Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
Marc Turner was born in Toronto, Canada, but grew up in England. He graduated from Lincoln College, Oxford University, in 1996 with a BA (Hons) in law, and subsequently joined a top ten law firm in the City of London. After realising that working there did not mix well with simple pleasures such as having a life, he fled north first to Leeds and then to Durham in search of a better work-life balance. Unfortunately it proved elusive, and so in 2007, rather than take the next step and move to Scotland, he began working part time so he could devote more time to his writing. Following the sale of his debut epic fantasy novel, When the Heavens Fall, he started writing full time.
Why writing? Because it is the only work he knows where daydreaming isn't frowned upon, and because he has learned from bitter experience that he cannot not write.
Hello to Marc Turner, and welcome to Book Frivolity! Congratulations on recent release of Dragon Hunters, book two of The Chronicle Of The Exile!
Hi, thank you for having me!
On the face of it, that probably seems a straightforward question, but it’s actually quite difficult for two reasons. First, each book in the COTE series tells a separate story, albeit part of a larger narrative – so in a sense each book is about something different. Second, that larger narrative is only revealed slowly over the course of the series, so to tell you more at this stage would count as a spoiler. What I can say, though, is that the books are epic fantasy stories with a dark edge and a healthy dose of humour.
That’s another difficult question to answer because I first conceived the series ten years ago. I’m the sort of person who struggles to remember what question you just asked me, so trying to recall what I was thinking about ten years ago is all but impossible. I do know, though, that I wanted each book in the series to be a standalone story, with a beginning, a middle, and – most importantly – an end. I’m not a huge fan of novels that finish on cliffhangers, especially when you have to wait a year or longer (or much longer!) to find out what happens next. So in each of my books, the ending ties up most of the story-threads at issue, while leaving a number of other threads to take forward into later novels.
Yes, there are some returning characters in book three, Red Tide, at least one of whom is likely to surprise you. There are also two new POV characters, including one whom a beta reader of mine refers to as a female Jorg Ancrath. I’m looking forward to seeing how people react to her.
In terms of places, some of Red Tide is set in the Storm Isles, but the majority takes place in a new city (Gilgamar) and in the pirate-infested Rubyholt Isles to the south. In our travels through the Isles, we will get to see, among other things, how a waterway called the Dragon’s Boneyard got its name.
I actually write each character’s story separately – so the whole of character A, then the whole of character B, and so on – before weaving the threads together at the end. I have to do a lot of planning beforehand to make it work, and it has gone spectacularly wrong on occasions. For example, in Red Tide I reached the end of the first draft only to realise that the story of one character was spread over five days, whereas everyone else’s was spread over four. But it’s a technique that I will be sticking with, since I find it helps me to maintain a consistent and distinctive character voice.
Is it at all difficult to get the style to interact when the characters intersect?
Not really, because so long as I retain the voice of the point-of-view character, the style of their story should be preserved. Having said that, whenever I write a section that features more than one of my main characters, I always consider that section afterwards from the perspective of the non-POV character. In particular, I ask myself whether I have given that character as much drive and agency as I would have done if the section had been written from their viewpoint. That way, I can ensure that I always portray them accurately, and that they never act out of convenience for the plot.
Did you purposely write each point of view in that distinctively different style, or did it just culminate naturally with the building of the characters?
A bit of both. One of the greatest challenges in writing a book with multiple threads is in making every thread interesting. It’s inevitable that readers will have a favourite character, especially if your POV characters are a diverse bunch – as they should be. But you’ve got a problem if people start skimming through the parts of one character in order to get to the parts to another. Each character should offer something unique and essential to the book. So, for example, in Dragon Hunters, Senar gives us an insider’s account of the emira’s court and the politicking that goes on there, whereas Agenta gives us a first-hand look at the events of the Dragon Hunt. Remove from the story either one of those accounts – or that of any of the other characters – and the book just wouldn’t make sense.
An architectural gardener.
I’m not sure how a gardener could write a book with multiple overlapping storylines. At the outset, I need to have a rough plan of who is going to be doing what, where and when, and in the course of writing, I have to keep a tight rein on my characters. Otherwise, at the end of my book, I might find myself in a position where three of my characters are involved in a gripping death match, while the fourth is off picking flowers because he decided to go his own way.
That said, I don’t think I could ever be an architect either. I enjoy planning my books, but I quickly get to a stage when I want to get on with the writing. So when I sit down to write the first page, I will generally have an idea of the beginning and end of the story, but less idea of what road I will take to get me from one to the other.
