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“You either happen to life, or life happens to you.”

Karl ForshawNow, around this time last year, I took a complete gamble on an upcoming debut author, and in doing so I discovered one of my new all-time favourite stories. Karl Forshaw just completely blew me away with his debut novel, Renia, and I haven’t been able to stop gushing about this book since I finished it.

With the book’s first birthday coming up on March 21st, I figured it would be the perfect time to put this hidden gem in the spotlight. So, I reached out to Karl, and he graciously agreed to sit down for an interview with me.

Buckle up for an exciting author chat full of intriguing origin stories, interesting influences, tantalising teases, favourite characters, and even an exclusive audiobook sneak peek! Also, those who stick around till the end might just find a very generous and surprising gift (discount, anyone?) from Karl waiting for them. Enjoy!

This entire interview is spoiler-free! 

[ER] First of all, thank you so much for agreeing to this interview and sitting down to answer all of my nosy questions. I am extremely excited to dig deep here and learn more about one of my favourite stories and authors! 

[KF] Truly, Esmay, it is an absolute pleasure to speak to you, and I hope that this will be the first of many such interviews. You have been a major part of putting my book in front of peoples faces and I think your work, your reviews, and just your attitude in general are a treasure to the community.

[ER] That is so incredibly kind of you to say! I’ll do you a favour and start off simple: Can you tell us a bit about yourself; the man, the myth, the legend behind the story?

[KF] I can try, but I’m not sure I could give a satisfying answer. I’m in my late 30’s, I love my family, my dog, my books, music, and many other things. I’ve spent a lot of my life sitting at a keyboard, writing code, solving problems, and overthinking things. I’ve always read, but probably averaged a dozen books a year, until 2020. Then, for obvious reasons, I kicked things up a notch.

[ER] Seems like a pretty satisfying answer, if you ask me. Now, about those obvious reasons for kicking things up a notch, could you tell everyone who isn’t familiar with your work (shame on them) a bit about what your book is about?

[KF] Renia is a general introduction to the world of Luna Ruinam. It’s trending under the tag Gaslamp Fantasy, so I suppose that’s the best way to classify it. It’s a book about a twenty-something girl who loves to learn, and by fate, has ended up becoming a career scribe for the institution known as The Halls of Venn, which is the state’s only publisher of the written word. As such, the institution holds a great deal of secrets, some of which Renia is entrusted with. When one of the books entrusted to her is stolen, it takes us down a bit of a rabbit hole of what, when, who, where, and why, but also puts Renia in a series of situations which force her to confront aspects of herself that she’s suppressed. Unfortunately for her, there’s a lot to unpack, and things get rather dark for her.

Ultimately, it’s a book about consequences, not just for Renia, but also for the other POV characters that get wrapped up in the mystery, of which there are a few. It’s a book about guilt, shame, and trying to find a way to carry the things we regret forward without letting them define us. I wish I had a better elevator pitch for you, but synopses are not my strong suit.

Renia[ER] Don’t sell yourself short, I’d go buy the book immediately after that pitch if I hadn’t read and adored it already! Though, even without that enticing premise, I suspect many readers would have been lured in by the gorgeous cover regardless. Could you give some love to your cover artist, and share a bit about the story behind the creation of this stunning piece of art? 

[KF] I’m always happy to promote the incredibly talented Mr. Oliver Tsujino. Around 2020, I decided it was time for me to overcome my fear of mathy code and write a game engine. It was something I’d always wanted to do. So I started making a game that would be similar to the old Final Fantasy games I grew up with, and posted on a digital art Discord server that I was looking for artists to help me.

I met Ben Chaney first, who is a very talented 3D artist, and he introduced me to Oliver, who we decided to bring on board to do the 2D artwork. Well, I just fell in love with his art style, and we became good friends from then. When I started writing some story for the game, our character designer started floating ideas for one of the characters from the game and I said ‘her name is Renia’ and then I started writing backstory for her, which then became a short story, which grew into a novel, which eventually became the full hundred and twenty thousand words.
Unfortunately the game project had to be put on hiatus, but I would love to return to it someday. The story for the game is currently sitting at around volume VII of the book series, but who knows if it will end up staying there.

[ER] Now, that’s what I call a brilliant origin story! I had no idea this story was originally an idea for a game, but in hindsight that actually makes sense. So, was it then a complete surprise for you to discover that you wanted to go the author route? And how long had the story of Renia been ruminating in your mind? 

