Today we are talking to the gifted (and very shy) E.M. Swift-Hook about her Fortune’s Fools series as the latest in the series Mistrust and Treason is out this week. I’m bending the format of our usual Author Feature here - because I can, and because there is so much I want to know about Fortune’s Fools.
WTB: Nine books set in one world with the promise of one climactic revelation at the end. How did you even begin to think you had the balls and the endurance to pull that off?
EM: I can’t say for sure that I have, seeing as how the last book still remains to be written. But Transgressor was originally meant to be a stand-alone trilogy. It was only after I had finished it that I realised it had the potential to tell a much greater story. A lot of the ideas I had gathered along the way remained unused and having touched on the broader galactic civilisation, it seemed a good idea to break out from Temsevar and explore that.
WTB: Everybody talks about Durban Chola, some love him and others find him creepily magnetic. How do you see him? Hero? Villain? Or something else entirely?
EM: Oh my! I think ‘enigmatic’ is the best and only way to describe Durban. He is, in a very real way, the axis upon which all of Fortune’s Fools spins. But as he is not consciously aware of that and neither are the other main characters around him, it isn’t something that impacts on how he behaves.
In his own words, taken from the upcoming Iconoclast 2: Not To Be, he says: “I am journeying towards a distant destination and trying to steer events towards getting there as best I can.” But as to what that destination is, you’ll have to wait and see.
WTB: The worlds you have invented for the books are extremely complex, if generally uncomfortable. How do you keep a hold of all the details?
EM: It might sound trite but I know my worlds. I’m not a very organised writer so I don’t keep reams of notes on characters and places and my continuity does slip. I tend to reread and check back if I find myself uncertain.
WTB: At what point in your nonology did you know where the underlying story was taking you? If it has been planned out from the very beginning has it remained set in stone or changed as the books have taken on life?
EM: The point at which the ‘end game’ of Fortune’s Fools became clear was the same point at which I realised there was a bigger story to tell – the end of Transgressor. However, the exact nature of that ‘end game’ has shifted within the original broad parameter a few times as better versions of the original idea have come along and replaced my original thoughts.
As to which version will finally emerge, I think I have a good grip on that now, but until I get into writing Iconoclast 3: A Necessary End it is still open to variation on a theme.
WTB: I know this is like asking which is your favourite bodily organ, but I’m putting you on the spot anyway. Who is your favourite character in the books? And why?
EM: Of course I have a very soft spot for Durban, it would be hard to have him in the key place he occupies in the books if I didn’t. But the character I like writing the most at the moment, although I’m sure I wouldn’t ever want to meet someone like him, has to be Jaz.
One reason is that his worldview, life experiences and nature are light years away from mine and that makes him both challenging and fascinating to write. His role in the book is effectively hired-muscle, the ‘hard man’ but anyone who reads his story will soon realise that whatever the archetype, Jaz is not any kind of stereotype.
But maybe he holds my sympathy because of all the characters his is probably the hardest emotional journey, and that for an individual who has the least resources to deal with it.
WTB: Given the amount of sheer bulls***t talked about the craft of writing, what do you think is the most important thing for a writer to be able to accomplish?
EM: That’s easy, to tell a story in a way that doesn’t keep reminding the reader that they are reading. Writing needs to become invisible, so the reader is caught in the flow and barely aware of the words on the page. Therefore, when it comes to word choice K.I.S. ‘Keep It Simple’ or you will lose your reader from that flow. Equally, don’t break the rules of grammar unless you want to create an impact. Of course, both these are guidelines on how the majority of writing should be, there will be odd occasions to set them aside
WTB: Do you have a piece of advice for new writers? I guess ‘don’t do it’ would be an acceptable answer.
EM: I’ve never seen being a writer as anything particularly special. Most children become fiction writers in English (or their own language) lessons at school, just some keep on with it into adulthood. But, since you ask, these would be my ‘top tips’:
- Read. Read deeply, widely and in as many genres as you can. It is the very best way to learn how to write. If a passage strikes you as brilliant, look at what makes it so. If a book seems dull, think about why.
- Write only if you enjoy doing so. If you want to make money, use your spare time to mug up on how to play the stock market – that will get you a better financial return on your time and effort than writing ever will.
- Own your own creativity. Some writers fall prey to such restrictive beliefs as having a ‘muse’ or that their characters are telling them what to write. Yes, it can feel like that at times, but walk that route and you limit your ability to write and write well by becoming convinced it is not under your own control when it really is.
