I’m back with another interview! I still have a few tucked away. Today’s reluctant guest into the Thousand Scar’s den is Lee Conley, proud author of the Dead Saga series. Go and check out his book down below!
Also check out that wonderful beard!
I should’ve made this the featured image…never mind!
Check out some of my previous SPFBO interviews down below:
First of all, tell me about yourself! What do you write?
Well, I like to keep quite busy. I spend a lot of time with my family, with my beautiful wife Laura and our little girl, Luna. We like going on lots of adventures.
For work, I have been a professional guitarist for over 15 years now, these days I mostly work as a guitar teacher and sound engineer as my day job but am leaning more and more towards my writing. I have just taken the plunge and begun a creative writing degree as I’m a glutton for punishment.
I also teach historic martial arts. I’m an instructor at a club in my hometown of Lincoln. I specialize in English Longsword primarily but study other Longsword techniques including a variety of the more common Italian and German styles. I also fight sabre, sword and buckler, tomahawk and knife. Alongside teaching, I compete in tournaments and have a nice clutch of medals to my name now (including a few golds, YEESSS! – sorry I couldn’t help myself, I’m very proud of them), mostly in Longsword. And, I generally go around fighting people with swords as much as possible.
So what do I write, mostly Fantasy these days. I like it dark and epic so I have been working on a Dark Fantasy series called The Dead Sagas which I will tell you more about in minute but in short, it’s the tale of the rise of the dead in a land of warriors. My current books are very much Fantasy but have a strong horror element and are certainly in the realms of what folk are calling Grimdark.
How do you develop your plots and characters?
For me planning is important for the main structure but saying that, I often just sit down and write, I see what happens, things wander around and unexpected things can come out of it but I will then sit down and think, will this fit? Is this necessary? If it works I will work it in to my plan. My main structured plan is only the bare bones, the important bits if you will. I like to flesh it out with a mixture of planned ideas and the unplanned ideas that just happen as I write.
I like to write scenes and chapters just to see how they feel. In my current WIP I had a certain part of the story I wanted to work towards, the part where all hell breaks loose and everyone is fighting for their lives. But to get there I had to work up to it and set the scene. So I had a bunch of stuff already written that I knew I definitely wanted to keep and a grand master plan for the overall story arc of The Dead Sagas. But to get it all right I had to sit down and meticulously plan out the story arcs.
Tell us about your current project.
My current project is a Dark Fantasy series called The Dead Sagas. I have recently released the first installment entitled A Ritual of Bone which has been entered into this year’s SPFBO competition. A Ritual of Bone is the first part of The Dead Sagas: Volume I which is made up of three parts. I have written a short blurb below to wet your appetites.
Many threads entwine to tell The Dead Sagas, many stories, interweaving the tales of those who play their part in the search for answers and ultimately their fight for survival. There is plague, invasion and terror as the inexorable rise of the dead sends the kingdom of Arnar scrabbling to its knees.
Set mostly in Arnar, it is a land of warriors, a land of dark forests and ancient hill forts. An ancient and forgotten evil is awoken by the curious minds of the College. The Great Histories and the Sagas of the College say nothing of this evil, long passed from memory, even the vast records of the College have no mention of this fell darkness.
But now awoken, the evil spreads and the Dead rise in its wake. It brings not only the Dead, but terrible creatures which roam the night and feast on the flesh of men. Even the spirits are now restless. The Dead Sagas chronicle what could perhaps be the final chapters of those great records kept at the College, perhaps the last testament of the deeds of Arnar.
In this first part of the Sagas, A Ritual of Bone tells of the events which lead up to the unleashing of the Dead. It tells the tale of the mysterious Apprentice and of his Masters from the illustrious College as they delve into ancient things best left forgotten. And now, Arnulf and his guardsmen must confront the Dead and unravel the riddle of events they find befalling their homelands.
There are other threads that entwine to tell this first volume in The Dead Sagas. In the south, death has come to Arnar from far across the seas. The townsfolk of the capital watch as death and plague spread amongst them. Their only hope a plea to their gods to deliver them from a grisly demise. Meanwhile, many miles away, the story of Bjorn unfolds, the famed huntsman, is sent out to find the truth of the rumours spreading throughout the towns of the frontier, rumours of disappearances, rumours of a beast. But what he discovers is much more terrifying than he could have possibly imagined.
The Dead Sagas is a dark fantasy epic combines dark malign horror and epic fantasy adventure, as the story unfolds in a world where honour and renown is all, where beasts and savages lurk in the wilderness, and where sword, axe and shield is all that stands between the living and the grasping hands of the dead.
“Only valor and steel can stand against the rising dead”
Who would you say is the main character of your novels? And tell me a little bit about them!
