#SPFBO7 Interview – Roland O’Leary

Roland, welcome to Lavender Lass Books. Thank you for agreeing to this interview and best of luck in the competition!

The Hand of Fire: A new action-packed epic fantasy adventure is the first book in The Essence of Tyranny series. Here’s the blurb:

The material world has a mystical reflection – the Essence.

If you have the power to manipulate the Essence, you can change the world of matter.

You can conjure a flame from nothing. You can make your dreams come true.

Or create nightmares of your worst imagining.

This is the world of The Hand of Fire, the first novel in a new epic fantasy series filled with gripping action and spectacular magic.

The Grand Alliance has failed, its armies destroyed by the monstrous Ulokan horde. But the Ulokans have been defeated in turn by the forces of the sorcerer-lord Skraka Gorn. As ancient evils rise once more and new threats emerge, Gorn proposes a new empire under his leadership.

Tamurac, lord of the Halyas, has disappeared with the Grand Alliance. Now his teenage son Danalar must accept responsibility and become the warrior and leader he has trained his whole life to be. Meanwhile, until he comes of age it falls to Charymylle, Lady Halyas, to lead the clan through this time of change – if the wardens and warband will follow a woman.

When a survivor returns with suspicions of Gorn’s treachery, the Halyas must make a fateful choice. They could choose safety and support Gorn’s imperial ambitions. Or dare to resist his expanding empire and face his devastating sorceries in a new kind of war.

Their decision leads to an adventure greater and more terrible than the Halyas ever imagined.

From readers:
★★★★★ ‘I loved this book…it transports you to another world that is rich in detail and history…I highly recommend you read it, you won’t be disappointed’ Reader on Amazon.co.uk
★★★★★ ‘Well written, exciting and a developed fantasy world and character background histories’ Reader on Amazon.co.uk
★★★★★ ‘A really gripping read – would thoroughly recommend’ Reader on Amazon.co.uk

From reviewers:
‘This book has many strong points…its main selling point has to be the worldbuilding, especially the magic system…The imagery was so vivid that I felt it was right there in front of me. In a similar way O’Leary writes fight scenes incredibly well…… the perfect blend of action and description all the way through…I would absolutely recommend this book!’ BeneathAThousandSkies.com

‘Readers will be drawn into this well-imagined world…A fast-paced fantasy opener that leaves room for further intrigue and adventure.’ Kirkus Reviews

From the author
I’m a huge fan of classic epic fantasy and historical fiction. Among my favourites are J.R.R. Tolkien, Ursula Le Guin, Robert Jordan, Guy Gavriel Kay, Bernard Cornwell, and Patrick O’Brian. The Hand of Fire is the first book of The Essence of Tyranny series which is inspired by the great books I have read. I hope it will give readers the feel of a classic fantasy adventure from a new perspective.

Read now and escape into the adventure.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, it’s my first time entering #SPFBO – it’s the first novel I’ve published (Kindle version in June last year, paperback in August). I decided to enter it as it’s the only one I have! More seriously, when I discovered #SPFBO last year I was absolutely determined to enter it this time around – it’s an incredible resource helping connect readers with high quality self-published fantasy fiction. Since I hope I’ve written a high quality, really enjoyable epic fantasy adventure, #SPFBO is a great way to try to put it on the radar for readers.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
When I was reflecting on this question I cast my mind back to when I first discovered the enjoyment of writing stories, back to really early days when I was 8 or 9 years old, and I’m sure that all the stories I was writing were about knights and warriors and dragons and monsters. That was before I’d even read much fantasy, maybe just The Hobbit and the Redwall series by Brian Jacques. So in one sense I’m not sure if I really have a choice in why I write in the genre, it’s just naturally what I want to write about the most! It resonates with me.

I think that all interesting stories in any genre are about a person becoming who they need to be in the world they find themselves in, or failing to do that. But what makes fantasy so appealing is that scope and scale of the challenge that can be offered – yes you get the universal appeal of character development, but it’s in the context of the whole universe coming to an end, or overthrowing an empire. The protagonists have to confront their demons more explicitly in fantasy.

As an adult who reads widely and has other book projects that are not fantasy, what I particularly love about writing fantasy is the element of world-creation. It’s great fun to create characters and plotlines, but the act of building a world – that’s the purest creativity I know. It’s a gift that keeps on giving too, there really are infinite aspects to a world that you can explore and all of them can generate new stories.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
In honesty I explored the traditional publishing route first but didn’t make any headway. In that situation you’ve got two choices. You could decide that those people you’ve submitted to are right. Your book won’t appeal, it doesn’t deserve to see the light of day. Give up, write something else.

Or if you really believe in what you’ve written then there’s the self-publishing route. I decided to go with this option. I’ve written a book that appeals to me as an avid reader. I believe that there are lots of other readers like me who will really enjoy it.

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Well the first advantage I’ve alluded to above, you are letting the readers be the ultimate arbiters of whether your book was worth publishing. There’s no intermediary gatekeepers. You retain entire control over the content of your work. In most self-publishing models you’ll retain considerably more royalties. And you can also define your own terms of what makes a success and in what timeframe and that’s very powerful.