[KF] I think on some level I’ve always had stories flying around in my head, always had an imagination. I’d always be the one in the playground or in the garden with my sisters and cousins, telling people what happened next in the games we played. I loved the idea of writing a book one day but I always found my prose annoying, so I abandoned every project after a few thousand words. Honestly, I think I just hadn’t read enough at that point, nor had enough life experience to make it feel worth anything. I have found an escape in writing, but also a place for all my thoughts to find a home, and a sense of achievement. I love it, because it challenges me in ways that aren’t easy to define.

It’s funny, though: when I finished my first draft of Renia, my wife came in and handed me a little paper booklet I had made. I must have been about seven or eight. It was about the green power ranger. “This isn’t actually your first book”, she said. I laughed so hard.
To answer your second question, it wasn’t so much the story of Renia, but the story of Luna Ruinam, and I think I’ve had the broad strokes of the series in my head for about four years now.

[ER] I see, so the storytelling skills were always in your blood. Interesting that you started with that little paper booklet writing essentially some fanfiction (we are definitely going to need to see that power ranger story someday!), and then continued on to write a book that is truly unlike anything I have ever read. In my review, I described Renia as “an alluring genre-blendy gem of a book that defies all expectations”, and your prose was anything but annoying; it’s one of my favourite writing styles I have ever had the pleasure of reading! So now I am curious, which stories/authors would you say inspired and influenced your own craft the most? 

[KF] Yes, I’m hoping to reprint the book at some point and put that quote on the cover. Thank you! I would say that my greatest influences are so far beyond me, it would be a joke to invite comparison. That being said, there are lots, but there are three authors who have inspired me massively.

Iain Banks, whose work I was introduced to at around 16, and have collected, read and re-read ever since. His imagination, originality, and wit are sorely missed. Use of Weapons, Excession and Transition are some of my favourite books ever.

China Miéville came next. China’s work is just mind blowing. Reading Perdido Street Station was such an eye opener for me, The Scar even more so. It was his work that made me realise that fantasy didn’t have to be elves and dwarves and such, that it could be a place where even the most absurd ideas could be made to feel gritty, and dirty, and just so real. His later works, This Census Taker and The Last Days of New Paris are another two favourites. I have so much respect for his work.

Adrian Tchaikovsky is the last chronologically, but by no means the least. I’ve read the Children of Time series, and I’m up to date with the Tyrant Philosophers series. I read a Warhammer novel he did, too. I find his work just so refreshing. To be honest, I almost gave up on Renia somewhere in the drafting process, and it was reading Children of Time that made me want to finish. He’s a really lovely man too, I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of weeks ago.

[ER] Wow thank you so much, it would be such an honour to have my words printed on your book, I am just lost for words. And double thanks for destroying my TBR with your unapologetic gushing about these authors, I love your passion for their works!
It is almost magical to hear how Tchaikovksy inspired you to push through with Renia, the power of storytelling is just unmatched.
Speaking of, Renia’s personal story was almost scarily relatable and cathartic to me, and I absolutely loved that she was portrayed as such a complex and deeply flawed character. How was it for you to explore the darker realms of the mind through her perspective? And if you are willing to share, are parts of her harrowing journey reflections of your own experiences?

[KF] A harder question to answer. Renia is complex, and there are multiple canonical reasons for her behaviour that I won’t go into detail on. I think the important thing I want to say here is that I think everyone is complex. I was sure that I didn’t want to present Renia as someone who was easy to like because in my experience, when you know someone intimately, it’s not easy to like them a hundred percent of the time. There are exceptions to this, and your children are an obvious one, but I don’t want my characters to be easy to love. Most of us are deeply flawed creatures who have learned to cohabit this planet through a series of failures, whether those have been our own or those of others. I’ve found that a lot of the most interesting people I’ve met on this journey aren’t easy to love.

With regards to Renia’s experiences, and if they cross with my own, broadly I’m drawing on things that have happened in my life, but also people I love, things I’ve been close to but not necessarily part of — also books I’ve read and stories I’ve been told. It’s very much fantasy, but I’d be lying if I said that my writing didn’t find its root in suffering.

[ER] I love your mindset for that, and I think you absolutely nailed the execution! And I loved how Renia isn’t the only beautifully complex character we get to know in this story, as we are slowly introduced to a large cast of additional POV characters who all have their own intriguing story to tell. Was that always your vision for this story, or did the additional POVs come later in the process? And who would you say was your favourite character to write? 

