James Fahy is a bestselling fantasy author who’s recently released his latest book, The Drowned Tomb, the second in his Changeling series. It’s a must-read for fans of Narnia and Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children! He’s also the author of the urban gothic book, Hell’s Teeth, with the second in the series, Crescent Moon due out soon. Fahy’s also a regular Instagrammer (or should I say Bookstagrammer!) where he features lots of awesome book pics and snaps of his life in England. An author who lives in the British countryside and – more importantly – on the edge of the wild moors? James Fahy is definitely living my dream life! So I thought I’d get him on The Salonniere’s Apartments and try to find out how he did it in hopes of emulating him!
Hi, James, and welcome to The Salonniere’s Apartments! I thought we’d kick-start this interview by getting you to tell us a little about your latest book, The Drowned Tomb, and what readers can expect from it.
Hi, thanks for inviting me! Drowned Tomb is book two in my Changeling series and sequel to Isle of Winds. It’s a fantasy series which is primarily aimed toward middle-grade, but which has had fantastic feedback and support from an adult audience, which is wonderful. Drowned Tomb takes the reader a little further into the Netherworlde and into unravelling Robin’s rather murky family history, as this time around, he races against time to find the location of a hidden tomb containing a shard of the Arcania before his enemies, the Grimms, can get to it first. I think it’s darker in some parts than book one. There’s a theme of grief and loss running through it, which I felt was important at this stage in the series, as Robin is shedding his old life and coming to terms with who he now is.
There are also plenty of monsters and mayhem to keep you entertained!
You’re a successful author with three books published so far – Isle of Winds, The Drowned Tomb and Hell’s Teeth. What was your journey to being a published author like? For example, did you experience many rejections and/or novels-in-a-drawer before landing a publishing contract? And how did you land your literary agent?
Oh, gosh, excruciating! Well, in the sense that is that if you’re going to try and land an agent, you really have to grow a very thick skin very quickly. Rejections are never easy to take, but they are very much part and parcel of the whole business. I think there are probably a lot of great books sitting in drawers everywhere because the writer lost heart or lost faith and stopped sending them out. Persistence is the key, I think.
There’s definitely an element of luck involved. Your manuscript has to hit the right agents desk, at the right time, on the right day, and when they’re in the right mood. I was lucky to be picked up by the Ampersand Agency and to find such an amazing agent in Peter Buckman. If you have an agent who believes in your work and pushes you to make it better, that’s a wonderful thing.
Was there anything in particular that surprised you or that you wished you had known earlier about the publishing process?
I think a lot of people have the impression that once you have an agent, getting published will be simple, but really it’s still such a long and frustrating process, and I had to learn to be patient and to be willing to negotiate and compromise. I think you have to trust your agent, and Peter was approaching a lot of publishers during what was the worst time in British publishing for nearly ten years due to the recession. There were a few times when we came so close to landing a deal, but then either the person at the publishing house who loved it was due to retire, or they wanted my seven book plan reworking into a three book plan, or something else would happen. You really learn to hope for the best but not to count your chickens until the ink on the page is dry.
I was so lucky to find such a great publisher in Endeavour Press and Venture. They have fantastic editors and are wonderful with feedback and suggestions.
The one thing I wished I’d known beforehand is how strict the general word count for a first novel is, as I had to cut my first book down by almost half in length (painful for any writer!). But I think my publishers trust me a lot more now, they let me lead the word count for however long the story needs to be (and I’ve gotten better at trimming the fat).
What advice do you have for aspiring authors?
Read. Simply read anything and everything, your favorite genres, but also outside of your favorite genres. Find what you like, and what works for you. And when it comes to writing, some people will tell you to ‘write for the market’ but I don’t agree with that. You really have to write the book you would want to read yourself, otherwise it’s going to ring hollow. Readers are astute and the most discerning audience I can think of. They will know if you’re blowing smoke. I would say persistence is key, and always try to find that difficult balance between taking suggestions on board from people who know the business better than you do (agents, editors, publishers) while at the same time being true to the story you want to tell.
Just write, though. Don’t say ‘I’m an aspiring author’ or ‘I want to be a writer’. If you write, you are a writer, you are an author. Own it, and have confidence that your work deserves to be seen.
I love that you live on the edge of the wild moors in the north of England. It makes me think of stories set upon windswept moors like Wuthering Heights and The Hound of Baskervilles! What’s it like living on the moors?
