#SPFBO7 Interview – Tim Hardie

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

Hall of Bones is the first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series. Here’s the blurb:

Reviews

“A fantasy novel done right should read like Hall of Bones … this novel brims and oozes with all that good stuff you want to sink your reading eyes into.” – Scarlett Readz & Runz Book Reviews

“Hall of Bones is a strong debut by an author who should absolutely be on your radar. I can’t wait to see where he takes me next.” – Sarah Chorn, author of Seraphina’s Lament and Of Honey and Wildfires

“… a rich, emotional, and gritty novel … Hall of Bones will remind you vividly of the stories you grew up reading while bringing in a fresh perspective to the genre.” – Under The Radar SFF Books

“If you enjoy stories like ‘Game of Thrones’, where there are many careful political intrigues, you will undoubtedly enjoy this book … ‘Hall of Bones’ is a strong debut, and I’ll be waiting for the sequel” – Kamila Reads Book Blog

In the remote land of Laskar the seven ruling clans have vied with each other for power for over a century. The son of the Reavesburg Clan Chief, Rothgar, has been groomed all his life for a role supporting his elder brother, Jorik, in leading their kingdom when their father’s time finally comes to an end.

However, the rulers of their greatest rivals, the Vorund Clan, are in the grip of something older and far darker. They have been conquered by evil, a remnant from the time when the gods warred with one another and the world of Amuran collapsed into the Fallen Age.

Everything is about to change …

The first book in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series, Hall of Bones begins a tale of epic fantasy, magic and intrigue.

And now to the interview:

1. Is this your first time entering #SPFBO? Why did you decide to enter this book?
Yes, this is the first time I’ve taken part.  I only published Hall of Bones in November 2020 and it’s my debut novel, so this is the first year I’ve been eligible to participate.  I entered because I wanted more people to have the opportunity to read my novel and SPFBO provides an excellent showcase for the talents of new authors.  It’s also a good way to meet other authors and book bloggers, like your good self!  Being part of that wider writing community is really important for my sanity as well as being great fun.

2. Why do you write in the fantasy genre? What make this genre particularly appealing to you?
This makes me think of the old maxim write what you love, which is certainly true for me.  Although I read widely my first love is fantasy.  I’m sure my experience is similar to many other authors who write in this genre, picking up the classics that first inspired me when I was younger.  For me, it began with JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings.  However, writers such as Michael Moorcock and Ursula Le Guin were also really important to me in my teens, particularly because they showed what it was possible to do with a fantasy novel.  Those writers had something special and took you on a deeper journey through their story-telling.

I love the fact that fantasy is so free of constraints, giving you a level of creative freedom you don’t have in more traditional literary fiction.  The world building aspect of the fantasy genre really appeals to me.  Humans are curious and we’re designed to explore our surroundings.  With fantasy, you can take your readers into another world and I’m sure that’s part of the appeal for a lot of us, myself included.

Fantasy does tend to employ a lot of well-established tropes and I’ve unashamedly used a fair few of them myself.  To a certain extent, readers know what they’re getting with a fantasy novel.  The trick is to tell that story in a fresh way, whilst still delivering what your readers want.  For example, my main character sets out on the path to becoming a great warrior, which is very traditional fantasy fare.  However, the journey he goes on takes him somewhere quite different, so there’s still plenty of scope to play with the conventions of the genre and do something creative with them.

3. Why did you decide to self-publish?
When I began writing seriously, which was back in 2005, self-publishing didn’t have the same profile and reach it has today.  I envisaged getting a traditional publishing deal and selling my book in high street bookstores and that’s what I set out to do.  I finished my second novel, which was Hall of Bones, in 2015 (let’s draw a veil over the first one).  I submitted that to my first-choice agent and couldn’t quite believe it when he picked it up and I signed with him in December that year.

I was ecstatic back then and I really thought getting published was only a matter of time.  Unfortunately, although Hall of Bones got some great feedback from various publishers when it went out to submission in 2016, ultimately no one picked it up.  Of course, this experience is very common and the reality is it’s extremely hard for agents to sell a book by a new author to a publisher.  I had to learn the lesson that in traditional publishing patience is a virtue and things move very slowly.  Encouraged by the feedback I’d received, I made use of this time by writing more books.

However, by the start of 2020 I realised that if Hall of Bones was going to be picked up by the traditional publishing houses it would already have happened.  After discussing things with my agent, we agreed I’d independently publish that novel.  I knew Hall of Bones was of publishable standard (after all, it was the book that got me agented) and I really wanted people to have the opportunity to read the story.  By this point I was heavily invested in the world and the characters I’d created.  I didn’t feel like I actually had any choice – the story needed to be told and shared with people.

