I have to be honest: of all the genres I cover, fantasy tends to be my favorite. I typically enjoy reading tales that can be fairly ruthless, with characters that are hard to love, but in the end, a sense of hope does prevail. Why do I enjoy a grim, darker take on fantasy? Mainly because these types of stories tend to seem more relatable. The likes of Joe Abercrombie, George R. R. Martin, Brent Weeks, and David Dalglish come to mind when I think of novels that fall in to this category. And now, I’ll throw self-published author, Rob J. Hayes into the mix.
This month’s Indie Author Spotlight guest came out of nowhere. I wasn’t even looking for a fantasy book, but The Heresy Within, the first book in The Ties That Bind trilogy just seemed too intriguing to pass up. Check out the synopsis:
Thanquil Darkheart is an Arbiter of the Inquisition, a witch hunter tasked with hunting down and purging heretics. Thanquil Darkheart is also something else, expendable.
When the God-Emperor of Sarth tells Thanquil there is a traitor operating among the highest echelon of the Inquisition he knows he has no choice but to sail to the city of Chade and follow the Emperor’s single lead.
The Black Thorn is a murderer, a thug, a thief and worse but he’s best known for the killing of six Arbiters. These days he travels with a crew of six of the most dangerous sell-swords in the wilds.
After a job well done they find themselves on the run from the law once again but the boss has good news; a new job, the biggest any of them have ever pulled. First, however, they need to evade capture long enough to secure travel to the free city of Chade.
Jezzet Vel’urn is a Blademaster; a swords-woman of prodigious skill but she knows that for a woman like her in the wilds there are two ways out of most situations; fight or screw. Truth is, all too often for Jezzet’s liking, it comes down to a combination of the two.
Jezzet is chased half-way across the wilds by a vengeful warlord until she makes it to the free city of Chade. Instead of sanctuary, however, all she finds are guards waiting to turn her over for some quick gold.
That summary sounds crazy every time I read it. Well, if you’re not sold yet, get to know the author himself, Rob J. Hayes, and then see you how you feel.
Rob J. Hayes was born somewhere south of the cockney wastelands in a small town called Basingstoke. He grew up with all the usual boy toys including Lego, Star Wars figures (complete with working lightsaber action) and plenty of Transformers. Playing with these toys inspired his imagination and as soon as he was old enough he started playing with swords wooden sticks.
At the age of fourteen he started writing but, like most fourteen year old boys, everything had to be either a vampire, a werewolf, or have superpowers. Thankfully, like most fourteen year old boys, he eventually grew up… a bit.
After four years at University studying Zoology and three years working for a string of high street banks as a desk jockey/keyboard monkey Rob ran away to live on a desert island in Fiji for three months. It was there he re-discovered his love of writing and, more specifically, of writing fantasy.
Max Pfeffer: Rob, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be a part of the Indie Author Spotlight this month at SF Signal.
Rob J. Hayes: Thanks for having me.
MP: Could you give the readers a little background about yourself? What are your particular hobbies when you’re not writing gritty, epic fantasy?
RJH: I think I’m your fairly typical geek really. I love computer gaming (I’m fairly big into Titanfall at the moment, embracing my inner Gundam pilot), watching films and then going to pub quizzes to answer questions on those films. I also love my card gaming; Game of Thrones and Netrunner are the big ones for me. And when I feel the need for some exercise I also partake in a hobby called Airsofting which, for the most part, involves running around a forest being shot with plastic pellets by a bunch of people wielding toy guns.
MP: Who doesn’t enjoy to be shot at by pellets? Rob, how long have you known that you’d like to pursue writing and when did you begin writing regularly? Are there any particular authors that have inspired you along the way, both within and out of the fantasy genre?
RJH: I’ve been writing stories since I was a teenager but it wasn’t until I spent 3 months on a desert island in Fiji that I realised I wanted other people to read them. I picked up a pen and paper (that was pretty much all we had out there other than a white sandy beach and crystal clear blue water) and started putting the world I had been creating for years in my head, onto paper. As soon as I arrived back in civilisation I really began writing everyday.
