Interview with Jen Williams

Jen Williams, author of the Copper Cat series, kindly agreed to answer some of my questions. I reviewed the last book in the series, and it was released last Thursday. The whole series is highly recommended by me, but if you aren’t yet convinced by my reviews then have a read of what Williams has to say…

How much influence did DA Fenris have on Frith?

Such a handsome chap.
Such a handsome chap.

Well, I was playing Dragon Age 2 at around the time I was writing The Copper Promise, and I’ve talked before about how important Dragon Age: Origins was to the genesis of the series; without my all encompassing love for that video game, it’s likely I would never have thought of writing a traditional fantasy book, with dragons and dungeon crawls. I think in my head Frith shares some physical similarities with Fenris, and of course I would never object to that amazing voice… 

Oh my, that voice. Unfortunately I had to scour youtube for a nice voice clip of Fenris to post here so readers know what we mean. It was such a chore. Frith is described as having dark skin and upon gaining his powers his hair turns white. Once I realised this resemblance to Fenris, I read the rest of his dialogue in that lovely, lovely voice.

Your stories are very character driven. You have said that The Copper Cat series started as a classic sword and sorcery and descended into madness. How much of this madness was due to the wily whims of the Black Feather Three?

The Copper Promise was originally meant to be a quick little serial project that I would knock out quickly between books. As it turned out, the story was enormous fun to write and the characters did kind of run away with it. I suspect it’s a cliché to say that the characters are in charge, and also it’s not entirely true, but following where they went and the consequences of what they did turned out to be a lot more compelling than I was expecting. From a slightly more technical point of view, what I had was a story with three main point-of-view characters. I’ve never favoured one as the ‘main’ character, and when you have three equally weighted POVs, you tend to end up with a very fat book; you need to tell everyone’s story in a satisfying way, taking into account character development and so on. This is why epic fantasy tends to be so… well, epic.

Your bio says you like fiddling with maps in cafes- any plans to release these to the readers?

Unfortunately, my maps are fairly terrible things and aren’t fit for public viewing. I do dream of some sort of ultimate edition of the Copper Cat books where all three volumes are bound into one giant thing, with a series of (properly drawn by someone other than me) maps at the beginning depicting all the bits of Ede we see in the story. That is wildly unlikely, however.

I keep my fingers crossed, I love maps!

What are your biggest literary influences?

I suspect I am too close to my own work to be able to give you an objective answer to that, but I can tell you who I have hero-worshipped and studied. Stephen King’s delicious readability is at the heart of what makes his work extraordinary – you slip into his books and are pulled under by a riptide. Terry Pratchett could tell you incredibly important things whilst also making you laugh, which is why he’s one of my very favourite writers; humour is important to me in my own work. And Robin Hobb creates characters like no one else – when I read (or write) a book I want to feel close enough to the characters that their journey is also my journey. To me, that’s what fantasy books are all about. The Copper Cat books themselves owe a great and obvious debt to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser – those stories were the living, breathing, mischievous heart of sword and sorcery. 

I haven’t read any of these authors. I will definitely be adding them to my TBR pile though. One of the best things about connecting with fantasy writers and readers is discovering more of what you love!

What can we expect from your next book/trilogy/set? More sword and sorcery or something completely different?

I’m in the middle of writing the first book of the new trilogy now. I tend to start with a rough plan and then go wildly off course, so as yet it’s difficult for me to say exactly what the books are about – it could all change again in the second draft. However, I can tell you it will be more epic fantasy, with more monsters and magic, but with a slightly weirder approach. I wanted to challenge myself with these books, which meant relying less on subverting sword and sorcery tropes – which is all a very longwinded way of not telling you very much at all, but I can say that I have been enjoying writing it very much!

I for one love weird!

Do you have an estimation of when your next work might be published?

Assuming a lack of disasters, the first book (called The Ninth Rain) should be out next year.

Ooh very exciting!

I really want to attend a SRFC meeting at some point but I don’t live in London – can you tell me what I am missing?

Den Patrick and I set up Super Relaxed Fantasy Club as a monthly meet-up for genre fans to get together and have a chat and a gossip about books. We both go to a lot of conventions, which are great, but tend to be reasonably expensive and largely exhausting. Wouldn’t it be nice, we thought, to sometimes just do the bit where we hang out in the bar? It takes places on the last Tuesday of every month, we usually have two published writers along to give a short reading and do a Q&A, and that’s about as much structure as the whole thing needs. It’s always free, everyone is welcome, and we’re dedicated to keeping it as relaxed as its name suggests. To find out who’s reading and where, you can follow the @SRFantasyclub twitter account.

One day I might make it. Now onto the next section, which I am calling ‘Just for fun’ because book related questions are great, but somewhat silly questions are entertaining!

Favourite 80s cartoon (we know you watch a lot!)

It has to be Thundercats really. It was a favourite when I was a kid, and having watched the whole lot again recently, I still think it’s great. There are some genuinely brilliant episodes, a properly scary villain (Skeletor, bless him, is never scary) and lots of delicious randomness, particularly when the Sword of Omens develops a magical new ability to get Lion-O out of a tight spot. Having said that, the Dungeons and Dragons cartoon comes a close second, only really losing out because its run was so much shorter.

Thunder, thunder, thunder thundercats!

Favourite alcoholic beverage

Well, in terms of what I drink most regularly it’s got to be red wine, but as for special treats, I am very partial to mead. Someone once bought me some spiced mead as a gift and it was like drinking a magical Christmas cake. It is wonderful stuff.

What would your cutie mark be?

Ah, there’s a question. I suspect it would have to be an open notebook, with a glass of mead next to it, a dagger lying across the notebook perhaps, with a drawing of a skeletal dragon on the paper, with a speech bubble coming from its mouth saying ‘Dragon Age forever’… but I suppose that is a little complicated for a cutie mark.

If I were a better artist I would attempt to portray this. I completely understand the complexity of choosing a cutie mark though.

Do you ever play ‘geek’ board games such as DnD or Settlers or (slightly more obscure) Arkham/Eldrich Horror.

I’m afraid I don’t! I have ever been largely terrible at any remotely creative game (a friend once tried to teach me to play Magic the Gathering, which I doubt was much fun for her) and I’ve always been a solitary gamer; the RPGs I like are ones on consoles where I can merrily while away hours crafting swords and belts and stews and no one will get annoyed with me (I’m looking at you, Skyrim).

Ah magic. The hubby and I played for a while, I was no good a deck building. I always just used his best deck so I always won. I never got around to skyrim (it came out when I was deep in the midst of my postgrad), but I do very much love my RPGs

What do you like to drink while writing?

Mostly, tea. Earl Grey, as strong as possible, with milk and two sugars because I am basically a barbarian. At the weekend I will sometimes sneak in a glass of wine, although not if I’m editing or proofreading.

Barbarian indeed. There is sometimes that joy of writing slightly tipsy and seeing what weirdness one can come out with, but it is quite often in much need of editing.

Lastly, please share a picture of your cat!

Jen and Pyra (love the Moomin calendar!)
Jen and Pyra (love the Moomin calendar!)

Thank you so much Jen for sharing you time with me. I am looking forward to reading your future projects.

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