I'm delighted to host Nick Brown - top author, and easily one of the most helpful and pleasant guys I've met in literary circles - onto my blog today. I was intrigued to hear that he has branched out from his acclaimed historical fiction roots to launch a brand new fantasy novel Marik's Way. So I invited him to do a Q&A session here to find out a little bit more about his new work and his views on writing fiction in general. There's some potentially stellar (pun fully intended) news in here too. Enjoy!
For those who don't know his background: Nick grew up in Norfolk and later studied history at the University of Sussex. In 2000 he embarked on PGCE course at the University of Exeter and began a career as a teacher of humanities and English. After ten years of teaching in England and Poland, he became a full-time writer in 2011 with the publication of The Siege. Since then five more Agent of Rome novels have followed. Nick is married and lives in the fine city of Norwich.
Now, on with the Q&A...
Gordon: When did you know that you wanted to be an author?
Nick: I had dabbled since childhood but didn’t really take it seriously until after university and in fact I began with screenwriting. My first novel was science fiction and – if I’m honest – probably not very good. In fact, I seem to remember a couple of literary agents telling me exactly that! But it did get me hooked and I eventually focused on historical fiction with what would eventually become Agent of Rome.
Gordon: What inspired you to write Marik’s Way?
Nick: I hadn’t actually read any fantasy for a few years but then a good friend of mine introduced me to current authors like Joe Abercrombie and Patrick Rothfuss. I suppose it opened my eyes again to the infinite possibilities of fantasy and I liked the idea of writing without the limitations of history or contemporary reality. As with Agent of Rome, I wanted to set up a character with a lot of potential for adventures of various kinds and I eventually settled on the concept of ‘Jack Reacher with a sword’! Marik is a quite conventional hero in some ways but he has a troubled past that drives him on to try and do good.
Gordon: You are best known for your works of pacy and gripping historical fiction, so how did you find this switch into the fantasy genre?
Nick: The most obvious difference is the freedom I mentioned earlier; the flip side of which is the lack of existing material for the story. It really is a blank slate and of course there is the additional challenge of creating an entirely new environment. Having now worked on dozens of different projects as a freelance writer, I felt reasonably confident in my ‘world-building’ skills so I really just started writing and later ensured that all the detail was integrated and coherent. Having said that, I definitely used some of what I’ve learned about ancient societies to describe an ostensibly fantastical world. It’s actually a fairly gritty, realistic type of fantasy with no dwarves or magic – yet.
Gordon: If you could sell this book in one sentence what would it be?
Nick: At the risk of repeating myself – ‘Jack Reacher with a sword.’
Gordon: What are you up to next? Will we see any more sci-fi from you?
Nick: No immediate plans for any futuristic shorts or novels though I have recently had a script optioned by some Canadian producers and that is very much sci-fi. It’s early days but watch this space. As ever, I’m working on various freelance projects to pay the bills and then there is the small matter of the seventh – and last – Agent of Rome book to finish.
Gordon: Who is your biggest inspiration?
Nick: In the fantasy genre, it still has to be J.R.R. Tolkien. In terms of really transporting the reader and conjuring a fully-realised world, he remains the master. Authors like Patrick Rothfuss possess a similar skill but Tolkien was also so brilliant at crafting compelling plots. In terms of writing style, I am a huge fan of Michael Connelly and Robert Harris – both are so dynamic and precise.
Gordon: Why should readers try Marik’s Way?
Nick: Although it’s a different genre, I believe it features the same elements of action, adventure, mystery and humour that some may know from Agent of Rome. Hopefully, I’ve also managed to create an exciting, convincing new setting for the story to unfold.
Gordon: Thanks, Nick. It's always really interesting to understand the psyche of a fellow writer - sometimes reassuringly familiar and sometimes horizon-expandingly different. Some really interesting stuff in there!
Marik's Way is available now! And you can find out more about Nick at his author website or on Twitter.
Gordon Doherty, writer, history fan, explorer.
Empires of Bronze: The Dark Earth - the story of the Bronze Age's catastrophic end.