Sticking to the light speed barrier: Author A R Aston talks to Kendall Reviews.

A R Aston is a speculative fiction writer from a former industrial town in the heart of the Midlands, in an area with the dubious epithet of being furthest place in England from the sea. A history and English graduate, he has always had a passion for the written word. When not writing, he can be found immersing himself in the eclectic strangeness of fictions dark, emotional and intriguing.

Tea? coffee? or something stronger?

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KR: Could you tell me a little about yourself please?

I’ve been writing my whole life, but I started writing for publication about seven years ago. For the most part I’ve written short stories for various anthologies and writing competitions over the years. I tried my hand at writing superhero stories with a group of fellow authors for a project called the Outliers Saga.

Last year my debut novel The Hobgoblin’s Herald was published with Fox Spirit Books, winner of the best independent publisher at the 2015 British Fantasy Awards. This is the first in a trilogy, with the second, Eater of Names, already off with the editors. The outline for the third is rattling around in my head, bustling for attention alongside the other novels clamouring to be unleashed onto the page.

I have been trying to attend more conventions recently, but the glamour of part time freelance writing doesn’t quite stretch to travelling to all that I’d like. The exception is Edge Lit, a convention in Derby, England, dedicated to Fantasy, Sci-Fi and Horror, which I have attended religiously for nigh on five years now.

KR: What do you like to do when not writing?

I paint, I make models, and I read and watch as much as I can. I think we live in a golden age of long-form visual storytelling through great TV shows and video games, like Westworld and The Last of Us, some as nuanced and detailed as novels in many ways.

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I also read voraciously, as is only natural for a writer I think.

KR: What is your favourite childhood book?

Mortal Engines by Phillip Reeve. Others in my class at school had boy wizards, I had motorized predatory cities hunting one another across the post-apocalyptic wasteland. The young me loved the book for its crazy machines and undead cyborgs, but what keeps me coming back to this series is the characters. Reeve was doing the morally complex anti-heroine long before Katniss and The Hunger Games. Hester Shaw, the disfigured protagonist of Reeve’s novel is one of my favourite characters of all time. Fearsome, ferocious but under it all a lonely figure haunted by crippling insecurity, she is a character that feels more nuanced the more I read about her.

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KR: What are you reading now?

I have a habit of starting multiple books at once, and constantly add new ones to read as I go along. So currently my reading pile is perilously close to becoming a reading avalanche.

I am currently reading The Magos by Dan Abnett, The Book of Dust by Phillip Pullman, Caliban’s War by Janes S.A Corey, A Natural History of Dragons by Marie Brennan, the intriguing epistolary sci-fi novel about ancient astronauts called Waking Gods, a book on the history of the Duke of Wellington’s artillery by Nick Lipscombe, and The Heir of the North by Stephen Poore.

That’s not an exhaustive list either, as I have been eying up Stephen Baxter and Terry Pratchett’s The Long Cosmos, the final in their fabulous Long Earth saga…

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KR: What is your favourite album, and does music play any role in your writing?

I don’t tend to listen to music as I write, but it is certainly part of the process whilst conceiving of a story idea, and during the planning stages. Music is inspirational and stirs up the senses, helping the ideas percolate.

My writing music playlist is as eclectic as they come, blending movie soundtracks like the Last of the Mohicans and Conan the Barbarian, to rap, to metal, Cradle of Filth to Les Miserables. As a story can go anywhere, I think the music I listen to should as well.

KR: Who were the authors that inspired you to write?

Eoin Colfer’s Artemis Fowl books were a big inspiration for me in my early days writing. As a kid, I always preferred the villains, and a children’s book from the perspective of the antagonist’s perspective was mind-blowing to nine-year-old me. This is something which has stuck with me in all my years writing since, giving equal ground to both hero and villain in my works. This particularly came into play when writing Hobgoblin’s Herald, where one of the main protagonist is Gulukh One Ear, a hobgoblin who is definitely not a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination.

KR: Do you work to an outline or plot or do you prefer to just see where an idea takes you?

