The author interview is a newish feature for my blog, however it is one of my favourites! I love asking other writers about their process and inspirations – and I hope you all find it interesting too.
I purposely ask writers some similar questions, so readers can compare and contrast the answers, but I also ask questions specific to what the author is currently working on.
This month, my interviewee is Irish fantasy writer, Ryan Cahill.
Ryan has recently published a novel and a novella, and is planning to release his second book, Of Darkness and Light, in December 2021.
Ryan very kindly took a bit of time away from editing, and answered my questions about writing, his SFF influences, and his road to publication.
You write within the fantasy genre – How do you go about creating your worlds? What authors have inspired you – or what other genres/art forms have inspired you? I know that we are both from Ireland – has your Irish identity inspired you in any way?
For me, world building is probably the most addictive part of writing. Unlike the manuscript itself, worldbuilding follows you around throughout the day, creeping into your thoughts no matter where you are. In my debut series, The Bound and The Broken, the world is something that has been brewing in my mind since as far back as I can remember. If I’m being honest, the world of Epheria started as a series of daydreams. Whenever I was out and about, or listening to a podcast, or in the gym, or going for a walk, it was usually a ‘lights are on but nobody is home’ scenario. It might have looked like I was doing something, but in reality, all I was thinking about were dragons, cultures, religions, storylines, and characters.
In a more general worldbuilding sense, once I’ve daydreamed something that feels real enough to touch, I sketch the map. I cannot express how immensely important a map is for me. No matter how much worldbuilding I’ve done already, once the map is drawn, that’s when everything really starts to come together. What I’ve done for The Bound and The Broken maps, is I started off with a rough pencil sketch, then went through some online software (Inkarnate, Wonderdraft), but ended up coming back to hand drawn maps. The final series of maps of Epheria and the wider world were done using a combination of pencil and fineliners on thick card paper, which was then scanned into the books.
I would say that when I started to actually put words on the page for my first book, Of Blood and Fire, I already had about 85% of the worldbuilding done. And as a pretty obsessive worldbuilder, when I say 85%, that is still quite a lot. At the minute I currently have a timeline for the world that stretches back about 4,000 years, and includes family trees, regional histories, conflicts etc. As I’m sure it is for many writers like myself, it is very easy to become lost in ‘World Builder Syndrome’, and switching it off is one of the hardest things to do.
One thing I think is important when worldbuilding, is to always leave some wriggle room for inspiration to strike. Some of my favourite world elements came to me as I was writing the book – such as the bioluminescent plants that provide a natural light substitute in Of Blood and Fire.
When it comes to influences, I find that different authors have influenced different aspects of my writing. From a prose perspective I would say that Robert Jordan and John Gwynne are probably the two biggest influences that I can see. In my writing I have tried to take the beautiful, descriptive prose of Jordan and marry it with John Gwynne’s impeccable ability to make your heart race.
From a worldbuilding perspective, Robert Jordan definitely rears his head again, but I have of course been influenced by authors such as Tolkien, Naomi Novik, Anne McCaffrey, Christopher Paolini, and Brandon Sanderson. The sheer immersion of Tolkien, Jordan, and Sanderson is simply second to none. And I think it’s pretty clear where Anne McCaffrey, Paolini, and Novik come into the mix – dragons. Truth be told, I – like many others – have been obsessed with dragons since as far back as I can remember. There was never a chance that I was not going to place them firmly in my world.
In terms of my Irish identity, if you had of asked me that a year ago I probably would have said no. But I think, the more I look back on my books, the more I see the celtic/norse influence. I wouldn’t say specifically ‘Irish’, as I kind of view that as a contemporary tag, but absolutely there is celtic influence. I have an entire magic system based around old tales of druids from celtic folklore that is just waiting to be cracked in to.
What is your favourite perspective to write from? (1st/3rd or omniscient)
Third person limited is the perspective that I naturally lean towards. I write Epic Fantasy, and I find that the third limited perspective is so ingrained in that genre for a reason. Epic Fantasy isn’t epic because the books are so thick you could use them as weapons – that’s just a happy coincidence. It is epic because of the sense of scope it contains.
Using the third limited perspective with multiple points of view is probably the most organic way to achieve that sense of scope. It allows an author to take a story from one character’s struggle against the people and the world around him, and instead turn it into a story about how a single act or event can ripple across a world and influence so many different characters in profoundly different ways. And that interweaving of storylines and plot threads is something that I adore more than most anything else in storytelling.