How about “all of the above”? For Dragons Hunters, I liked the idea of people hunting dragons, because dragons are usually the apex predator, right? But knights have hunted dragons for centuries, so I wanted a new spin on it. How about hunting dragons for sport, then? That’s something I’ve never encountered before. Plus, dragons are usually winged and fire-breathing, so maybe … sea dragons for a change? And of course, if we’re going to hunt sea dragons, we need a means to lure them to a particular location at a particular time …
And so on. In this way, the elements of the story arose out of both plot and world-building, with each supporting the other.
But character comes into it as well. In my books, each POV character has their own individual story arc within the wider narrative. So Dragon Hunters is principally a book about the emira’s plot to seize power. But it is also a book about Karmel rebuilding a relationship with her brother, and about Kempis’s ongoing quest to piss off the whole world one person at a time. Those individual stories grew out of the backgrounds and personalities of the characters, and those in turn were developed while I was writing the book.
I’d have to say the characters. Some characters pop into my head fully formed. Others hold on to their secrets for longer, and sometimes it takes several drafts of a book before I get to know them properly. My favourite characters are usually in the former category, but I enjoy spending time with each of them – as indeed I have to do, because if I don’t find my characters interesting and engaging, how can I expect my readers to?
Don’t get me wrong, I think plot and worldbuilding are hugely significant in a book. But let me put it like this: To the people reading this interview, what do you care about most, your family or your possessions? If your house was burning down, and you could save either your family or your prized collection of signed first edition novels, what would it be?
On second thoughts, don’t answer that.
When I was considering what type of dragons to put in my book, the first question I asked myself was: Are these dragons going to be characters in their own right? For me, the answer was no. Dragon Hunters is first and foremost a story about people. The dragons are just part of the backdrop against which that story takes place. If I had anthropomorphised them, they would no doubt have found a way to muscle in on the story – or, rather, muscle in more than they already have. And I didn’t want that to happen.
So they are “mere” beasts. But they are supremely cunning beasts that grow to the size of ships and are covered in impenetrable metal scales. As such, when the Dragon Hunt begins, they will give as good as they get. Still, as long as someone remembers to tell them which is the hunter and which the hunted, I’m sure everything will turn out fine.
Whatever it wanted me to.
Before I begin, I’d like to ask you to do the same (without first looking at my answers). What would your one-word description be for each character? I’m curious to see if there is any overlap in our answers. No peeking, now!
Emira Imerle Polivar: Calculating.
Kristy says: Guileful.. Hey that's almost a jinx right?
Senar Sol: Conflicted.
Karmel Flood: Feisty.
Kempis Parr: World weary. Yes, I know that’s two words, but who’s counting. Oh. Me, apparently.
Tsk Tsk! ;) I was going to say Craven, but I don't believe that's really true!.. I actually like world weary too.. I peeked! Ha!
Mazana Creed: Unpredictable.
Agenta Webb: Embittered.
Oooo good one.. you know she was my favourite character right? *glares* I think the reason I liked her so much is because I can't describe her in one word! Hold on whose interview is this? Sheesh! Ha!
I know it’s boring, but I’d have to say this “real-life” earth. I wouldn’t last a week in the COTE universe. Not many people do, mwahahaha!
I have a reasonably strict regimen when it comes to writing. My working day actually starts late at night, because that’s when I do most of my best thinking (I like to plan out my scenes in advance). Next morning, I begin writing out my ideas.
As for my daily intake of coffee, the number of cups is probably somewhere between “whoah, that’s a lot!” and “now you’re just kidding me”. In fact, I may already have had one cuptoomanydidsomeonesaycoffee?
Ha! For a moment there I thought you wanted me to recommend the books of other authors. That’s a good one, that is. Though if you’re going to press me, I really enjoyed Michael Fletcher’s Beyond Redemption, and Tom Lloyd’s Stranger of Tempest.
I also think that that Dragon Hunters book by Marc Turner is a cracking good read.
I’ll be going to a variety of UK conventions this year, including Edge Lit, Nine Worlds and FantasyCon, so hope to see some of you there.
In terms of projects, I’m writing a short story for Fantasy Faction’s Guns & Dragons anthology. I’ll also be doing another story for an anthology which I can’t talk about yet.
Red Tide will be published in the US and the UK on 20 September. It’s strange to be talking about book three already, when book one was only published a year ago!
Many thanks to Marc Turner for stopping here at Book Frivolity! He survived! HE SURVIVED! (call off the coast guard…)
Look out for Marc’s new release Dragon Hunters, or When The Heavens Fall - they are both in stores now!! And be sure to jump on Red Tide in September! You'll want to..