Interview with James Islington
Hi y’all! Petrik & TS from Novel Notions here. Today, we’re bringing you an interview with James Islington, the author behind The Licanius Trilogy.
A slight preamble before we start. Both of us read this trilogy together, and it was probably one of the most enjoyable buddy reads we’ve had because of the complexity of the story which resulted in much discussion, speculation and exclamation. At the end of it, we can safely say that The Licanius Trilogy now sits proudly on the mantle of our all-time favourite trilogies. It was mind-blowingly incredible! Do check out our raving reviews if you haven’t already done so if you’re interested to know a bit more. Don’t worry, they are spoiler-free.
1. Petrik: Hi, James! Thank you for doing this Q&A with us! To begin this session, please tell us a bit about yourself and The Licanius Trilogy.
Hi, and thank you! I’m Australian, married with two young kids. I’ve been writing for almost a decade now; I originally started The Shadow of What Was Lost part time way back in 2011. I’m a full time author now—which I’ve always considered my dream job, but am even more appreciative of during this crazy period we’re all going through.
I grew up reading every new book in The Wheel of Time when it came out, and always wanted to write a series that had that same epic feel to it. Then years later when I read Mistborn, I realised that fantasy plots could be fast-paced, twisty and complex as well. So I had those huge influences and my own ideas for a time-travel story, and The Licanius Trilogy is the result!
Picture: The Licanius Trilogy
Cover arts by: Dominick Saponaro
2. Petrik: The Licanius trilogy is one of the most complex and ambitious trilogies I’ve ever read, especially considering that this is your first series, each book in the series has a very strong connection with each other plot-wise, did you outline every key point of the story before you begin writing The Shadow of What Was Lost?
Basically. I had a very firm idea of where I was going from the beginning, and certainly before I published the first book I knew exactly how I wanted the trilogy to end. I only had a ‘skeleton’ of key moments mapped out for in between, though. I often find that too much early detail can result in plot points looking good in the outline, but then not feeling right when I put them to paper.
So the finer details were still able to be somewhat fluid as I wrote Echo and Light. It did mean a lot of drafting though, as there were always huge flow-on effects from any adjustments, but I at least always had that original skeleton as a strong guide for what the story was working toward.
3. TS: It was very impressive to see how well you handled the incredibly tricky time travel element in The Licanius Trilogy. Any insights on how you were able to do it so successfully?
Planning, and then a lot of reviewing and revision! I love time travel stories, but only when you can’t poke holes in them, so it was important to me that everything remained consistent throughout the series. Especially when I was writing Light, I was constantly having to check my notes or go back to find very particular points in the first two books to make sure I was getting all the timing just right.
I think it really just came down to being fairly detail-oriented, in the end—and then willing to spend the time redrafting when I found even the smallest of inconsistencies. I probably could have knocked months off my writing time if I wasn’t particular about making everything 100% coherent, but then I wouldn’t have been happy with the result (and readers would undoubtedly have picked up on it!).
4. Petrik: It has taken six years since The Shadow of What Was Lost was first self-published for the trilogy to reached its completion, what were the biggest challenges you faced during the time of writing The Licanius Trilogy?
This being my first series, I think a lot of the challenges stemmed from it being such a big learning experience—just getting the first draft of Shadow finished felt like (and was, comparatively) a huge achievement at the time! Every stage of the writing process involved a lot of trial-and-error to figure out what worked best for me, and almost always took me much longer than I expected as a result. It was a real test of patience and persistence throughout.
There was definitely a period though, early on while writing An Echo of Things To Come, that I’d class as the biggest challenge to get through. The self-published success of Shadow honestly took me by surprise and while it was obviously wonderful, the pressure of actually delivering on a sequel kind of froze me in place for a while. On top of that I was figuring out my first audiobook deal, getting an agent, switching to traditional publishing, trying to decide the if/when of committing full time to writing… and then my daughter was born in the midst of it all, and I was adjusting to life as a new father too.
Those were all great and exciting things, naturally, but they involved a lot of upheaval and were a lot to handle all at once. I have absolutely no regrets, but for a while there it definitely felt like there was a major life event every other day. Not the best head space for writing! So learning to deal with that, forcing myself to push through those distractions and still sit down every day and get the work done, was probably the toughest thing I had to do.
