1. ‘Protect your people … Fight for your family …’ The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath pulls no punches. What’s special to you about this story?
There are two elements of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath I’m particularly proud of – the world and the characters. The chance to build my own fantasy world was something I took incredibly seriously – I have plenty of practice at world-building from writing shorter fiction and running role-playing games, but in this book I think I’ve managed to create a unique world, drawing on some fascinating elements of nature, history, and culture from many sources. It incorporates brutal militarism with ancient Celtic spiritualism, and in the rugged and harsh landscapes of the world of Morost I wanted to evoke the wilds of Scotland, and to think about the impact that environment has on the people who live there.
Before I had the world fleshed out, though, I knew the central characters – Floré is such a fun character to write, carrying her own misgivings even as she is utterly sure of her course of action. She is not someone to sit back and let events guide her. I liked the idea of having an undeniably brutal protagonist who still manages to be more than just another sword; someone whose toolkit is almost wholly violence but who still tries to push beyond that. Beyond Floré, the relationships between the core characters are complex, each with its own history. The differing ways they react to the setting and grow in the face of new threats was really exciting to write.
2. What can you tell us about your journey as a writer? What has led you to this point of publishing your debut novel?
I spent the last ten years writing a lot of shorter work, trying out different genres and voices, and exploring different ideas and audiences. I was writing around my studying and then around my work, always trying to find moments to work on story ideas. So, I had a long run honing my craft, having stories performed at live events, short pieces for the radio, and a variety of stories published in anthologies. Through all of those I slowly discovered a lot about my writing style and process, and when I decided to write The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath it instantly felt natural to me. Fantasy is the genre I’ve always read and loved above all others, and for a long time I shied away from writing fantasy as I was afraid I wouldn’t do it justice. As soon as I started I realised I should have done so a long time before – immediately I felt at home.
3. The fantasy genre is a vast and glorious sandpit in which to play. What did you enjoy most about constructing your story?
Fantasy is so vast! What I love about the genre is that it has so much space to build greatly different worlds and tell very distinct stories. When constructing the story, I enjoyed building the world, trying to layer in the history and culture of the peoples and places to give weight to the present, trying to give appropriate time to smaller elements to help the reader build up a more intense picture of the world of the novel. One aspect I really loved was weaving elements into the narrative that might be more traditionally considered science-fiction, but doing so in a way that was consistent with the fantasy world I’d created. Another element I really enjoyed was the free licence to have fun with it – I could add in more action whenever I wanted, and could put my characters into increasingly wild and precarious situations. I’ve always loved reading action scenes in fantasy and this book was a chance to put my own spin on that.
4. How much thought and detail goes into building your magic system and other aspects of world-building?
I spend a great deal of time on the world-building – I fully subscribe to the concept that what makes a fantasy setting like this believable and what will entrance the reader is a consistency even within the fantastic. Nothing happens without reason, and when I was world-building I spent a lot of time studying different histories and cultures to see how in the world of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath similar forces might take the people and the story in different directions. I have a lot of maps and notebooks – I find that having the granular details of the world worked out in advance means I can focus on the story and the character once I get going.
In terms of magic, the magic of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath, called ‘the skein’, is deliberately quite a soft magic system. By that I mean it is inherently ill-defined – more Tolkien-esque than Brandon Sanderson, perhaps. I enjoy those ‘harder’ magic systems, but given the nature of the world of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath I wanted it to feel like a force of nature – you could describe a gust of wind in the trees with charts and measures, but what I wanted was more the feeling of that wind on your skin, which could never be captured in its entirety by any scheme or data. That is the skein. It is beyond comprehension, and defies categorisation.
5. Now that you’ve created the world of The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath, what excites you most about the prospect of returning to it in the future?
What I love about this world is that it feels so broad to me – there are so many stories to tell! I’ve just finished writing the second book in the trilogy (it is with my editor now!) – the first two books take place largely within the Undal Protectorate, a country at the edge of the civilised world, bordered by an endless arcane storm and a brutal sea. It is a country fighting for survival and self-determination. Then there’s the wider world of Morost … there are a lot of other spaces to explore! The forces at play in The Gauntlet and the Fist Beneath certainly have ramifications beyond the border, and the characters all certainly have journeys I could explore further, if they survive…
Our thanks go to Ian Green for chatting to us and to Head of Zeus for making it happen.
Words: Rory McNeill.