It’s the end of April and the sun is shining here where we are. We hope the weather is just as beautiful where you are! Especially if the weather is gorgeous enough that you can sit outside with a good book and a nice iced tea. Today, we’d love to share an author with you that has many titles out where you can sit and binge read for days on the beach.
That’s right, we are speaking to British fantasy author Richard Ford! You might have heard of his previous series, Steelhaven, or you might know him better as R.S Ford with his War of the Archons series. He currently has a new series starting under R.S Ford with the first book, Engines of Empire, out now. Here’s a quick blurb about Engines of Empire and then keep reading on to find out more from Richard himself!
“The nation of Torwyn is run on the power of industry, and industry is run by the Guilds. Chief among them are the Hawkspurs, and their responsibility is to keep the gears of the empire turning. It’s exactly why matriarch Rosomon Hawkspur sends each of her heirs to the far reaches of the nation.
Conall, the eldest son, is sent to the distant frontier to earn his stripes in the military. It is here that he faces a threat he could have never seen coming: the first rumblings of revolution.
Tyreta’s sorcerous connection to the magical resource of pyrstone that fuels the empire’s machines makes her a perfect heir–in theory. While Tyreta hopes that she might shirk her responsibilities during her journey one of Torwyn’s most important pyrestone mines, she instead finds the dark horrors of industry that the empire would prefer to keep hidden.
The youngest, Fulren, is a talented artificer, and finds himself acting as consort to a foreign emissary. Soon after, he is framed for a crime he never committed. A crime that could start a war.
As each of the Hawkspurs grapple with the many threats that face the nation within and without, they must finally prove themselves worthy–or their empire will fall apart.”
BT&W: Thank you so much for this interview Richard! We are excited to talk to you about your long author career and these fantastic epic fantasies that you’ve penned. Can you start us off with your author story as to how you found yourself as a storyteller?
Richard Ford: I guess I’ve always been telling stories in one form or another. When I was young I was obsessed with 2000AD, which is an anthology comic that’s still going today. Taking inspiration from that, I used to draw my own stories, and might have ended up as a comic artist if things had gone differently - or if I’d had any artistic talent. Creative writing was the thing I was best at in school, and the thing I found most rewarding. Unfortunately when I went to high school all that stopped, and I don’t remember doing any creative writing at all during those years. Following that I kind of fell out with writing, or anything creative in general, mainly because it never seemed a realistic aspiration, and I always felt pressured to concentrate on a tangible career. It wasn’t until my mid-twenties that I decided to pursue that old dream.
By now the Black Library had started regular open calls for short story writers, and I pitched to them often, only to receive a politely-penned rejection. It wasn’t until around 2005 that I had a story accepted and published in one of their anthologies. I carried on writing, wrote a couple of “trunk” novels, and then in 2010 I wrote Kultus and pitched it to Solaris Books. They liked it, much to my surprise, and the rest, as they say…
BT&W: You’ve written many series under two different names. Can you talk to us about why you choose to use pen names and what it is like to have books out under more than one name?
RF: In all honesty, it’s pretty much due to boring legalese. I wrote Kultus and the Steelhaven trilogy as Richard Ford. When I signed with Titan Books for the War of the Archons trilogy we decided it was time for a bit of a rebrand, as well as the fact people were getting me confused with the Pulitzer prize winning Richard Ford, who writes very different fiction. Hence, R.S.Ford was born. More recently I branched out into historical fiction, which I write as Richard Cullen. This was mainly to avoid confusing readers who might be expecting fantasy, only to find I’m writing historical adventures in a very different style. There are also contractual non-compete clauses in my deal with Orbit that mean I can’t write as R.S.Ford for anyone else.
BT&W: It seems like many of your books host a large cast of characters and vast worlds; especially with your newest book, “Engines of Empire”, which is the first in a series. How do all these characters/ worlds come to you and how do you keep track of them all when it comes to having unique voices as you’re writing?
RF: I guess it’s a combination of happenstance and necessity. For me, worldbuilding, plot and character all generate organically from one another. If the plot requires a certain type of character to push it forward, then I’ll have to come up with one. If a character thinks and acts in a certain way, then the plot will change to accommodate that. If a certain aspect of the worldbuilding stands in the way of the plot and characters, then it’s my job to work out how they overcome that. Writing a book is a long process of creative problem solving at the end of the day. What you see as a reader is just the culmination of that process.
With a book as big as Engines of Empire, even I can’t keep track of the characters and worldbuilding in my head, so at some point I will go through the novel and expand on a glossary that’s packed with terms, organisations and character descriptions. It’s no more ingenious than that.
