Back in August, I stumbled across Head of Zeus, a new UK-based publishing company. As I am wont to do, I did some browsing in their catalog, and was pleasantly surprised to notice that a) they have a very diverse list, and b) they will be publishing Luke Scull’s The Grim Company series. After some Googling to find out more about the series, I put the series on the Must Read list. I also got in touch with Luke, and pestered him with some questions…
Let’s ease into things: Who is Luke Scull?
Luke Scull is the pen name and actual name of a devilishly handsome young scribe from the thriving metropolis of Bristol. He currently resides in Warminster, in the southwest of England, and undoubtedly lays claim to being the grittiest fantasy writer living in that part of the country. Frankly, who else is there?
Until recently, in between designing computer roleplaying games and jetting to South America and back, Luke performed a variety of menial and soul-destroying office jobs to keep the proverbial wolves from the door. Now that he’s writing full time, Luke enjoys surfing the internet, working out at the gym, playing video games, and, most of all, procrastinating about doing some actual writing. He’s lucky to be married to a supportive wife who indulged his dreams long enough for him to make them a reality.
Luke has worked on the Neverwinter Nights and Witcher franchises in the past. He’s currently serving as lead designer and writer on The Shadow Sun, a fantasy roleplaying game for the iOS platform likely to be released in February/March next year. Needless to say, the next few months are going to be huge.
Your debut novel, The Grim Company, is published early next year by Head of Zeus. How would you introduce the novel, and the series, to a potential reader?
The Grim Company takes place in a world in which the gods are long dead, murdered by a coalition of powerful wizards centuries past. The mightiest of those wizards seized immortality from the gods and are now known as Magelords. Having unwittingly precipitated the Age of Ruin, the Magelords rule with an iron grip – yet with the land slowly dying and resources running scarce, pockets of resistance are beginning to form while other, ancient threats are beginning to stir.
The world is littered with the copses of dead gods, and these decaying titans leak wild magic. This can be harnessed by those with the means to do so – but this chaotic magic also births random abominations that manifest without warning and kill without mercy.
Into this dystopian fantasy setting are thrust our heroes, consisting of world-weary killers, delusional fools, and borderline sociopaths. And a rather pathetic wizard with no legs called the Halfmage.
Stylistically, the novel is similar to the work of Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, and other peddlers of violent character-driven fantasy, laced with the kind of horrifying magical carnage one normally finds in a Malazan novel. The story is told through the viewpoints of a handful of rotating characters. It’s all very grimdark but brilliantly funny and well-conceived. As you might expect...
What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
Honestly? Boredom. I began writing the novel in June 2011 as an exercise in sustained narrative. I’d hit an impasse with The Shadow Sun – all my design and writing work on that project was finished (or so I thought), and I had a lot of time to kill. While waiting for other departments to catch up, I decided the time had finally come to see if I could turn my hand to straightforward prose. By that point I had already entirely written or contributed to three award-winning Neverwinter Nights modules, an unreleased expansion for The Witcher, and an expansion for Neverwinter Nights 2, so my plotting and dialogue skills were fairly well-honed.
I wrote the first few chapters, feeling my way as I went, and uploaded them to Authonomy – a HarperCollins initiative that allows budding authors to peer review each other's work. I continued uploading chapters as I wrote them, though I couldn’t be arsed to take part in the endless networking and politicking that is required to get a manuscript voted to the editor’s desk. Luckily a literary agent, Robert Dinsdale, was trawling the site for diamonds in the rough. He stumbled across my incomplete manuscript, and I signed with Rob and literary agency A.M. Heath a few months later. That was all the inspiration I needed to finish the novel.
What had begun as a mere diversion from another creative project ended in numerous six-figure deals – and this less than a year after I’d uploaded my first chapter to Authonomy. I guess I’ve enjoyed the most painless path to becoming a (hopefully) established fantasy author of anyone in recent memory. I almost lament the fact I’ve never experienced the heart-wrenching despair of a rejection letter arriving in the post. Almost.
As with many of the younger generation of fantasy authors, film and particularly gaming are major influences on my writing. I can’t list every minor or even major influence here. Suffice to say I’m the ultimate fantasy sponge, soaking up the best the varied forms of media have to offer and squeezing it back out as pure liquid gold. Or verbal diarrhea.
To be completely serious for a second, I have Joe Abercrombie to thank for reinvigorating my interest in fantasy after a bit of a lull. His novels showed me the path my own writing might take. I’d grown a bit weary of the slow-burn epic fantasy. The Blade Itself was fast-moving, funny, light on tedious world-building and heavy on characterisation – exactly the kind of book I thought I might write if I really put my mind to it. And I did.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I believe the first fantasy novels I read – or more accurately played? – were the Fighting Fantasy gamebooks in the late ’80s. I would have been seven or eight years old at the time. After exhausting those, I recall devouring Brian Jacques’ Redwall novels, then a ton of Forgotten Realms/Dragonlance novels, the Shannara series, Discworld, Wheel of Time, Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire... I never got around to reading Eddings or (shockingly) Gemmell, but I’ve otherwise enjoyed a very solid grounding in fantasy from the ’80s onwards. I have my mum to thank for that – every weekend she would return home from a car boot sale with two or three used books for me.