- If you have a thesaurus only ever use it as a memory aid for words you know. Never assume the words it offers are exact synonyms. English is an incredibly nuanced language.
- Welcome criticism. You can only improve by learning and you can’t learn in a vacuum. Seek out fellow writers online or off and get involved in critique groups. The bonus is that through critiquing others your own writing will improve too.
WTB: Your house is on fire, you may only save one thing. Given that all living creatures are safe, what do you grab?
EM: I think I will disappoint here. I’m not much of a one for material possessions or sentimental value. I’d miss my library, but as I couldn’t rescue that I’d just grab my bag which has my purse in it so at least I had a debit card to pay for the hotel that night!
WTB: And finally. Given that Fortune’s Fools is nearly a done job, what are you going to do with the rest of your life?
EM: Well even when Fortune’s Fools main works have been done and dusted, I plan to bring out a prequel novella (it may be a novel in the end) covering the early life of Durban Chola on Temsevar and in the ‘City and I have a growing number of Fortune’s Fools short stories in various anthologies which I want to collect together at some point too. And, of course, I am also still going to be working on the Dai and Julia Mysteries with the incredible Jane Jago.
In terms of solo writing, I already have another major project taking shape which will be very different to Fortune’s Fools. It will be historical rather than science fiction, but character driven as always. If you keep an eye on The Working Title blog you will see odd pieces from my rough draft of the start of it under the working title ‘The Cat’s Head.’
WTB: So with the interview out of the way, can we have an extract from Fortune’s Fools?
EM: Sure. What would you like?
WTB: Hmm. The part where Durban’s sister remembers her first ever meeting with him, that always sticks in my mind…
Extract from Fortune’s Fools Transgressor 2: Times of Change
Like a shy creature of the wild, sleep eluded her. Jaelya’s thoughts drifted, against her will, until those time-worn ghosts that hovered about her, led her gently along the paths of unwilling memory to the beginning of everything.
It was, of course, Alize who had been there then.
Her first awareness of life had been of holding Alize’s hand on that day as if she had been flung into the world fully-formed at the age of three. Even now she could still see clearly the high beamed roof, with its painted and vaulted ceiling, arching over the huge black and white slabs of stone which paved the floor. She had stood in the doorway, as if looking into the universe from outside, one hand holding onto a small bundle of clothes and the other gripping Alize’s as hand tightly as if her life depended upon it.
She conjured the scene easily, untarnished by the passage of years. The long table, taller than herself then, the chairs which had seemed made for giants, the fireplace which looked large enough to roast a good-sized ox and the faint, musty, smell of cold ashes and old books. Seated at the table, a heavy bound book open before him and a remote screen set up to one side, sat a boy with a mop of curly hair who had looked up as they entered. To the Jaelya in the memory, he had seemed so grown up himself but he cannot have been much more than five summers her senior.
Feeling confused, she had looked up at the figure of Alize towering beside her and the face that had looked down at her contained blue eyes that seemed to embrace the world and all the stars beyond. Jaelya felt as though she might be swallowed up in their depths, but somehow the thought made her feel safe rather than frightened. Then Alize’s gaze moved from herself to the boy, who got to his feet and was standing quietly behind the table, his square face framed by unruly golden curls.
“Child, this is your sister. Her name is Jaelya and I want you to take care of her.”
The boy had been staring at her with open curiosity as if wondering what manner of creature she might be, but at Alize’s words a miracle happened and his face broke into the most gentle and wonderful smile.
“My sister,” he breathed the words as a triumphal declaration rather than as any kind of question and then the boy had come across to her, his hands held out in welcome, his honey-coloured eyes lit up by the brilliant smile that was for her alone. “Hello, Jae. I am your brother and I’m always going to keep you safe.”
And in that moment Jaelya loved him with a fierce devotion, a devotion which all the years between and all the tests and burdens of those years had done nothing to diminish. So why was it, as she lay now in the dreamless darkness, that the thought of his returning to Harkera filled her heart with nothing but apprehension?
E.M. Swift-Hook takes seriously the words that Robert Heinlein put into the mouth of Lazarus Long: ‘Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.’
Having tried a number of different careers, before settling in the North-East of England with family, three dogs, cats and a small flock of rescued chickens, she now spends a lot of time in private and have very clean hands.
You can find E.M. Swift-Hook on Twitter and Goodreads or keep up with Fortune's Fools and the Dai and Julia Mysteries on Facebook. The Fortune's Fools logo pictured above was created by Bristow Designs.