I tend to have a general idea of where I want a story to go, and I will also have several individual scenes in my head for major events and turning points in a narrative. However, as is ever the way, no plan survives contact with the enemy. Inevitably, when I put fingers to keyboard, I’m never entirely sure what is going to come out. I know which beats I want to hit, but the wild journey to get there is part of the fun of a first draft. It’s in the editing stage you have to put up the scaffolding and make sure the extravagant roof won’t fall in.

KR: What kind of research do you do, and how long do you spend researching before beginning a book?

With stories told within our world, as a history graduate I like to spend quite a while researching various elements within the setting to make certain the history lines up and more of the minor details feel authentic. Also when you write a POV character in a past period, you have to be careful no references or analogies are too modern. This was particularly torturous when I wrote a story for a magazine Lyonesse called The Last Winter, which was set in Neolithic Europe. It really narrows down the references one can make through simile and metaphor, as so much of our language is coded with reference to things which simply did not exist at that point.

When I write fantasy, I don’t have to worry too much about facts and figures of history, but I tend to focus on the details, like how different kinds of swords and armours actually function in combat (for instance, if you try to cut with an estoc, you’re going to die very rapidly). I hate the Hollywood perception of battles where two sides simply run headlong into each other, formations be damned. I try to read up on the latest historical findings, but there are also tons of great youtube contributors who focus on historical minutiae of every variety, who are invaluable for shedding light on curiosities of history which haven’t perhaps been as widely popularised before

With sci-fi, I think half the fun of that is trying to make actual physics fit with your premise, so I always try to be as ‘hard sci-fi’ as I can when writing it. However, there is a limit to how hard we can be when discussing technological advances more than 200 years in the future: imagine trying to explain a smartphone to a Tudor, then factor in the exponential growth of technology going forward from the present. We can only extrapolate so far, before fantasy has to start taking up some of the slack.

One rule I tend to try to stick to above all others is the light speed barrier. I just find settings which have readily available faster than light travel tends to feel smaller and more limited than one in which space is truly vast, and to cross its terrible void is an odyssey in itself. Having some limits on your speculative fiction forces you to be creative in ways to factor it into your story.

KR: Describe your usual writing day?

As soon as I get off from my day job, I eat with leonine speed, then I just try to get a solid couple of hours just solidly putting word to page. I will then research and go over what I’ve written, seeing what works and what is a garbled mess. On a good day I can knock out many thousands of words (some of which are even good).

But I take my time for the most part, ensuring what I have written works with what went before, and sufficiently ties in with events I have planned in future sections.

Then there are days when I take hours to write two stubborn paragraphs which flat out refuse to play ball…

KR: Do you have a favourite story/short that you’ve written (published or not)?

I think the sequel I’ve written for The Hobgoblin’s Herald, Eater of Names, has some really neat scenes I’m proud of in there. Hopefully scenes never really encountered in a traditional high fantasy setting before. My favourite scenes are the ones where I get to delve into the dark, alien mind of one of my hobgoblin characters, glimpsing how broken they truly are as living things.

KR: Do you read your book reviews?

Of course! Half the reason I write is to actually engage with an audience and a readership. I don’t mind if the reviews are critical, as it means someone cared enough about my work to actually care enough to interact with the work. The opposite of love is not hate after all, but indifference. I particularly love to see other reader’s interpretations of my stories.

Manuel Mesones, the artist who very wonderfully offered to draw the interior map of The Hobgoblin’s Herald, also drew a poster featuring most of the main characters how he saw them when he was reading. Very different images to the ones in my head, but equally valid in my opinion.

KR: Any advice for a fledgling author?

It’s a little trite to say, but try to write as often as you can, every day preferably. It doesn’t have to be anything long, even a few hundred words, but the very act of writing keeps your brain ticking over in that creative frame of reference I feel. I tend to write more than I need, and re-write where needed, but everyone has their own method and I won’t presume to press my technique onto anyone.

Be mindful of rejection. You might get lucky and get picked up by a publisher after you send out your first spec manuscript. But more likely you will take the longer path to becoming a published author. This will mean a lot of rejections, but don’t be disheartened. Use each one as a lesson, and try to always get feedback on why a publisher didn’t go for your work. Often it will be a form rejection, but sometimes you will get invaluable kernels of knowledge through this method.

