G R Matthews
Indie Author: 10 Quick Questions with James Hockley
This time around we have James Hockley, author of Fear's Union, and entrant in the #SPFBO. Putting your book into the ring to be judged by others is a tough thing to do, a bit like publishing it. However, James has taken to it with politeness, respect, enjoyment and most of all, a good book. So let's talk about his journey and where he is up to now.
GRM: Tell us about your book.
JHO: I bet every author says this but – oof! What’s Fear’s Union (FU) about? Ultimately it’s about three companions and their shared dynamic. It is an epic fantasy book, but there are YA aspects to it (particularly as our protagonists get rather quickly shouldered with heavy responsibility.)
Over the course of the trilogy (obviously a trilogy…), each protag takes a very individual journey, growing as they go, but importantly, moving further apart from each other. When the inevitable “big fight” comes to a climax, they end up on different sides and with very different agendas. Cue the conflict.
But not wanting to short-sell the first part of a trilogy, FU throws us into the political maelstrom that is the background for this adventure – our country is being attacked on all fronts. And FU also gives us the events that lead to two of our characters’ personal struggles, and hence the divergence of our protagonists commences. Finally, FU introduces us to the ancient “dark power” that threatens the world (come on – this is epic fantasy after all!) Dusk is coming, or indeed by the end of FU it has already arrived, but there’s plenty more still to come!
GRM: Where did your inspiration come from?
JHO: Films; other fantasy books; other non-fantasy books; but mainly music. I love music and the sense of escapism it gives to me – which allows my mind to wander freely!
In terms of other authors, Tolkien left a hell of a mark (the scale of that man’s imagination is frightening), but I also have a mega soft spot for Bernard Cornwell. Scott Lynch is my favourite ‘current’ fantasy writer.
But ultimately this has been germinating in my head for more than a decade, and only in the last couple of years have all the pieces really ‘slotted’ together – so it’s hard to pinpoint a particular source of inspiration. Mainly this is just a product of daydreaming, a hard-nosed attitude to avoiding television where possible, and a sense of satisfaction that comes from creating something. Even if one person reads it and says – hey I enjoyed that; that’s an awesome sensation.
GRM: Why did you choose to go Self-Published?
JHO: To be fair, I still can’t market my book very well. But what really niggles about the traditional route is the awful lack of feedback available – even getting a negative response from an agent is something of a rarity. And that lack of feedback does rather hamper momentum.
So I decided to strap myself in and go all for the self-published route. And I must say, it has been very enjoyable. It’s a lot of work, and my marketing skills are still woefully deficient, but I now have a website that I’m pretty proud of, and more feedback (lots positive but some negative too) that gives me the confidence and initiative to move forward. And that’s really the key. By self-publishing, it feels like I’m sharing the experience, and I’ve learned more in the last 6 months than I probably had in the decade before. Great fun.
GRM: What was the hardest part about taking this route?
JHO: Marketing – it still is the single hardest part. Getting “out there” has never been a strong-point for me, so I’m really having to search for a strategy that suits my character. But you can’t ignore it, because without getting yourself out there, no-one will know about your book! And if people aren’t reading your book, then what’s the point in being self-published?
GRM: Morning, afternoon or evening writer?
JHO: Usually evening by necessity – full-time job consumes 9-5 and my son keeps me entertained in the early morning and until bedtime! Without any constraints, I don’t think I’d have a preference. But I’d probably limit myself to about four hour stints. This writing game is hard graft!
GRM: Architect or Gardener? Planner or Pantser?
JHO: I would like to say architect and planner, so I will say gardener and pantser.
I wrote a book (unpublished) for Nanowrimo last November, and although I had a “plan” up-front, I completely disregarded it during the writing process. And when I go back to it, I know it’ll be completely re-hacked again – there were open questions in there even as I wrote it!
And indeed, when I was writing my recently published novella, Mandestroy (available free at many online retailers by the way!), I planned, and then I wrote, then I replanned, then I edited a lot, and I continued editing right up until my self-imposed deadline, and indeed changed a key plot point right at the last minute. So definitely a pantser.
GRM: Silence, music or what when writing?
JHO: Always music. Ulrich Schnauss is filling my evenings at the moment – check it out, very relaxing and inspirational.
GRM: What’s the weirdest fact or piece of information you had to research in order to write the book?
JHO: Researching how the Japanese forge steel was very interesting – I had to look into this for Mandestroy.
Other things that were quite interesting to research were different aspects of the ‘Mandari military engine’, a personally devised method which relies on three key ingredients (and therefore influences!) The archers were influenced by the quite majestic authority of the English longbow in the 14th & 15th centuries – a truly wonderful weapon and largely unmatched on the battlefield until the musket came along. Then there is the checked formation that the Mandari infantry use, a method stolen from the Romans. Marry that with our Japanese influenced warriors, and we have quite an effective military outfit (at least we do in my imagination…)
GRM: To steal (paraphrase) from Rod Stewart, what do wish that you know now when you started the journey to a finished and published book?
JHO: So much learned… So inadequate at outset…
Believe it or not, I actually started writing without a clear idea about the 5-Act structure (i.e. that almost all successful stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end). No honest – I got taught that when I was about 11, but I started writing without embracing the idea!
Now, I find myself watching films or reading books and second-guessing where the pinch-points are about to turn up. No honest. I was watching a 2 hour film the other day, and we got to an intake of breath moment, so I asked my wife to pause the film. Lo and behold – we were half an hour in! Obvious when you think about it.
GRM: You’re on a deserted island with enough food and water to survive. There no building materials around so you must wait for rescue. What three books would you have with you, to help you pass the time?
JHO: Goodness. I think I’d use some of the time to tackle one of those books that I’ve never read, but really should have done. War and Peace springs to mind.
And then the new Scott Lynch book – Thorn of Emberlain.
And then I’d probably read Geoff Matthew’s first book ‘The Stone Road’ (being as it’s FFs book of the month). It’s the least I can do given that I’ve been extended this opportunity! Thanks, Geoff.
GRM: Thanks, James, it has been a pleasure!
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And on we go with more great Indie authors talking about their work, journeys and writing. I really hope you're enjoying them and remember to pick up their books (and mine) to find out what you have been missing out on. There is a lot of talent out there just waiting to be found.