Hello again dear reader or listener! I have something extra special for you today for I got the chance to interview none other than Internationally Bestselling author Anthony Ryan! He is one of my auto-buy authors and with good reason. (If I’ve reviewed any of these, you will find links to my happy ramblings if you click on the titles below).
Having initially self-published his first book in his Raven’s Shadow Trilogy, Blood Song, he then got picked up by Penguin and republished the trilogy in 2013, after which he proceeded to deliver one epic fantasy series after another, continuing the stories of Vaelin Al Sorna with the Raven’s Blood duology, then introducing us to brand new worlds with The Draconis Memoria and, more recently, The Covenant of Steel trilogies. He also continues to self-publish his novellas in between, such as the SF noir Slab City Blues and the fantasy The Seven Swords series.
His writing has been characterized as utterly engrossing high fantasy, epic in scope, with thoughtful characterization across his works, masterful ambiance, marvelous and refreshing settings, and the list goes on. His newest book Red River Seven, a post-apocalyptic SF novel was reviewed by David W. at FanFiAddict as perfectly exemplifying ‘why Mark Lawrence calls Ryan a “master storyteller”. Parts Josh Malerman’s Bird Box and Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later, RRS is a frenetically paced, galvanizing read that will equally excite and terrify you.’
Let’s get to it then!
[Eleni] Hello Mr. Ryan! First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions today, as a long-time fan of yours, this is very exciting!
Congratulations on your latest novel Red River Seven being published this past October, as well as the finale to The Covenant of Steel trilogy coming out in July. Even after publishing several books, I don’t imagine the sense of trepidation you get from working on something for a long time and then finally sharing it with the world ever really changes.
Which leads me to my first question: Admittedly it hasn’t been that long since release yet, but have you noticed any significant difference in responses to your post-apocalyptic thriller compared to what you’ve gotten for your fantasy over the years?
[A.R.] Overall, the response from reviewers and readers to RED RIVER SEVEN, at least that I’ve seen, has been positive and complimentary – although, I’m aware there has been some negative reaction. I tend to think that, as a writer, once a book is out there you have to accept that it’s there to be judged and it’s naïve to expect everyone to love everything you do. At the end of the day, I wrote a book I was happy with, it got published, and anything that happens next is beyond my control.
[Eleni] I never seem to find enough words in reviews to truly explain how multifaceted and absolutely human, with all the pros and cons, your characters are. Is there anything specific you wish readers would get out of them, or do you prefer to let the subjectivity of reading run its course?
[A.R.] There have been various attempts to adapt my work for the screen over the years and, when reading the pilot scripts I’ve been sent, it’s interesting how differently the characters are perceived. Some come across as a lot less sympathetic than I intended, and others the opposite. I think there’s an unavoidable Rashomon-esque element to human perception: because we’re all individuals, we all perceive things differently. No one ever reads the same book or watches the same movie as everyone else. Personally, I’m comfortable with that kind of subjectivity, especially since there’s nothing I can do about it anyway.
[Eleni] Granted you’ve got several more works published and Vaelin’s story doesn’t really end with the first three books, but how does it feel having three completed trilogies out in the world?
[A.R.] It feels great. Back when I was dreaming of becoming a writer, I had no idea where it would go and find myself in a perpetual state of pleasant surprise. I’ve never really gotten over the shock of selling my first copy of Blood Song online. The fact that people are willing to part with hard earned money for my work is both humbling and extremely gratifying.
[Eleni] Was there a time when a reader may have made a point about any of your works that you hadn’t realized you were sending across when writing? I imagine there has been at least once a moment of “yes, yes I totally meant to do that…”.
[A.R.] Often people read more into a story than I realised was in there, which is fine. I don’t tend to take credit for it when asked, though. Maybe I should start, it’ll buttress an intellectual aura I don’t really possess.
[Eleni] Undoubtedly each narration style fits the storytelling of a specific plot in different ways, as for example following Alwyn’s story outwith his unreliable narrating would give the story a completely different dimension. So, now that you’ve written series both in third and in first person do you find yourself preferring one over the other?
[A.R.] I tend to find I’m equally comfortable, or sometimes uncomfortable, writing in first or third person. I don’t really have a preference for either and tend to adopt the POV that works best for the story. Alwyn’s tale is told in first person because it could be, whereas a series with a sprawling setting like the Draconis Memoria pretty much had to be multi-point of view and third person. However, I do like the scope that first person provides to fully explore a character. Also, with Alwyn’s tale, I wanted to play with ideas around what it would be like to have a front row seat to major historical events and how no first-hand account can never be truly reliable.
[Eleni] If one reads most of your books there’s a few overarching themes or common tropes for you – mainly the idea of our memory lying to us, or blind obedience vs informed loyalty (be it political, militaristic, or religious) – and I was wondering how much of that is intentional and how much is just a result of stylistic/thematic coincidence.
[A.R.] I tend to think in terms of story first and the themes emerge in the course of writing. Sometimes I’ll emphasise them during the editing process, and sometimes I’ll find that I’ve spent too long waffling on about the dangers of religious dogma or corporate influence over politics. I don’t think readers are coming to me for polemics, although I’m always happy if my stories generate discussion or new ideas.
