Interview with John C Adams

Aspatria has a big cast list! Which of the characters do you like the most?
My personal favourite is Gortah van Murkar, because he's so successful as a military commander and a king but at the same time he's incredibly flawed and complicated. He's quite vulnerable and sensitive too, despite being so strong and powerful.

I like the way that Dextra of Aspatria steps up when the people need her and also how she grows into being a queen. It's very daunting for her at the beginning when all her male relatives have just died on the battlefield but she isn't afraid to ask for help or make personal sacrifices for the good of her people.

I enjoyed creating Princess Notburg von Reliatra too. She is sexually very liberated and confident. She also leads her own army into battle and she leads from the front.

And Queen Maureen, Dextra's stepmother, is a wonderful villain!
Which character has the greatest personal development?
I assumed before I wrote the novel, after I'd planned the skeleton out, that it would be Dextra but re-reading the novel now that it's finished in fact I think it's Gortah. That sounds odd because he's been monarch for so long and his kingdom is secure and prosperous. You wouldn't expect an old man to develop, especially after so many years at the top because he has no reason to change. But after Gortah leaves home and rides for Dextra's capital hoping to make a strategic alliance with Aspatria, he has to face some hard truths. Why hasn't he felt able to remarry, ten years after his queen died? Is it beneath his dignity to be a woman's second husband? Can he face sharing Dextra and is he confident enough in himself not to let insecurity over Dextra's much younger husband get the better of him?
Is portraying empowered women important to you?
Dextra isn't Aspatria's first queen. Her great-grandmother Queen Otha ruled in her own right and she had two husbands, the Westkennet twins. They managed to get along much better than Dextra's two husbands! Dextra inside herself has a strong sense of wanting to live up to the inheritance Otha has provided her with, even though there's been two generations of male rulers in between them.

It's important for everyone to feel empowered. That definitely includes women. People feel disempowered for a variety of reasons but I think the common factor is perhaps that to feel empowered you need to feel accepted and supported. Dextra is able to feel empowered despite the multiple challenges facing her because her witan, Aspatria's governing council, support her. The witan has men and women serving on it and it was important for me to portray that.

One of the most empowered women in the novel is Riley o'Eira. Since her husband died and her son has been king, she's been able to fly off around the world and cast her spells and share in people's lives. She's totally free and very powerful when she chooses to take sides. She's herself and she doesn't care much what other people think. That must be quite liberating and it was lovely to write about an older woman who inspires the younger ones.
How do you approach cover design?
When I had my debut novel published with Sinister Saints Press, my editor Rich Dodgin took care of the cover art with the publisher Nathan Rowark. They chose a wonderful cover, which involved the Union Jack. I'm proud to be British so that was just fine with me. For my perma-free novel Aspatria, which is a fantasy novel about a young woman who becomes queen of Aspatria after her menfolk die in battle, I had a free choice of cover art. I asked Fiona Jayde Media to create something. Fiona and I talked about one specific scene from the book, where King Gortah is fighting a dragon, and I felt that this scene informed the kind of book it was and also importantly the character of one of the central figures. Fiona did a wonderful job. Aspatria's cover is very striking and it really gives a potential reader a great sense of what the book's going to be like.
You studied Creative Writing at Newcastle University. Do you think an academic education is essential for a writer?
Lots of wonderful writers in genre fiction have studied creative writing formally but so many haven't and their work is wonderful to read.

I have a Postgraduate Certificate in Creative Writing and learning from Cynthia Fuller was a wonderful experience. It was a real privilege to study poetry with her, even though I'm not a natural poet and it took some working at! I think it has improved my prose style quite a bit, if that doesn't sound too odd. I was very surprised when University of Winchester gave me a Highly Commended in 2013 in the Reaching Out category for my poem 'Blemishes At The Love Feast'. It was lovely to be able to give something back to Cynthia for all the difference she'd made to my writing.

