Although Winterbirth is set in a fantasy world, it does feel incredibly realistic. Did the story come first, or the world?
That’s a real chicken and egg thing. I don’t think one really came before the other. They evolved together, feeding off each other. I had a rough map, and an idea of what life was like for the people who lived in it, at an early stage, but the story was always my main priority – a lot of the details of the world got filled in as the story developed. Making it realistic is just what seemed to come naturally to me.
Do you have a favourite character in Winterbirth? Why?
The bad guys tend to be fun to write, although to be honest I don’t really think of anyone in the trilogy as ‘bad guys’ – they may behave very unpleasantly at times, but they generally have some sort of reason for doing so. Right now, my favourite’s probably one of the ‘good’ guys, though: Taim Narran. The more I write him, the more I suspect he might be the closest thing to a ‘hero’ in the whole trilogy. But it changes all the time: ask me again tomorrow and I’ll have a whole different answer.
Similarly, how about a favourite scene?
Tough one. It’s hard work, trying to get the written scenes to work half as well as the fantastic, dramatic, gorgeous movie that’s playing in your head. There’s a couple of scenes with Gryvan, the rather unpleasant High Thane, and Taim Narran in them that come close: they pack quite a bit of character, conflict and politics into pretty fast-paced scenes, I think. And I do have a soft spot for the Epilogue, which was just a lot of fun to write and hopefully makes the reader curious about what’s going to happen next, if nothing else.
Without giving anything away, do you know how the trilogy is going to end?
Yes, the end has always been pretty clear in my mind. From the start, I thought of the story in ‘beginning, middle and end’ terms. So far that original ending is still the one I’m aiming for. It still feels to me like the most satisfying conclusion to everything that comes before it (although some of the characters might not be quite so happy about it if they could see what’s in store for them …).
So, did you always want to be a writer?
It’s always been a bit of an ambition. I read lots when I was a kid (still do – if left alone with any form of printed material, I’m pretty much certain to start reading it. Can’t help myself). The writing started pretty early too. I wrote a dreadful science fiction epic (with sentient lizards) when I was about 11.
What or who are the main influences on your writing?
Well, there are too many authors to mention them all by name, really, going all the way to (of course) Tolkien. But I read a lot of history books too, and that affects how I write: makes me quite keen on having a bit of realism to the characters and situations and politics. Plus I’ve spent most of my life in Scotland, and I think there are quite strong traces of Scottish landscape, climate and wildlife that show up in Winterbirth.
How do you fill your time, when you’re not writing?
Until recently, I was doing freelance consultancy work for environmental organisations, but that’s much reduced now. I’m still a big fan of the natural world, though, and can sometimes be found wandering around in the countryside. Then there’s the reading, cinema, PC games to fit in. And I go swimming occasionally, because I’m told it’s good for me.
Finally, if you had to pick one historical figure to be stuck on a desert island with, who would you choose?
Alexander Selkirk, the real-life Robinson Crusoe, would be handy to have around. No idea if he’d be good company, but he should have some helpful advice. If that’s cheating, how about Homer? I could just laze about, listening to him telling his stories about Troy and Odysseus. Of course, that would only work if he’s learned to speak English.