John Gwynne studied and lectured at Brighton University. He’s been in a rock ‘n’ roll band, playing the double bass, travelled the USA and lived in Canada for a time. He is married with four children and lives in Eastbourne, running a small family business rejuvenating vintage furniture. Malice is his debut novel.

The Writers That Shaped My Idea of Fantasy

by John Gwynne

Malice is my first fantasy novel, an epic tale with all that that suggests. Epic battles, sweeping landscapes, angels and demons, Machiavellian politics and a coming-of-age tale. Also I hope it has a human heart, telling a story about people and their passions. Epic and intimate was my goal.

Fantasy is one of the big loves of my life, going back as far as I can remember. As I was growing up my dad was in the Royal Air Force, which meant a lot of traveling – usually a new home and school every three years. Books became my friends during these years. Don’t get the violins out, though, it wasn’t so bad. And I do have real, living, breathing human friends now. But because of my circumstances and the regular upheaval books became a big part of my childhood, something that has stuck with me ever since.

A very clear memory I have is of my primary school teacher sitting us all down and reading to us – I was eight, and the book was Lloyd Alexander’s The Book of Three, part one of his Chronicles of Prydain. It draws heavily on Welsh mythology, full of unlikely heroes, zombie-warriors, witches, a Horned King, a heroic prince and a rather special pig. I loved it.

Another vivid memory from around the same time is of my sister telling me that I just HAD to read a book she’d just finished. She said that it was full of giant spiders, goblins, dragons, trolls, magic rings and huge battles. She said I’d love it, and she wasn’t wrong. So The Hobbit and then of course The Lord of the Rings pretty much filled my pre-teen reading.

To say I loved it is an understatement. I was one of those geeks that re-read it every few years, so it’s fair to say Tolkien shaped my foundation stone of fantasy. At the same time I was falling in love with mythology – first the Greek stuff, Troy and Achilles and Minotaurs and three-headed dogs, then moving on to all things Arthurian, as well as a good dose of Norse saga.

As I grew older, other writers crept into the mix – I remember plenty of Robert E. Howard and Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson and then Feist and Brooks and Eddings, as well as about a million comics. Batman was always my favourite. It was in my teens that I came across a writer that I fell in love with instantly, and who has been another huge influence on my writing: David Gemmell.

I first read Legend in my teenage years, and I can clearly remember staying up half the night to finish it. Before I closed the book I was a fan. I loved the blend of flawed characters and the roller-coaster pacing that became the trademark of David Gemmell’s novels.

A love of all things historical has also played a large part in influencing Malice – watching Spartacus on a Sunday afternoon with my dad has probably got a lot to do with that! And movies like Braveheart and Gladiator and Last of the Mohicans have all impacted a little on how I chose to write Malice. I can’t remember how old I was when I read Shogun, by James Clavell, probably fourteen or fifteen. That was amazing, and it opened up the idea of historical fiction; a whole new world. Now I can’t get enough of that, either – Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden, Steven Pressfield, Robert Low, Manda Scott, many many others. One of my top reads of all time is Bernard Cornwell’s take on ‘Arthur.’ I love that series. I know that technically it is classed as a historical novel, and it is written as if Arthur were history, but the fantastical is in there, if you look hard enough. And the love story is one of the few I’ve read that feels real. Bittersweet. And the battles are so cool…

Malice is my first novel, in fact it’s the first thing I’ve ever written creatively, so when I started writing it was for an audience I can count on my fingers – my wife and three boys. And me, of course. So I tried to write something that would appeal to all of us. Something with the epic-ness of Tolkien or Tad William’s. A world that felt historical and real, with some depth – Cornwell, Iggulden, Pressfield – but with a more character driven heart, inspired I suppose by David Gemmell and other more contemporary writers like J. V. Jones and Brian Ruckley. I wanted a political story with plenty of double-crossing and multiple points of view. That was really inspired by George R. R Martin. But I also wanted it to be an exciting tale, with plenty of action and adventure. I guess David Gemmell is to blame for that as well (he crops up a lot). And I wanted a coming-of-age tale in there, for my boys.

All of the authors I’ve just mentioned are personal favourites that have written books that are imprinted on my mind and heart.

So, if you were to ask me who or what my influences as a writer are, the very short version would be – in childhood, Lloyd Alexander, J. R. R. Tolkien and a large dose of mythology.

As an adult – a whole host of influences, with David Gemmell and Bernard Cornwell standing considerably taller than the rest.

I am constantly amazed that Malice is an actual book now, rather than ideas in my head, or notes on my desk. It’s a wonderful feeling to see it in my hands, to feel the weight of it and to open the pages. A dream-come-true. My hope is that it will entertain, that it will whisk the reader off to another place for just a little while, just as the authors I have mentioned have done for me. Whether it does or not is another question, but hey, I’ll keep dreaming. I’ve already seen a few dreams come true.

The latest of those pinch-myself-because-I-must-be-dreaming moments came when Malice won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for best fantasy debut of 2012.

That was a very cool, surreal moment, particularly because David Gemmell has been such a huge influence upon me. My jaw still aches from the grinning.

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