We're happy to meet up with one of our community members, Daniel Kelly, Irish historical fantasy writer of the Trojan war-inspired novel The Fall of the Phoenix'.
1. Tell us about a great book you've read recently!
Difficult to narrow a question like that down to just one, there have been quite a few recently, especially since I had discovered the SPFBO. I had originally been mostly into historical fiction and more fantasy, and I still love it. Tom Lloyds' Stormcaller series, and Christian Cameron's Killer of Men have long been favourites but especially since WorldCon was in Dublin I have been reading a lot of grimdark and more, varied forms of fantasy. Probably what sticks out most in my head are the Asian inspired “Never Die” from Rob Hayes, and Dyrk Ashtons' Paternus because they have been a complete break from what I had been reading before. Paternus has a modern urban fantasy setting for an all out war of the ancient gods which is incredible in the mythology sense.
2. How long have you been a writer and why did you begin writing?
I have been writing for around twelve years on and off, but “The Fall of The Phoenix” has been my first published piece. I think I began writing more for myself than ever thinking I would get published. I had been a prolific reader through childhood but when I became a chef after school, working fifteen hour days didn’t leave much time for reading. It was only when the recession hit and I started working in a hospital that I found time to read again. Around this time I found myself reading David Gammell's Troy series, and it resonated with me in a big way. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t read it, but lets just say, it made me see that just because we have been told something happened a certain way doesn’t mean it always has to be that way. From there I think I was just trying to answer questions to myself, like, since the Greeks won the war, and the victors write the history, why do the Greeks themselves always seem to come away looking like the bad guys in Troy?
3. Where did you get the inspiration for your books?
Inspiration comes from everywhere, quite often in the kitchen, we will be joking about something, and suddenly I will be thinking “Actually, that could make a decent story” and I think everyone has those moments but its only because writers are constantly looking for their next idea, or even not because they have six going at the same time already, but they see it as something to be developed. And suddenly you are writing whatever story you are meant to be concentrating on but another idea is buzzing around in the back off your head trying to get out. Sometimes the only way to get peace inside your head is to start writing it out.
4. What is the biggest challenge you’ve experienced in your writing career, so far?
Time… its always time. I currently work six to seven days a week, so I read in the morning while I am sitting in the car before work starts, I have become incredibly antisocial, going to my car to read during any breaks I get because I already know that I wont get a chance to read as much as I want when I get home. I will want to start writing as soon as the laptop is in front of me.
Obviously publishing is difficult, and if you are lucky enough that someone thinks your work is good enough to publish, then you are into publicity and promoting it. I am naturally pretty awkward at accepting compliments, but there is a big part of me that loves meeting people who have read and enjoyed my work, as well as the part that doesn’t quite believe them. the imposter syndrome I believe it's called.
5. If you could go back and give your younger self a single piece of writing advice, what would it be?
Take typing classes… they would be invaluable now if my fingers could work as fast as I am thinking about stuff. Just imagine being able to type three hundred words a minute instead of watching the keys as you type.
6. Are you a plotter or a pantser?
I am an absolute pantser. But then I want to be, I am often just as surprised by a characters actions as anyone reading my book.
7. How do you develop your plots and characters?
I always start off with a general idea of what I am trying to accomplish. Though as I have said, its usually because I am trying to answer something myself. So I pick an opening, and build from there, letting the characters have as much free rein as I can. The characters will have certain traits as everyone does, whether they are heroic, shy, stoic. They take it from there and quite often they will make their decision based on their specific personalities of relations. Very often a story will veer away from anywhere near where I expected it to go but their own growth decides that.
8. What do you think the biggest challenges are for aspiring or up and coming writers, right now?
Book fashions. The industry decides what the next big thing will be and if a book isn’t in that genre, it doesn’t stand a chance. For instance a few years ago, there was nothing but Fifty Shades of Grey style books making it through. That was quickly followed by the Magdelane Laundries, where if your book wasn’t about being abused by religious orders or the system, you may as well put it in a drawer. The strong presence of self-publishing seems to be saving the fantasy markets, but a lot of great books are getting what, in the film industry, would be referred to as a cult following. Unless you happen to be in those circles, you might never hear of the specific books.
9. Do you believe that having a strong social media presence leads to more book sales?
This is a difficult question, I certainly think it can help when you release a few more books that people who follow your social media because they liked your first or second book see another is coming but a lot of social media following is following for the sake of following. I hope that makes some form of sense.
10. How do you deal with writer’s block?
I am lucky not to be successful enough for that to be a problem lol. I think if I was really successful, like JK Rowling, I would still need to be working in a kitchen to keep my head clear. My work at the moment isn’t overly taxing mentally so I spend a lot of the time I am cooking, working out parts of a story or what should happen. A lot of my best ideas come when I am just messing around, joking in work. Also I usually try to have multiple scripts at a time so if I do get stuck on one I can switch over until whatever problem I had been having with an idea sorts itself out.
11. What is your favourite part of the writing process?
The start. The immediate start of an idea forming in your head. I think there is an excitement with it, when you can't wait to get to a computer to start getting the idea down, or you scribble something on a piece of paper so you don’t forget it. For an idea to make you want to write about it, the base idea has to give you a sense of excitement, where you just want to tell someone about this idea you have.
