Tell me about the world The Art of Forgetting is set in
JH - The Kingdom is a medieval influenced land still recovering from a particularly bloody civil war. It’s a small country, hemmed in by larger neighbours, in constant danger of invasion and assimilation. The Art of Forgetting is the first time I’ve written beyond the confines of the Kingdom – most of the second book takes place on the steppe lands to the east, beyond the mountains that border the Kingdom.
What was the path to getting this book published?
JH - I had written the book and it turned out to be enormously long – almost 200,000 words. It kept getting rejected because of the length, but I’d already cut 25k from it and I couldn’t work out how to make it shorter without cutting away big important chunks of the story. When I saw the open subs call for Kristell Ink – I think I found them via Gareth Powell’s Twitter list of SF and F publishers, one of the things that attracted me to them was the fact that they said they didn’t have a problem with long books. They got back to me fairly quickly with an acceptance (I think it was inside a month), but virtually the first thing they said was, “We love it, but it’s a bit long....”
Was it always going to be a series of books?
JH - I’m writing... not series fiction, but stand-alone stories set in the same world and featuring some shared characters. My first three books were a trilogy, but the books I’ve written since then have been more-or-less stand alone. You can read them in any order, but if you read them all you can recognise cross-over characters and locations and in-jokes. Some of those crop up in my short stories as well. So the world is connected, and it has a wider history, but I’m not showing you all of it yet!
The two “Art of Forgetting” volumes; “Rider” (out now) and “Nomad” (out spring 2014) were originally supposed to be one book, but it fell naturally into two halves, so Kristell Ink decided to split it and solve the ridiculously long book problem. But it’s one story spread over two books.
If you could be a character from any of your books who would it be and why?
JH - I think I would like to be Nasira. She has a big role in “Nomad” (without being too spoilery) and she gets to do fun things involving weapons, on horseback. She also has a unique ability which is pretty darn cool, and I want it!
What are you working on right now (apart from this interview of course!)
JH - I have just finished the first draft of a new novel, “The Summer Goddess”, which is about slavery and family loyalty and spy-cats and drug-addicted assassins and a tortured god – can you tell I’ve been having fun with it? That’s out with my beta readers right now, so I’m between drafts. Editing on “Nomad” is due to start in January, and I’ve set myself the challenge of trying to write one complete short story a fortnight until the end of the year, to try and get back into the rhythm of writing short stories and to write something a bit different. That’s the plan, anyway.
Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?
JH - I get up, I have a shower, I have a cup of tea, and then I write. If I’m working on a novel, I write until I’ve done 1000 words (always with a break for lunch). Sometimes this takes two hours, sometimes it takes six, sometimes I suck it up and realise that I’m not going to make it, sometimes I go wildly over. But the aim is 1000 words, every day, including Sundays and Bank Holidays. I’m much more disciplined than I ever thought I would be!
Who would you say are your major influences in your writing?
JH - I grew up reading fantasy; T H White, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, Diana Wynne Jones, David Eddings. I’m a bit of a sponge, but I would say there’s a nod to David Gemmell and Raymond Feist in there. Possibly Anne McCaffrey too, I don’t think I write like her, but she’s undoubtedly a big influence.
This is very much an epic fantasy, is there anything that draws you to this genre over any other?
JH - I just love it, it’s what I grew up reading and what I enjoy reading, great fat books about people running around with swords being terribly brave and having a really hard time! I love SF, I love modern fantasy and fairy stories, but epic fantasy is my first love.
In one sentence what is your advice for new writers?
JH - Write every day, and never give up doing what you love!
The Art of Forgetting by Joanne Hall
Rhodri is a foundling and has a perfect memory. He clearly remembers his father but knows very little about his early childhood. This is an important plot point, which does raise a few questions, no spoilers but he had a pretty famous father who I just thought may have been mentioned once or twice in Rhodri’s hearing before the plot dictated the reveal. However this minor point didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book which is a - young lad joins the army, becomes a man -format but told in an engaging style which never gets dull. All the usual stuff happens, first battle, first love (with both sexes), first loss, friendships and enemies. Rhodri becomes a rider in the king’s third (As it’s fantasy and is about a cavalry officer there is a lot of horseyness in parts!) who patrol a city called Northpoint which was instrumental in a civil war that happened in the past but very much informs the events of the book. We see that healers and magic users exist but they don’t have much impact on the lives of the men of the King’s third and in one memorable incident there is a river demon. However it is mostly a low fantasy book concentrating on the lives and loves of Rhodri and his friends as he goes through training and on to a posting at the edge of the country which the second book will explore. This is very much the start of the story and the next instalment is coming soon in which the epic part of the fantasy will probably come more to the fore. The author explores some big themes in this part of the story around identity, gender and sexuality. She does make the characters come alive and I am keen to read the second book.
Overall – an engaging and fun read