How do you go about your line by line editing? Some writers talk about the rhythm of their sentence structure – others like their work to be sparse and edit out the unnecessary. Where do you fall on this?
I definitely am not someone who works methodically through my line editing, tweaking sentence structure to a particular rhythm. I just don’t have the technical knowhow for that. When I do my final bit of line-by-line editing, I tend to read everything aloud, and just see how it flows. This is particularly important for dialogue. When I’m editing dialogue, I will always read the words out loud, speaking in the voices of each character – almost acting out the scene. I think this is so important for ensuring that the dialogue is authentic. I always want my dialogue to read as though it was something someone would actually say.
In terms of drafting – can you go through this process. Some writers have a first draft that is almost complete, other writers only do the bare bones of the story and their editing is a lengthy process. Where do you fall here? How long does it take you to edit a novel comparative to how long it takes for you to write the first draft?
I would say my first drafts are reasonably clean. I fall somewhere in the middle between a plotter and a pantser (controversial opinion: I kind of think they’re the same thing. A pantser’s first draft just serves as an in-depth plot).
Before I start a novel, I tend to have three things: A beginning, an ending, and a list of events that absolutely have to happen in each of my story threads to drag my characters between those two points. Now, sometimes this list can be as sparse as two or three bullet points, or as long as twenty. I find this approach gives me the flexibility to meander a little bit when I’m writing chapters, without veering completely off course.
With regards to time frames for my first draft, I’ve found they have drastically tightened from when I started writing, till now. My first book, Of Blood and Fire, was about 140,000 words long, and probably a few years in the making. I would say I was getting anywhere between 500-1,000 words a day on my writing days. Whereas the sequel to that book, Of Darkness and Light, is about 225,000 words long, and it took me about three months from start to finished first draft – which is quite an enormous difference.
I found the big change happened when I started really tracking my wordcounts, and writing in blocks of 2.5 hours. In those 2.5 hours, I would write in short bursts of 30 minutes, then take a 10-minute break. And in between each block I would give myself a break of about an hour or two. Once I got into this method, I found I was hitting an average of about 500 words per 30-minute burst, and coming out at a daily count of anywhere between 2,000-4,000 words, depending on whether I did one or two blocks. I use an app (Writeometer) to track my counts, and I write every day.
Once I’m entirely finished my first draft, the process is as follows:
- Full read through, taking notes of any plot holes, events that need fleshing out, redundancies, major issues, places where I can build emotional depth into characters, etc. (I also do a bit of a general tidy up here too). (About 3-4 days)
- Second Draft: Fix all of the things that I noted above, tighten prose. (About a week)
- Third Draft: Go through all major POV characters and really try and tighten their narrative voice. I also ensure that I’m steering these characters in the right way, both physically and emotionally. (About a week)
- Beta Readers. (One month)
- Fourth Draft. (1-2 weeks)
- Professional Copy Edit (One month)
- Final Draft (1-2 weeks)
The editing phase will probably last about two and a half months, with Beta Reads and Copyedits included – so the two phases are pretty comparable.
However, I think I will allow myself a bit more of a relaxed schedule on the next book, as this one almost killed me!
How are you managing work/life balance. When do you find time to write around work and other commitments? What is your writing routine?
Work/life balance… that’s an interesting one. I would say you would get a different answer from my fiancé than you would from me. Up until recently, I was working full time in the pharmaceutical industry. My schedule was pretty intense as I was working 12-hour day/night shifts. Because of this, it meant my writing routine has had to be pretty regimental – otherwise I would have gotten nothing done.
When I was working day shifts, I would get up at 6am, work from 7am-7pm, get home for 7.30pm, eat food, exercise from 8pm-9pm, then I would sit down and write from 9.30pm-2:30am, sleep, repeat.
When I was working night shifts, I would get up around 11am, write from 11.30am-1.30pm, exercise 1.30pm-2.30pm, write from 3pm-6pm, then work from 7pm-7am.
On my days off, I would get about 4-8 hours writing in, then spend the rest of my time trying to convince Amy not to kill me.
