Tuesday 14 April 2015

Interview with Peter Newman and review of The Vagrant


Peter Newman is a writer, runner and role-player who lives in somerset with his wife (Emma, ruler of Emtopia) and son (otherwise known as the Bean). When not writing, he works as a trainer and firewalking instructor. He co-writes the Hugo nominated Tea and Jeopardy Podcast and voices the butler, Latimer.

Bristol Book Blog were lucky to nab an early copy of Peter's debut - The Vagrant and also managed to catch up with him to ask him a few questions:

This is the first in a duology I believe can you give us an overview of what theyre about?

The Vagrant is a story about a silent man carrying humanity’s last hope through a war-torn landscape. It’s set in a world in the far future after a demonic apocalypse. It features: demon knights, singing swords, a baby and a badass goat.

I can’t think of a way to talk about the second book in detail without spoilering. Suffice to say it picks up a little while after the first and deals with the legacy of The Vagrant. Sorry if that’s vague. I can tell you that a completed draft already exists and is with my editor.

If you could be a character in the book who would it be and why?

Hmm. That’s a tricky one. Most of the characters in my book have a really hard time, so I’m not sure I’d want to be any of them! But I suppose if I had to be one of them, I’d be the goat. She’s not phased by anything for long and has a clear idea of what she wants and isn’t afraid to get it.

What did you learn about writing by writing this book?

Having a silent protagonist made me think a lot about storytelling without being able to fall back on dialogue. We also don’t get access to the Vagrant’s inner thoughts which means everything focuses on what he does or doesn’t do. It also makes it harder to provide context. Often a character’s inner thoughts will justify why they are acting in a particular way and I didn’t have that here.

The other thing I learned was that some projects have to be written slowly. I think there is often a pressure to write ludicrous amounts of words per day but with The Vagrant if I tried to write it fast the quality of work would go down dramatically.

Why did you choose to have a goat as one of your characters?

Goats are very useful in an apocalypse. They provide milk, can give spiderman a run for his money when climbing and are generally pretty sturdy animals. I also wanted an animal companion that wasn’t too glamorous. Fantasy is full of wolves, ravens, eagles and tigers but they seemed too… nice for The Vagrant. The goat is anything but nice.

Do you write a lot of short stories? Do you prefer the long or short form? How do you feel about Flash fiction?

I spent a year or two writing stories for the Friday Flash community where people submit work of a thousand words or less every Friday. I learned a hell of lot there and it has just the right balance of people cheerleading each other while also providing critique (well worth checking out if you're looking for a group, theyre at: fridayflash.org). I like the discipline of short form fiction, how it forces you to be economical with language. Having said that, in my heart of hearts I prefer long form fiction. The Vagrant actually started life as a serial. It took me nearly twenty five episodes to realise I was actually writing a novel by stealth.

What’s the one question you never get asked in interviews that you really want to answer?

Funnily enough I’ve been asked that question before and I couldn’t think of a good answer then either. Sorry.

Do you have a set writing process, if so what is it?

I often start writing after the school run so one challenge is getting my head back into the story. I achieve this with coffee and music. I like to pick a new soundtrack for each project so that after a while, when the first few notes of a tune come on, it kind of lulls me back to that world. For The Vagrant I used the Mass Effect 3 soundtrack.

How much planning do you do before you start writing?

It varies from one project to another. With The Vagrant it was like the whole thing was sitting there, fully formed, in the deepest recesses of my brain and I had to find a way down there to excavate it all. So lots of work but only minimal planning. It’s not usually like that!

Which bit of your writing are you most proud of?

That’s a lovely question… That’s also a tough question. It’s hard to pin down a particular sentence or scene but there are things I’m fond of. Moments between the Vagrant and the baby, between the Vagrant and the goat, and the general atmosphere. I’m most pleased with the feel of the book, if that makes sense.

In one sentence what is your best piece of advice for new writers?

Do the work but take your time.*

*Although ‘don’t listen to writing advice’** is a close second.

**Apart from the advice on Chuck Wendig’s site  which is both useful and funny***.

***Providing you don’t mind swearing.


You can read an extract of the book here to whet your appetite...

Bristol Book Blog Review:

One man's journey across the rabid wasteland of a post Demonic apocalypse fantasy world. Full of mystique and unknown purpose we learn by small increments about the world, the disaster that's befallen it and who the Vagrant (That's his only name, he needs no other) is and why he is walking across the world with a baby and a sword. Along the way he picks up some companions including an irascible goat (the best character in the book imho).

The world is very interesting as it is filled with demons who are inimical to the very substance of the land, and its people, so much so that if they are not put in a shell they corrupt everything around them and are in turn somewhat, hurt? by the land. There is a history that is revealed by degrees and a large cast of interesting characters. Everyone has been affected by the apocalypse of course, in one way or another.

The book shines on the worldbuilding but it's a tough sell on characters when three you travel with are non-speaking. Although Newman does wonders with this handicap. Did I mention I loved the goat character? I did think some of the action felt a little undercooked, I wanted more staging to ground me in the moment and some of it seemed a little sketchy, although perhaps I just failed to follow the cues?

I think this book would work well as a Graphic Novel and wonder if Newman could be persuaded to adapt it. The darkly evocative gritty world, the highly imaginative demons, the knights, the fallen cities full of corrupted humanity all cry out for luscious art.

I think you'll love it if dark fantasy is your thing, Newman is an interesting new voice in the genre with his own already developed style.

Overall - John Woo's Hard Boiled in a post-apocalyptic demon infested world. With added Goat

Phot Credit - Lou Abercrombie http://www.louabercrombie.com 
Cover credit Jamie Jones for the art http://www.artpad.org .

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