All this makes it sound like self-publishing was my second choice and I think a lot of writers who self-publish suffer a bit from that stigma.  That’s not how I look at it.  That period between 2015 and 2020 gave me an opportunity to massively improve my writing craft and voice.  Looking back, Hall of Bones needed much more work and I simply wasn’t ready to self-publish in 2015.  The book I released in 2020 is a far better version of the story, so the time was right to do this.

It’s also important to remember that the publishing world has changed hugely since I set out to become an author.  These days more and more people are looking at self-publishing as their first choice for getting their books to their readers, which leads us nicely on to the next question …

4. Are there advantages to self-publishing? What about the challenges?
Yes, there are some really great advantages to going independent.  Having complete creative freedom is the most important one for me, although you have to overcome the crippling self-doubt that I know so many of my fellow writers suffer from to fully enjoy this.  I’m still a work in progress on that score!

The speed of the whole process is another big benefit.  When your book is ready to publish, you can set it up and make it available the same day.  Traditional publishing often has a 12 month or longer lead in time between a book being accepted and ultimately being released.

Publishers can and do drop authors if sales targets aren’t met.  As an independent author you have the chance to build your readership more slowly over time, which also gives you the opportunity to develop your writing craft.

Self-publishing gives you full control over your pricing strategy.  If I’m going to heavily discount my books, I’d very much like to be involved in that decision since it goes to my bottom line.  The higher royalty share from self-publishing is obviously a major bonus.  The innovation of print on demand also means paperbacks are roughly equivalent to the cost of a new release in the bookshops, which means you’re not reliant entirely on the ebook trade either.

It’s for these reasons a lot of authors now look at self-publishing as their starting point.  The challenges come from having to do everything yourself.  Not sure how to upload your book and cover to Amazon?  Tough – you’ll have to figure it out!  Never marketed a book before?  Here’s your chance to learn how!  That last point is so important, because getting visibility as a self-published author is really hard.  It takes a lot of time and effort to get noticed and build up a following of readers.

Obviously there’s an up-front cost that comes with self-publishing.  Book covers, editing costs, anything you spend on marketing – it all comes out of your own pocket.  There’s a balance to be struck between producing a quality product and the whole thing becoming a vastly expensive vanity project that never recoups its costs.  It’s important to realise that, especially when first starting out, the vast majority of self-published authors will not make much (if any) money from their first books.  That’s certainly been my experience.  I’m not saying this to put people off.  The pleasure and value of writing for me comes from creating a book people want to read and I’m actually more thrilled when I get a review than just a sale.  However, if you’re going into this thinking it’s the road to financial independence, think again.  There are far easier ways to make money!

5. As a reader, and now author, how has the fantasy genre changed over the last several years? How has it stayed the same?
The fantasy stories I read growing up are very different to what’s being written now.  In many ways they were simple, innocent tales.  The shift towards more realistic/gritty fantasy and grimdark was a real eye-opener for me when I first read stories by writers like George RR Martin, Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence.  Those books had a big influence on my own writing style.

I believe people who enjoy fantasy (and by extension science fiction) are looking for something that enables them to escape this world and experience something completely different.  In my opinion the genre has been enhanced by the dose of realism most writers deploy today, making the reading experience more relatable.  A real sense of jeopardy also means they’re more invested in the outcome of a novel.

The range of titles these days has exploded, both for YA and adult readers.  I think Game of Thrones has had a huge impact on the market over the past decade, both in terms of the books and the TV show.  Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy showed it was possible to make a high-quality fantasy movie (a rarity 20 years ago) but it took the Game of Thrones TV series to really translate that interest into the mainstream.  I’d probably put Twilight in there as well as being highly influential.  That’s meant there’s now a lot more interest in the genre from readers, who would never previously have picked up a fantasy novel, which is great for fantasy authors.  Bookstores now have whole sections devoted to the genre (often with specialist niche sub-sections nestled in there too), rather than the small set of neglected shelves I rummaged through when I was younger.

6. Do you write (or plan to write) in any other genres?
Not at the moment.  However, I have been reading a lot of science fiction lately (books like Dark Eden by Chris Beckett, Embers of War by Gareth L Powell and The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet by Becky Chambers).  Those books have fired off lots of ideas, so you never know.  You should never say never when it comes to life.

7. What do you look for in a story? Especially in the fantasy genre? (Original ideas, plot lines, character development, world building, etc.?)
I’m going to be a bit cagey here and say I know it when I see it!  So much of the reader experience is really all about the voice of the author.  Especially in fantasy, similar ideas and tropes are frequently repeated.  It’s the unique nature of the author’s voice that works its magic and turns those familiar patterns into something fresh and new.  In other words, I don’t think there’s a special formula you can use that automatically means your book will be a page-turner.

