Author Interview – Peter McLean

It’s been ages I know, sorry. Had no motivation (and health problems abound) to feel up to write articles. However, I had the opportunity to interview the awesome Peter Mclean recently, and his story needs to be told!


1. First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?

Hi, I’m the author of the ‘Burned Man’ series of urban fantasy novels (Drake, Dominion & Damnation) published by Angry Robot, and the forthcoming grimdark fantasy series ‘The Pious Men’ (Priest of Bones & Priest of Lies) which launches October 2018 from Ace/ROC.

It’s all fantasy of one stripe or another but with a strong crime crossover aspect to both series. The ‘Burned Man’ books are basically gangster stories with magic in, and ‘The Pious Men’ is something like The Godfather with swords!

2. How do you develop your plots and characters?

Characters tend to come to me fully formed, and when I get a good one I know I can tell their story. Fiction for me is always about character first, setting and plot second.

I’m a fairly thorough outliner when it comes to plot, and although things inevitably develop during the writing process I always know how the book ends before I start writing it. I’ll usually come up with the opening scene and the end, pants the first couple of chapters to get going then sit and plan out how to get from beginning to end. Then all you have to do is sit there and write until it’s done…!

3. Tell us about your current project.

I’m currently in the process of wrapping up Priest of Lies ready to send to my agent. Then we need to decide what’s next!

4. Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!

Well for ‘The Pious Men’ that’s easy, the main character is Tomas Piety – veteran, army priest, and gangster in the Tudor-esque industrial city of Ellinburg. Tomas returns from war to find his criminal empire has been stolen from him while he’s been away and sets out to take it back, but the sinister agents of the queen’s secret police have other plans for him.

In the ‘Burned Man’ series it’s perhaps a little bit harder to say. The series is written in 1st person from the point of view of Don Drake, a rather seedy hitman/magician living in modern-day London, but I think you could make the case that the real main character is either Trixie, a murderous chainsmoking angel, or the Burned Man itself.

5. What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?

Just write. Seriously, sit there and write until you actually finish something. Simply finishing a complete piece of fiction is more than an awful lot of aspiring writers ever manage, and finishing a whole novel is a huge achievement.

Now for the bitter medicine – don’t expect it to sell. Very, *very* few writers sell their first ever novel. It can happen, but it’s rare. Sit and write another one. I’m a great believer in learning by doing, and the more you write the better you’ll get at it.

Join a writer’s group, or the excellent forums at and get honest feedback on your work. Of course your mum thinks it’s great, that’s her job, but unless your mum is an editor or author her feedback probably isn’t objectively helpful. Find helpful feedback, listen to it, and go write some more.

6. What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?

The ‘Burned Man’ series is set in (sort of) the real world, i.e. modern-day London, except it’s not quite. My London is a slightly skewed version of the real thing inspired by good old British TV classics like Callan and The Sweeney – they have mobile phones and the Internet and all that stuff, but it’s still a little bit 1974 in Don Drake’s world. Everything was just a bit darker and grubbier and seedier in those days, and that vibe fits the tone of the books nicely.

The Pious Men’ took a lot more worldbuilding – it’s “swords and horses” fantasy but I wanted a Tudor-era sort of setting rather than the usual cod-Medieval thing, so I’ve got cannon and gunpowder and other great excuses to blow things up.

It’s a strange contrast in a way – using London as a setting sounds easy because it’s actually there, but that means you’ve got to get it all right. Obviously I made Ellinburg up, which sounds easier, but that means it’s all got to actually make sense in terms of the economy and society so there was a fair bit of historical research required to carry that off.

7) What inspires you to write?

Oh all sorts of things – old movies, architecture, conversations overheard in the pub, those random thoughts you get that always start “Wouldn’t it be cool if…”, even half-remembered dreams sometimes. And booze, obviously.

8. What was the hardest part of writing this book?

For me the hardest part of writing any book is getting the first draft down. Like I said I start with the beginning and the end, and a plan of how to get from one to the other. I love editing and revising a finished draft, but actually grinding out 100,000-odd words in the first place is hard work.

9. What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?

Oh wow, it depends which book we’re talking about! There’s a scene in ‘Priest of Lies’ where a former gang member went against “the family” and is punished for it in glorious mafia style which was tremendous fun to write!

10. Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?

I learned an awful lot of Tudor “living history” – not the kings and queens and dates stuff that always bored me in school but the really interesting things, like what sort of food normal people ate and how long it would have taken to travel fifty miles by wagon on the roads of the day, that sort of thing. I’ve always found the lives of normal folk far more interesting than those of royalty, in any period of history.

11. It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?

I prefer to write in 1st person, so I’m totally in the head of my lead character at all times. Given that my “heroes” tend not to be particularly nice people this can be a fascinating exercise at times!

12. What are your future project(s)?

There’s another Burned Man book in the pipeline for definite, and I’m hoping to make The Pious Men into a trilogy. After that I’m not sure yet, but there will definitely be other stories to tell. There always are.

13. If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?

I guess it’s too late in life to say international playboy… actually when I was a lad I always fancied being an actor, but I’ve no idea if I’d be any good at it or not. Basically anything but the corporate IT I was doing for the last 25 years!

14. What is your preferred method to have readers get in touch with or follow you (i.e., website, personal blog, Facebook page, here on Goodreads, etc.) and link(s)?

Oh, I’m easy – any of those work for me!

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