“I was a kid that was always in the library and coming out with an armload of books, so it comes as no surprise that I always wanted to write my own…”
Cameron Johnston, Author of The Maleficent Seven, as well as the series Age of Tyranny sits down with guest interviewer Mihir Wanchoo. Check out their great interview below and make sure you check out Cameron’s newest book The Maleficent Seven on sale now.
Q] Can you tell us about yourself, tell us what inspired you to write and describe your journey to becoming a published author?
Hi, and thanks for having me. I’m a Scottish writer, working the day job grind while writing on the evenings and weekends like so many of my fellows. I’m sure once your first book is out you are meant to be spending your time sipping fine wines and whiskies by a crackling fireplace when not taking strolls through atmospheric woods and moorland pondering your next works. After The Traitor God and God of Broken Things, this will be my third book, and by now I’m suspecting that TV and movies might have lied to me…
I was a kid that was always in the library and coming out with an armload of books, so it comes as no surprise that I always wanted to write my own. I dabbled a bit over the years without much idea of what I was doing, and even wrote two full novels that will never be published for good reasons. In 2009 I joined a local writer’s group and began honing my craft on short stories. Once I felt like I had leveled up, I wrote The Traitor God and then began the age-old rite of sending the manuscript off to literary agents. One agent thought it had legs and picked the book up, and then Angry Robot eventually snapped it up.
Q] Can you talk about the genesis of The Maleficent Seven and how it occurred? What inspired you to write a story from the POV(s) of such black-hearted villains?
I’ve always had a soft spot for anti-heroes or villains with a spark of goodness left, and often found them more interesting characters than the nominated hero of a novel. Marvel’s Loki, or even the mythical man himself, is a good example of the fun you can have playing with them and I’ve often wondered what Lord of the Rings would be like from Sauron’s perspective. So why not write a book about seven villains? What fun!
Q] I loved that you wrote a standalone story in this era of huge tomes. Was this a purposeful decision to write this epic story in this manner or was it a coincidentally one?
I think it’s a story that just does not require to be needlessly stretched out into a series. Seven Villains. One Town. One battle. That feels like a complete story arc in one book to me. Sometimes I’m not in the mood for a long series, and I’m hopeful there is a lot of other people looking for a complete story contained within a single book.
Q] For some authors, it’s easier writing their second series. For others, it can be difficult. What has it been like for you compared to writing your debut series? Have you done anything differently the second time around?
It’s been much easier this time around. Every author writes and creates differently and I know how *I* write novels now, and that’s half the battle when you are learning your craft. That said, never one to take the easy route, I went from The Age of Tyranny duology with a single point of view character to The Maleficent Seven with seven main PoV’s and a bunch of minor ones. It was a shock to the system and been quite a flexing of my writing muscles I can tell you that, but a very interesting journey.
Q] TM7’s titular characters are brutally tough, incredibly violent and glorious bastards in all senses. How did you make them so dark and yet incredibly charismatic?
I’ve always said that you don’t need to have nice or sympathetic characters, you just need to have interesting characters. As long as you avoid the old moustache-twirling villain trope where they do evil because they are evil, you can show the reader plenty of reasons why characters are the way they are and why they do the monstrous things they do. A little understanding and a little humour goes a long way.
Q] I have to ask among all the seven, which one is your favourite? Was that character the easiest to write about as well?
It’s so hard to say as they were all incredibly fun to write in different ways. Amogg’s insight into the weirdness of human society, Tiarnach’s foul mouthed shit-stirring and Lorimer’s inhuman vampiric state all offered me particularly good opportunities to have fun with the story. At a push, I’ll go with Tiarnach, and he was pretty easy to write about as he’s not a terribly complicated man at heart.
Q] This book while having copious amounts of death, dismemberment and dark deeds, isn’t a chore to read. It has solid amounts of dark humour that coupled with the action sequences made this book a real standout read for me. How did you manage this delicate balance?
In all honestly it came to me fairly easily. It’s often advised to writers to write what they themselves would like to read and that is exactly what I did with The Maleficent Seven. Given the messed-up state of the world right now, I really didn’t fancy writing an entirely grim and deathly-serious book of vile darkness. Instead, I wanted a good balance of darkness and entertainment, and people are rarely darker than black-hearted, and villains can also have their virtues. Even the bad guys can have a sense of humour, you know? Maybe some of them anyway…
Q] The main plot is incredibly twisted and very fast paced. I was surprised at the possible siege storyline, which has its own tropes. How you resolve that is incredibly exhilarating to read. Was this always the plan with the plot including that epilogue?
I started off with the basic concept, and then the beginning and the end of the story immediately followed, swiftly crystallizing in my head. What I then had to do was tie it all up with a riveting middle. That took a lot more time to develop, from the ‘gathering the old gang’ back together to the prelude to the siege itself, as did the voices of the characters that evolved as I was writing it.
Q] So what can readers expect from The Maleficent Seven and what should they be looking forward to according to you?
Readers can expect a dark and gritty fantasy take on The Seven Samurai or The Magnificent Seven, and the book does exactly what it says on the tin. They should be looking forward to savage action, gallows humour, backstabbing, and even unexpected heroism and comradeship.
Q] After releasing this standalone, what do you hope to write next? Do you see yourself trying out different genres? Different formats, etc.
I think another standalone fantasy novel is next in the works – I have a story just dying to get out. That said, I would love to try my hand at different genres – supernatural horror certainly, but also – and I imagine you wouldn’t expect this – a good old light entertainment romcom. My only problem is having enough time and energy to do all the things I want to do.
Q] What are you reading currently? Are there any current authors or books that you would like to give a shout out to?
I’ve just finished The Coward by Stephen Aryan and Call of the Bone Ships by RJ Barker and thoroughly enjoyed both of them. At the moment, I’ve just starting Priest of Gallows by Peter McLean and it’s already sucked me back into his world.
Q] What do you do when you are not writing, what hobbies and proclivities engage you?
I love a good board game or tabletop RPG that takes me away from screens for a while, but I enjoy some good PC gaming as well. I love visiting historical places: history, archaeology and mythology are my jam and I will happily visit, read or watch anything on those topics. I also dabble in historical European Martial arts and blacksmithing.
Q] In closing, do you have any parting thoughts or comments you would like to share with our readers?
I just want to say that I hope your readers enjoy the book as much as I did writing it, because I had so much fun with these