Interview with J.V. Jones

This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.

She’s been away far too long, but now J.V. Jones is back with A FORTRESS OF GREY ICE – the stunning sequel to A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE. So we thought the time was right to drop by and say Hi…

*Book Two of Sword of Shadows has been hugely anticipated – was it much harder to write than A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE, and how do you feel now it’s published?* 
A FORTRESS OF GREY ICE proved to be the hardest book I’ve written so far. Generally I thrive on juggling multiple storyline and point-of-view characters. I enjoy waking up each morning and writing from a new perspective. It’s challenging to filter the world of the Northern Territories through characters as diverse as a shy eight year old girl (Effie Sevrance) and a middle-aged clan chief (the Dog Lord). Having said that, though, when I was about halfway through Fortress, I began to suspect that I’d taken on too much. I’d introduced five new characters, and these together with the existing point-of view characters proved to be too many balls to keep up in the air at one time. I feared the focus of the book was shifting from the core characters of Raif Sevrance and Ash March to secondary characters. In the end I had to make some hard decisions, and cut out certain storylines. I hope to come back to those characters’ tales in subsequent books in the series.

*Without giving too much away, what can readers expect from A FORTRESS OF GREY ICE?* 
A lot of action. One of the benefits of writing multiple storylines is that there’s always something happening to someone. As in CAVERN the central focus of the story is Raif Sevrance, and in this book we watch his ongoing struggle to come to terms with his gift, and his exile from Clan Blackhail. He matures through the course of the story, and learns how to heart-kill through his sword. Ash March undergoes perhaps the most powerful change during Fortress, as she becomes Sull. Her blood is drained to make way for theirs, and to survive she must learn their ways and guard herself against the Unmade.

The story also gave me the chance to explore new places in the Northern Territories, such as the windswept desolation of the Rift, the ruin-strewn clanhold of Castlemilk, and the most southerly reaches of the Great Want. Epic fantasy is defined as much by its scale as its fantastic elements, and in Fortress I wanted to widen the arena; show just what is at stake in the battle to come.

*Did the plot move in unexpected directions, or have you always had a firm path in mind?* 
I always write with plot “destinations” in mind, but the route I take to reach them often surprises me. My characters have a knack of pulling unexpected twists from their hats. I’ll be writing away, quite certain of where a particular chapter is heading, when one of the characters suddenly starts asserting his (or her) personality on the plot. The next thing I know I’m being lead along on an unplanned detour, holding on for dear life and hoping I’ll be able to find my way back to the main storyline before the book ends. It’s a little unnerving … but it’s also a sure sign that the characters are taking on a life of their own.

*The environmental conditions are incredibly vivid, does this come from research or real experiences?* 
I grew up in the North of England, so I know cold and rain pretty well. However, I’ve never experienced the kind of sub zero temperatures that grip the clanholds. I’ve always been fascinated with cold climates, and it’s a pleasure to research conditions in the Siberian Tundra, Alaska, and the Northwest Territories. I’m always learning new things about ice and its effect on the environment; such as how trees can literally explode in an ice storm; how steel can shatter at -20 Fahrenheit; and how easy it is to burn your tongue when eating – the surface of food can freeze instantly, while inside its scalding hot. Of course, not all of these things find their way into the books, but they help me get a clearer picture of the environment I’m describing.

*Have any other writings influenced the series, or your work as a whole?*
That’s a hard question to answer. Tolkien certainly inspired me to write epic fantasy. Dickens and Twain made me want to write memorable characters; Jane Austen witty dialogue; Jack London darn good adventure…and so on. I’m an avid reader, and I think it’s fair to say that almost everything I read has some effect upon my writing. It might be something as small as an author’s use of a particular word or phrase. Or sometimes something as substantial as the icy settings in C.S. Lewis’ THE LION, THE WITCH AND THE WARDROBE, and Ursula K. LeGuin’s THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS.

*What are you reading at the moment?*
At the moment I’m reading THE MONKS OF WAR by Desmond Seward, which is a history of Western military religious orders, such as the Templers and the Teutonic Knights. I’m not an actual bonafide history buff (my memory is too poor for that), but I’ll read pretty much any historical tome that comes my way. I’m especially fond of books that shed light on how people actually *lived*in times gone by; how they cooked, dressed, talked, argued – the nitty gritty of life rather than a catalog of dates and treaties.

