Let’s start with an introduction: Who is Ed McDonald?
Hello! That would be me. I’m an author, swordsman, medieval historian, lecturer, husband, reader, and gamer.
Your debut novel, Blackwing, will be published by Gollancz. It’s been getting quite a bit of pre-publication buzz. How would you introduce it to a potential reader? Is it part of a series?
Blackwing is the first part of The Raven’s Mark series. It’s epic fantasy in scope, but with a tight focus on a single character and the individual part he plays in a wider conflict. The pace is more like a thriller than the usual wander through a fantasy landscape, so I’d say that if you like your fantasy fast paced, character driven, hard hitting, free from gender bias and set on the edge of a post-apocalyptic magical wasteland, then it’s probably for you.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I’ve always been writing, I don’t remember any time when I haven’t. I’ve always wanted to create my own versions of the things that I love whether they were novels, comic books, video games or movies. I’ve read some works of fiction that have really sent me on an emotional journey, and my goal is to give other people that feeling. I write by starting with the emotional experience that I want to provide; loss, heroism, tragedy, victory against the odds – whatever it might be. Then I work out how to provide that through a story. I think that with Blackwing, if I’ve done it right, a reader should come away both sad and punching the air.
My major inspiration, essentially for this reason, has always been Legend by David Gemmell. I’ve never read another book that made me want to be a better, stronger person more than Legend did.
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I read Lord of the Rings when I was nine, and got the board game Hero Quest the Christmas after. I was also reading the Jackson and Livingstone Fighting Fantasy books around that time, and would endlessly create stories about my character. From there I never looked back.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
It’s still quite a new experience, and on the whole it’s a good one so far. I appreciate that I’m still in the golden stage, pre-publication, and anything can happen, but the main thing is that the people I meet are all lovely. There’s a lot of stress that goes with it though, and a lot of pressure. Today I’ve been working on the second instalment of the series. I’m constantly worrying about whether or not I’ll pull it off again in the second book or whether I’ll let people down. But ultimately, I’m living the dream right now and as stressful as it can be, this is what I’ve always wanted.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I don’t have any specific “writing place,” it’s either a laptop on my knee in the living room, my PC in the study, or – as now – sitting in the corner of a pub. I probably actually do most of my drafting in the pub with a beer, but I think that I do it more because it gets me away from distractions than because of the alcohol. Maybe.
I do try to research the things that I write about. I train in historical swordsmanship a couple of times each week, although I’m not sure how much that’s still informing what I write, and I took some riding lessons when I realized that the sequel was going to involve more horses. I also have a background in medieval history, which is helpful to some extent. I always thought that I was going to write very historically accurate fantasy, but Blackwing certainly isn’t – some people even describe it as steampunk, although I never intended it to be (and there’s no steam power in it!). Once I stopped trying to follow history and decided to write fantastical fantasy, I was having a lot more fun.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
In my teens I wanted to write and draw comic books, and could have gone that direction instead, but I was always writing novels too. I wrote several (dreadful) books before Blackwing, all of which were very important stages for me in learning to craft something good. In general, I cringe when I glance at them now. There are a lot of clichés in those pages, a lot of plagiarizing – but I think that’s good, and it gets it out of your system. Once you’ve cleared your desire to write farmboy-orphan-chosen-one-prophecy fantasy you can get on with writing something a bit more interesting.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think that we’re heading into what I’d call a ‘post-grimdark’ phase now. Grimdark was big, and an important growth step for fantasy. I love many of the big names like Abercrombie and Lawrence, but I think that the readership is starting to feel a bit jaded, just as we did when we’d had our fill of magic stones and adventure-quests in the 90s. I feel that in some ways Blackwing takes the next step forward – it keeps the grit, realism and complexity of grimdark whilst bringing back the heroism of earlier works, but it also pushes along with social trends. Diversity and representations are really important right now and I think that the readership is also tired of pseudo-medieval settings where women are treated badly and sexual violence is overused as a plot device. I have no interest in writing about societies that are rife with gender inequality, and even less in writing about sexual violence. A recent review said “amazing female characters” and that’s probably the review that has made me happiest.
I’d really hope that whilst Blackwing will appeal to the core fantasy audience but that it can also reach beyond that. When I started writing it I was reading spy thrillers, and I wanted to capture the same punchy, page-turner style that is usually absent from a fantasy shelf. For me the most important aspect of the book is a strong storyline, and I think that anyone should be able to enjoy that regardless of whether they typically read fantasy or not. We’ve already seen Game of Thrones make that leap, and bringing fantasy to a wider audience has to be a good idea.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on the second book in the series, and from there will go straight onto the third. We should have one book out a year and that certainly keeps me busy.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I’m reading M.R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts, which hooked me in within a handful of pages.
If you could recommend only one novel to someone, what would it be?
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
I don’t do any world building before I start writing. I might have a vague idea about what things are like but I find all my best ideas happen on the fly. I used to write out histories, timelines, biology guides, magic systems – but I found that I never looked at them, and never used them. So I just kind of… make it up as I go along.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
I feel like I should say “Blackwing being released” but actually, I’m probably more looking forward to delivering the completed manuscript for the second book. Writing is both pleasurable and intensely stressful and difficult. I love the end product, but I endure sleepless nights and days of angst over getting it right. So yes, signing off on that will be brilliant.