Interview with Luke Scull
To mark the launch of my debut, When the Heavens Fall, I’m interrogating five different authors this week. Mark Lawrence and Brian Staveley have already taken their turn. Next to struggle uselessly against his shackles is Luke Scull, author of The Grim Company. His second novel, Sword of the North, is out now in all good bookshops. And in a few bad ones too, probably.
Hi Luke, and thanks for joining me.
1. As with my other interviewees, I’ll start with an easy question. What are the roots of the equation -6x =2x² + 5 in simplest a +bi form?
The answer is of course -1.5 =/-0.5i.
What—was a simple little equation like that supposed to throw me? Me? A man of my towering intellect?Why…. I'll have you know it took mere seconds for Prince of Thorns author Mark Lawrence to give me the answer over Facebook…
(Apparently it's a formula taught to school kids for solving quadratic equations. I don't remember it… but then what I do remember learning from school doesn't include much beyond tying my shoelaces and swinging a mean conker.*)
* For those American readers out there, "conkers" is a school yard game where young boys attempt to break each other's nuts by swinging them fiercely at one another. This is but one of many reasons young Brits grow up to become such skilled grimdark authors.
And why you see so many funny walks out there, perhaps.
2. You mentioned in an interview with Written With A Sword that you thought you could rewrite The Grim Company now as a better book. How would you say your writing has improved between books one and two?
You learn all sorts of things writing your first book. From what I understand (because this never actually happened to me), a stream of rejections followed by a period of fierce denial and then grudging reflection are important milestones on the road to self-improvement. I skipped all that and went straight to selling my first novel in a blaze of hype and six-figure deals—which was incredibly fortunate but meant I didn't have the feedback (or time) to be able to critique my own writing until after I was published.
If we're talking about specifics, I learned some lessons about structuring a novel that would have greatly benefitted the first book—particularly the opening 100 pages. Some of my influences were too obvious in my writing. Unless there's a very good reason for cracking open the Thesaurus, I've also learned not to use a complex word when a simple word will do the job.
I think my writing improved significantly during the course of the first book. The second half of The Grim Company is noticeably stronger than the first.
3. In a review at Tor.com, The Grim Company was described as “as grimdark as fantasy gets”. Does grimdark correspond to your world view in general? When you see a parade, is your first instinct always to do a rain dance?
I try (and occasionally fail) to maintain a positive world view in the real world. My wife sometimes accuses me of being cynical but I doubt I'm alone in this among the writing profession. If we didn't constantly question the world around us—if we weren't always striving to seek the truth—we wouldn't be writers.
There's a lot of humour underpinning the "Grim" in The Grim Company. It's intentionally theatrical and over-the-top in places—the most terrible of situations often will stride the line between horror and comedy. It's all subjective but I certainly wouldn't say my writing is "as grimdark as fantasy gets." I recently read a book where a young child gets sliced in half due to a careless protagonist (who gives hardly any thought to the deed) and thousands of slaves are butchered by another, with no humour to leaven events whatsoever. Now that's grimdark—or possibly just "grim" depending on your definition…
You’re probably right about a lot of authors being cynical. Not me, though. And that noise you just heard was my wife falling off her chair.
4. Aside from being a writer, you’re also a designer of computer roleplaying games. What lessons have you learned from writing computer games that you have been able to bring to writing books?
I'd never have written a publishable first manuscript without the platform my game writing experience gave me. It taught me how to world-build, how to structure a story, and how to write snappy dialogue. It was also useful in training me to think through the permutations of my plot and character choices. And I had a whole depository of rejected ideas from my game work that I could plunder for my novels. That certainly made it easier to get the story rolling.
5. You did an interview for the Gemmell Awards where you mentioned you were thinking about writing outside the fantasy genre. Which genres in particular would interest you? Have you spotted a gap in the market for a grimdark/chicklit crossover? Or maybe a grimdark children’s book?
I'll be honest—and this may come as a shock—chicklit is not my forte. And didn't Joe Abercrombie already do the grimdark children's book?* I'm not writing anything that will get endlessly compared to Mr Abercrombie again!
I have some ideas for books that fall firmly outside the fantasy genre. I'm never as excited about a project as when I'm entering the unknown—doing something that I haven't done before. The key is to be realistic—acknowledge where my strengths lie and figure out how they might be applied to write a novel that hits the right notes commercially whilst offering something original.
I'll still be writing fantasy—it's my bread and butter. But my fantasy novels will probably be standalones for the foreseeable future. Multiple-volume secondary-world epic fantasy is incredibly challenging to write and I’d like to explore other forms of storytelling before rushing into another multi-book epic…
* Insert troll face smiley here.
Thanks again for your time!