- TS: The worldbuilding in The Licanius Trilogy was spectacular. What was the driving force behind the ideology of the lore that underscores the core conflict in the books? Are there any inspirations that you could share with us behind the creation of this world?
In part, the seed of the idea came from the fact I’d never really enjoyed prophecies in fantasy up to that point. It always felt like it was a bit of a cheat when there were just these vaguely worded, symbol-heavy statements about what was going to happen – I think because they’re so open to interpretation, I found it hard to give them any real weight. So as a storytelling device, the whole concept started to lose a bit of tension for me. But it did start me thinking about why prophecies were even like that in the first place: if a story has people who can actually look into the future, surely it would be a better power if they were as direct and informative as possible about what they’d seen?
Of course, the main reason prophecies aren’t done like that is because it’s then (in theory) really easy for characters to make sure those prophecies don’t come true. So I started wondering how that might look in a fantasy world, which led to me thinking about the tension between fate and choice. That’s something I’m also familiar with from Reformed theology—there are debates about exactly the same thing in the real world, and it’s a subject I find really interesting.
Once I was confident enough in the idea, it fairly naturally became a major theme—because any world where people had the power to see the future would, I think, be heavily shaped by it. So I used that as a starting point, and built everything from there.
6. TS: One non-writing related question. What do you like to do for fun when you’re not writing?
I’m into board games (my collection’s more than 200—most of which are going to go unplayed for a while in the current environment, sadly), video games (I own… too many in my Steam account to admit to, but which I’ll probably get to play a lot more of now), TV, movies and the occasional anime. Books, too, of course!
7. Petrik: You have mentioned that you decided to start writing your own series after you finished reading Mistborn trilogy by Brandon Sanderson and The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss, both series I immensely loved, how much of a role do these two series has on yours? Which authors would you consider as the biggest influences behind your work and writing?
I think it’s hard to quantify their role but one thing’s for sure—if those two series didn’t exist, mine wouldn’t either. I was very much in a reading slump before finding Mistborn, and then Name of the Wind; as much as I’d always wanted to write, I’m not sure I ever would have sat down and made it a reality without those inspirations.
As far as other influences go, I’ve already mentioned Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time—that’s a big one—and I’d also include Raymond Feist’s Magician (the first fantasy book I ever read), and Stephen Lawhead’s Song of Albion trilogy. They’re the standouts of my ‘formative years’ books, I suppose you’d say.
8. Petrik: Last question. What’s next after The Licanius Trilogy? What are you working on at the moment and when can we expect it?
I’m working on a new epic fantasy series called Hierarchy at the moment. I’m about 80,000 words into the first draft, which is a good start (but still far from the finish line). Given it’s a new story set in a new world, it’s tricky to put a timeline on it at this stage—but I’m hoping it’ll be ready to go sometime next year!
That’s so exciting! Thank you so much for doing this Q&A with us, James! We’re HIGHLY looking forward to read your next work! It’s one of our most anticipated books already!
Thanks so much to you both, it’s been a pleasure!
The Licanius Trilogy is out now!
You can order the book from: Amazon UK | Amazon US | Book Depository (Free shipping)
Special thanks to my Patrons on Patreon for giving me extra support towards my passion for reading and reviewing!
My Patrons: Alfred, Devin, Hamad, Mike, Miracle, Nicholas.
3 thoughts on “Interview with James Islington”
Great interview guys! Plan on starting this series as soon as I’m done with Malazan (can’t do too many complex series at once)…..
I love that James is a fan of the Song of Albion as I don’t know many other people who have read that but it was one of my favorites when I was in high school.
Thank you so much, Jared!! Oh my, it’s definitely a good idea to wait until you’re done with Malazan first! This one is very complex but with more accessible language.
I haven’t even read Song of Albion! Something I have to fix in the future! 😀
Thanks a lot, Jared! I know exactly what you mean about Malazan. I needed to intersperse each Malazan book with something lighter and fun.
As for myself, I loved that he mentioned Magician because The Riftwar Saga was a top favourite for many years when I was younger.