As part of my series based around getting published in the modern fantasy market, some of the lovely people at Gollancz have kindly agreed to allow me to interview them to talk about publishing. This will be the first of three, all of which are aimed towards writers who aspire towards publication.
Gillian Redfearn is one of the three editors who worked with me on Blackwing and a tremendous ambassador for the genre itself. Thankfully she was able to take a few minutes out of her incredibly hectic schedule to give me a few answers. Follow Gillian on Twitter: @GillianRedfearn
Hi Gillian! Please introduce yourself – what’s your job role at Gollancz?
Hi Ed, I’m the Publishing Director at Gollancz. That means that I run the list: defining strategy, making sure we make money, and ensuring we look after the books and authors properly. I’m also a hands-on editor.
2. Can you tell me a little bit about the debut authors/books that you’ve worked with in the past? Which book that you’ve published are you exceptionally proud of?
It’s impossible to pick one, so I’ll say it has always been a delight to work with Joe Abercrombie. The Blade Itself was the first title I commissioned, so it will always have a special place on my shelves. But I’ve had the opportunity to acquire some exceptional first novels – the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss, Graceling by Kristen Cashore (and of course Blackwing by Ed McDonald!) to name a few, and I’m working with Chris Wooding on an amazing new series called The Ember Blade for 2018, as well as with two debut authors we’ll be launching in the spring. I have worked, and still get to work with, some incredible writers.
What is it that you love about fantasy/speculative fiction? What jumps from the submission pile at you?
Ooooh . . . well, in a manuscript I’m always looking for a fantastic voice. A character who is distinctive and strong, who I feel I know from the opening scene and whose story is one I want to follow. If I’m hooked by them, there’s a great chance that I’ll be hooked by everything which follows. But as for what I love about fantasy . . . it’s the way that as a genre it makes the impossible possible. It doesn’t matter what the challenge is, if you look at it in the right way and find the right angle of attack, you can do it. Fantasy also loves a good revolution – standing up for others, overthrowing a corrupt government or defeating a tyrant . . . while understanding that the world isn’t perfect (and neither are the characters), and isn’t going to become perfect, but that it can be better than it is.
Are there any particular genre themes or trends that you’re particularly excited about seeing develop at the moment?
Good question! I’m always interested in the way the genre is evolving. AI development and interaction with humans seems to be popular at the moment, as do questions of inclusion, interaction between different cultures, power dynamics (always popular!) and cultural appropriation, whether that’s in SF, Fantasy, Speculative Fiction, Horror or YA. So it’s fascinating to see how those concepts are expressed. I think there’s a trend towards slightly less Grimdark and more hopeful fantasy at the moment, and a real interest in near-future SF as well. But any of those genres will always surprise you with something wonderful!
Are there any themes or trends that you’re tired of, or that might put you off straightaway?
Every reader has a few things which aren’t their bag. For me, I don’t especially love alternate history, portal fantasy, or stories set against the backdrop of either world war. They can work brilliantly, they just don’t hit the spot for me.
If you were in a game of D&D what class would you be?
I specialise in being a Druid/Monk hybrid: pick all the locks, use some of the magic, and specialise in weaponless combat 🙂
If you had to give a writer some advice about their writing without ever having seen their work, what’s your number one tip?
Write something you love.
Keep it simple.
Only revisit it when you’ve had the chance to get some objectivity and distance.
I expect that there are a number of things that can turn you off a particular piece of writing – but what are the most common mistakes?
Oh goodness. There are as many ways to get writing wrong as to get it right and something which is a mistake in one writer’s hands can be a triumph in another’s. I would suggest that talking down to a reader is rarely successful, and withholding information which the reader needs in order to make sense of the narrative is unlikely to be a winning strategy. A particular turn-off for me is a manuscript full of typos, since a little time with a spell-checker can resolve them and I want to work with writers who have enough pride in their work to take the time to make sure the basics are right.
9. What was it about Blackwing that made you excited about taking it on?
Ryhalt Galharrow! What a fantastic character. A bit grizzled, a bit grumpy, probably alcoholic. He’s not an anti-hero but he’s a long way down the list of folk you’d pick out to save the world and he grabbed me from the first page. I wanted to know what he was going to do next because, with his wry, world-weary tone and the necessity of finding the next job, or catching the next minor criminal, so he can get paid, I knew it was going to be an adventure.
10. And finally, if you were caught out in a zombie invasion and could grab only three things from your home to take with you before it was overrun, what would you be grabbing and why?
My bow, my phone and my boyfriend.
Gillian has been a real pleasure to work with and has added a huge amount of value to Blackwing. I’m very much looking forward to continuing to work with her in the future.