[KF] In short, yes. When I’m writing it sort of plays out as a movie in my head, and I know how I want the scene to go and whose point of view I want it shot from. I don’t think I could have stopped myself from having different POVs and I have even more in the new book.
You can probably guess, but my favourite character is Petor. He was such an absolute joy to write, and I don’t know if I’ll ever find a point of view that I love as much as his again. There’s just something so brutally, beautifully honest about him. Who was yours?

[ER] Ah, Petor, makes total sense that you’d choose him. It’s hard to pick favourites, but I think mine would have to be the reaper Bandack, she was just so hysterically and effortlessly funny to me. Also, I had a feeling you were such a visual writer, because everything about this world just beautifully came to life in my mind’s eye.
Do you think it helped that you initially intended this world to be a video game, which is often inherently more immersive and visual than a story in book form?

[KF] I don’t think it hurt. There were definitely times where I had to think about things like what kind of images would be striking enough to hold someone’s attention. And the fact that I had all these wonderful RPGs in my head from childhood will have definitely played a part in it. I never really thought about that question to be honest. I guess we’ll know if my standalone work comes out flat. Then, I’ll have to start all my books as games.

[ER] Interesting! Though, I’ll admit that I truly can’t see a scenario in which a book of yours would fall flat. Your imagination is just so wildly exciting, and I am not exaggerating when I say that you delivered some of the most rich, imaginative, and immersive world building I have ever come across in Renia.
Could you give some insights into how you came up with the mystifying world of Luna Ruinam? And what would you say is your personal favourite aspect of it?

[KF] I know this is a cop-out, but it just sort of appears in my head. I wish I could tell you there was one major inspiration or reason for things being the way I wrote them, but it’s just a very long sequence of ‘what-ifs’, where the most interesting ones chain into the next set.
I can’t even tell you my favourite aspect of it yet because it would spoil things that are hidden in the first book and important parts of the later ones. I will say that one of my favourite aspects of it is sprinkling in crumbs so that later on you’ll have a reason to go back and re-read.

[ER] Oooh, what a tease, we love it! That is exactly what I adore about this world; everything is so shrouded in mystery and intrigue, and you do indeed masterfully (or cruelly) drop the most tantalising breadcrumbs throughout the story to keep up the tension and interest.
Did you intentionally play your cards close to your chest, and can we expect more answers and jaw-dropping reveals in the sequels? 

[KF] I very intentionally leave things out. I want my readers to have theories, and to enjoy the process of working out the secrets in the book for themselves. I’m trying to ask myself all the time: ‘do I absolutely need to share this information with the reader?’, and where I can get away with it, I leave it up to you. I’m trying to write books that let your imagination bring the story to life. You’ll notice I avoid descriptions of my characters physical attributes unless they are relevant to something that happens, etc. The mind wants to breathe life into things, I want to get out of its way. Whether I’m doing a decent job of it or not, I don’t know. But I’m trying.

You can definitely expect to have all of the reveals by the end of the series, unless of course, I mess up. With the next book, which for the most part takes place just before Renia, I’ll share more about our favourite reaper, and a certain powerful family that rule over the green city, and also give you some new places to explore and creatures to dream up. I’d love it if the whole series just opened up secret by secret, but time will tell if I’ll be able to make it work.

[ER] Perfectly said, often less is really so much more. And are you doing a good job of it? Hell yes, you are; and I have full faith that you are going to nail your vision. Also, you know I am just about squealing with joy that we are going to be following our favourite reaper more closely, right?! Did you always intend to jump around in time and shift perspectives throughout the series? 

[KF] I just hope she doesn’t lose anything when we’re in her head. It’s easy to make someone absurd from an outside perspective. Justifying it is a completely different challenge.
I grew up watching Star-Trek, Stargate, Sliders, and all those crazy time travel/alternate reality shows from the 80s and 90s, and I still love them. I know some people really dislike being thrown around in time and space at the same time but I absolutely love adding depth in this way. I’m not sorry. I will continue to do it. In fact, it’s a central theme of the next book. Let’s all go and preorder.

[ER] Heck yes, let’s all go preorder! And I am all here for embracing the unconventional storytelling methods, especially when you are so passionate and excited about it yourself. Speaking of the rest of the series, you’ve now delivered an absolutely magnificent debut and are hard at work on book 2. Would you be willing to share a bit about your hopes and plans for the Luna Ruinam series? And are there any other writing aspirations that we might be looking forward to? 

