In this ‘The Write Advice’ article we speak with one of our judges for 2017, Marc Turner, about his writing career and popular “The Chronicles of the Exile’ fantasy book series. Marc shares with us how he went about finding an agent and publisher, as well as his experiences with writing for anthology markets. There’s even a link to a certain audio short performed by Emma Newman.
When did you start writing and what was your inspiration to pick up a pen?
I’ve been writing on and off for as long as I can remember. I don’t recall what first gave me the impetus to pick up a pen, but in terms of writing epic fantasy, I would say that the authors who have most inspired me are Steven Erikson and Joe Abercrombie. For me, no one puts “epic” into epic fantasy like Erikson. In fact, if I could write the word EPIC larger and set the letters on fire, I would. And Abercrombie writes the best shades-of-grey characters out there. Logan and Glokta from his First Law trilogy are two of my favourite characters in fantasy books.
Back at the start of it all did you write many short stories?
Before I started work on the Chronicles of the Exile series, I wrote a few short stories set in the same world. I used them to explore critical events from the past, as well as key moments in the backstories of the lead characters. I haven’t published the stories, and I don’t intend to. They were intended simply to support my writing of the series when I came to do it.
Prior to the ‘Chronicles of the Exile’ series did you have anything else published?
The Chronicles of the Exile was the first piece of fiction that I have had published. Before I wrote When the Heavens Fall, though, I did some freelance journalism for magazines. Amongst other things, I interviewed a man who had written a book about working out people’s personalities from the shape and position of their toes. He read my feet as part of the piece, and his insights into my character were surprisingly accurate. Or at least the nice bits were!
Tell us about the process you underwent for writing your first mainstream novel, ‘When the Heavens Fall’?
It is difficult to remember the process, because it is such a long time since I started writing When the Heavens Fall – over ten years ago now. What I do recall is that I had a full-time job at the time, so my writing had to fit around that. Also, since WTHF was the first book I ever completed, I was learning the process as I went along. It took me twelve drafts to finish the book. With experience, I am becoming more efficient in that regard. My second book took me six drafts, and my third, four. So with luck book four will take two drafts, book five, one, and book six will write itself.
How did you go about finding an agent/publisher for this work?
My road to publication had more than its fair share of bumps and potholes. I ran into some pretty unprofessional agents along the way, including one who requested the full manuscript of WTHF before sitting on it for a whole year. Unsurprisingly, he never got back to me. Perhaps he is still reading it now.
When I finally found an agent, though, things moved relatively quickly. Five months later, WTHF was in an auction in Germany. That was followed by offers from the US, UK, Brazil and South Korea, as well as by an audiobook offer from Audible.
Did you find the editing process with the publisher difficult and how smooth were things when polishing the final draft of your first novel?
The editing process was very smooth, actually. I’m told by my agent that I produce “clean” manuscripts, so there wasn’t much tidying up to do. Also, by the time my publisher came to read WTHF, I had already carried out a couple of structural edits based on comments received from my agent and other people.
At what stage were ‘Dragon Hunters’ and ‘Red Tide’ at this point and did you have to knuckle down to some serious writing?
Dragon Hunters had already been written by the time I signed a contract for WTHF. And the first draft of Red Tide was completed before WTHF was published. Therefore, I haven’t yet had to write a whole book against a deadline. Needless to say, I am looking forward immensely to the challenge of doing so. Ahem.
Tell us a little bit about your short story, ‘There’s a Devil Watching Over You’?
There’s a Devil sets the stage for the Chronicles of the Exile, though the story is not directly related to the events in WTHF. It is written from the perspective of a bandit called Safiya. Safiya and her gang believe they have found an easy target to rob, but they quickly learn they have picked the worst possible victim. Now Luker Essendar, one of the warrior Guardians of Erin Elal, is after them, and his pursuit drives them towards an abandoned fort – one that appears strewn with evidence of a battle. But nothing is exactly as it seems . . .
Oh, and look! Here’s a link to the short story at my website. How did that get there?
Did Tor commission you to publish the short story or did you approach them?
I approached Tor, because it was my idea to write the story. I wanted to give people a taste both of my story world and of my writing style in the hope they liked what they read, and went on to buy WTHF.
You have shorts due out next year in anthologies with both Grimdark Magazine and Ragnarok Publications. How does it work when writing for markets like these and do you feel extra pressure knowing your writing isn’t going through such a vigorous submission process?
Of course, the most important thing about writing for these anthologies is sticking to the brief. The Grimdark anthology is called Evil Is A Matter Of Perspective, and the premise was to write a story from the perspective of one of the antagonists in my series. Whereas the Ragnarok anthology is called Hath No Fury, and the premise was to write a story featuring a strong female lead that defies genre stereotypes. Within those boundaries, there was a lot of scope for writing different stories. I kept half an eye on what I thought readers would want and expect from the anthology, whilst at the same time keeping true to my writing style, and to the characters that feature in the stories.
As far as I am aware, the submission process for both anthologies was vigorous. For example, Hath No Fury is being edited by Melanie Meadors, and she has said in an interview that she was very careful when it came to choosing which authors would feature in the anthology. As for pressure, I wouldn’t say I feel any extra. My task in writing these stories is the same as it always is – to produce the best work that I can.
Emma Newman did a great job of narrating ‘There’s a Devil Watching Over You’, how did that collaboration come about?
I wanted the story to be narrated because obviously some people prefer audio books to written ones. At the time of narrating There’s A Devil, I hadn’t met Emma (though I have done since). I listened to some of her other narrations and thought she would be perfect for my story – particularly since it is told from a woman’s perspective. And I think Emma did a brilliant job of capturing the POV character’s spirit and humour.
What do you have in the pipeline at the moment and will the Exile series continue on?
The Exile series is planned to be six books. I am writing book four at the moment.
What three top tips would you offer writers out there that have helped you on your own author journey?
I only have one tip for writers who are thinking of writing a fantasy book: Don’t do it. I don’t want the competition. 😉
We’d like to thank Marc for chatting with us and sharing his author journey so far. If you’d like to connect with him and keep up to date with his work then you can follow him on Twitter @MarcJTurner or website.