Oh, it’s gorgeous. I’m such a countryside person. I do like the city, but only for short amounts of time. I’d much rather be rambling over the hills or around the lake with my dog, with no other humans in sight. I love the peace and quiet, and the landscape is so inspiring. A lot of the flavor of the Netherworlde, (the wildness, the way that it’s beautiful but a little hostile, and might turn on you if you turn your back on it) came from living out where I do. The only real downside is losing Wi-Fi during storms…the horror!
You are an English writer and your books are set in various parts of England – Changeling, for example, where your protagonist is taken to a country estate in Lancashire, and Hell’s Teeth, which is set in a dystopian version of Oxford. England has such a lovely, rich history of literary locations – Gregory Maguire does a great job of touching on this briefly in his books Lost and After Alice. To what extent do you find your stories and characters are influenced by their settings?
Oh, tremendously. A lot of the inspiration for various places in the Netherworlde in my Changeling Series comes from the countryside where I live now, or the areas I used to visit when I was younger. And for the Phoebe Harkness books, I deliberately chose Oxford due to the sheer wealth of history there that I could draw from and weave into the stories. There’s a tale behind every bit of architecture there, and there have been so many important literary figures steeped in its history. The vampire club Sanctum in Hell’s Teeth, for instance, is situated beneath the pub The Eagle and Child, a place where JRR Tolkien and CS Lewis used to meet for drinks and to talk about fantasy. And in book two, my main character is punting down the same stretch of river where Lewis Carroll was inspired to tell the story of Alice in Wonderland. I think if you’re going to set a book series inside the confines of a single town, you better make sure it’s an interesting one.
What’s a regular day like for you?
Writing wise, I am horrendously unstructured. I don’t tend to write during the day except sporadically when the mood takes me. I get almost all of my writing done at night. I’m a complete insomniac so it’s either write or lie in bed wide awake thinking about plots and acting out scenes in my head. I envy more structured people I know who say ‘right, today I am going to write x amount of words,’ and keep to it every day. I can go days hardly writing a page, then write 200 in a day or two.
Do you have any writing habits and/or a particular writing routine?
Only when it comes to structuring a book. I like to make sure I can break it down in my own mind into three ‘acts’. The setup, the ‘meat’ as I call it, and the conclusion. Once I have the general shape in my mind, I will sketch down all the key scenes, and work out the pacing between them. Then I will usually fill in everything in between by using working title chapter headings.
I have to write from start to finish. I find it discombobulating to write out of sequence. Once my first draft is done I will leave it to cool for a few days, then come back and begin the endless drafting and redrafting process, until I’m happy with the final work.
What’s your three favourite reads so far of 2016?
I’ve been so busy writing this year, with three books out and a fourth one due, that I’ve had to cram reading in as and when I can (usually while travelling). I’ve found through social media I’ve been meeting and interacting with a lot of indie authors, and discovering some genuine talent and great stories in all kinds of different genres. I’m going to be cheeky though and give you four, as I couldn’t choose between them.
A Secret Muse by LA author Mandy Jackson-Beverly is an excellent read. It’s a vampiric tale and it’s so rich in character and setting, I read it in so few sittings and am l looking forward to the sequel. Another of my favorite discoveries is The Making of Gabriel Davenport by British author Beverley Lee. It has a really old school ghost-story vibe and such a sense of very British Menace. I’m convinced she’s the new James Herbert. I also loved Awaken, which is a fantasy tale by G R Thomas, an Australian writer. It’s a very impressive debut and a really magical read.
Another great Aussie find was Stella’s Awakening by R K Ryde. The only one of the four I’ve chosen here which is set in the ‘real’ world, (whatever that may mean) I really enjoyed this, and it had so much more depth and layers that I was expecting it to. This I think is the great thing about social media and engaging with people online who love reading as much as I do, as you find all these great books and authors that you might never have stumbled across otherwise. There’s such a lot of creative talent out there at the moment, which makes for exciting times for us writers.
Finally, what are you working on next?
The sequel to Hell’s Teeth, book two of the Harkness books, is due out later this year. I have just finished my final edits on that. And now I’m nose deep in Changeling Book Three, which will be out early next year. I am also tinkering with a couple of other projects too, as I love playing around with different genres, but I think they may take longer to come to light as I don’t want to spin too many plates at once.
Thanks, James, for coming onto The Salonniere’s Apartments and sharing with us your writing journey! For those who want to find out more, you can check out James Fahy’s official website. You can also connect with him on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.