[KF] I have a very rough outline of nine volumes for Luna Ruinam. If I want to see that happen, I’m going to need to knuckle down. I’ve also toyed with a very grim short story series set in the same world that I wanted to send to J.C.M Berne’s Grimdwarf Magazine. I have most of the first episode of that. There’s also an audiobook version of Renia being recorded over the next couple of months which I’m very excited about.
As you said, I’m currently working hard on Book 2, and hopefully by the time this interview goes out I’ll have finished my current draft. I’m hoping to spend March drafting a standalone novel I’ve been playing with, which is a sort of post-apocalyptic, male-suicide thing. It would be lovely to think that I could have both books finished this year.

[ER] This answer simply could not have made me happier if you’d tried, so many exciting plans and updates! I will be first in line for all of it, good luck with all your writing endeavours!
Also, congrats on getting an audiobook done, I hope that even more people will fall in love with your story via that format. Can you share a bit about the process of choosing a narrator, or are you keeping things hush-hush for now?
 

[KF] I can, actually! The audiobook is being narrated by the incredibly talented Mr. Chris Tester. I’ve been a fan of his work for a while, so he was always the first choice. I’m really glad he’s agreed to take it on, and I cannot wait to hear his performance. If you’re unaware of him, check out some of his speeches on his YouTube channel.

He’s actually just given me the nod to be able to share this exclusive preview with you and your readers. I hope you enjoy it.

[ER] Well, I didn’t think it was possible for me to love this story even more than I already did, but I think it might just have happened. Chris is incredible, congrats on getting him on board and thanks for sharing this excellent sneak peek with us! I can’t wait to hear him fully bring this story to life.
It’s truly incredible to look back on all the exciting things that have happened over the last year, and I am eager to see what else the future has in store. Now I am curious, though, what advice would you give to the Karl of exactly one year ago, about to publish his debut? Have you learnt anything over the past year that you think he’d have appreciated to hear at that time?

[KF] Good question. I think I’d probably tell him that you’re supposed to be scared of your next book, that even award winning writers suffer with imposter syndrome. And that Esmay Rosalyne would be his greatest champion!

[ER] Beautiful words, I am sure past you would have appreciated hearing that. And you’re making me blush, I will wear that title with pride! It’s been a true pleasure chatting with you, and I hope you enjoyed answering these questions just as much as I enjoyed asking them.
Which brings me to my last question: Is there something I did not ask, but which you would desperately love to give an answer to? And please don’t forget to let us know where people can pick up Renia if their curiosity has been piqued!

[KF] It’s always a pleasure to talk to you, Esmay. Thank you for having me. Actually, no. Your questions were excellent and gave me a lot to think about. I hope you’ll have me back at some point in the future so we can go more in depth about the series as a whole. As I’m answering this question, I just finished my first draft of the second book. Hopefully you’ll do me the honour of being one of the first to read it, and I can come back and talk to you about it when it’s ready for release.

For anyone who is interested in reading my dark and sinister book, it’s on Kindle Unlimited. I have paperbacks available from a few different sources: My friends in the USA might like to pick up a signed copy from Silverstones to save on international shipping.

For others on the European continent, you can pick it up on my website and if you use the coupon code “esmay”, there’s a 60% discount on the book for the month of March. There are also still a few Limited Edition Hardbacks available from the Broken Binding’s web store, but I believe they are close to selling out. I will ship internationally from my website, but I am aware that the shipping costs can be prohibitive—it’s something that I hope to have a solution for soon.

Well, I honestly couldn’t think of a better way to end this exciting interview. I hope something in this chat convinced you to give this absolute gem of a book a shot, be that anything we talked about or just Karl’s wonderful personality itself. Now, please do yourself a favour and make good use of that discount code while you can!
You better bet I am going to take Karl up on his offer to come back and chat more in the future, and I would love to have more people in the fanclub to share the deep dives and gushing with. Happy reading, friends!

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Author Interview Karl Forshaw

Esmay Rosalyne

Esmay is a self-proclaimed professional book devourer from The Netherlands. While (dark) fantasy will always have her heart, she is also a big indie/self-pub enthusiast and will probably read anything if the premise sounds intriguing enough. Or, you know, if it promises complete emotional destruction. When not reading books, she is probably reviewing books, talking about books, or watching videos of fellow bookworms talking about books.

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