Marc Turner entered the fantasy scene in 2015 with his first novel, When the Heavens Fall. The book garnering praise from many sources including Kirkus Reviews wherein it was hailed as “A splendid launch. Turner’s unquestionably a newcomer to watch.” Filled with magic, betrayal, and combat galore, The Chronicle of the Exile is sure to be dazzling fans of the sword and sorcery genre for years to come, and the author has been gracious enough to answer a few questions.
Hi, Mr. Turner, thanks for stopping by Bookwraiths!
The pleasure is mine.
Who is your favorite fantasy author– besides yourself?
I can’t believe you thought I might actually name myself in that. You’ve worked me out quickly, I see.
Seriously, though, I guess I’d say Steven Erikson is my favourite author. Other authors whose work I like include Joe Abercrombie, David Gemmell, Guy Gavriel Kay, Robin Hobb … the list goes on.
Since you didn’t say fantasy book, I’m going to take the opportunity to sneak outside the genre and say The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It’s the story of a nameless man and his young son struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world. You might need to take an anti-depressant before you read it, but along with the bleakness running through it there’s a vein of hope. The relationship between father and son is brilliantly done. The book describes a future that I can all too easily imagine becoming a reality.
Your first novel probably taught you a lot about the industry; what was the most important lesson you learned and can pass on to others?
It taught me patience. Or I should probably say less impatience. I think for most authors the road to publication is a bumpy one, but mine had potholes in it as well. Along the way I fell foul of a couple of pretty unprofessional agents, including one who requested my full manuscript and then lost it twice. After nine months of nothing happening, I caught him being . . . economical with the truth over the “progress” he’d made in reading it. If this is beginning to sound like agent-bashing, that was never my intent. Some agents are quite nice, I hear. In rejecting me, one even polished his boot before giving me a good kicking with it. Kidding, kidding.
How long was the idea for When the Heavens Fall floating around in your head before you actually put it down onto paper?
That’s hard to say, because I wrote the book so long ago. The Guardians had definitely been in my head for a while, because they featured in something I’d written previously. I was also attracted to the idea of someone challenging the Lord of the Dead for dominion of the underworld, because the thought of the god unleashing his elite servants on the pretender would make for an epic confrontation.
As for the other elements, a lot of them came to me while I was writing. I’d say I plan about 50% of the basic plot of each book before I begin writing it. I know the start and some of the end, but less about the middle. As I’m writing, I’m constantly thinking ahead and trying to fill in the gaps.
Why take on the herculean task of writing a multi-thread/multi-volume epic fantasy series? Do you just enjoy punishing yourself?
Crass stupidity cannot be ruled out, I suppose. Also, I never realised how hard it was to write a series before I embarked upon it. When the Heavens Fall has four point-of-view characters. That means four separate character arcs, and four separate storylines, each (hopefully) with escalating tension and some twists and turns along the way. Of course, those storylines all have to support each other, and fit together into the larger plot. Then that plot has to fit into the series. I suspect once The Chronicles of the Exile is finished I’ll want to try writing some standalone books for a while.
I realize you subscribe to a limited world building view, but what about all your fans who are dying to learn more about this amazing world you’ve created? Perhaps you plan on doing a Tolkien-esque appendix at some point?
I can’t imagine myself ever doing that, because I like the idea that the reader only ever knows as much as the characters do. That means no “info dumps”, but it also means there will be a few mysteries that the reader will have to puzzle out for themselves. To be clear, I’m not talking about major plot points here. I would find it frustrating to get to the end of a book and not understand what had gone on. I’m talking about a few sub-plots taking place around the main story. So, for example, in When the Heavens Fall you encounter two ancient races, the Vamilian and the Fangalar, who could benefit from a session or two of group therapy. The reason for their enmity is never fully explained, but there will be hints in books two and three which shine a (small) light on the subject.
Favorite fantasy movie ever? Why?
Probably The Fellowship of the Ring, but you’d have to say the competition isn’t high.
It certainly wouldn’t be Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Hobbit. I’ve watched the first two films in the trilogy, and unless my memory is failing me, the only thing they seem to have in common with the book is the title. Maybe the third film will bring it round, though. Maybe it will respect the original material and stay true to … No, I can’t even bring myself to finish the sentence.
How do you feel about the comparisons to Steven Erikson’s The Malazan Books of the Fallen? Any added pressure due to the comparison?
