Today I am delighted to be interviewing prolific and erudite fantasy author, Nyki Blatchley. His latest work The Lone and Level Sands was released in eBook format by Musa Publishing on 19th December, 2014.
Thanks for agreeing to the interview, Nyki. Can you begin by telling us a little about The Lone and Level Sands?
Hi, and thanks for hosting me. The Lone and Level Sands is an archaeological fantasy (think Indiana Jones more than Phil Harding) set in a secondary world that’s reached a roughly 20th century level. It’s a world I’ve set a great many stories in, most of them set centuries or even millennia earlier in a more conventional “fantasy” culture, but it’s fun watching a fantasy world grow up. I’ve managed to get one or two references in to elements of other stories, including the Traveller, the main character of my novel At An Uncertain Hour. As far as the story’s concerned:
Archaeology students Zadith and Musu thought it would give them valuable experience to spend their summer break on an important dig in the desert with their professor. They didn’t expect to be menaced by the local military, a rival expedition with unorthodox methods, or an ancient evil from the dawn of history. But this is no ordinary site. An outpost of the city of Kebash, lost for ten thousand years, it holds terrors worse than death for Zadith and Musu.
It does sound like a very exciting read, Nyki. Tell me, when did you first realise you wanted to be a writer?
I still have the first stories I wrote, when I was four, about a horse called Stephen Trotter (apparently I already knew the words “parashootist” and “teliscop”). I’m pretty sure I was making up stories before that, though. I can’t remember a time when it didn’t seem natural to create stories, perhaps partly because my parents both read to me and told stories almost from the time I was born. Some of that must have rubbed off.
I think creative people are born that way but they are also shaped by various outside influences. Were you influenced by any particular authors, alive or dead? Does music or some other medium inspire you to write what you do?
One of my favourite quotes is by Bob Dylan (who’s certainly influenced me): “Open up yer eyes an’ ears an’ yer influenced an’ there’s nothing you can do about it”. I’ve been influenced by books, films, TV, poems, song lyrics (especially traditional ballads), and probably other media too, but a very short list of authors who’ve had a strong effect on me would include A.A. Milne, Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault, J.R.R. Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks and Mary Gentle. Shakespeare, of course, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, W.B. Yeats. And Doctor Who (OK, not an author) which has helped shape my imagination since I was nine.
I think my obvious influences, at least, are always word-based. Music’s very important to me (folk, rock, blues, singer-songwriters, some classical) and I usually listen to music while I’m writing, but it’s for concentration, not to set the mood for scenes, as many writers use it.
If someone asked you for one tip to improve their writing, what would it be?
I’m actually going to cheat and give two, because they’re at opposite ends of the writing spectrum. The first is to thoroughly learn the rules of grammar, till they come naturally. Then by all means break them, if you need to, but know what rules you’re breaking and why.
The second is to people-watch obsessively. Wherever you are, check out how a range of people behave, move, speak, gesture, react, and use it whenever you’re writing about people (which is presumably most of the time). Just don’t get arrested for stalking.
Two very useful tips and I completely agree with you. Many authors have certain recurring themes or messages in their work. Do you see any in your own books?
I don’t start a story thinking “I’m going to explore themes X, Y and Z in this”, and it’s usually a lot easier to pick out themes in other people’s works. One recurring motif, if not a theme, is that most of my characters seem to be confirmed wanderers. Maybe that reflects the part of me that would love to live a nomadic life (as opposed to the part of me that wants to know how I’d cart a thousand-odd books around with me).
I often bring elements of social justice in, and people who have to choose between doing the right thing and living their lives as they’d choose to. I think, though, perhaps my most recurring theme is the effect of both history and story/legend on the present. I love history, and I enjoy showing how everyone carries their understanding of the past around with them.
What advice would you give to aspiring, young writers who are seeking publication but don’t know where to start?
Well, first of all, don’t try to chase the market, unless you’re writing a short story for a themed anthology or edition of a magazine. If you’re writing a novel, chances are the current fashions will be old hat by the time you’re ready to submit. Write what you need to write, and your passion should come through.
Polish your work as much as possible, but recognise when it’s good enough to go. You could polish it for a hundred years, and it would never be perfect.
Research any publisher, agent or magazine you submit to, and especially before you sign a contract. There are plenty of scams out there. The best resources for avoiding them are Preditors and Editors and Writer Beware. And always remember Yog’s Law: money should flow to the author, not the other way.
I’d strongly advise going for professional publication first. Self-publishing is a valuable tool, used properly, but it’s important to have an editorial process, however good a writer you are. Submitting to a publisher can help you identify where you need to improve, and working with a professional editor will teach you what you’re going to need if you do decide to self-publish.
