Stephen Aryan is a fantasy author who hails from the West Midlands. He’s written a comic book column and comic book reviews for Tor.com, and self-published a superhero comic. Since 2007 he has co-hosted a comics and geek culture podcast. His first two novels are Battlemage and Bloodmage.
What can you tell us about Battlemage and Bloodmage?
Battlemage is the first in a trilogy called the Age of Darkness, and Bloodmage is the sequel. Battlemage is in some ways a more traditional fantasy novel, as it is set around a world being drawn into what is, in essence, a first world war. It contains explosive magical battles, warring wizards, front line warriors in the trenches, politics, intrigue and spies. I’ve used some familiar tropes on purpose and reshaped them into something different, merging old and new.
Each book in the trilogy is relatively self-contained and a satisfying story with an end. But if you read them in order there are easter eggs and lots of payoffs for the long time reader. The books also build towards the third in the series: Chaosmage.
Bloodmage is very different to Battlemage. If Battlemage is a war story, then Bloodmage is a crime story. It’s mostly set in one city, and it involves a magical serial killer, warring crime families battling for control of the underworld, an assassination plot and more subtle magic than has been seen before on the battlefield in Battlemage.
How did Battlemage and Bloodmage come about – are they stories you’ve been working on for a long time, or have you pitched other novels?
Battlemage has been brewing in my head for a few years. I started writing it about four or five years ago now. It’s also my eighth or ninth completed novel. I’ve been trying to get published for a long time. So over the years I’ve submitted other novels to agents and been rejected many times.
I submitted Battlemage to an agent in 2013 and it went onto her slushpile. She read the first few chapters and liked them. I sent her the full manuscript which she subsequently read and asked for a meeting to discuss the possibility of representation. We then worked on editing the novel for a year before she submitted it to a publisher. That publisher was Orbit books and my editor, Jenni Hill, bought the trilogy.
Have you been inspired by a love of gaming?
Not particularly. I’ve been playing computer and console games since they were invented, as well as tabletop games for many years. Nowadays I tend to say I’m a lapsed gamer as I just don’t have the same amount of time to devote to them as in the past. I used to play a lot of the MMORPG games like Everquest, Asheron’s Call, City of Heroes and of course World of Warcraft, but I’ve been clean of WoW for about five years now! They’re awesome games, but they are proper time sinks. I’m getting back into tabletop gaming a bit more, and recently was involved in an epic 6 man, 5 hour session of the BattleStar Galactica board game along with Dave and Barry from Geek Syndicate.
It’s a really great time to be a fantasy fan at the moment. What can you tell us about Battlemage and Bloodmage which makes them stand out from the crowd?
That’s a tricky question but I will give it a go. I’ve been reading fantasy books my entire life, so I’m very aware of stereotypes and tropes. So if something seems familiar in my novels, it’s very likely that not everything is exactly what it appears to be. I’m playing with fantasy readers’ expectations and assumptions, in Battlemage in particular, so there’s a real blend of old, which goes back to my some of my influences, combined with a new eye and approach. My books are also very clear about being full on fantasy, so there is overt magic and non-human races of my own creation, which you don’t see that often these days.
What are your most challenging/best things about being a fantasy author?
The best thing about it is the SFF community. Whether that’s getting to meet people at events, discussing things with other authors on panels, or just talking about genre TV, films, comics and books with people over a pint in a bar. Ultimately we’re all fans of the genre and I’ve made some really good friends over the years who have been incredibly supportive.
The most challenging thing is struggling against pervading stereotypes. Even as recently as last week I had to correct someone who was sure that most people who read fantasy were men and most of those who wrote fantasy were also men. I patiently explained both of these things were not true and went on to list several very important female authors of fantasy, some of whom influenced my own work.
Was there a moment when you realised that you were a “real” author and if so what was it?
Part of me still doesn’t think I’m a ‘real’ author. There are times when it kind of sneaks up on me, such as when someone emails me a photo of themselves reading my book in another country. That is kind of awesome and makes me realise my books are out there in the world. If I wander into a random bookshop and see my novels sat on the shelves alongside some of the greats, that makes it feel more real.
Do you have any advice for new or aspiring authors?
Over the years of trying to get published I learned a great deal but also made some mistakes, which I think aspiring authors could learn from. I attended a lot of events and listened to agents, editors and authors offer tips and suggestions. I definitely have a lot of advice to pass on, as well as information about pitfalls to avoid. Getting a book published is tough and it takes a lot of effort and hard work.
I’m actually taking part in an event next month, on Wednesday 8th June, at Waterstones in Birmingham. Two other authors (Liz Tipping and GX Todd) and I will be running a publishing workshop where we will be discussing how we all found our literary agents as well as answering questions. If it goes well we intend to run similar events in the future.
I’m also considering starting a YouTube channel to cover lots of How To questions like how to find an agent, how to get published, how to write a synopsis and so on. If people are interested in something like that then let me know and leave a comment below.
The third book in the trilogy, Chaosmage, comes out later this year in October from Orbit books. I’ve passed back my final amends so the text is completely done and locked in. Now there’s just the cover and the copy for the back of the book and then it’s all done.
In the meantime I’m working on a new trilogy and have been busy planning out the books and makes lots of notes.
Can you see yourself switching between genres in the future, or are you at heart a fantasy writer?
In the past I’ve written horror, science fiction and even a crime novel. However, writing a fantasy book allows me to go in so many different directions. In my opinion it is one of the most flexible genres as you can pretty much write any kind of story that you want. All three books in the trilogy are very different in tone and approach, and yet they are all labelled as fantasy.
I’m definitely a fantasy writer at heart, but I’d never say never about completely stepping away from it and doing something totally different.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Stephen! Battlemage and Bloodmage are available now from Orbit.
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)