There are lots of challenges too. You don’t have the advantages of the traditional publishing infrastructure to ensure quality control, so you have to take ownership of this yourself.  For me that was hours of painstaking editing and rewriting, a process I enjoyed a lot less than the original creative act and found it harder to motivate to spend time doing.

Then the second main challenge is how do you get your novel noticed by the right readers? I went into self-publishing with only a very vague and frankly naïve idea of how this works and have had a really eye-opening experience on how much time/money/work is required to connect your book to a readership. There is so much content out there, it really is a jungle – how can you make your tiny voice heard?

On that note it really is worth reiterating how great #SPFBO is for trying to forge that link between readers and writers. As an author with conviction in the quality of your work it’s a way of reaching an interested audience. And as a reader it’s a way of filtering out the noise.

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
What seems perpetual in fantasy is the depth and breadth of imagination of the authors, their ability to surprise you with new creations. In every generation you will find novels that make you think differently, that create worlds you could never have imagined yourself. That’s as true now as it has ever been.

A more recent trend is the fragmentation of the genre into increasingly niche sub-genres. This is great if it helps people to more easily find books that they want to read, but I suspect that the division of the genre is less due to reader appetite and more about commercial interests – it helps with targeted marketing and promotion. I worry that this leads to production lines of formulaic works in each sub-genre, with people in echo chambers praising each new replica. As a reader but more importantly as a writer I believe in reading widely, reading outside my comfort zone. Firstly because it opens your mind but also because creativity is a lot about applying something that already exists but in a new context. Seeds of creativity cross-pollinate.

Another change that is still playing out is the genre being a victim of the success of the Game of Thrones TV series. The cogs are whirring and people are trying to work out a formula that means their book will get on TV. I think this happens less in indie and self-published works, but I’ve read quite a few books over the last couple of years where it feels the violence and sex is random, it’s in there just because the author (or agent or publisher) worries without it the readers won’t think it’s a grown up book or fit to be a TV series. For me a good fantasy novel for adults is less about ‘adult’ content than about the quality of the writing, the psychological depth of the characters, the compelling complexity of the story, the verisimilitude of the created world. Pointless gore and extraneous sex scenes irritate me as a reader. Get on with the story!

A positive change that I’ve noticed is previously marginalized perspectives becoming more prominent and adding a new breadth to the genre. I hope this continues. There’s a potential strength in fantasy where it doesn’t have to reflect the limitations, inequalities and inadequacies of the reality we live in now. We can imagine better worlds.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Yes though all in the planning stage at the moment. I love historical fiction and have a fairly fleshed out plan for a mystery novel set in 19th century Vietnam. I also have an idea and the first few chapters for a literary novel knocking around that I will get to at some point. I have about 40,000 words of a children’s fantasy novel written too if that counts as a separate genre!

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
The first thing for me across all genres is the quality and readability of the prose. It’s almost a hurdle that has to be surmounted, I will put a book down within a page or two if the writing style isn’t to my taste. Similarly I need to feel that the characters could be real people with real thoughts and feelings to continue reading a book – a plot has to be exceptional for me to continue reading about wooden characters for more than a few chapters.

In fantasy I’m looking principally for a created world that intrigues me, where I want to work out the rules by which it operates. This could be massively different from the world that we live in, or just with subtle tweaks. A sense of originality of this world helps but isn’t essential.

I’m always a sucker for a big plot. If the story doesn’t surpass daily life, it will have to be exquisitely well-written and observed to keep me interested. Fantasy is particularly awesome for plots where everything is at stake and characters have to conquer their fear and inadequacies to stop something really bad happening. If done badly yes it’s clichéd but when it’s done well for me it’s the best thing there is.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
I’m currently working on the sequel to The Hand of Fire. My working title is ‘Beyond the Crescent Coast’ because those are the lands in which a lot of the action happens. Maybe I’ll do a poll at some point about whether that’s a title that readers would be drawn to!

The story takes place over three continents and develops sequentially in time from where the characters landed at the end of The Hand of Fire. It turns into a bigger story, following the same character points of view but bringing in more settings and races. Loads of character development and some really huge action set pieces I’m very excited about. More monsters, more magic, more mayhem. Lots of fun to write.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
My biggest piece of advice is more of a plea – write your dream novel or series. Yes have an eye on what’s marketable and what’s selling at the moment but above all be true to yourself and your vision for what makes the best book you can possible write. Self-publishing gives you that freedom. As a reader I just want to read something that’s really well written, with great characters and an exciting story. I don’t care what’s fashionable right now. Write what you love best.

A second piece of advice is look up marketing best practice before you self-publish. If you’re reading this before publishing you’re already doing better than I did. I was so wrapped up in my book I didn’t spend enough time exploring the self-publishing ecosystem and discovering amazing communities like #SPFBO. There is so much information out there and great examples of how to succeed at publishing and marketing your own book. I published and then thought about marketing etc afterwards which means I lost a big opportunity to get noticed by readers. Connect with the community first and then you will have a lot more support when you do launch your book. There are established processes you can follow that will help generate interest and will help you find more readers. Good luck!

You can find Roland O’Leary’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Hand-Fire-action-packed-fantasy-Essence-ebook/dp/B08BG1CFMW/