Author Interview: Luke Scull

Luke Scull is a British designer of computer RPGs and writer of gritty fantasy. His debut novel, The Grim Company, was released last month and is set to become an exciting new fantasy series with enough teeth to take on the big players in the genre. We were lucky enough to put some questions to Mr. Scull – here’s what transpired…

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Luke, thanks for joining us today.

Your debut novel and first in a trilogy, The Grim Company, is available early 2013 from Head of Zeus. Could you introduce us to your world and the series overall?

The world of The Grim Company is that of the traditional fantasy setting fallen to a state of ruin and decay. The gods are long dead and immortal tyrants have divided the land between them. The murder of the gods broke the fundamental laws of the universe. Now magic is beginning to disappear as demons cross over into the mortal realm. This is the Age of Ruin.

As the story opens, rebellion is stirring in the city of Dorminia. A collection of misfits and antiheroes will soon attempt to free Dorminia from the Magelord Salazar’s tyrannical rule. Little do they know that old ghosts will soon reappear from the past, as new threats emerge to threaten the entire Broken Sea and beyond…

Each chapter is narrated from the perspective of one of the protagonists. The structure is very similar to A Game of Thrones or The First Law. The three books in The Grim Company trilogy form a sprawling, epic narrative.

When did you first have the idea for The Grim Company? Was it a gradual process or did the idea come more or less fully formed?

When I began The Grim Company in June 2011, I knew I wanted to write a dark epic fantasy with a cast of flawed heroes. The concept of a godless world coming apart at the seams struck me as the perfect place to unleash all the warped personalities I’d kept locked inside my head – characters not suitable for my T-rated videogame writing. I wrote the first few chapters without a firm goal in mind, but once I started giving some real thought to how these characters were going to grow and develop, everything began to take shape.

You’ve been compared to fantasy authors like Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence. How does it feel to have that kind of comparison? Does it drive you on?

Joe Abercrombie and Mark Lawrence? I hate to say it but those comparisons are a bit unfair, are they not? Now, if you’d have said Martin and Tolkien, I might be inclined to nod sagely in agreement…

But seriously – Abercrombie and Lawrence are two of the finest epic fantasy authors writing today. If my first novel bears any kind of quality comparison with The Blade Itself or Prince of Thorns, I can consider myself very lucky. I’ve only been doing this (writing prose) for 18 months. I know I still have much to learn – and I can’t imagine anyone enjoying my writing as much as I enjoyed Best Served Cold or King of Thorns.

Abercrombie and Lawrence are probably the authors whose styles most closely resembles my own, what with their flawed antiheroes, frequent violence and grim humour. I’ve not consciously attempted to ape anyone’s style; it’s just how my own writing has evolved. Being a Brit, I’m naturally cynical and fond of dark irony.

I am incredibly driven to be the best fantasy writer living in the southwest of England, though if nothing else I can fall back on being the youngest and probably the best at Street Fighter. If I’m honest, I don’t know what drives me. If I did, why, I’d bottle it and use it to conquer the world…

Who would you say your favourite authors/books are? Who really inspires you?

This is going to read like a standard male grimdark fantasy author response, but, well… Tolkien, Martin, Abercrombie… Mieville? Hobb? Pratchett? I’ve read a lot of fantasy but, I blush to admit, little outside of the genre. Martin and Abercrombie have had the most recent influences on me. Scott Lynch, too. I closed The Lies of Locke Lamora and thought, “I’d love to write something as awesome as that.”

I think a lot of younger fantasy authors are of an age where we grew up with similar influences. The father of our generation has to be Martin. It’s terrifying, as a new author, to re-read A Song of Ice and Fire and realise the sheer ambition of the setting and the backstory, in addition to the numerous brilliant characters and masterful storytelling. I mean, we’re talking sufficient complexity and depth to provide fuel for hundreds of discussions on a daily basis. That’s inspiring. And really, really intimidating.

