TQ: What would you say is your most interesting writing quirk?
Lee: My wife tells me that I’m the writing equivalent of a crisis person— I’m at my most creative with the panic of an imminent deadline looming over me, she says, so I slack off until the deadline does its looming thing and then crash through the work in the shortest possible time relying on a sense of desperation to bring out my creativity. Which is undoubtedly a filthy, rotten truth…
TQ: Who are some of your favorite writers? Who do you feel has influenced your writing?
Lee: As a reader I‘m drawn to writers who tiptoe along the edges of a genre rather than throwing their plots at the centre: people like Jonathan Lethem, Howard Waldrop, James Ellroy, Walter Moseley, Spike Milligan or Chuck Palahniuk, whose work you can approach from a number of angles and still be satisfied. Interstitial writers, you could call them, I guess. Even when I’m reading ‘pure’ genre I find myself drawn to writers who subvert and twist the tropes rather than those who reinforce them: the likes of Mieville, VanderMeer, Wolfe, or Bester. But I’m pretty voracious as a reader. My wife and I have a reasonably large library and we read across a pretty wide spectrum, so I’m willing to give almost anything at least one shot.
TQ: Are you a plotter or a pantser?
Lee: Pantser, totally. I usually start off with an opening image or sequence, a rough idea of where I want the story to go, and a fairly good idea of the main characters, and that’s about it. I free wheel to the first problem point and then have to solve it myself before the story can continue. I find I get to about 55 or 60 thousand words into a novel that way before I have to start jumping about and writing key scenes out of order to massage the plot towards the ending. So the writing process tends to have two distinct phases: hell for leather for the first half and careful management of the back half. It’s an odd way of writing, I think, but I dislike plotting—my story loses all its vitality if I know all the solutions beforehand, and half the fun for me is in trying to work my way out of problem points I hadn’t foreseen.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
Lee: Boringly, my biggest challenge is simply one of time management. I work full time as the Arts Co-ordinator for a Local Government Authority, a job which regularly stretches into weekends and evenings as I diligently help everybody else in the City fulfil their arts practice, plus I have a wife and three kids at home with whom I want to spend as much time as possible doing cool things: my job makes me feel like a bad husband and father at times, especially when I have to absent myself from a family occasion because of work, so when we’re together I really want to give my family something memorable, which means we spend a lot of time out and about and away from computers. And apparently the degree of difficulty just isn’t enough in an Olympic year, so we’re currently trying to get our house ready to sell which means spending a significant number of hours each week patching holes, painting, putting up new curtains, gardening, moving furniture…
Luckily, I had the good sense to marry a fellow writer, so my wife Lyn understands the need to call writing time and spend an evening crashing the keyboard. She works a full-time job herself and is an external Uni student, so she’s pretty damn time-poor as well, so we do try and search out ways to incorporate writing time into our week wherever we can. But it occasionally gets mad—I am, for example, working on this interview at 4am on a Sunday morning having missed out on a family 20th wedding anniversary yesterday because I was co-ordinating a writing workshop by a visiting author for the writers in my City. So, currently, my writing career is as much about making every desperately-won writing moment count as much as it is about swanning about being a famous writah-dahlink. The yachts and supermodels come later, right?
TQ: Describe The Corpse-Rat King in 140 characters or less.
Lee: The book you didn’t know would make your life complete: a cynical post-dead fantasy romp with no fourth wall and characters who say fuck too much.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Corpse-Rat King?
Lee: My friends and colleagues often accuse me of being a fantasy-hater because I have a tendency to get ranty about just how lazy and formulaic the genre can be—all those soft-focus faux medieval stories where nobody ever gets rickets or scurvy and shampoo seems to have been invented five hundred years early. I wanted to write something with a bit of grit under its fingernails. Once I started the story took over, and went in directions I couldn’t have anticipated, so on the gritty-realism scale it ended up being rather more ‘Time Bandits’ than ‘Jabberwocky’, but hopefully it’s still a hell of a lot of fun.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Corpse-Rat King?
Lee: I’m a passive research junkie. Which means I’m addicted to documentaries and have a deep and abiding love for odd non-fiction books that other people don’t buy so I can pick them up cheap from bargain bins—pirate dictionaries, secret histories, biographies of minor figures, that sort of thing. I don’t so much research stories as have a bunch of strange fascinations that, sooner or later, ooze out while I’m writing something. This is why characters in my stories tend to die by being turned into globsters or something rather than just being shot. I’d love to write a ‘straight’ story but my mind won’t let me :)
So there’s a tendency, rather than actively researching a sequence in a novel because I’ve planned to write about it all along, I get to that sequence and a documentary I watched 2 years ago will bubble back to the surface of my consciousness to fill the gap. Everything after that is just fact-checking.