As for fiction, I’ve just finished Alice Munro’s latest collection of short stories HATESHIP, FRIENDSHIP, COURTSHIP, LOVESHIP, MARRIAGE. It was so good I restricted myself to one story a night to make the book last longer.

How do you think the fantasy genre will develop over the next ten years? In my view, the major problem that fantasy had from the mid-sixties, when it suddenly became popular, to (say) the mid-eighties, was that it had become popular too quickly. There was a great demand for fantasy literature, which meant that it was relatively easy to get published (compared to other genres) and a lot of writers and publishers who didn’t really care about the genre jumped into it. The quality of writing in ‘popular’ fantasy, in my opinion, was the worst in any genre and a lot of big selling books were so badly written that it was embarrassing to read them. That situation has changed over the last decade or two as fantasy has become a mature genre and there are now many good writers at the ‘popular’ end of the genre.

I think the fantasy market will continue to grow for a while yet, aided by the Harry Potter phenomenon (which has greatly increased the sales of a number of fantasy classics) and hopefully by the LORD OF THE RINGS movies. I think fantasy will become a mainstream genre, but at the same time it will become harder to get published. I hope it will continue to develop but I know the public’s tastes can change, as they have with other genres such as westerns and horror from time to time. Genres can quickly go out of fashion due to changes in our society, though I think fantasy will persist. It is, after all, the oldest of all genres, as well as the broadest.

*What did you think of the Lord of the Rings movie, and how do you think it will effect people’s perception of genre fiction?* 
I loved the movie. A lot of people have criticized it, saying that it’s not a faithful account of the book, but I think they’re missing the point. A movie is not a book; different rules apply to each medium. LOTR was a great action-adventure movie; it had awe-inspiring visuals, endearing characters, and great fight scenes…and that’s more than what most films have today.

*If the Sword of Shadows series was to be filmed, who would you like to see as Raif?*
I never write my characters with real people or celebrities in mind, though sometimes in retrospect certain similarities come to light. About halfway through my first trilogy, The Book of Words, I began to feel that Lord Maybor was becoming distinctly Sean Connery-ish, while Melli had more than a pinch of Scarlet O’Hara in her. As for Raif Sevrance … you’re probably going to hate me but I can’t think of anyone I’d choose to play him. He may only be eighteen, but he carries many burdens and has been through many traumatic events; that kind of experience would be hard to find in a young actor.

*What advice would you give to aspiring writers of fantasy fiction?*
Write every day – even when you don’t feel like it. In my experience inspiration rarely comes while you’re sitting musing on the couch; it comes during the process of writing, while you’re actually banging away at the keyboard. Don’t become dispirited if the words aren’t flowing on any given day, just keep at it. Writing badly is better than not writing at all. Then, when you’ve finally finished your piece de resistance, seal it in a big brown envelope and put in a drawer for at least six months. When the time is up you’ll be able to look at your work from a more detached viewpoint. You’ll probably hate it…but that’s what rewrites are for.

*Is there one single novel you simply couldn’t be without?*
This is a difficult question to answer. Even on Desert Island Discs they get to take eight records with them! I love all my books and I think it’s cruel to make me choose. All I can say is that it would have to be one of the great long books; the complete, annotated edition of Lord Of The RingsDavid Copperfield,The IliadGone With The WindThe Adventures of Huckleberry FinnThe Odyssey.

*When you look back over your growing backlist of novels, how do you feel?*
I have great fondness for The Book Of Words. I was literally learning my trade as I wrote the trilogy, and although I made plenty of mistakes I’m still pleased with the characters. Bodger & Grift, Tavalisk, Maybor, Baralis, Melli: they feel like good friends to me. I’m working on my seventh book now, and mostly I hope I can continue to create interesting characters, and then sit back and watch as they take me to unexpected places.

*Do you have the third book of Sword of Shadows mapped out in your head?*
I have an endpoint in mind, but I’m not taking the most direct route to get there. Angus Lok said it best in A CAVERN OF BLACK ICE. I’m traveling, “As the blind crow flies, as the wounded crow crawls, and as the dead crow rots.” I’ll get there eventually, but not before I’ve taken a good few detours along the way.

*And when can we read it?!* 
I’m writing as fast as I can. Hopefully next Autumn.

Copyright© 2002 Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by Orbit and is printed with their permission.

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