Interview with G.R. MATTHEWS
Let’s start with an introduction: Who is G.R. Matthews?
That would be me. Hello!
I am a fantasy and sci-fi author who has written a number of books; some set in Ancient China (to try and express my love of martial arts movies from Gordon Liu to Donnie Yen), some set in the far future where we all struggle to exist under the ocean waves (Jack Reacher with more sarcasm, and water).
I live in Kent, in the United Kingdom where I also work in education – writing is a relief from the noise, stress, and pressure of that.
Your new novel, Seven Deaths of an Empire, is due to be published by Solaris in June. It looks really intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Seven Deaths of an Empire is at heart a story about loyalty, honour, and duty. How much does it cost to keep true to those ideals, to yourself? How much would you sacrifice?
Oh, and there are great big battles, small skirmishes, magic, and political double-dealing.
It is also worth mentioning that it is Roman inspired with the march of legions across the land seeking to bring all within their power. I am fascinated with cultures outside of Medieval Europe, and love bringing in those differences whilst remembering that this is a Fantasy World and not the Roman Empire.
Is it part of series? Now, here you speak to my dream! I’ll try to explain.
Seven Deaths is a standalone story set in the Six Kingdoms. It has beginning, a middle, and end which seems to have people wanting to scream at me. However, I’ve written a book two, The Silencing of the North, which is with my agent at the moment, and I’m thinking through a third book at the moment.
However, and to confuse you, Seven Deaths is the third book I’ve written in this world. The first two, also book ones of two different series, are not yet published and take place later in this world’s story.
So here is my dream – nine books (we love a trilogy) in three series (a trilogy of trilogies) which tell the story of this world and all of it leading from the events detailed in Seven Deaths of an Empire.
What inspired you to write the novel? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
The idea for this novel can be tracked back many years, thousands in fact, to the death of Alexander the Great and the journey of his body back to its resting place. The idea that your Emperor, your ultimate ruler, could be hundreds of miles away and die.
What happens to the Empire at that moment? Who is in charge? Who is vying for power? Who has made plans within plans? And what if you’re in charge of bringing the body back safe and find yourself having to navigate the power struggle which ensues?
Inspiration generally comes from history – I love documentaries – and we are not the nicest of species, we’ve been through turmoil, war, and betrayals. There is a rich seam to dig away at to find your inspiration.
I’m a Geographer by profession so journeys through different environments, cities and forests, all interest me greatly. Mash to the two together and you’ve got a story, add a twist of magic, get some characters (possibly based on historical figures) together and see what happens.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I was introduced at a young age. TV had Buck Rogers, Space 1999, Thunderbirds, and Star Trek. My parents bought me books by Patrick Moore, Arthur C. Clarke, and Asimov (as I grew up). The local library was well-stocked, and books came in and went out so there was never a shortage of something to read. When I was at college in my hometown, Swindon, I used to wander through the shops at the end of the day to the bus station and there was Waterstones on the way – I’d pop in and leave laden down with books (when I had money).
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
Being a writer is a lot of fun and hard work. It is exciting at times and can be infuriating at others. There is the constant desire to produce your best work, to always be better than the last book – to weave stories that people want to read, and that you want to write.
Working with Rebellion, and my editor Kate Coe, has been a brand-new experience for me. A good one, I should add right now. The final book is so much better for her input and ideas – and you can see her imprint on the second, even though she hasn’t read it yet!
What I am looking forward to more than anything is seeing the book on the shelves of bookshops… I may shed a tear (I can be a soppy git sometimes).
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Journals. Books with no lines, no format, but where I scribble down ideas, scenes, make notes, scrub out, retry ideas, without worrying, judging, and just experiment because no one but me will read them. To be fair, no one but me can actually read my handwriting anyway.
I try to think every day, even I’m not writing, about the books, stories, characters, and make some notes. This is especially true when I’ve finished a book. Seven Deaths and its sequel are both 160k of words… twice the length of most of my other books. They took a lot out of me to write – not just in time, but in emotional content; and I work full time.
