Hi everyone, Petrik from Novel Notions here. Today is an exciting day, because I’m bringing you an interview with Jen Williams, the author of The Copper Cat trilogy and The Winnowing Flame trilogy. Although I haven’t read the author’s first series, I’ve read and reviewed The Winnowing Flame trilogy last year. It was one of the best trilogy I’ve read so far, and I’ll certainly be reading The Copper Cat this year as I wait for the author’s newest book to come out.
You can check out my review of The Winnowing Flame trilogy 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 interview with Jen Williams.
- Hi, Jen Williams! Thank you for doing this Q&A with me. All of the members of Novel Notions that have read your books LOVED them very much, and it’s such a great honor to have you here. Can you tell us a bit about yourself? How does it feel to finally reach the paperback release of The Poison Song? Fully closing the publication cycle of your second series!
Hi! And thank you! Well, I’m a writer from London, I live with my partner in the best part of the sprawling city (that’s south east London, in case anyone is wondering) and we have a small ridiculous cat called Pyra. When I’m not writing books, I’m selling books in two independent bookshops, or writing about books as part of my job as a freelance copywriter. It’s very exciting to have reached the end of my second trilogy, if also slightly sad. As I was writing this I was interrupted by the delivery guy bringing a box of tiny paperback copies of The Poison Song, so it really is a landmark day.
- You have published six novels so far, and in a very consistent publication rate, too! Both The Copper Cat trilogy (2014-2016) and The Winnowing Flame trilogy (2017-2019) has been completed, how difficult it was for you to write these two series? What were some of the biggest challenges you had?
There are challenges that are universal to writing books, I think, and challenges that are less predictable. For example, The Iron Ghost was one of the hardest books I had to write, because in a way I never really expected to write it. When I started writing The Copper Promise, I was really doing so to please myself. The original plan was to gradually self publish it in novella sized chunks, as a kind of side project while I wrote my ‘proper’ books. When The Copper Promise got me an agent and a publishing deal, I don’t think anyone was more shocked than I was… The thing is though, of course, you’re contracted to write three books, and now there’s all this extra pressure on you. You’re getting paid, you have an editor, and most frightening of all, you have readers who enjoyed the first book and want more. I think in the end I rewrote the beginning of The Iron Ghost three times (chucking away about 60,000 words in the process) because I was just so terrified of getting it wrong.
Picture: The Copper Cat trilogy
With my second trilogy, the Winnowing Flame, I actively wanted to challenge myself, so there are all sorts of things in those books that I hadn’t done before. The story branches across three books, whereas the Copper Cat stories were mostly stand-alone adventures. I wanted to go much deeper with characterisation, and I wanted the stakes to be true ‘end of the world’ stuff. I also deliberately kept to more of a slow burn pace, particularly with The Ninth Rain, because I wanted to really build the world for the reader… uh, before tearing it all to bits, of course.
Picture: The Winnowing Flame trilogy
- Dragon Age. What’s your favorite installment? I personally think Dragon Age: Inquisition is the best one so far! Also, on a related note, I know that you slightly loved this video game franchise, how much role does it have in influencing your decision to be an author? Did it impact your storytelling style?
Honestly, asking me to pick a favourite instalment of Dragon Age is like asking me to choose a favourite child… Origins was the game that got me back into gaming in a big way, and made me think seriously about writing traditional fantasy for the first time (up until then I’d been writing a lot of odd stuff, but Origins made me want to write about dragons, taverns and dungeons etc.). Dragon Age 2 was unpopular with a lot of fans, but I loved it – mainly because it chose to make some really interesting storytelling choices: jumping forward through time for example, letting you experience the same city in different periods. And Inquisition of course is the sexiest of the three. It looks gorgeous, the world is huge, and you form your own army, with its own castle. Dragon Age was important to me because it made me love fantasy again. It has a tone, that’s both very dark (everything terrible that can happen, does happen) and uplifting – it’s not afraid to make its characters funny, or have realistic relationships. It was a modern take on fantasy I hadn’t come across before, and it certainly led me to write The Copper Cat series.
- The Winnowing Flame trilogy is unique in its world-building nature compared to many fantasy series; the combination of fantasy and sci-fi elements, in particular, worked brilliantly. Was this always the plan from the beginning?
Not as such, no, or at least not consciously. The Winnowing Flame books have a few key influences; specifically, the studio Ghibli film Princess Mononoke, Robin Hobb’s many excellent books, and Mass Effect 2. I wanted to write a book that had forests full of strange things, a world haunted by nature spirits, and massive derelict spaceships, like the Collector ship you explore in ME2. All this stuff came together, and as I was figuring out who the baddies were, I realised they were not from the same planet as the heroes… It was an idea that appealed to me enormously – throwing your classical high fantasy heroes against the implacable horror of the Borg. There’s always an interesting tension between the genres. When does magic become science? Or science become magic? This was my chance to have fun with the idea.
- What would you consider as the biggest inspirations behind BOTH The Copper Cat and The Winnowing Flame? Books/movies/video games are all allowed as answers here!
I think I’ve mentioned a few already, but certainly Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser stories are a large part of the DNA of The Copper Cat books, as well as Skyrim and the Discworld novels. At heart I’m a fan of rogues, and I’m sure a lot of the same influences crop up in the Winnowing Flame too (Vintage and Wydrin both owe a lot to Nanny Ogg). I watched a lot of anime as a young person, and I suspect some of the weirder stuff from both trilogies has its roots in those early experiences.
- I know this is out of your control, but is there any sign of your books being published outside UK? I’ve had many people asking me this, and I think it will be good to let them know what to expect and how things work.
It is out of my control I’m afraid (obviously if it was in my control my books would be everywhere, pouring out of every airport, every bookshop and supermarket in the world. You would not be able to move for my books, if it were up to me). Basically, for The Ninth Rain to be available outside of the UK it needs a publisher from outside of the UK to buy the rights, which hasn’t happened yet. Luckily my next book, Dog Rose Dirt, will be popping up in the US, Germany, Spain and Brazil.
- Last question! Your newest book, Dog Rose Dirt, will be your first time releasing a non-fantasy book. Any particular reasons on writing outside of fantasy, and when can we expect it?
There are a few reasons. Firstly, I just always like to be doing something new, and an entire new genre is about as new as it can get! Secondly, I am a big reader of crime novels and thrillers; some of my favourite authors include John Connolly, Mo Hayder, Tana French, Paul Tremblay, Shirley Jackson. You can probably tell from some of these names that Horror is a secret favourite of mine too, and certainly the Horror section was where I spent most of my time in the library growing up. And thirdly, I have always had a slightly grim fascination with serial killers. There is such a terrifying disconnect there somewhere, a huge gulf between the behaviour of a normal person and someone who enjoys killing people. My agent and I have talked before about the cases we find especially compelling, and one day she said to me: ‘you spend so much time reading articles about this stuff. Why don’t you actually write a book?’. Dog Rose Dirt is a book about murder, identity, and the past, with a hint of folk horror, and it’s out in the early part of 2021.
Awesome! I look forward to reading it next year!
Thank you very much once again for doing this Q&A with me!
The Poison Song is out in small and floppy paperback format NOW!
You can order the book from: Book Depository (Free shipping)