[Eleni] Focusing on you most recent release for a moment, the protagonists of RR7 often discuss the idea of memory defining our identity and character, and yet you still managed to clearly give them major defining traits, enabling each of them to stand out in such a short time. Is there a nature vs nurture argument there and what were the challenges of carrying this across for characters that were effectively supposed to be blank slates?
[A.R.] The conceit of the central premise in RR7 is that the memory loss of each character is deliberately selective – personal details have been excised but their skill sets and relevant knowledge remain. As far as I’m aware, this is impossible to achieve since memory resides in various regions of the brain and is too complex to be targeted in such a way. However, the fact that they retained their expertise enabled some room for character exploration, even though it was inevitably limited. It’s hard to fully explore a character that doesn’t have a past. But, if their memories had been completely and utterly wiped, then you would have had six helpless people on a boat and the story would’ve been a lot shorter.
[Eleni] This book is certainly simpler plot wise and less broad in scope than any of your other main works but no less impactful in the emotions it elicits, so what made you want to try out a new genre with your post-apocalyptic foray, other than for a change of pace?
[A.R.] My imagination is constantly generating ideas that, over time, percolate into full blown stories that eventually demand to be written. It isn’t really any more complicated than that. Although many of my ideas tend to sit within the fantasy genre, an awful lot of them don’t and RR7 was one such case, along with several others I hope to write in the future. I’ve always been a fan of post-apocalypse, or apocalypse adjacent stories. It’s a genre that poses a lot of questions but few comfortable answers. You also get to play god a bit in choosing how to destroy the world, which is always fun. It was also nice to take a break from swords and magic for a while.
[Eleni] You’re known for your quips and sharp humour in your work but I noticed with this latest novel you got to perhaps have more fun with the jabs and culturally informed turns of phrase. Was picking up a more real-world adjacent genre freeing in this sense?
[A.R.] It was certainly liberating not to have to write dialogue in a cod-archaic style. Although you still have to engage with world-building with a novel like RR7, unlike fantasy a lot of it has been done for you which does cut down on the pre-writing workload. There was a balancing act in deciding just how many popular references to make whilst maintaining the conceit that these were characters without personal memories.
[Eleni]Do the authors you’ve picked to name the protagonists in Red River Seven after have any particular significance that you can share with us or were they simply among your favourites that you wanted to homage in some way? Well aside from Huxley and the bioengineering.
[A.R.] Yes, Huxley seems a bit of an obvious choice now you come to mention it. For the others I was trying not to choose only sci-fi or fantasy authors but didn’t want them to be too obvious, no Shakespeare of Dickens, for example. At the same time, I wanted them to be recognisably writers’ names. Sylvia Plath is on a lot of school curriculums, as are Jean Rhys and William Golding. They also all tended to produce work that was on the more nihilistic or depressing end of the spectrum, which seemed fitting for the story.
[Eleni] Now back to broader questions, I personally don’t believe in regretting one’s decisions as they’ve ultimately led you to what you’ve built and become to this day but is there anything you would’ve done differently in your publishing/writing journey?
[A.R.] Yes – start sooner. Although I wrote throughout my teens and twenties, I also suffered a lot from ‘new shiny thing’ syndrome which I think delayed my progress as a writer. Plus, I was holding down a day job. It wasn’t until my mid-thirties that I started taking it more seriously, and even then, it took a long time before I finished something I was content to call a decent piece of fiction, ie. writing Blood Song. I also think I could have given traditional publishing a better shot. Blood Song got rejected by every UK agent I sent it to, but looking back my cover letter could have been a lot better, and I sent them too many sample chapters which is an invitation not to read it. This was all before email submissions (yes, I’m old) so maybe it would be different today, but who knows? In terms of self-publishing, I committed two cardinal sins: not getting the Blood Song manuscript professionally edited and not commissioning a professional cover. Luckily, I got away with both, which I’m certain wouldn’t happen today.
[Eleni] And vice versa what is something you’ve learned and applied in your writing that you’re proud of for happening and achieving the way you did?
[A.R.] Mainly that I’ve now learned how to write a full-length novel and not take years to finish it, if at all. Learning to finish is a skill in and of itself. It took me over six years to write Blood Song whereas these days I can finish a first draft of similar length in about six months, give or take. Learning how to plan a novel and organising my schedule to ensure it gets done were key in maintaining my career.
[Eleni] You once told me that writing is a marathon not a sprint and based on your various writing updates and teasers, I even joked with you that you were a machine. Do you actually take breaks or are the ideas just too crowded in The Unstoppable Idea Factory as you call it, demanding to be let out? I’m sure that having so many of them helps with persevering in your writing even for someone who’s got a long career as an author behind them already.