Personally, I try not to take the comparison to heart, though I hear Steven Erikson is flattered by it. And yes, that is a joke. (Don’t worry, I’ll keep pointing them out as they come.)
I think comparisons can be a dangerous thing. If I tried to bill myself as the next Steven Erikson, then people would shoot me down, and rightly so. No one can do what Erikson does better than he does it. Readers might also go into the book expecting the eleventh instalment in the Malazan series and end up (inevitably) disappointed.
Having said that, Erikson is the author whose work has influenced me most. I like to think that people who enjoyed his books will find something to enjoy in mine. I love the scope of his worldbuilding, and I love the way he weaves multiple threads through his stories before bringing the main players together for a climactic finale. Those are things that I’ve tried to bring to my own work. But there are plenty of differences too. For example, Erikson uses a lot more characters than I do, and I wouldn’t class my books as military fantasy, as his are.
My first instinct is to say that law and fantasy don’t mix, but I guess Max Gladstone has already proved me wrong on that score. I’m also reminded of the character Temple in Joe Abercrombie’s Red Country. I think Abercrombie pulled off something remarkable in that book, namely creating a lawyer character who was actually quite likeable.
But no, I don’t think I’ll ever bring lawyers into the series in a meaningful way. When I started writing When the Heavens Fall it was (in part) as a way to escape the day job. Bringing that job back into my writing just wouldn’t make sense.
I realize The Chronicle of the Exile is a multi-volume series, but do you know exactly how many at this time? Do you have a general idea of each book?
The series is going to be six books, and yes I do have an idea of what will happen in each one. Books two and three are already written, and will come out next year – Dragon Hunters in February and Red Tide in October. Dragon Hunters is a story in its own right, but it also forms part of a larger narrative that is completed in Red Tide. I find it helps to know where I’m going so I can seed some ideas well in advance. Hopefully then, when the payoffs come, they will hit all the harder.
I also enjoy creating threads than run through the series as a whole. Dragon Hunters features new characters in a new setting. But there are ripples from the events that took place in When the Heavens Fall, and more pieces will start falling into place in Red Tide. Also, certain things happened in WtHF which might have seemed minor at the time, but which will actually turn out to be significant. It’s difficult to give examples that aren’t spoilers. But, for instance, Ebon’s suggestion that another character should “get out by the river” is going to come back and bite him in a big way.
What came first writing the book or drawing the map?
A bit of both. I think you need some sort of map before you start writing, but I did mine in pencil so I could rub it out when an unforeseen quirk of the plot required me to move the odd mountain or two.
There is a lot of magic in this one. Did you go all Brandon Sanderson and create a complex system, or do you create it as the narrative progresses?
The magic systems were all worked out in advance. If you make it up as you go along, I think you risk falling into the deus ex machina trap where a character suddenly (and conveniently) develops an ability that enables him to escape his current predicament. You know that part in the Lord of the Rings films where Gandalf drives off the Nazgul’s winged steeds with a blast of light from his staff? He never repeats the feat. What went wrong? Did the batteries in his staff run out?
It varies from book to book, and from country to country. In the US, I got no input into the cover of When the Heavens Fall, whereas for Dragon Hunters I was sent four pencil sketches of the cover image and asked to choose between them. I put those four sketches up on my blog here. In the UK, my publisher asked for my thoughts on a draft cover, then started from scratch when I didn’t like it. I’m looking forward to seeing what they do with book two. My crystal ball is telling me that a dragon will feature on it.
Have you felt any pressure to be more active on social media to promote your book? And if so, how do you feel about adding that to your other tasks as an author?
I think there’s always pressure to promote your book. From what I hear, publishers’ marketing budgets are small, so an author must expect to do most of the heavy lifting himself. A lot of promotion is fun, though, such as going to conventions – and doing this interview, of course. But there has to be a balance between promotion and writing, else the rest of my series would never get written.
Your take on why there are so many amazing fantasy novelists hailing from Great Britain? Something in the water perhaps?
Yes, it’s all in the water. Which is why I’m bottling it up now and putting it on sale. For a very reasonable price, I might add.
How do you define success as a writer? Sales? Adoration? Creative satisfaction?
Success for me is being able to keep doing what I’m doing. Anything else is a bonus.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors – besides writing as much as possible?
Give up now. I don’t want the competition.
About the Author:
MARC TURNER was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in Law, and subsequently worked at a top-ten law firm in London. After more than ten years in the legal profession he gave in to his lifelong writing addiction and now works full time as a writer. When the Heavens Fall is his first novel.