Avoid like the plague any publisher who charges you money to publish your book. Value your words; you are not their customer, you are a content provider and an artist, and should be paid as such. So yeah, never write for ‘exposure’. Never trust a word which is also synonymous with freezing to death half way up a mountain…

Seek out writing workshops and communities. Get feedback on your work; the only way you improve is through creative criticism. There are precious few writing savants; everyone can improve their craft.

KR: What scares you?

A major fear of mine is to be forgotten. To be alone. I think we as sociable pack animals have this deeply ingrained in our psyche.

To clarify, I refer to isolation rather than solitude. Sometimes there is a certain allure to solitude, to escaping the sometimes suffocating press of the modern world and its people, but even in solitude there is a sense that, even though you are alone, you are known, and that people exist out there that will miss you.

True isolation, I think, is the foundation of existential dread. I think in many ways one of the most terrifying aspects of sci-fi is the concept of being on an alien world, eons from any other living thing. I plan to tap into that dread in a later horror short.

KR: E-Book, Paperback or Hardback?

E-books are super convenient when I’m on the move, with an entire archive of novels in my back pocket ready and waiting to be read. But really, who doesn’t like a shelf stocked with beautiful hardbacks all lined up and waiting for you to delve inside? I certainly love a physical book, but as I don’t yet have a library of my own and my overburdened bookshelves cry out in woe, I think E-books will ultimately be the way of the future.

My only issue with electronic files is if I break my tablet, I’m cut off from my entire archive until I source a replacement.

KR: Can you tell me about your latest release please?

The Hobgoblin’s Herald is predominantly told from the perspective of Mallory, a poacher’s daughter who chooses to save a stricken hobgoblin, and is consequently drawn into the creature’s party as they navigate a hostile human kingdom at war.

A little like Stan Nicholls’ Orcs series, I try to show the goblin figures in my story as more nuanced and complex compared with traditional depictions. However unlike Nicholls, my hobgoblins are still fundamentally unpleasant creatures that almost compulsively revel in their barbarity. But there is a strange alien mind set at work, which Mallory witnesses first-hand throughout the course of the book. I would categorise the book as a strange amalgam between a dark satire on high fantasy, and a survivalist horror story.

KR: What are you working on now?

As mentioned before, Eater of Names, the second in the planned Hobgoblin’s Herald trilogy, is currently off with the editors, and will hopefully have a 2018 release date (follow Fox Spirit Books on twitter @FoxSpiritBooks for confirmation of precise dates nearer the time).

I am also turning my had to writing a young adult novella. I think the plot could best be described as The Animals of Farthing Wood meets Silent Runnings and Treasure Island… Make of that what you will.

KR: You find yourself on a desert island, which three people would you wish to be deserted with you and why?

Well, this is a tough one. My picks would be:

  1. Polder from The Hobgoblin’s Herald. The character is mad as a box of frogs, but he’s an amazing cook, and perhaps the nicest guy in all of Guien.
  2. Bobbie Draper, from James S. A Corey’s The Expanse series, as I think she’d really appreciate the ocean, being from Mars, where large bodies of water are a distant dream. Plus, she seems fun.
  3. Ray Mears. The guy makes a living being a survivalist on British TV. If there’s one person that’d keep me alive on that island, it’d be him.

KR: Thank you very much Andrew.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter @LordLucanis

To find out more about Andrew please visit his official website www.lordlucan.com

Please visit Andrew’s author page here

There are monsters in the forests of Katahia, and not all of them are human… When a poacher’s daughter saves one of their chieftains, she is drawn into the twisted world of the dreaded hobgoblins, where life is cheap and pity is weakness. Together, the girl and the malignant beasts must cross a realm on the cusp of dynastic civil war, in search of a land where they might thrive, or else be eradicated in the coming conflict. As the road before her grows ever darker and her allies ever stranger, Mallory must choose which side she owes loyalty, and what she is willing to do in order to survive.

You can buy The Hobgoblin’s Herald from Amazon UK & Amazon US

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