[A.R.] I try to write every day when I’m working on something, although life inevitably gets in the way and forces me to skip a day. I take breaks in between books, but usually only for a week or so. I tend to get bored and anxious when I’m not writing and, thanks to the Unstoppable Idea Factory, I’m never short of something to write about. Downtime is usually spent gaming, reading, or binge-watching series I missed. Occasionally, I might even go out for a walk.
[Eleni] Do you think back on your completed series, like Draconis Memoria for instance and consider picking up those worlds or characters again? I for one wouldn’t mind seeing more dragons or knowing what Hilemore has been up to; and I know you do something close to that when you self-publish novellas set in your worlds.
[A.R.] I have ideas for some shorter works in the Draconis Memoria universe but no solid notions of how to put together another full-length work or series with the same characters. It may happen one day, though. I will be returning to the Raven’s Shadow world at some point, but it’s a few years off.
[Eleni] How do you come up with your opening lines? They have been without fail some of the simplest yet badass openers I’ve read, and I know a lot of published and aspiring authors struggle with that. For lack of a better word, I would describe them as grounding in a way, and I’m currently struggling to pick a favourite between Blood Song, The Pariah, and Red River Seven.
[A.R.] I wish I had a more impressive answer than: ‘they just happen’ but that’s the truth. I don’t spend a great deal of time pondering the perfect opening line, or many of the other choice snippets of prose or dialogue that people quote back at me. If I had to rationalise it, I’d say it probably helps that I’m always keen to propel the story forward from the get-go, starting at a significant moment when the character’s emotions and perceptions are heightened. With The Pariah I also had an advantage in viewing the world through Alwyn’s eyes because so much of his personality is bound up in words and how best to use them.
[Eleni] Do you have a character or book that you see as a bit of an underrated underdog in terms of fan popularity but that you love and wish would receive more recognition?
[A.R.] It would be nice if more people read Slab City Blues because I always liked Alex McCleod and his jaded view of life on a crime ridden space station. The Seven Swords has done reasonably well for what it is but could always use more love. But then, I suspect every writer feels the same way about all their books.
[Eleni] Is there anything you’re always hoping someone will ask you about in interviews but so far, you’ve never gotten the chance to mention? And again, vice versa what’s the question you get asked most often?
[A.R.] I’m always just grateful that anyone finds my work interesting enough to request an interview. In terms of what I’m asked about most often, it’s usually if I have any advice for novice authors. My reply is usually a variation on Stephen King’s advice in On Writing: read a lot, write a lot, and don’t give up. Although, these days I’d probably add that there’s something to be said for embracing your comfort zone as a writer. If it’s comfortable for you to write a thousand words a day, then do that. If it’s five hundred, do that. The main thing is to establish a writing habit.
[Eleni] If you could pick the medium for an adaption of your works, which would you prefer for each? Red River Seven would be an amazing videogame for instance and maybe I’m not wrong in assuming that the similar storytelling format was done on purpose?
[A.R.] Some readers have pointed out the video game influence on RR7, which I was only vaguely conscious of when writing. I’d certainly be delighted if a game company wanted to pick it up. Regarding my other books, I think The Seven Swords would make a great animated series along the lines of something like Arcane. I keep hoping Peter Jackson or someone at Weta Digital one day happens across the Draconis Memoria, but no such luck yet. As you know, the Raven’s Shadow books are currently under option for development as a TV series which I think is the right medium for that story. The same goes for The Covenant of Steel, though no one’s beating down my door with an offer for the rights.
[Eleni] Oh now we definitely need to get a campaign going for Draconis Memoria to cross Jackson’s path! The quasi-steampunk corporate industry ambiance of that trilogy was so well developed it almost felt like a character in its own right. Have you thought of any potential future projects with a setting similar to that?
[A.R.] The Unstoppable Idea Factory ensures that I’m never short of ideas. One is an unashamedly steampunk series complete with a Victorian London setting and all manner of clockwork gadgets. Another is flintlock fantasy military series along the lines of Sharpe or Hornblower. Hopefully, one day I’ll actually get to write them.
[Eleni] Yes, please, bring all the clockwork gadgets and flintlock fantasy! And finally, you know I’ve got to ask, is there a teeny tiny chance you’d give us a clue as to your next project? You’ve hinted that it will be another broad scale epic fantasy, but another one-word answer is totally acceptable!
[A.R.] I can’t say too much at this stage, but I can confirm it will be a trilogy with a hefty Norse influence, and some of the characters may seem familiar (and no, I’m not bringing Vaelin back, sorry).
[Eleni] Ooh we can never have enough Norse influenced fantasy so I think I speak for any one of your readers when I say we’re all utterly riveted to see what you have in store for us in the future! For my part, I’m also going to keep my eyes respectfully peeled for that unashamedly Victorian steampunk idea.
Once again thank you for taking the time to answer all these questions for us today!
[A.R.] My pleasure. Thanks for taking the time to put this together, and for reading. I can’t do this without you.
You can find more about each of Anthony Ryan’s books as well as updates etc. on his website https://anthonyryan.net/ , or on his socials, X (Twitter) @writer_anthony, Instagram @anthonyryan286, and Bluesky @anthonyryan.bsky.social.
Until next time,