The fact is, I wasn’t a very sociable youngster and spent the majority of my childhood and teenage years locked away with either a book, mouse, or gamepad in hand. You could say my hobbies were the perfect platform for me becoming a game designer and fantasy author.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
Writing can be lonely at times, but anyone who’s being paid good money to write about what they love can consider themselves bloody lucky. It’s the dream job, so long as you have at least a somewhat thick skin and some level of self-discipline.
As for working within the book publishing industry, it’s probably a little too early to comment on that. I’ve only been a signed author for about six months. I’m sure there will be ups and downs. I’m really, really lucky to have an ambitious young UK publisher headed by an industry legend in Anthony Cheetham on this side of the Atlantic, and the might of Penguin behind me on the other side of the pond. It’s the best of both worlds.
I have no specific working, writing or researching practices. I suspect I’m going to need some in future...
My first serious foray into writing was a Neverwinter Nights module back in 2002, when I was 20 or so. The writing was actually the easy part – learning to script code and debug it all was far more challenging. The module did fairly well in the community, but looking back the writing was distinctly average. I improved a lot with my second module in 2005. That one earned me a contract with Bioware and led to me later joining Ossian Studios as lead designer.
Over the last few years I’d occasionally wondered if I could make it as an author one day. The Grim Company was supposed to be a test run – based on my experience with game writing, I believed I would need to complete and trash at least one manuscript before I was anywhere near ready to pen a novel fit to show publishers. As it turned out, I was agented before the manuscript was even half finished. I suspect I’ll be a much better writer three or four years from now, though given that one editor at a major publishing house said The Grim Company was the best epic fantasy debut they’d ever read, perhaps I’ve already peaked. I guess we’ll see...
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
The genre’s in a very healthy place. There hasn’t been a better time to be a fantasy author, whether you’re signed with one of the major publishers or an indie focusing on a specific subgroup. My own novels are unashamedly aimed at the Martin, Abercrombie, Lawrence, [Richard] Morgan crowd: Dark, violent, character-driven epics that attempt to say something about the human condition while hard men and women scowl grimly and heads explode like melons. First and foremost I want to entertain the reader, and I can’t stand unnecessary bloat or shaggy dog stories – if I ever get to the point I’m writing for the sake of it, I’ll give it up and do something else.
What other projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I’m currently hard at work on the second book in the trilogy, Sword of the North. Beta-testing will also commence on The Shadow Sun shortly, and I’ll be heavily involved in that. There’s also the distinct possibility of working on another beloved RPG franchise in the near future.
Being a testosterone-driven badass, I want to get to the point where I can bench 250+ lbs and run a sub 6-minute mile. The better I feel physically, the better I feel mentally. I also need to improve my Spanish. I keep forgetting what I’ve learned. And I have some ideas in mind for a script for a gym-based mockumentary in the style of The Office – but I’ll put that one on hold for the next few years at least.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
I’m reading Scourge of the Betrayer by Jeff Salyards, Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, and The Desert Spear by Peter V. Brett. I’m desperate to read Tomorrow, the Killing by Daniel Polansky, but I’m going to resist until I’ve made more progress on Sword of the North. Non-fiction-wise, it’s mainly Spanish language guides and texts.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
The best thing that ever happened to me was being mowed down by a Turkish biker while on holiday and breaking my femur in two places. The dude hit me going at sixty or seventy miles an hour. It turns out he was part of a local gang. He brought me flowers in hospital, then sued me for breaking his wrist (he fell off his bike). The police got in on the action by fining me for leaving the scene of the “crime”. In an ambulance van. Unconscious.
It was the best thing that ever happened to me because it tore me away from my comfort zone and caused me to reevaluate my life. I was on crutches for six months and could hardly leave the house, but when I did I emerged as a much stronger person. I met a wonderful foreign girl online while I was recovering (I had plenty of free time!), immediately jetted to Argentina as soon as I could walk unaided, and the rest is history. We’ve been married almost six years now.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
That's a really tough one. Can I provide a list, in no particular order?
1. Finishing the manuscript for Sword of the North.
2. Seeing 3+ years of hard work come to fruition with the release of The Shadow Sun.
3. Holding the final UK hardback of The Grim Company in my hands for the first time.
4. Being featured on the Requires Hate blog by earnest champion of the oppressed Winterfox/Pyrofennec/ACrackedMoon/Lesifoere.
5. The David Gemmell Legend award. I could really use that axe...
The Grim Company will be published by Head of Zeus in February/March 2013 (eBook/Hardcover), and in North America by AceRoc Books in September 2013; Heyne will publish in Germany; and Boekerij will publish in Holland.