Long story short, I did not sleep much and my fiancé has a lot of patience (that is an understatement). In truth, it was a bit of a crazy time, and I wouldn’t really recommend anyone to do it. But despite all that, I wouldn’t change any of it either. If I am able to keep to my schedule for the rest of the year, I will have gone from an unpublished writer in 2020, to having two full length novels and a novella published in 2021 (a total of nearly half a million words) – and that makes me pretty happy. At the risk of sounding cheesy, at the very start of this journey I told myself one thing: If I don’t make it in self-publishing, I’m not letting it be because I didn’t work hard enough.
Have you ever had writers block? If you ever do, what works to get you back into the writing zone?
Absolutely. Some people get pretty uppity about the words ‘writer’s block’, but the reality is, no matter what terminology you give it or what way you approach it – writer’s block exists. It might be in the form of a full-on block or it could be that your productivity just plummets for a time. The cause might be mental, emotional, or creative. But whatever permutation of writer’s block an author faces, it is never an enjoyable feeling.
What I have found is that my first port of call is always to take a look at why I’m having a hard time writing. Most of the time, its just creative burnout. I sit down with a book I love for an hour or so, and then my cogs are turning again – problem solved. Other times, my head might just not be in it, and that’s okay. The important thing is recognizing that, and then accepting it – sometimes you just need a break.
One thing I’ve found works wonders for me is sticking on a pair of headphones and going for a long walk while listening to a podcast – usually on writing craft or marketing, or an audiobook.
Do you listen to music while you write/edit? If so, what music is on your playlist.
I very much flop back and forward on this one. I go through long periods of time where I need absolute silence, and then similar periods of time where I just crave music.
When I do listen to music I tend to listen to ambient or instrumental music. I find music with words just does not work for me at all (I’m easily distracted and I just end up falling back into my chair and singing along). I tend to listen to music that fits the tone of what I’m trying to write.
Lots of writers out there (me included) are in the submission trenches right now – and some of us are moving towards self-published as our first choice of publication. You have gone with self-published – can you talk me through this journey? Why did you go with the self-published format? In terms of getting your book ready, have you used copy-editors? How did you go about the cover art and page art in your books? How are you coping with the marketing and self-promotion aspects of being self-published?
Anyone who has spent any time around me in the last two years knows that I have spent hours upon hours, days upon days, researching the pros and cons of both self-publishing, and traditional publishing.
I (like many others) have always had a dream of seeing my books in a bookstore (which isn’t impossible in self-publishing, just more difficult). So that was a massive pro for traditional publishing. But I’m also obsessive when it comes to my stories and my worlds. So, yielding creative control for my covers, artwork, etc was not going to be an easy thing for me to do. In the end, it was a combination of this and the opportunity to take a bigger share of the royalties that started steering me towards self-publishing.
So, with that decision made, one thing I noticed pretty early on was if you are going to self-publish, your book needs to look absolutely indistinguishable from traditionally published books. That means, on top of writing a fantastic book, you need to find yourself a top-notch editor (and have thick skin when it comes to criticism) and a quality cover artist. Sure, you can slap together a manuscript, get a nice cheap cover, and throw it up on Amazon. But if you want to turn writing into a career, that just won’t cut it in the self-publishing industry.
It’s a funny thing really. In the years of time gone by, when self-publishing first started to become popular, it held a stigma. It was seen as simply being of a lower quality than traditional publishing. At the time, that stigma probably held true – for the most part.
But one thing that stigma has done is push independent authors to work tirelessly towards producing absolutely impeccable works of art. Just taking a quick look at some of the top independent authors nowadays it is easy to see that the standard of editing, book covers, and overall finished works is very much on par with the traditional industry. All you have to do is take a look at some authors like ML Spencer, Michael R. Miller, Andy Peloquin, Dyrk Ashton, Michael Fletcher, and JC Kang to see just how spectacular self-published books are now. And in truth, that is a very, very small sample of the incredible independent authors out there.
The cover art for my own books is actually done by the outstanding team at bookscovered.co.uk which is a design company run by the fantastic Stuart and Natasha Bache. When I was trying to decide on covers, I ended up browsing the pre-made section of bookscovered.co.uk. It was there that I stumbled across a cover that took my breath away (the cover for Of Darkness and Light). As soon as I saw it, I got straight onto Stuart and Natasha, explained to them that I wanted that cover but I also would love to have two more covers designed for the first and third books in my series. Within two weeks, I had my final covers and I was over the moon. Stuart and Natasha are some of the nicest and most professional people I have ever worked with, and it was an absolute stroke of luck that I found them.
