Hi Taran, thank you so much for giving up your time for this interview.
To start off with, a question that I ask every new author, can you please introduce yourself to the readers of Teen Librarian?
Hi everyone, I am the author of the Summoner series, and book 1, The Novice, comes out on May 5th. I serialised it on Wattpad and it went viral, achieving 6 million reads thus far. The Novice was picked up by publishers all over the world and will be published in 12 territories.
I have read that you started The Novice during National Novel Writing Month, were you able to finish the first draft during NaNoWriMo?
Not quite, as the target for NaNoWriMo is 50,000 words and The Novice is almost twice as long! I did hit that target and the rest of the book was written over the next few months, while I was backpacking in Australia.
How long after NaNoWriMo did you put the Novice up on Wattpad, and can you describe your experience of using that platform?
I was putting the book up on Wattpad as I wrote it, 1 chapter every day. It really helped my writing as I promised a daily update to my fans in that first month. Knowing that people were looking forward to the next chapter spurred me on, even when I was tired. I think the one day I didn’t upload was my birthday!
Your novel makes use of a number of issues prevalent in the real world; racism, class-based divisions and other family-based stigmas. If you do not mind me asking are any of these based on your experiences?
I experienced a lot of racism when I was younger, starting at four years old. I was nicknamed poo-skin, told to go back to my own country and was often framed for thefts by having things hidden in my bag and desk. These experiences definitely influenced my writing. I think everyone sees class divisions in their lifetime, although this may have been more apparent at the private schools I attended. Family stigma is more inspired by medieval times and the emphasis they put on heritage and bloodlines.
The Novice is a brilliant book, it is one that teenage me would have loved just as much as myself now as an adult, in fact teen me would have read through the night to finish it in one sitting but I had to put it down to get some sleep. Did you have a specific audience in mind while writing, or is epic heroic fantasy a genre that you love?
It is a genre that I absolutely adore, but I never had a target audience in mind. I think in a way I was writing for my younger self, a book that combined everything I loved into one book as well as being accessible for someone who is not used to reading in that genre.
One of the things that jarred me a bit was the use of the name Pinkerton for the national crime investigation service as it is a real world organisation too. Is it named for the US Detective Agency or will we find out more where it came from in later volumes of the Summoner series?
There was some influence there. If you look at the inception of the Pinkertons in the 1850’s, their role was both as investigative law enforcement and personal security guards to officials. They were also used as hired goons to break down unions for the rich, almost acting as mercenaries. The Pinkertons of the Summoner world act much the same way, working directly for the King’s father and focussing on keeping the poor and the dwarves in their place.
Are the Orcs in your world actually evil or are they the foreign ‘other’ and misunderstood by the ‘civilised’ races?
I think that answering this might be a bit of a spoiler for The Novice’s sequel! That being said, the reasons for their behaviour are cultural and ideological rather than racial. A large part of why they are so violent and cruel is a combination of religion and indoctrination. I think I’ve said all I can!
What were your influences (both literary and other) when you came to write the Novice?
History had a large part to play, primarily in two time periods. First, Medieval times, with their great battles, political intrigue and the importance of family, heritage and succession. Then there is the 18th century, an age of great empires, clashes of cultures and racial discrimination. They had a mad mix of modern and early weaponry, with gunpowder muskets, pistols and cannons being used alongside swords and cavalry, all of which appear in The Novice.
From the world’s legends, I adapted Griffins, Salamanders, Minotaurs, Golems and Hydras, to name but a few, as well as lesser-known creatures, such as the cannibalistic Wendigo, the lightning powered Raiju and the griffin-like Chamrosh. Of course I designed my own unique demons as well, but my love for mythological creatures around the world had a huge influence on it all.
My love of travelling was also a factor. On my travels I have encountered fascinating cultures, from the aboriginals of Australia to the native tribes of the Amazon. I have been in deserts and rainforests, deep sea and mountaintops, snowy wastelands and the hilly English countryside. These inspired the geography of Hominum, as well as the cultures and histories of my fantasy races.
I also used my favourite fantasy tropes in the creation of the Summoner world. These included the magical schools of Earthsea, Harry Potter and Discworld, the multiple races of Lord of the Rings, Skyrim and Redwall, the portals to another world in the Chronicles of Narnia and Stargate, and even the creature companions in Pokémon.
Can you recommend any other authors (both YA & adult) that you enjoy and would like to promote?
I think a lot of readers sometimes struggle with fantasy because it can be a little intimidating and inaccessible if the world is over-complex. If I had to recommend some of my favourite fantasy series, they would be Discworld by Terry Pratchett, The Saga of Darren Shan by Darren Shan, The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques and the Edge Chronicles by Chris Riddell and Paul Stewart.
Finally, when can we expect to see Summoner book two? A question I am sure you have been heard a lot.
I have indeed! I don’t think that has been confirmed yet and publishing schedules can change, but I think at the moment we are aiming for May 2016. The good thing is I have almost finished writing the first draft! It’s a little more difficult without the constant feedback I had when writing the first book on Wattpad, but the added flexibility has helped me add more nuance to the second novel.