasions.
That advice is so true. We just never know who may become the next R. A. Salvatore or J. R. R. Tolkien. Perhaps that person is only one more try away from becoming something great.
What advice would you give to new, aspiring authors?
Basically, you have to acknowledge that inspiration is a fickle creature, often absent; just keep plugging away and writing, even if you feel that what you’re writing is not up to standard. It can be worked on, over and over if need be, and the very act of writing actually helps the inspiration return- at least it does for me.
Secondly, ask yourself- would you still write if you were never going to make any money from it whatsoever? If the answer is “yes” then you’re quite possibly made to be a writer- it should be a work of love first, and a commercial exercise second. And ironically, often the writers who are most passionate about their work and would continue regardless of financial gain are the ones who are increasing their chances of success- particularly in the today’s increasingly open market.
That is great advice, both instances will resonate with many writers, I suspect. Keep ironing the rough spots and a masterpiece will emerge. Readers can sense a great author from the passion he or she writes with; that passion always comes through in the prose. It definitely comes through in yours.
On a closing note, tell us a bit about the next Aona book you’re currently working on.
The third book is provisionally titled “The Endless Shore” and I’m about 12,000 words in at the moment, but I have a lot of “pre draft” scribbling about a new character and her storyline, so I’m expecting to get the book finished by the end of 2012. I think it’ll be a little longer than Secret Roads (the second book in the Aona series), which itself was longer than Oblivion’s Forge- not for any particular reason or than that the wider storyline seems to be “stretching” slightly as I work my way along it and come up with new ideas and sub-plots. I was really happy with the plot and the characters developed in Secret Roads, and The Endless Shore is very much a continuation of that- with the plot certainly moving further forwards in many ways.
It sounds like an amazing work, perhaps the best in the series thus far. I can attest that this is definitely a series to get behind. I'm burning through Oblivion's Forge now and very much look forward to reading the sequel Secret Roads and The Endless Shore.
Thank you very much, Simon, for allowing me to interview you for my blog. It's been a pleasure getting to know you and I'm thoroughly enjoying your work. You can all find an excerpt and purchase information for Oblivion's Forge and Secret Roads by clicking on each title respectively. You won't be disappointed in these books.
A special thank you to fans of Simon and myself, for coming to my blog to read more about Simon. I appreciate you stopping by and I enjoy your comments.