September 26, 2016

Why Writing Fantasy Books is like Cricket: a guest post by AJ Smith, author of "The Black Guard (The Long War)"

Why Writing Fantasy Books is like Cricket: Writing the Long War, Part Four.
by AJ Smith

Being a lover of English cricket, I have spent much of my young life in various states of extreme disappointment. It’s something I’m used to, something I even enjoy, for the endless disappointment makes the moments of elation all the more acute. That is what it means to be a lover of English cricket - constantly hoping for the best, against history and cynicism. We were always the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. But, somehow, over the last few years, this has changed. We’re actually quite good.
I started writing fantasy on a whim. My writing CV up to that point was a varied mix of journalism and pitch-black comedy. Nothing to suggest I could produce a four-book series of somewhat epic fantasy. I was the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. Granted, I didn’t have a cut-shot like Alistair Cook or an in-swinger like Jimmy Anderson, but I had some ability. I had a world, given life by thousands of hours of role-playing games, and I had a stubborn confidence that I could actually do this.
My first book appeared out of nowhere, after a few months of cloistered inspiration. I read it through, chopped it up a bit, bought a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook, and sent The Black Guard to an agent. I had a sense of inevitable disappointment all ready to go when I got my first rejection. But I’d weathered worse, the English cricket team of the mid-nineties for example. When my second submission got accepted, I genuinely thought it was an elaborate practical joke. I’d somehow wormed my way onto an agent’s client list. My disbelief continued as I got a publishing deal and saw my first novel in print. It was a surge of elation, sudden, but not entirely trusted, very much like the 2005 Ashes (the biennial cricket series between Australia and England). Something was bound to go wrong.
I didn’t quite screw everything up straightaway like the England cricket team. But I certainly didn’t get comfortable. I carried-on writing, trying to stay in the same bubble that had produced my first book, but I never lost the sense that it was all somewhat unreal, like Paul Collingwood’s England team winning the world cup in 2010. Both myself and Mr Collingwood had done well, but the world still seemed to sneer, as if nothing had changed. We were still the underdog, the underachiever, the plucky long-shot. It was a good start, but little else.
The next year or so was a blur. My second book was finished, edited and published in a bizarre whirlwind of imminent cynicism. I preferred The Dark Blood (my second book) to The Black Guard - but still wasn’t comfortable. It still felt like an elaborate practical joke, and I feared I’d be found out any minute. When I exited my writing-bubble and surveyed the reaction, I found something that scared me – people liked my stuff. I’ve never been comfortable with compliments, but this was new. This mattered. One book could be a fluke, but two... Beating Australia for the Ashes happened occasionally, but to win three in a row spoke of consistency. I hung on to this belief as my third book, The Red Prince was wrestled into shape.
When Australia visited England in 2013, the home side were the favourites. They’d won the previous two Ashes, home and away, but every true English cricket fan thought something was bound to go wrong. It didn’t, we won easily. The Red Prince was my home series against Australia; I was convinced it would be rubbish, eclipsing any goodwill I’d built-up with the first two. Then something strange happened – it received close to universal praise. It was good, probably my best work, and began to speak of consistency.
The only way to conclude this tenuous analogy is to say that, with the publication of my fourth book, The World Raven, I’m finally starting to believe that I’m quite good at writing; and with the English cricket team winning against every other team, I’m finally beginning to accept that we’re good at cricket. However, both situations are ongoing.


By A.J. Smith, author of The Black Guard (October 1, 2016) and The Dark Blood (December 1, 2016) from Head of Zeus, distributed by Trafalgar Square Publishing,

The first in a major new fantasy series set in the lands of Ro, an epic landscape of mountain fortresses, vast grasslands, roiling ocean and slumbering gods. The city of Ro Canarn burns. With their father's blood fresh upon the headsman's sword, Lord Bromvy and Lady Bronwyn, the last scions of the house of Canarn, face fugitive exile or death. In the court of Ro Tiris, men fear to speak their minds. The Army of the Red marches upon the North. Strange accidents befall those who dare question the King's new advisors. Those foolish enough to speak their names call them the Seven Sisters: witches of the fire god; each as beautiful and as dangerous as a flame. And, called from the long ages of deep time by war and sacrifice, the children of a dead god are waking with a pitiless cry. All that was dead will rise. All that now lives will fall.

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