I’m in the middle of a loose ennealogy (nine books) of which At An Uncertain Hour was the first. Part of it is a trilogy called The Winter Legend, which I’ve been working at on and off since I was at school. The current state is that volume one is ready to go, and the other two are complete but still need a lot of work. I’m also in the middle of an as-yet-untitled novel that deals with some of the fall-out from the end of At An Uncertain Hour and foreshadows The Winter Legend.
I’m also writing a series of children’s stories, which is a new thing for me, about Flea, a girl of nearly eleven (not ten) who’s a sorceress’s apprentice. I started writing them almost by accident, but I’m now trying to get enough to pitch as a collection. They’re huge fun — I’ve just written one about her encountering pirates.
It is said of writers, don’t make them angry or you might end up parodied or horribly slaughtered in their next novel. Have you taken revenge on anyone in this way?
Not actually revenge, partly because I never base characters on specific people, but stories can be useful to vent steam. I had an experience where I missed an important appointment because a certain online mapping system that sounds a bit like “gargle” placed the address a mile away from its real location. Although I didn’t use an actual parody of said system, I did write a story, later published in Every Day Fiction, called The Sat-Nav of Doom, where a faulty enchanted sat-nav results in the intrepid heroes ending up in the wrong evil realm and thus being unable to prevent the world falling under the domination of the Dark Lord.
I love the sound of the enchanted sat-nav and am convinced my current, fiendish email provider (which sounds a bit like ET) would be perfect for your Dark Lord…Of all the characters you have created, do you have a favourite; and, if so, why?
I love all my characters, but I think that would have to be the Traveller. He’s the main character of At An Uncertain Hour, as well as featuring in the other novels I mentioned and a couple of dozen short stories. He’s an ordinary man who stumbles on a spell that makes him immortal, so he lives for thousands of years.
The Traveller isn’t actually me, but I identify with him a lot. He’s neither a flawless hero nor a grimdark-style antihero, but someone who tries to do the right thing and sometimes succeeds. He’s constantly torn between a basic desire to be footloose and fancy-free and a sense of duty that leads him to repeatedly put all that on hold to help people who are oppressed or in need.
I’ve also tried to take a different approach to his immortality. I’ve never understood the idea of immortality being a curse — I’d love it — and I’ve tried to emphasise the good as well as the bad in it.
Being an author does have its good points but writing is also a very time-consuming business, requiring concentrated effort, and then comes all the editing, rewriting, blogging, networking, interviews, etc. It can be relentless. How do you switch off? What helps you to recharge your batteries?
I’m not sure I ever switch off from being an author — especially since, as of 2014, my “day job” is as a copywriter — but when I’m not actively engaged in it, I read, listen to music and all the usual things. I have a social life too, of course, but a large proportion of my friends are also authors.
One thing I do that’s a bit different is to volunteer at my county archive researching local history. I generally prefer history as old as possible, but this has helped me appreciate that a few decades ago is history too. I recently completed a project to track the people and buildings in my home town’s high street from the mid-19th century to the present.
There is something special, though, about old documents — like a diary I transcribed that was the actual document physically written and handled by someone who describes how she attended the coronation of George I in 1714. Even handwritten receipts from tradesmen two hundred years ago can give you a genuine feeling of connection with the past. And that, I think, is as important when you’re writing fantasy as if you’re writing historical fiction.
Many thanks for letting me onto your blog, Carol.
You’re welcome, Nyki. I really enjoyed your answers. Thank you for your time.
Nyki’s books can be purchased at the following locations:
The Lone and Level Sands – http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=6&products_id=846
The Treason of Memory – http://musapublishing.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&cPath=6&products_id=470
At An Uncertain Hour – http://www.nykiblatchley.co.uk/at_an_uncertain_hour.html
Steal Away – http://nyki-blatchley.blogspot.co.uk/2014/04/steal-away-published-on-kindle.html
About the Author:
Nyki Blatchley is a British author and poet who graduated from Keele University in English and Greek and now lives just outside London. He has had about four dozen stories published, mostly fantasy or horror, in various magazines, webzines and anthologies, including Penumbra, Lore, Wily Writers and The Thirteenth Fontana Book of Great Horror Stories. His novel At An Uncertain Hour was published by StoneGarden in April 2009, and he’s had novellas published by Musa Publishing, Darwin’s Evolutions and Fox & Raven, among others. He has also had many poems published, and has performed poetry and music at various venues around London, including frequent appearances at the legendary coffee-house Bunjies, which in the 60s featured artists such as Bob Dylan, Paul Simon and David Bowie.