At the end, when the editing is done and the book is sent off, it is time to rest, reflect, and start to let all those ideas which have bubbled up, been jotted down, or just stuck at the back of your mind to come out.
What I’ve started to do, and Seven Deaths was the first, is to write the synopsis before I start writing the book. It gives a framework, and you get the major events into the right place – and then map it out on a timeline of characters to ensure the story is always building toward a new peak, higher than the one before.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
When I was young, I wanted to own a secondhand bookshop… just so I could sit in it and read. I didn’t want customers; they’d interrupt the reading time!
I suppose like a lot of people, authors, I started writing at school and in my spare time. I wanted to write stories like those I had read – ones that would carry me away to new worlds of heroes and villains, with magic and monsters.
I have notebooks somewhere with the starts, the first three chapters, of many books. None of them got past that stage because I had no discipline, no knowledge of how to take them forward. So, I started a Degree Course in English Literature and Creative Writing – I needed some external deadlines, and an excuse to give myself some time to learn how to write.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
It is as exciting as it has always been. We have some amazing writers who are putting out stories which reflect our times, our maturing understanding of the human condition, and delve into the struggles we all face – and the style has changed, or become more open to acceptance, or maybe I’m widening my own reading (always hard to recognise your own biases). Even amongst the modern fantasy authors there are a plethora of styles to chose from; Peter Newman’s books are very different to Anna Smith Sparks’s, which are different to Anna Stephens’s, which are different to Adrian Selby’s, who is different to Mark Lawrence’s, and on and on.
We have Traditionally Published books and Self-Published books which are pushing boundaries and methods of storytelling. Readers today have more choices than ever – they can pick and choose, look for books which reflect their lives and experiences, escape into dark worlds, or follow destined heroes. The concept of a “guilty pleasure” book is one of the past – Space Mavericks by Michael Kring remains one of my favourite re-reads.
My book, Seven Deaths of an Empire, is my first truly EPIC book. Not just because it is the longest book I’ve ever written, over 160 thousand words, but in scope and political intrigue. There is a traditional element to it, but the setting is based on the Roman Empire and Celt cultures. I hoping it fits neatly onto every reader’s shelf!
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
Well, I’ve written the sequel to Seven Deaths of an Empire and that is with my agent (Jamie Cowen) at the moment. If the first book does well, hopefully that sequel will see the light of day.
Other than that, I’ve written some scenes and characters for a concept album which may end up being a computer game – very early days at the moment.
And I’ve made the start on a new series of books, set in a different world. Again, that is at an early stage – lots of journal notes, maps, and about 6k of the actual book. I’m stuck at the moment on the character arcs – trying to sort out their backgrounds and deciding whether to write from two or three points of view.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’ve read Sammy HK Smith’s Anna which was dark, exciting, and will polarise readers. It deals with domestic abuse and does not pull any of its punches – however, the author comes from a position of professional knowledge and you will have a reaction to the book.
I went through a spate of reading comedy books by Nick Spalding. Books that made me laugh out loud and carried me away from books I write. You can’t just read your own genre!
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
One book? That’s really impossible. I want to find a “clever” way around this question; does a Kindle count as a book (with a lot of books on it)? No?
In that case, I’ll recommend that book. You know the one. Its that one you always go back and read every couple of years. It is probably by Terry Pratchett, or Douglas Adams, or Tolkien, but that one. That’s the book I recommend!
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Probably that I am completely unsurprising? I once met Vic Reeves in Rochester Castle – handed him a wet wipe because one of his children had stepped in something unpleasant.
I do play the guitar, and you’d definitely be surprised to hear me sing… closely followed by some wincing and clamping both hands over your ears.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
The book coming out in June and going to bookshops to see it on the shelves. Then there is BristolCon to go to and meet up with all the friends I haven’t seen for near two years now. I really want to get to every Con I can across the next year or so – even as an introvert, there’s a need to meet people who share your love of reading, fantasy, and scifi!
And the end of the pandemic, obviously.