Character voice is a slightly different issue. It might take up to 9 months to draft each novel, and during that process your characters will develop their own unique voices - whether that’s in attitude or parlance. At the start of the process this might be fairly generic (though some characters are born fully developed in your head), but by the time you’ve followed them to the end of the novel this will develop into quite a unique voice that tends to write itself. It’s then just a matter of going back over the manuscript and making sure that voice is consistent throughout.
BT&W: You write from both birth gender points of view in your books. Can you talk to us about your process to get into the voice of a female character from a male point of view as well as what it is like switching back and forth between gender povs during the writing process?
RF: Not to sound too flippant but… I use my imagination. There seems to be a commonly held notion that male writers (particularly of SFF) can’t write women, but this is often illustrated by using the worst examples of the genre. I’m not a woman, but I know plenty. I grew up surrounded by them - tough working-class matriarchs who did as much to shape my upbringing as anyone. It’s not a huge leap to put yourself in their shoes. As a writer, that’s kind of your job. You have to observe and emulate - empathy is as important a tool for the writer’s craft as any other. I’ve never been an 11th Century norse berserker or a nine foot demon from the pits of hell, but no one seems to question their requisite authenticity in my work. The insidious idea that writers of any stripe should stay in their lane needs to be thrown in the sea as far as I’m concerned. Write what you want - read what you want. *rant over*
BT&W: We fully agree with your rant. Writing is all about using your imagination and observations of the world around you. It is similar to the issue when we see people getting berated for not writing in character of different ethnicities yet if you do write about them you get berated because you aren’t from that culture/ perspective. As a writer in today’s world, how do you feel about the cancel culture and the extreme sides of criticism that get thrown at authors who are now considered to be celebrities?
RF: I understand it can be a minefield, and with the immediacy of reader feedback, due to the modern phenomenon of social media, it can also be intimidating. But in essence, this is just a modern form of censorship. When faced with the sententious attitude of some readers, a lot of writers crumble. Personally I don’t believe in showing contrition to the mob. Writers will on occasion mess up and get things wrong, but unless your deliberate intention is to offend there should be no reason to apologise. If someone tells me I can’t do something, you can bet it’ll make me want to do it even more. If I hadn’t had that attitude from an early stage in my career I doubt I’d have become a novelist in the first place.
BT&W: Where do you get your inspiration from as you write? Do you do mood boards or playlists or things like that to help keep ideas flowing as you’re working?
RF: Inspiration comes from a whole host of different places. Anything a writer consumes - whether it’s on TV, listening to music or just sitting on a bus on the way to work - might find its way into their stories. I tend to plot my books quite meticulously, so the ideas are already there before I start to draft a novel.
BT&W: As a writer, we deal with a lot of character deaths, especially in fantasy. How do you deal with character deaths yourself? I (Ashli) personally really enjoy writing them because I can see how a reader might react especially if it will really move the plot along and force them to keep reading; however I do still mourn the characters hard sometimes.
RF: Unfortunately character deaths are a necessary part of the process. There’s no way to instil any kind of peril without the imminent threat of someone dying. Killing a character lets the reader know that all bets are off, and anyone could die at any moment. It’s never an easy thing to deal with, since you’re essentially casting aside something you’ve carefully crafted for the good of the plot. There’s also the danger that by removing certain characters you’re changing the whole dynamic of the novel, which could potentially ruin the experience for certain readers. All I can advise is to feel the fear and do it anyway :)
BT&W: We always ask our authors about their pets since we love our furry reading buddies. Do you have any furry reading/ writing buddies? If so, how do they inspire you in your work and your reading habits?
RF: Bit of a disappointing answer, but I’ve never owned a pet. Saying that, I’m much more a dog person than a cat person. I demand the kind of undivided loyalty you just don’t get from cats… and dogs don’t tend to bring you tiny dead animals as gifts!
BT&W: We also always ask about authors’ preferences with tea/ coffee. If you were to think of a tea blend (or coffee order if you prefer) that best suits your novels or certain characters, what would those blends be and how do they relate back to your work?
RF: I’m not much of a tea kind of guy - which is blasphemy if you come from Yorkshire as I do. And I only have one coffee a day in the mornings, just to wash the cobwebs away. That said, if you’re going to grab a cuppa with one of my books, you can’t go wrong with a good builder’s tea. Something solid, dependable and invigorating, before you embark on the rollercoaster ride I’m about to send you on!