Let’s start with an introduction: Who is J. L. Worrad?
A fantasy and science fiction author from Leicester, UK. My flat’s a stone’s throw away from Richard III’s corpse. We’re always finding monarchs under carparks around these parts.
Your debut novel,Pennyblade, will be published this month by Titan. It looks really intriguing: How would you introduce it to a potential reader?
It’s about Kyra Cal’Adra, a disgraced noblewoman who sells her sword skills to get by and runs from the pain of her past by living in the moment, distracting herself with booze, violence and sex. All the good stuff. Unfortunately the past has not given up chasing her. It’s a pretty wild grimdark novel, inarguably, but under all that spiky filth there’s a big heart.
Is it part of a series?
Ideally, yes. The characters are absolute darlings to work with. Let’s see how things pan out.
What inspired you to write the novel and series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I decided to write a book no one would see. Honestly I did. I’m quite deep in fandom, online and cons, and I was becoming aware that I was subconsciously desperate for social approval and to not upset anyone. That’s a slow death, creatively speaking. You either shrink down to never saying anything interesting or, worse, detonate and become some insufferable little edgelord. Actively trying to be controversial is the most boring thing anyone can do.
So I just wrote my first fantasy novel for the joy of it. No fear of the Twitter-bird’s shadow, no compulsion to write something clever that would ‘add to the conversation’ of genre. Just rediscover the joy of writing. I told myself I’d delete the first draft the day after I finished. The trouble with that daft promise was, I’d accidentally knocked out the best thing I’d ever written. It took me a while to get the guts to put it out there, but now I have I’ve never been happier.
As for inspiration generally? Morning walks. Morning walks, with all their quiet and fresh air are better than any amount of LSD for inspiration. Though that could be middle age speaking…
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
There was a lot of books in our house as a kid but almost none of it was genre. In my teens I was hungry for the literary-but-weird stuff: Kafka, Naked Lunch, Camus, all that stuff. Then, one day, I got my hands on (looking back on it) one of the worst of Phil K. Dick novels and one of the worst Lovecraft anthologies (the one that’s all Poe rip-offs and doesn’t have any of the mythos stuff in it). But they blew my mind well enough. But what really clinched it was being introduced to Iain M. Banks at university. There’s no going back after that.
How do you like being a writer and working within the publishing industry?
I’m absolutely pampered. Titan Books have been a wonderful boss with the patience of Saint Monica, the patron saint of patience. I don’t know what lies ahead for my writing but right now I’m nestled in expert paws.
Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I “discover” a novel when a character pops into myhead. That’s where I suspect I’m different to the majority of SF and fantasy authors who seem to start with an idea or a world. The characters begin as something simple, a single mannerism or opinion or some such and I’ll “talk” to them and see what they’re about. Plot begins there too: I ask myself what would be the suckiest thing that could happen to that particular character. Cruel of me really.
Research is important. It’s not just about getting things “right” but, more vitally, it’s about getting into a worldview. On a more practically level, with Pennyblade, I hyper-focused on sword duelling because that’s basically Kyra’s job. YouTube is an author’s dream there (I heartily recommend a channel called Scholia Gladiatoria to anyone writing fantasy). The trouble is everyone thinks they know about swords and we really don’t, we’ve just amassed all these assumptions. I blame cinema and the Dungeons & Dragons equipment list. A rapier, for instance, isn’t light. It’s the same weight as a regular sword, just stretched thin.
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?
Like any nerdy kid I’d often thought about it and had the occasional scribble. Rock music swallowed me up for a long time; all my mates were talented musicians and so I thought I was too. At some point in my late twenties, my band was going to shit and that’s when I started writing SF stories as an escape. One sunny day I was writing outside on a bench under a tree. I had a glass of cheap wine and a rolled cigarette and I had been jobless for a couple of years. Suddenly this grown-up and berating voice in my head said “Is this how you want to spend your life, Worrad? Is it?” And I looked at all the writing in my notebook and thought, “Actually, yes!”
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
Well, on Twitter Joe Abercrombie is called Lord Grimdark, Anna Smith-Spark is Queen Of Grimdark, so I guess, given Pennyblade’s content, I might be the Marquis De Grimdark. And, heck, why not?
Genre is better than its ever been and can only go up from here. There’s so many voices from so many backgrounds and I’m envious of any 12 year old kid who starts reading SFF now. What a wild ride that must be! As for how my stuff fits into it all… that’s not for me to say, frankly. I’m just happy to fit anywhere that’ll have me.
Do you have any other projects in the pipeline, and what are you working on at the moment?
My great-great grandmother worked in a hosiery factory from the age of nine and by her teens and twenties secretly wrote poems. I want to collect all the surviving poems we have into a poetry book. That would be lovely.
As for my own nonsense, there’s another novel set in the Pennyblade world in the works. Can’t say any more.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?
Part of Titan Books pampering involves them sending me books that will be coming out in the next few months. Titan are on a mission to blow minds right now, let me tell you. I’ve read Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead, and it’s the most fashion-conscious dystopia possible, Brave New World in a feather boa. Also, Ragged by Christopher Irvin. A crime-revenge saga, but with woodland animals. Think Peaky Blinders meets Wind In The Willows.
If you could recommend only one novel or book to someone, what would it be?
Coming Up For Air by George Orwell (1938). It never gets enough love. A salesman escapes from his job, his family, noisy modernity and the all the violence in the news. He simply wants to go back to his childhood home and stare into a trout pond for an hour. It’s a Don Quixote quest but one I think people can empathise with, especially in this scary and relentless era.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
When I was five I was on the front page of my local paper with David Prowse, AKA Darth Vader. He wasn’t dressed as the infamous Sith Lord, though. He was dressed as his other, less famous character the Green Cross Code Man, a superman-like figure who taught road safety awareness to British kids in the eighties. I’m holding out for the Green Cross Code Man one day becoming part of the Star Wars cannon or even getting adopted into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Then this anecdote will way cooler.
What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?
Pennyblade coming out and all the fluff and hubbub around that. Eastercon, the UK’s main SF con. Conventions have been rare on the ground the last few years, understandably, and I want to catch up with so many friends. Oh, and Christmas with my whole family. I know that’s a sappy answer but I’m getting soft in my old age.