Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here. Today I’m bringing you a second interview with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan, the author behind The Gutter Prayer and its recently released sequel, The Shadow Saint. I’ve read and reviewed The Shadow Saint since the end of last year and upon finishing it, I knew I have to interview the author AGAIN because I have a few things to ask his brilliant mind, so here we are.
You can check out my review of The Shadow Saint on the blog and I hope it will convince you to order it if you haven’t already done so. Now, without further ado, here is my second interview with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan.
- Hi, Gareth! Thank you for coming back to another Q&A with me. Quite crazy how fast time flies, your second book—The Shadow Saint—in The Black Iron Legacy is out in both US & UK now! Can you tell us a bit about your newest book?
It’s about a year since the events of The Gutter Prayer in Guerdon too. The city’s still recovering from what’s referred to as the Crisis – the alchemists’ guild is rebuilding, the Church of the Keepers is resurgent, and oh, yeah, there’s a giant miraculous New City right there on the shore. However, things are stable enough for the city’s government to call new elections, and Eladora Duttin – one of the secondary characters from The Gutter Prayer – is campaigning for the Industrial Liberal party.
Outside the city, the powers of the Godswar have a new interest – or fear – in Guerdon. There are now weapons that can kill a god, and control of the remaining bombs will shape the course of the war. And the easiest way to gain control of the bombs is to gain control of the city…
So, the events of The Shadow Saint follow three characters – Eladora Duttin and two agents from two of the rival empires – as they become embroiled in intrigue, politics and murder in Guerdon and try to sway events to favour their faction. Spy vs spy vs spy, or at least spy vs occult political operative vs necromantic swordsman in over his head.
2. Seeing that I’ve read and loved The Shadow Saint, I must admit that there was one element in the book that took me by surprise, and it took me a while to get used to: the change in key characters’ perspective. Was this the direction that you’ve always aimed for?
Well, The Gutter Prayer was conceived as a standalone. When it got expanded into a series, I knew I’d have to open up the cast – the characters of the first book end up literally tied to the city or otherwise encrusted with odd backstory, which would have restricted the storytelling a little too much. However, the Thays – Carillon, Eladora, and their family, and their connection to the Black Iron Gods and the city – provided an ideal narrative spine for the series as a whole. So, each book is going to have either Cari or Eladora as a main character, but the supporting cast will shift. Former viewpoint characters will recede into the background, and minor or new characters will take the stage. And then the final book will wrap everything up for everyone (take that, future me!)
I like having a wide range of points of view. I like exploring the same events from different perspectives, from different strata of society.
3. And I think that worked pretty damn well for the story and series! Would you say the writing process between The Gutter Prayer and The Shadow Saint differs a lot? Which one was more difficult to write, especially now that you have a publication deadline looming all the time?
The deadline didn’t bother me – I’m a freelance writer, so I know how to manage time. But every book has different challenges; Shadow Saint, for example, changed a lot more during editing than Gutter Prayer did. For Book 3, which I’m working on now, I’m trying to improve based on post-publication feedback to the first book that I didn’t have when I wrote book 2. You’re always fighting the last battle, I think, when it comes to your writing process.
4. Well said! To elaborate upon my previous point, some authors read only the positive reviews, some don’t read them at all, and some read every review. Which category do you fall into, and do you take consumer reviews into account of your writing?
I read everything, and then sit on my hands. I think I come to reviews in a slightly odd way. In the context of tabletop gaming, it’s difficult to review an adventure or a rulebook because they’re incomplete by design – they’re tools to help a group come up with their own entertaining experience. So, once a book reaches a certain minimum threshold of quality, everything after that becomes very, very subjective. What works for one group of players won’t necessarily resonate with another, and that experience can be adjusted. For example, if a review says “oh, the combat encounter in this adventure are too hard”, it’s acceptable for the designer to respond with “the adventure’s really designed to emphasise stealth – if you’ve got a group of gung-ho combat enthusiasts, you may need to space the encounters out a little more to give them more time to heal.”
Books work differently. The reader’s experience is inviolate. It’s not acceptable for an author to go “oh, you didn’t like the book? Well, here are some other ways to read it that you might prefer.” All you can do is take that unspoken response and use it as a guideline when writing the next book – if a reader isn’t getting element X, then the writer may have failed to make element X sufficiently clear or interesting or evocative. (Or, the reader just isn’t into X, and that’s also fine – not every book appeals to every reader.)
So, for book reviews, I take them as points of data to be graphed rather than individually. If lots of reviews mention a particular character positively, then I’ll throw the thought “hey, bring that character back more often” into the creative stew for the next book.
That was a very long ‘yes’, wasn’t it?
5. A very long yes, and I’ll say it’s one of the most interesting views on reviews by an author that I’ve heard so far! By the way, I personally think that this is a series that would work well as movies, tv-series, or video games. IF you have the choice, which medium do you prefer and why?
I think tv series. You could do a computer game in the setting, but it wouldn’t be able to jump between the different elements in the stories. The Shadow Saint, for instance, skips between political intrigue, investigation, interpersonal stuff, a prison break sequence, and then full-on divine invasion. A computer game that tried to do all that would be a rather incoherent design. And the plot is probably a bit too tangled for easy translation to a movie (but if some Hollywood producer happens to read this, I can be flexible. “Art or cash,” as Tolkien said.)
A tv series, though, with a large cast – that could work. Just grab some crumbling European city with lots of Victorian architecture, some CGI, some grubby yet charismatic actors… I do sometimes think of the giant new studio down the road in Limerick, and say to myself “hey, half the locations in Guerdon are based on places in Cork, so you could do external shoots here…”
6. Almost a year has passed since the release of The Gutter Prayer, would you say that you’re satisfied with the sales/reception of the book so far? How has the release of your debut changed your life?
It’s been a wonderful year. I had no expectations as regards sales, although I’m sure Orbit do! From what I understand, it’s done very well in the UK, and acceptably in the United States – certainly, enough to justify a third book. And I’ve made lots of new friends and connections – the fantasy book fandom has been very welcoming.
At the same time – I’m still spending my days making up stuff about wizards and monsters, so life hasn’t changed that much. It’s just you can buy my wizards and monsters in Waterstones instead of in a specialty games shop, and it’s a lot easier to explain to one’s aunt…
7. It’s good to hear that it’s selling well in the UK. I seriously hope your books will continue to do so, worldwide! I’m sure that you have a lot of favorite books as well, what books/series would you recommend your readers to read?
Talk about an open-ended question! “Given the entirety of human creativity throughout all of history, which is your favourite bit?”
If we limit it to “if you enjoyed The Gutter Prayer and The Shadow Saint and want similar stuff”, then I’d recommend
- Jeff Vandermeer’s Ambergris and Southern Reach series
- China Mievielle’s Bas-Lag
- Robert Bennett’s Divine Cities
- Ed Macdonald’s Blackwing
- Fonda Lee’s Green Bone Saga
- Peter McClean’s War for the Rose Throne
- RF Kuang’s Poppy War
- Grant Howlitt’s Spire RPG
- John Harper’s Blades in the Dark RPG
8. Last question! When can we expect the next book in the series? I’ve heard that you projected that the series may reach five installments, any good sign of confirmation that this is truly happening?
Book 3 will be out in January 2021. I really hope that it’ll continue after that for Book 4 and 5, but nothing’s been signed yet. As with so much else, it’ll depend on sales.
Thank you for stopping by for the second time, Gareth! Looking forward to having you here again!
The Shadow Saint is out NOW!