How do you usually approach planning when it comes to writing? Do you think it’s important to know how absolutely everything fits together before you start writing?

I like to start writing with a basic skeleton of a story in mind. No more and no less. More leads to over-planning, which inhibits spontaneous creativity and therefore makes the writing process a boring, mechanical thing rather than an exciting journey into the unknown. No planning at all will likely lead to numerous rewrites further down the line. The trick is to identify the big moments on which the story turns and then work out how to get from one to the other with as much character growth, gripping action, and electrifying plot development as possible.

What is your opinion on the “e-book revolution” and the ever-increasing range of e-reader devices? Are they a force for good?

I’m torn, to be honest. I think e-books are a fantastic invention and I appreciate the convenience they offer. It’s wonderful that indie authors are now able to carve a niche for themselves and make a living doing what they love.

On the other hand, I don’t want to see any more bookstores close down. I attended a Joe Abercrombie signing of Red Country in October, at the Bristol Waterstones I’ve been visiting since I was a kid. I was reminded of what wonderful places bookstores can be. The high street would be far poorer without them. After all – where else, other than the equally threatened videogame store, can the besieged seek refuge when his or her significant other drags them on an all-day shopping trip?

The cover art on The Grim Company is quite striking and refreshing compared to other fantasy novels. What is your thought on cover art in general? Are you a fan of that “classic fantasy” style?

I’ve always been an adherent of the old saying not to judge a book by its cover. By that, I mean I don’t give it a great deal of thought – it’s the content that interests me. Having said that, my UK publisher Head of Zeus has done a brilliant job on The Grim Company cover. It’s very striking, very contemporary. They involved me heavily in the process from the start and for that I am extremely grateful.

I’m a big fan of some of the older fantasy artists. I spent many hours as a teenager admiring my Dungeons & Dragons manuals. Some of the second edition stuff produced for the Dragonlance setting was jaw-dropping.

I tend to have issues with some fantasy cover art for being a little – for want of a better word – banal. This is something I often find with North American covers. I don’t know how many variations of “mysterious hooded man” or Geralt of Rivia we need. Mind you, I’m speaking from a British perspective; I understand tastes are rather different on the other side of the Atlantic.

You’ve also worked as a game designer for companies such as Bioware and Ossian Studios. Would you say your experience working on video games has influenced your writing at all?

Absolutely.. I developed my writing “chops” (whatever the hell that means) by writing NWN modules, first as an amateur, and then as a contractor for Bioware before joining Ossian Studios. I’ve created hundreds of characters, written hundreds of thousands of words of dialogue, and penned over a dozen game stories. Designing a narrative for an RPG teaches you a lot about plot logic; I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but planning a novel is actually fairly easy in comparison to writing a story for a 20-hour game with a dozen possible story outcomes.

On a related note, I’m surprised more game writers haven’t published books. Quite a few ex and current Bioware writers have enjoyed mixed success at precisely this, but I’d love to see, for example, Chris Avellone (writer of Planescape: Torment) tackle a full-length novel. Maybe he has already under a pseudonym. Who knows? I originally intended to publish under a pen name but eventually decided against it.

What would be your #1 piece of advice to aspiring authors out there?

Read. Understand what makes a good novel in the genre you want to tackle – and if you harbour hopes of being published, make sure what you’re writing is the kind of thing that has a place in the market.

Finally, would you be able to tell us what you’re working on at the moment?

I’m currently writing the second novel in The Grim Company trilogy. It’s entitled Sword of the North. I’m also gearing up to start beta-testing The Shadow Sun, a fantasy roleplaying game for the iOS platform which I wrote and designed with Ossian Studios. It will hopefully be released around the same time as The Grim Company, meaning fantasy RPG fans with an iPhone, iPad or iPod have a double whammy of my fabulous writing to look forward to…

Luke, thanks very much for taking the time to chat to us today. Best of luck with everything.

The Grim Company is available now from Head of Zeus.

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