Assuming the voice draws me in, the most important thing is the characters in the story – everything else is secondary to that.  If you don’t care about the people in the novel then what’s the point?  Part of the fun is getting to know those characters and experience the events in their lives and their thoughts and feelings.  It’s important the events of the story have an impact on those characters and they develop and change as a result.  I want those events to have meaning, rather than just being a succession of challenges to be overcome.

World building is a key element of a fantasy story– it’s the canvas the author uses to create the world their characters inhabit.  This is where the fun of exploration can be found, especially when the author knows how to leave that trail of breadcrumbs as they gradually reveal the setting and background to the story.  I like to feel the author has done their homework and created a believable and detailed world.  This is an area I spend a lot of time on in my own writing and probably 75% of this never even makes it onto the page of my novels.

Personally, I don’t think plot is as important, although I do prefer to be kept guessing during a story.  As I’ve said before, a sense of jeopardy and high stakes is welcome, again because the reader should care what happens and be unsure about the outcome.  If a story is too predictable it can get boring, so a few twists and turns are very welcome.

8. Are you working on a new book? Can you share any details?
Hall of Bones is the first book in a four-part Norse-inspired series called The Brotherhood of the Eagle.  I’ve already written the sequel, Sundered Souls, and that book is going to be released in 2021.  The third book, tentatively titled Lost Gods, has also been written but needs major edits, so the target is to release that in 2022.  The final instalment of the series, which will end with Broken Brotherhood, has been plotted out.

In addition to that, I’ve written a standalone novel set in the same fantasy world but in a different location with a completely new cast of characters.  That book is called A Quiet Vengeance and takes its inspiration from the Middle East and north Africa.  It’s a very different book to Hall of Bones, focussing on two central characters from contrasting backgrounds who first meet each other in childhood.  Their encounter leads to a tragedy that has a profound impact on their lives as adults, when they meet again years later.  That book is currently out to submission via my agent with various publishing houses, so we’re waiting to see what happens on that score.

Finally, I have some ideas for a short story collection in The Brotherhood of the Eagle setting.  These are stories about various characters that I couldn’t find a place for in the main series.  There’s also some myth and legend that I’d like to include in the collection.  I’ve not written short fiction before but it’s something I’d like to try, perhaps to break up the long stretch ahead of me as I work on the three remaining novels in The Brotherhood of the Eagle series.

9. Do you have any advice you would offer to writers who plan to self-publish in the fantasy genre?
I’d advise authors to carefully consider if they are really ready to self-publish.  It’s very tempting when you get to a certain point in drafting your novel to think “Finally, this is good enough.”  That’s great but is the book merely good or is it excellent?  If you want people to love what you write, you have to put the work in and after a while you’re so close to the text you can’t see its weaknesses.  At this point, a level of fatigue can set in and I think the number one mistake a lot of self-published authors make is to publish too early.  It’s a really good idea to put your book away for a few months and come back to it – it’s amazing what you’ll see with a fresh pair of eyes.

Clearly, it’s essential that you have the underlying writing skill necessary to create something people will enjoy reading.  However, it’s definitely the case that patience and persistence are, ultimately, the attributes you need to succeed in this business.  Writing a novel is a marathon effort and writing more than one requires another level of endurance.  If you want to be a self-published author you need to develop the stamina both to produce your absolute best work and do this time and again if you want to develop and keep a following.

I’d always recommend that authors read widely, both within and outside their genre.  Reading within your genre will tell you how the literary world of fantasy is developing, which will undoubtably give you fresh ideas and motivation.  Reading outside the genre broadens your perspective further.  In both cases, when you read someone else’s work you will learn something new.  I find I now read more critically, considering what works for me in a book and what doesn’t.  You see things like story structure, character development and world building and you can apply this to improve your own writing.

My final piece of advice is to prepare yourself mentally, since being an author can be very ego-bruising.  Getting a great review is brilliant and leaves you on Cloud Nine.  However, I’ve also experienced months of zero sales and zero interest in my book and that can be hard to take.  Bad reviews will come and you’ll feel they’re totally unjustified, because it’s like a personal attack on something really precious to you.  It’s important to remember that everyone is entitled to their opinion and not every person will like your novel.  Creative writing is so subjective, no one could possibly enjoy everything.  It’s crucial not to take this side of things personally; you need to develop a thick skin and believe in yourself.  If you go into things with a positive attitude, who knows what’s possible?  After all, that’s the whole point of competitions like SPFBO.

You can find Tim Hardie’s book on Amazon! https://www.amazon.com/Hall-Bones-Brotherhood-Eagle-Book-ebook/dp/B08NXZX6CZ