TQ: Who was the easiest character to write and why? Hardest and why?
Lee: Marius dos Hellespont, the nominal hero of the tale, was probably the easiest character to write. Everything is parsed through his point of view, so he became the filter for my perception of the whole world around him. The more headspace and time you devote to this imaginary world you’re creating the easier it becomes to write about, so the more immersed I became in the world of Scorby—the country in which ‘The Corpse-Rat King’ is set, the more I got to grips with Marius’ character. Conversely, because he set the tone for every facet of the novel he was probably the hardest to write as well—there was simply no wiggle room in his character arc because the whole world of the novel relied on his point of view. Even his inconsistencies had to remain consistent!
TQ: Without giving anything away, what is/are your favourite scene(s) in The Corpse-Rat King?
Lee: The novel is a big, roaring, wide-angled romp, and a lot of the feedback I’ve had focuses on those big Hollywood set-piece moments: there’s a fight with a shark, and a sunken galleon, and an escape along the outside of a castle and so on. But one of my favourite moments is a very quiet one, just the two main characters sitting in a cave and being quietly, brutally honest with each other. It sets the tone for much of their remaining interactions and is the first quiet, serious note in a story that’s been all hi-jinks and madness up to that point. It’s just such a nice counterpoint to everything around it, and from a craft point of view I was really pleased to pull it off.
TQ: What's next?
Lee: I’m just finishing off the second book of the series, ‘Marching Dead’, and Angry Robot have an option for a third so I’m hoping the books do well enough to trigger that option. In the meantime, I’ll be returning to a novel I began whilst I was waiting for ‘The Corpse-Rat King’ to go through the angry Robot Open month process; ‘Father Muerte and the Divine’ features a character I’ve used in four short stories and won a couple of awards with in the past, and I’ve 52 thousand words under my belt and a very firm idea of how the novel finishes, so I’ll be picking it back up with a view to signing off on a first draft by the end of the year. Then I’ve a post-apocalyptic revenger’s tragedy I’m itching to begin, so I’ve probably got my writing time sorted until the end of next year, assuming all the dominoes fall in the right order. Then it’ll be yachts and supermodels, right?
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
Lee: It’s my absolute pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity to come by and chat.
About The Corpse-Rat King
The Corpse-Rat KingThe Corpse-Rat King 1
Angry Robot Books, August 28, 2012 (US/Canada)
Mass Market Paperback and eBook, 416 pages
September 6, 2012 (UK/RoW)
Marius don Hellespont and his apprentice, Gerd, are professional looters of battlefields. When they stumble upon the corpse of the King of Scorby and Gerd is killed, Marius is mistaken for the monarch by one of the dead soldiers and is transported down to the Kingdom of the Dead.
Just like the living citizens, the dead need a King — after all, the King is God’s representative, and someone needs to remind God where they are.
And so it comes to pass that Marius is banished to the surface with one message: if he wants to recover his life he must find the dead a King. Which he fully intends to do.
Just as soon as he stops running away.
File Under: Fantasy
He lives in Mandurah, Western Australia, with his wife, writer Lyn Battersby and an increasingly weird mob of kids. He is sadly obsessed with Lego, Nottingham Forest football club, dinosaurs and Daleks. He’s been a stand-up comic, tennis coach, cartoonist, poet, and tax officer in previous times, and he currently works as Arts Officer for a local council, where he gets to play with artists all day. All in all, life is pretty good.
Website : Twitter
What: One commenter will win a copy of The Corpse-Rat King from The Qwillery.
How: Answer the following questions:
Do you work better under pressure to meet a deadline?
Please remember - if you don't answer the question your entry will not be counted.
You may receive additional entries by:
1) Being a Follower of The Qwillery.
2) Mentioning the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter. Even if you mention the giveaway on both, you will get only one additional entry. You get only one additional entry even if you mention the giveaway on Facebook and/or Twitter multiple times.
There are a total of 3 entries you may receive: Comment (1 entry), Follower (+1 entry) and Facebook and/or Twitter (+ 1 entry). This is subject to change again in the future for future giveaways.
Please leave links for Facebook or Twitter mentions. You MUST leave a way to contact you.
Who and When: The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59pm US Eastern Time on Thursday, September 20, 2012. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.
*Giveaway rules are subject to change.*