I don’t really have one single main character. There is a small cast of characters amongst the many characters in The Dead Sagas that you could call main characters. The Dead Sagas is a weaving of the stories of many characters that tell a greater story. Life, after all, is not just about one person and the events that shape the world are rarely the work of same people.
So let’s briefly look at the most important POV characters which form the main cast.
The Apprentice unwittingly plays a huge part in The Dead Sagas, he is both protagonist and antagonist depending on whether you like him or not. He is part of a College of Scholars who exist to record and chronicle all knowledge and history in their great Sagas and records.
Bjorn is a famed hunter and tracker. He is cocky and a bit arrogant but I think very cool. He is employed by the great and good to lead their hunts but also sometimes to use his tracking skills and knowledge of the wilds to hunt fugitives like a sort of bounty hunter.
Arnulf, is a warrior-lord who finds himself entangled in the events of The Dead Sagas, he is accompanied by his warriors and his old friend Lord Fergus. These guys take a very prominent part in the first part/book: A Ritual of Bone.
Nym is a waif living a rough life in the capital, fighting for day to day survival with her young brother Finn. They stay off the streets working for a one armed tavern keeper named Jor who is an old family friend. Nym and the people she knows face mounting peril as a terrible plague descends on the capital and this is only the start of their darkening times.
There is a big cast in The Dead Sagas but these, I think, are the main characters in A Ritual of Bone. All hell is about to be unleashed upon them, may the gods have mercy.
What advice would you give new writers on how to delve into creative fiction?
I don’t feel I have the experience to offer any real sage advice but I suppose I would say – Just write. Write what you like. Write what you love and know. If what you write makes you happy then keep doing it, whether it becomes a short story, a novel or an entire series it does not matter as long as you enjoy it. I would certainly recommend planning to a new author but don’t be afraid to improvise and change if it goes a different direction to that which you originally planned. But mostly just sit and write and enjoy it.
What real-life inspirations did you draw from for the worldbuilding within your book?
I am big into the study of folklore and history (as you can probably guess from my study of historical swordsmanship). There are so many true life events in the history of the world which are just mind blowing that they actually happened. I draw a lot of inspiration from historical events and settings.
As far as world building for The Dead Sagas goes I take a lot from early English history, from early Medieval, back through the Dark Ages into Pre-Roman times. I love the period of Saxon and Viking England and much of Arnar’s setting is attributed to this period. I have tried to keep a very Celtic/Pagan feel to the culture. As far as the plague in the capital goes, I take a lot from the time of the Black Death in Europe.
What inspires you to write?
I love to read. I have been trying to read all the works of all the great fantasy writers, both traditional and modern. I take a lot of inspiration from the books I read. My wife and I also watch a lot of films, horror, fantasy, and allsorts really, and I began to play a game, in which I now pride myself, on correctly predicting the plot. I started to think I had a fairly good grasp of plot devices and story arcs.
I really got the writing bug after writing a guitar theory textbook called The Guitar Teachers Grimoire. Towards the end of publishing that I just started writing fiction for fun. I have always been a big reader. One day I was reading and I just thought – I can do this anf just started writing. Don’t take me the wrong way, I didn’t think I could do this better, simply I thought I had something to offer, some stories to tell. I thought “Hey, let’s write a novel.” So I started to re-draft my stories into what is now The Dead Sagas.
As I said I take a lot of inspiration from the books I read. I have a few favorites which particularly inspired me. The style of Steven Erickson in his Mazalan books was amazing. I love Bernard Cornwell, Tolkien and his world’s setting, Martin’s ASOIAF for its complexity. Abercrombie, Rothfuss, Eddings, Glen Cook, all blew me away at different stages of my life. R.E. Howard’s Conan and other works are some of my all-time favorite. H.P Lovecraft always fascinated me. I am a big fan of Stephen King’s writing style also, The Dark Tower is incredible. There are so many others, fantasy authors, horror writers, historic fiction authors – I draw a lot of Inspiration from them all.
As I mentioned above I am inspired by a lot of historical events and legends. Also I am a watcher of people, not in a creepy way, but the nature of people truly fascinates me. How people interact, how we will do things for each other, sacrifice everything for someone. And, at the other end how we are capable of such reckless hate and indifference of life. I suppose I draw inspiration from a myriad of places, people and interests and I work it all into my writing if I can.
What was the hardest part of writing this book?
The Dead Sagas is quite an ambitious tale. Several big plot arcs wind together and eventually coalesce as one as the full epic scale of the story is revealed. I suppose the hardest thing was bringing those stories together and put plenty of crossover references into each arc so they felt right as they merged. The planning helped immensely with that.