But I've also learned so much from writers who are practising full time and who don't teach within a university setting but who offer critique services alongside their own writing work. The secret is to mix it up!
You finished your PGC in 2013. How have you improved your writing since then?
I think learning by doing is very important for an emerging writer but you need to have the proper support.

I owe a real debt of gratitude to Earl Wynn. He was a superb writing tutor. I think the fact that he publishes so much himself helped the calibre of advice he gave me. He knew just what editors wanted to see. He also published my first story with Horrified Press, who went on to publish my debut novel a year later. He also critiqued alot of my early work, including working with me on Souls for the Master to get it strong enough to submit to a publisher.

On an ongoing basis, I have help from a number of regular editors to keep my short stories and longer prose tight and clean. It's easy to slip back into bad habits and learning as a writer is definitely something that never stops. I try to mix it up with advice from quite a few editors. It's important to always keep getting fresh perspectives on my work. I've been very lucky with the advice and support I've had.
You're a Contributing Editor with Albedo One magazine. How did that come about?
I was longlisted for the Aeon Award back in 2012 and 2013. After that, I was offered the chance to train as a Submissions Reader for the magazine. I did that until mid-2016, when I became a Contributing Editor. The work of each Contributing Editor varies. In my case, almost all my time is spent reading the stories submitted for the award.

The Aeon Award has so many wonderful stories every year and it's a real privilege to see the strength of that fiction at close hand. And it's good for me to learn from what others are doing right!
What advice would you give to writers just starting out?
Well, I had alot of support. You can't get there without it. The tricky thing is to know where to look for support and encouragement, and not to be afraid to ask because people really do want to help. Plus always listen to the feedback and use it to make your writing better. That's an ongoing project for all of us!

The most important thing is to be reaching out. There's always something you can be doing to share your writing online. In my first year of submitting stories to magazines and anthologies I had stories picked up all over the place and it gave me the chance to get to know lots of different editors and other writers. That was very exciting. I learned on my feet!

It's important to build relationships with editors and publishers. In my first year, I had a host of stories published by Horrified Press imprints and it was lovely to work so much with Rich Dodgin, who was my editor at Sinister Saints Press. I also work on an ongoing basis with Gavin Chappell, from Rogue Planet Press, who also publishes Schlock! webzine. I just had a short story with a Viking theme accepted for Gavin's forthcoming anthology Hammer of the Gods III, which was wonderful.
What's your next publication?
Oscillate Wildly Press have just picked up my short story anthology, Blackacre. Think of it as H P Lovecraft meets Wuthering Heights.

It's about a family of gentleman farmers called the Flints who live the English northern uplands and their distant relations the Ffanshawes. The Flint lives are very isolated and plenty of weird stuff happens in and around their farmhouse. The Ffanshawes are aristocracy, so they are more outgoing, but there's lots of oddness in their lives too. It's liminal horror so the book is set in our world but with plenty of unsettling differences intruding into the reality. There's humour too and a great sense of family: when they're not screwing each other over!
What are you working on at the moment?
I've been writing the sequel to Aspatria. It has a Viking theme and it's set in and around the island of Orkna, which makes a brief appearance in Aspatria. I'm about halfway there with it and it's going really well. The book features some old favourites. Gortah and Dextra are both facing new challenges. But there are also lots of fresh faces and another example of a woman's prowess on the battlefield is right at the heart of the plot.
Published 2017-03-06.
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Books by This Author

Aspatria
Price: Free! Words: 198,800. Language: English. Published: December 6, 2016. Categories: Fiction » Fantasy » General
After all her menfolk fall in battle, twenty-year-old Dextra is Queen of Aspatria. The country faces renewed hostility from the Albins to the north and Reliatra to the east, as these old foes take advantage of Aspatria's weakness. Dextra must unite her nobility behind her to expel the invaders and forge powerful foreign alliances to protect those who depend upon her for their security and safety.