The page art and the chapter iconography were another stroke of luck. My brother is an absolutely phenomenal artist, with a knack for being able to accurately depict the images I see in my head. So, naturally, I approached him to design and sketch the internal art for my books – don’t worry, he gets paid.
The marketing and self-promotion aspects are another big factor when it comes to choosing which route to go down. Though, in truth, from what I have seen there isn’t as big a difference in this as there used to be. Nowadays, unless you are a massive traditionally published author, you still have to do quite a lot of your own promotion. So far, I think I’ve been getting on well with both aspects, but I would be lying if I told you it wasn’t daunting having to learn so many new skills on top of just writing. So far, the list of new skills I’ve had to learn as a new self-published author includes, but is not limited to: formatting, marketing, advertising, website design, some light HTML coding, Adobe photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Premier Pro, Adobe After Effects, mailing lists, algorithms for amazon, and algorithms for social media. There is probably more on that list, but I think you get the idea – there is a lot to learn. I don’t want to scare any potential new indie authors out there, but I think it’s good to have an idea of what the industry requires of you. You certainly don’t need to learn all those things, but each and every new skill you can learn will give you an advantage.
As a side note, one aspect of self-publishing that I hadn’t initially factored into my decision was the close knit relationship between indie authors and readers. Now that I have actually launched my book into the world, that is something that has really found a place in my heart. There is genuinely nothing I love more than getting the chance to interact with my readers on a personal level, and I spend quite a bit of time responding to emails and being active on social media, solely for this reason.
All in all, whether to got with the self-publishing or traditional publishing route is a personal decision with a laundry list of variables. And I for one am delighted with the direction I’ve gone so far.
You have entered the SPFBO competition – what made you enter?
I have followed the SPFBO for the last two years or so, and I just adored the buzz around it and the way all the authors and bloggers were interacting – so, the community. I haven’t quite found a community that supports each other quite like that of self-published authors. It really is quite unique. So, more than anything, I entered SPFBO to get to know some of the fantastic authors and bloggers out there.
OF BLOOD AND FIRE
Without giving any spoilers, what can you tell us about this world?
Of Blood and Fire is an Epic Fantasy novel told from multiple perspectives, though the main character is definitely Calen Bryer – a young man on the cusp of adulthood. The story takes place on the continent of Epheria, which is a sprawling landmass that is home to multiple factions, races, and species. Oh, and of course, it has dragons.
What themes (if any) are you exploring with this work?
I’m not sure that I consciously set about to explore particular themes when I wrote Of Blood and Fire. But more than anything else, I explore the bond of friendship and how we deal with our own internal conflicts.
Is this going to be a series – if so, how many books are you planning?
It most definitely is going to be a series. I envision five books for the main series, along with a few novellas – but these plans may change as things move along.
In terms of creating a brand-new world like this – how long does the preparation work take you (i.e. what work are you doing before putting pen to paper)
Who is on your current to be Read list?
Currently I have far too many books sitting atop the summit of Mount To Be Read. With such a hectic writing schedule in the last few months, I haven’t left myself with much time to read. But once I hand the second book in The Bound and The Broken series over to my editor, I will be tucking into this beautiful list of both traditionally published and self-published authors.
- The Voice of War – Zack Argyle (SP)
- Battlemage – Petter Flannery (SP)
- Crown of Swords – Robert Jordan (TP)
- The Shadow of the Gods – John Gwynne (TP)
- Dune – Frank Herbert (TP)
I’m about half way through all of these books (some are re-reads) at the minute, and not a single one has disappointed so far.
What books have most inspired you?
More than anything else I would say there are three books that have had a profound impact on me: The Wheel of Time series, the Temeraire series, and The Lord of The Rings Trilogy. Each of these three books have shaped not only how I write, but also what I love to read.
The Temeraire series by Naomi Novik has possibly one of my absolute favourite incarnations of dragons ever. The world Novik created will forever be one of my favorites of all time.
The Wheel of Time by Robert Jordan, as far as I’m concerned, is one of the most immersive, complete, and awe-inspiring series ever created. Sure, there is a bit of a slog in it, but at fourteen books, I’m able to accept that.
The Lord of the Rings. I don’t think anything else needs to be said on this one.
END OF INTERVIEW
Thanks everyone for reading.
If you are interested in finding Ryan on Twitter he’s at @RCahillAuthor – and all his books are available on Amazon.
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