There are also a lot of characters in the book so I had to work hard to ensure my characters were believable and give depth. I often had only a short amount of time to bring them to life so I had to think very carefully about what is revealed about them, but also give enough to make the reader empathize with them and thus care about them. It was a fun challenge.
What was your favorite chapter (or part) to write and why?
A tough one, either Bjorn’s opening chapter called “The Tracker” or Arnulf’s opening chapters. Both are featured fairly early in the first book.
Bjorn’s chapter was really fun to write. The way he tracks his quarry, the meeting with the Wildman and of course the cannibals. It’s gruesome and tense.
Arnulf first appears in a chapter entitled “The Watchpost” it is the warriors of Arnar’s first encounter with the Dead, there’s a lot of action, major plot devices are introduced and again was an exciting chapter to write. Arnulf’s subsequent chapters are dark, gruesome and full of action. He is probably my favorite character in this book; his story has it all, so much happens to him. His story was overall my favorite to write.
Did you learn anything from writing this book and what was it?
I learnt a lot, it was my first piece of published fiction. I learnt a lot about the industry and the process of publishing. On editing in its various stages, on cover design, publicizing and I’m still learning. I still have a lot to learn but the journey is half the fun.
I also have done a lot of research to put the world of The Dead Sagas together. I have learnt a lot more about pre Iron Age, early medieval and Dark Age European culture. I feel I have expanded my knowledge of weapons, armor, religious practice and customs from these ancient times. Again, I’m still learning and I hope I will always pursue knowledge in this area, it’s so incredibly fascinating.
It’s sometimes difficult to get into understanding the characters we write. How do you go about it?
There are a lot of characters in the book, taking inspiration from Mazalan and ASOIAF, The Dead Sagas also has a large cast. So I had to work hard to give each of my characters depth and bring them to life in often only a short amount of time. Many of the characters are slowly fleshed out over the course of Volume I but I think (I hope) people will be able relate and like them, or of course hate them. Some POV characters only get one or two chapters but I used them to tell a side of the story from an interesting angle. Also it is worth mentioning, I have neither protagonists nor antagonists they are all capable of great good and bad.
Other characters had a pre-destined purpose in my planning and had to develop in a certain way which I planned. To create my other characters I like to brainstorm different character types and attributes and see who would be fun to mix with who for the best impact. I write them each a short backstory much like I would when playing DnD which allows me to better flesh out my characters in to much more believable people.
What are your future project(s)?
There is a lot of work still to do on The Dead Sagas. There will eventually be two big Volumes each comprising of three parts. Bear in mind, Ritual of Bone is only the first part of what was originally one big novel. There are three parts to Volume I, Ritual of Bone being the first, each of the three parts does stand alone as separate novels but I would one day like to see them as I originally intended in one epic tome. Same for Volume II which will reveal the full scale of the story arcs and hopefully resolve the bulk of the entire thing. That being said it should leave plenty of scope for more and I have plans for a few stand alones set in the same dead plagued world.
I have a few other projects I would like to try, perhaps a Wyrd Western, maybe some Sci-fi, certainly more Fantasy but I guess we’ll see what happens. The Dead Sagas will be my priority for the near future.
If you couldn’t be an author, what ideal job would you like to do?
I am very lucky as I have made a career out of doing the things I love, playing guitar, sword fighting and writing. But, if I couldn’t do what I do, and could do anything?
I always wanted to be an archeologist, digging up amazing and ancient things and studying history. Or perhaps a pilot, I always wanted to fly planes. Maybe a professional jouster? Maybe I still will do some of this one day, but best get this writing lark done first though.
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)?
Sign up to Lee’s mailing list!
If anyone would like to sign up for occasional (once or twice a year) email of news and updates on Lee’s work, with the occasional competition or giveaway too, please sign yourselves up to Lee’s mailing list.
Please feel free to pop me a message anytime, best way to contact me is probably on Facebook on my author page – www.facebook.com/LeeConleyAuthor/
On Goodreads – www.goodreads.com/author/show/14649012.Lee_Conley
on Reddit – https://www.reddit.com/user/LeeConleyAuthor or u/LeeConleyAuthor
Follow The Dead Sagas:
On Twitter – https://twitter.com/TheDeadSagas or @TheDeadSagas
On Facebook – www.facebook.com/TheDeadSagas/
I’d like to, if I may, take a moment to say a big thank you to Mr Michael Baker for having me here and letting me ramble on for ages, also for all the excellent interviews he has hosted over SPFBO. It’s a rare chance for unknown authors such as myself to get exposure and a great chance for readers to get to know us better. So thank you.
If you haven’t read his book and SPFBO entry The Thousand Scars, you should definitely go check it out.
I’d also like to say thanks to all my readers and everyone who has supported my work these last few months – Thank you all indeed.
Thanks for reading my ramblings, it’s been a pleasure,