Interview With Author S.J. Hartland

INTRODUCE YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOKS

I’m a journalist from the Darling Downs, Queensland, Australia.

The 19th Bladesman, the first in an epic fantasy series, was my first published book. It came out in November last year and picked up the Readers’ Favourite award for epic fantasy and the CIPA EVVY book award for fantasy/fairytale/folklore/mythology fiction, which was amazing!

The Last Seer King, the second in the series, was published this year. The third, The Sword Brotherhood, should be out early next year. The tagline for the series is: Dark plots, dark magic, and characters with even darker secrets.

WHAT INSPIRES YOUR CREATIVITY?

It can come from anything. A name, a fragment of dialogue that repeats in my head, or even an image.

In The 19th Bladesman, I started with the idea of ‘what if you had to kill a stranger to save someone you love, but the person you sought to kill protected the entire kingdom.’

From there, it became a story about duty versus love, and fatherhood.

DO YOU TEND TOWARDS PERSONAL SATISFACTION OR AIM TO SERVE YOUR READERS?

This is an interesting question. I hope if I’m really finding a story interesting, even when I’ve edited it 100 times, that I’ll take the reader along with me on the journey. But at the same time, I’m totally conscious of pacing and trying to cut any dragging scenes so that the reader is swept along with the story.

Initially, one of the reasons I set out to write – apart from wanting to share the stories going around and around in my head – was to write a story I wanted to read. I wasn’t really finding enough fantasy that was as psychologically dark, that explored some of the disturbing places we sometimes go to, or the secrets we keep even from ourselves.

In The Sword Brotherhood, a character called Roaran is in a very dark place. But because of what he endures, he makes different choices. He ultimately becomes more human. I love breaking a character down then redeeming them.

WHAT ROLE DO EMOTIONS PLAY IN CREATIVITY?

In terms of putting emotion on the page, I think it’s the be-all and the end-goal. You hope your reader feels something, and that you tap into the emotions we all feel. I do try to find an emotion beneath the obvious one and explore that with a character.

Coming from a Methodist family, guilt and shame really interest me, but also redemption and hope – the things that pull us out of the darkness. Yet without the darkness, there isn’t the light afterwards, so I try to follow a scene where a character disintegrates with something hopeful.

I put my characters through a lot, rip them apart, and challenge who they are and what they believe, so the character who emerges may be broken, but they’re also more hopeful or on a different path.

I love exploring themes like the redemption found in forgiveness and friendship, what it really means to be a father, and what it means to put aside power to learn to love.

HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH CREATIVE BLOCK?

I usually go back a few chapters and start reading. That kicks me into the story again.

HOW DO BAD REVIEWS AND NEGATIVE FEEDBACK AFFECT YOU?

I have a friend who reminds me that as humans we’re wired to pay attention more to the negative (comes from the cave man days and having to be aware so you can run away to survive!). So you get ten good reviews and one bad one and all you can see is the bad one! I tell myself I won’t look, but I always do, and I’d have to admit I get a bit flat after a bad review. Then a good one comes in and your spirits lift.

My amazing mentor Kathryn Heyman (Floodline, Storm and Grace) at a recent workshop quoted someone who had said something like, you should treat the praise and the criticism the same. Your job is to write. That’s it.

DO YOU HAVE ANY CREATIVITY TRICKS?

Very early on, my mentor taught me three key things (plus so much more.)

One was to always ask what a character wants. I have a character called Heath Damadar, and I remember telling my mentor the too-clever Heath didn’t want anything, because at the end of the story he was the only one who got what he sought. Kathryn said, ‘oh no, he still wants something’. When I figured that out, it really added layers to Heath.

There always has to be struggle. Characters need what Kathryn calls a “wound” or “lack”.

The second thing was to create space around moments, to slow down the pacing when something significant has been said or revealed. It’s a bit like the way in a movie where a character says something and there’s silence, and the camera pauses on their face. A writer has to find ways to create that pause on the page.

The third was to be very definite with description. It’s tied to show and tell. You can say someone feels something or you can find a definite thing, maybe describe an object or a memory, that shows that same feeling.

WHAT WERE THE BEST, WORST AND MOST SURPRISING THINGS YOU ENCOUNTERED?

One of the best things was how generous readers can be! Sometimes, someone takes the time to drop me an email to say they love Kaell or they love my description. I go away thinking, “I’m writing just for that person.”

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR FUTURE BOOKS?

The third in the Shadow Sword series is with the editor. It’s a pretty dark book. I wrote the first draft when I was in an anxious place, so I’ve had to pull back a bit on that and cut some chapters. And I sense there might be some more cuts to come.

I’ve a first draft of the fourth in the series and a first draft of a new series that I’m really excited about. Watch this space. The whole premise for the new series started with just a name…

TELL US SOME QUIRKY FACTS ABOUT YOURSELF

I’m a fencer. I love the feel of the blade. I love everything about the sport. When I lived in Sydney, fencing was pretty much my life. I’d go from one club to another most nights of the week and at the weekend.

My coach was Russian and thanks to him, I think my bladework is decent, but he just couldn’t fix my footwork!

Fencing is a fabulous sport for authors writing sword fights in fantasy, though I’m waiting for an epeeist or sabreur to tell me I write “foil” fencing fights!

Author: NFReads.com

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