Welcome back to CR! For new readers, let’s begin with a quick introduction: Who is Peter McLean?
Hi, thanks for having me back! I’m a British fantasy author based in Norwich, England, which is a small city a couple of hours from London on the east coast of the UK. I wrote the Burned Man urban fantasy series a few years ago, but am now mostly known for last year’s Priest of Bones which came out October 2018 from Ace in the US and Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. I’m married to Diane and, like most authors, am owned by a cat.
Since we last spoke, you’ve started a new fantasy series that is generating a lot of great interest and reviews. How would you introduce the series to a new reader?
When my agent and I were first shopping Priest of Bones to editors we pitched it as “The Godfather with swords”, and I still think that’s a pretty accurate representation. It’s a gangster story set in a quasi-Tudor world, told in the first person narration of crime lord turned soldier turned priest Tomas Piety. In the tradition of mafia family epics, it’s a story of power and corruption, intrigue and revenge.
The second novel in the series, Priest of Lies, will be published in July. What can fans of the first expect from the sequel?
Consequences. The events of the end of Priest of Bones have far-reaching consequences for everyone involved. That aside, you’ll see more of Tomas’s world in Priest of Lies, travelling with him to the capital city of Dannsburg, home of the Rose Throne. And the Queen’s Men.
What inspired you to write the novel and series?
I’ve always loved gangster stories like The Godfather, Goodfellas, Peaky Blinders, and Gangs of New York; and I’ve always loved what I call “swords and horses” fantasy, too. Mashing the two together just seemed like something I was meant to do. The setting itself was heavily inspired by my wife’s home city of Edinburgh in Scotland. Edinburgh is all hills and, in the Old Town at least, narrow winding closes and steps and tall, looming tenements. There’s something about the place, the sense of history and dark deeds, that just speaks to me, and that became Ellinburg in the books.
Two series in, how has your approach to writing changed? Any lessons learned?
I’m much, much more of an outliner now than I used to be. When I wrote Drake I pretty much made it up as I went along, but these days I’ll sit and plot out the whole thing before I start writing. I probably won’t stick to the letter of that outline, as things develop in writing and my characters have an annoying habit of deciding to go off script and do their own thing sometimes, but at least now I always know where I’m going, where the end point of each book is.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I think the genre has never been in better shape, personally. There are so many great new writers who have emerged over the last few years, it really does feel like we’re living in a golden age of fantasy fiction. There’s so much more on offer these days, a diverse spectrum of work from more traditional, bright and optimistic fantasy to full-on Grimdark.
War for the Rose Throne isn’t that, but it is dark in places. That said, there is hope and love and laughter and camaraderie too, so I certainly don’t think it’s capital-g Grimdark. Fantasy in general has been bringing us darker tales over the last twenty years or so, with the rise of George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence and many others. The twin powerhouses of Anna Smith Spark and Anna Stephens have brought us extreme Grimdark in the last two years, but there is also a resurgence in more optimistic storytelling from writers like Nicholas Eames, Sebastien de Castell and RJ Barker.
The genre has definitely diversified, giving us a wider variety of stories and more choice than ever, and that can only be a good thing. I hope War for the Rose Throne finds its place on that spectrum, and brings enjoyment to as many people as possible.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
I’m busy writing the third War for the Rose Throne book at the moment, and I’m about half done with that so far. I also freelance for Games Workshop’s Black Library and Warhammer Horror lines, writing short stories in the Warhammer 40,000 setting. My latest, Blood Sacrifice, came out a couple of weeks ago.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
I get sent so many ARCs and free books that I’m never short of something to read. In fact I’ve just finished reading an early copy of We Are The Dead by Mike Shackle, which is out from Gollancz this August. Absolutely splendid stuff, highly recommended.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Oh that’s an impossible question to answer! Everyone’s tastes are different, so it would very much depend on the person. Even then I still think I’d struggle to recommend just one!
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Well, Priest of Lies coming out is definitely the next milestone. Then I’m doing a signing event with some other great authors at London’s Forbidden Planet megastore on July 20th. Unfortunately I’m not able to do the convention circuit this year so no Worldcon for me, but I’m really looking forward to some peace and quiet to crack on and finish the third War for the Rose Throne book!