I must admit I’m one of those people who doesn’t read outside of my genre a whole lot; I tend to stick to sci-fi and fantasy. Maggie Furey was probably one of the biggest influences on me, reading her Artifacts of Power series made me want to start writing in the first place. Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Liveship Traders books made me care so much about fictional characters that after I finished her books I actually felt like I was saying ‘goodbye’ to real friends. And Chris Wooding’s Ketty Jay books for showing how to make a disreputable bunch of lowlifes into loveable characters.
MP: I don’t read much outside of the genre either, and those are certainly some great books to fall in love with!
Self-publishing has grown exponentially in the past few years – especially in the science fiction and fantasy genres – due to the ease of tablet readers and sites like Amazon.com that allow authors to publish their works for free. What made you seek the self-publishing route – and fantasy in particular – rather than a traditional publisher, and what kind of success have you seen thus far?
RJH: Finding an agent is hard work. Before self publishing I applied to a number of them and received a number of rejections. Eventually my family and friends (bored of hearing about my rejections and also about how I hate writing synopses) convinced me to give the whole self publishing thing a go. Turns out it’s got legs. I believe I’ve sold worldwide over 40,000 books to date so I count that as pretty successful for just 1 year.
I’ve recently had the pleasure of reading the first book in The Ties That Bind Trilogy: The Heresy Within. I shared the book’s synopsis above, but could you let us know a little more about the trilogy as a whole and the themes that it encompasses?
RJH: The trilogy follows a very meandering path. The first book, The Heresy Within, is a bit like ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ if it was titled ‘The Bad, the Worse and the Worse Still’. It’s a story about three characters with, every reason not to trust each other, coming together for a common goal.
The second book, The Colour of Vengeance, is a revenge saga. Pretty much every character in it wants revenge on somebody for something; but it’s also about realising what that vengeance will cost and whether or not it’s worth the price.
The third and final book, The Price of Faith, is about love, sacrifice and betrayal… I think I’ll leave it there for that one.
MP: The main protagonists found in The Heresy Within are the true definition of the “antihero.” They are severely flawed, morally gray humans, who despite having done – and still willing to do – some terrible things, all seem to withhold their own personal or cultural concept of justice and a desire to do what is right. What made you want to write characters like this and is it hard for you to write some of the darker, bleaker scenes?
RJH: I find the idea of antiheroes fascinating and, conversely, I find goodie goodie heroes who always do the right thing because it’s the right thing intensely boring. The real world is a very ‘gray’ place full of moral ambiguity and people screwing over others for a percentage. That being said, if you scratch the surface of most people you’ll find that they do care about others and have their own moral code that may differ from what is lawful or culturally acceptable but it is no less significant. I wanted to write about characters that seemed as real as possible but set in a fantasy world with magic and intrigue.
It was very difficult to write some of the scenes. It’s impossible to put my characters through some of things they go through and not feel some of the emotion that they would be experiencing but I think feeling that emotion probably helped me write some of the more powerful scenes.
MP: You have a new book that you just published called, The Northern Sunrise, which is not set in the same world as The Ties That Bind. Can you tell us a little bit about this new book? Is it the first of a series?
RJH: The Northern Sunrise is a standalone book set in a new fantasy world of magic and politics with elements of Steampunk (I call it Alchemypunk). It’s not nearly as dark as The Ties that Bind and it focuses around a couple of thieves (a little bit like Bonny and Clyde only without the violence) as they steal the score of their lives and then attempt to retire. And it has airships!
MP: Sold! Do you have any other projects that you are currently working on or that you are planning for the near future?
RJH: My current project is a follow-up series to The Ties that Bind. I can’t say a lot about it right now other than it has pirates and lots of them.
MP: How can the SF Signal community help support you?
RJH: Is it too cliched to say ‘read my books’? Rate / review them if you like them. If you just want a taster of my writing style you can check out a bunch of short stories I’ve written (all in the same world as The Ties that Bind), those can be found on my website (robjhayes.co.uk). Follow me on Facebook at (Rob J. Hayes) or on Twitter at (@RoboftheHayes).
Thanks for having me and I hope you all enjoy my books.