12. If you could collaborate with any other author on a project, who would it be and why?
Strangely I had never thought about this question before. And I am not sure I could give an honest answer… there are so many I love reading, but to collaborate with…
Honestly, I think a lot of those I would think about, like Christian Cameron, Tom Lloyd, people I have been reading for years, I would be much too slow a writer to work with. So I think I am going to give an ambiguous answer, that just at the moment, I would love to collaborate with a comic book artist as I have an idea for a book but I thing in my head it would work much better in a comic book style but I am nowhere near good enough at art to do it justice.
13. Can you tells us what you are working on at the moment?
At the moment I am working on edits to the sequel to “The Fall of The Phoenix” on another screen of the same computer as I do this, it’s called “A Hero’s Welcome” and as far as I am concerned it is a much better story than The Fall of Troy itself. It is slower, and doesn’t have as many battle sequences as the Phoenix, but it follows the flight from Troy of the survivors. There's also the story of Agamemnon’s return home after ten years of war and the welcome when he gets there. While the Phoenix was my retelling, and more so a reinterpretation of the fall of Troy, this takes in my opinions of what really happened in the Aenead, the Orestes and the Odyssey, and what was happening to the characters we remember in it simultaneously.
I am also halfway through… a very different reimagining of the world of Vlad Tepish, or Vlad the Impaler in fourteenth century Romania, at war with the Turkish empire. With magic…!
14. Where do you see your writing career in 5 years?
Obviously I would love to think my stories were being read and more importantly enjoyed all over the world, but for the minute, I am just writing stories I would like to read myself. My first book started with me trying to work out things in my own head. I never thought anyone would want to read it, but it turned out well and has been more successful than I had originally believed I could be with it. So I can only hope to build on that.
15. Have you ever considered writing in another genre?
Yes. Short answer. I don’t really consider myself in any specific genre as such. The Fall of the Phoenix is historical fantasy, and a big part of me believes that any real historical writers would laugh at it, though a few I am a fan of, really seemed to enjoy it because they took it as exactly what it is, fantasy. I read a mix of historical fantasy, dark fantasy, grimdark and some sci-fi. Dyrk Ashton’s urban fantasy writing I enjoy as well - which I didn’t really expect at first. But among the other things I am writing, my Vlad Tepish is grimdark mixed with fantasy. TI like the idea of working with a comic artist on is sci-fi as well.
16. Pen names – yay or nay?
They would have their advantages, and I can understand them. but, for now at least, for me, it would be a no. Christian Cameron writes serious historical fiction, so he created the pen name Miles Cameron for his fantasy work. And while I understand it, since it makes it simpler, anyone looking for the serious historical work is safe with anything published under Christian, anyone looking for fantasy is safe with miles. But I think a fan of his would enjoy either.
17. What marketing tips would you give to someone starting out in their career?
Friends are more valuable than marketing. Readers, will take recommendations from friends a lot faster than any marketing you ever do. Treat people how you would like to be treated and this will happen naturally. Join some readers/writers groups, socialise. Enjoy yourself. Then its no longer work. I have attended conventions, and met the best people. At my first, I was nervous because I had been reading some of the people I met for years! You just have to remember they are people trying to do the same thing. And I have been lucky enough to meet a lot of my writing heroes in the process.
18. What (or who) are your most significant influences?
I was very lucky where I grew up. I had an actual 12th century Doe Castle (Caislean na Dtuath) 100 yards from my house that we played in as children. Three brothers who I fought the battles of the past with as Red Hugh, and Hugh O’Neill , the infamous earls of TyrChonaill and Tyrone. On top of that, I had a few excellent teachers who brought history and English to life in the classroom and set my imagination alight.
20. Would you be so kind as to give us an elevator pitch for one of your books? Why should readers check out your work?
A Heroes Welcome:
TROY HAS FALLEN
The greatest city on earth has been reduced to a pile of smoldering ash, but the cost has been high. The fabled king Priam with the last remnant of the city, knowing all hope is gone, sacrifice themselves in a last act of defiance to destroy the Greek army.
His once mighty armies destroyed, his alliances in ruins, Agamemnon crawls for the safety of his fortress walls of Mycaenea, well aware that enemies will smell blood in the water. But after ten years of war, who would you trust to keep your throne safe?
Meanwhile, running for their lives, the refugees of Troy search the seas of the Mediterranean for refuge, led by Aeneas. Somewhere they can survive, in the hope of one day bringing vengeance to their home.
21. Of all the books you have written, which is your favourite and why?
As in published, I would have to say “The Fall of the Phoenix” since it’s the only one which has been published as of yet, and I think will remain my favourite to a degree, since it was a labour of love over nearly ten years. I do think the sequel actually follows a more exciting story even if it is lacking the sheer volume of casualties and battles the first book had. There is more intrigue and plotting. It’s a little darker. More about human nature.
22. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?
I actually don’t have a website, people have said I should get one going, but I keep thinking, there’s only one book yet seems a bit of a bare page. I am available under the handle @Heroesoftroy on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. Or as Daniel Kelly. I am also on Goodreads.
Thank you Daniel, it's been great to meet you and good luck with your writing in the future.