Author Interview with Damien Black

damien black 1Damien Black, author of the Broken Stone Chronicle series, SPFBO finalist who ended up snatching the third place thanks to the tie on the second place. Ex-journalist, ex-musician (although you can never stop being a musician deep, deep down). I’ve pretty much publicised already in my Devil’s Night Dawning review how I got to meet him and how he played a big part of my being here today, so I won’t repeat myself. Let’s just say he is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met and he made me into a sorceress, lol 🙂 He is currently being busy writing book 3 of his epic fantasy series, but took the time to answer some questions!

Read my reviews of Devils’ Night Dawning and Warlock’s Sun Rising! The audiobook of book 1 is available from now!

First of all, please introduce yourself for those, who don’t know you yet!

I’m Damien Black, otherwise known as The Devil’s Friar. I write epic fantasy fiction with a strong horror slant. If George R. R. Martin and H. P. Lovecraft had an, er, lovechild, it would be me.

Ugh, thanks for that mental picture. They would make a nice pair though… Talking about George R. R. Martin, I know you are a fan of him (amongst others), but how did you end up reading fantasy in the first place?

Well believe it or not I started out with gamebooks way back in the 80s. The fighting fantasy/choose your own adventure format was going strong at the time, and the writing was excellent too. I was fanatical about works by British authors in that field, Steve Jackson, Ian Livingstone, Dave Morris to mention a few… Then there were the American RPGs, D&D and the like. I was impressed by how thoroughly those guys tapped real-life folklore and mythology from all over the world. A few years later I started reading traditional fantasy/sword & sorcery stuff like Tolkien, Peake and Moorcock, and that informed my writing style going forward.

Interesting you mention Fighting Fantasy and D&D. Several fantasy authors started with those, Benedict Patrick for instance talked about them in our interview. You’ve worked as a journalist, so I guess writing was pretty much always part of your life. Why did you choose that career and why did you decide to go for being an author?

Initially I chose journalism because it seemed like the easiest way to earn a regular income as a writer. After ten years though I started to become disillusioned with the cynicism and lack of creativity in that profession. I made the switch to writing fantasy a few years ago because I needed that creative freedom I wasn’t getting. However pretentious this may sound, I see myself as an artist not a hack!

I can understand the need for creative freedom… Where did you get your inspiration for your characters? Which one can you relate to the most?

I wanted to explore mythical archetypes. The perfect knight, the wise master, the aspiring novice, that kind of thing. The more I broadened my reading the more I realised how these archetypes recur throughout both history and fiction (I find that historians tend to weave a story of their own around historical figures). I wanted to paint on as wide a canvass as possible, again so as not to be too limited. I probably identify with Adelko the most. He starts life as an innocent with an inquiring mind, but his thirst for adventure gets him into trouble and he pays the price of losing that innocence as he gains more experience in life. I’ve travelled the world and been in more than one scrape I didn’t ask for, so I can definitely relate!

I think in a way we all can relate to Adelko. As we grow up, learn hard lessons, we all lose our innocence sooner or later. I find that every time I travel, I learn something new about me. Which place would you like to visit again?

Hmm, that’s a good question but not easy to answer. I tend to think more about places I haven’t been to… Brazil is one country I’ve always wanted to visit. After India (which I’ve been to) I think that’s the place that fascinates me the most. Countries like that have so much to offer – all that history and culture is bound to make you look at the world in a different light.

They are definitely exotic places. I really would like to visit Japan myself. Back to your writing. Do you have a favourite scene? Which one did you enjoy writing the most? For me the exorcism at the beginning of Devil’s Night Dawning is the most memorable, and Tintagael (by the way, has this name anything to do with the Arthurian legends?) and those scenes at the Earth Witch’s place in Warlock’s Sun Rising. 

I think the scenes you mention from Book 1 are probably among my favourites as well. I also really enjoyed writing the large-scale battle scenes. I did quite a bit of research and drew on my knowledge of medieval history, and those were a lot of fun to write. And yes, I do tap Arthurian nomenclature – I was a huge fan of Sir Thomas Malory growing up, and watched the John Boorman Excalibur film obsessively in my teens.

Religion has an important part in your books. Have you studied it? Perhaps at University or something? It’s obvious you’ve put a lot of research in that. Some of the critics stated (I mentioned this as well in my review) that you should’ve made more changes to make it more distinguishable from Christianity – which was the foundation obviously. Was it intentional that you stayed so close to it? Haven’t you considered to build up a completely different belief system for your world?

I studied the Abrahamic religions at university – I took my Masters at Kings College London, where I did a side course in theology. As for building up a different belief system – I say good luck with that. I don’t think I’ve read a fantast who wasn’t obviously channelling existing monotheistic or polytheistic beliefs to be honest. I believe that all religions stem from the human psyche – as such it’s highly likely that every belief system will have been mapped out in the past five thousand years. I chose Christianity as a template because it’s really incredibly potent – to say it has become a controversial religion would be an understatement. It is rich in imagery and has proved itself to be highly corruptible – what more could a writer ask for? I’m also aware how it dovetails with Judaism and paganism, which are obviously forerunners – so that gives me even more material to draw from. I think the changes I made were quite subtle, ‘circifix’ instead of crucifix to symbolise a saviour figure executed on a Catherine wheel rather than nailed to a cross. I’ve read so widely now that it will take a lot to convince me that any author has just made things up out of thin air. In my opinion, all we do is reinvent in our own style. This applies to music as well, incidentally.

I can’t argue with you there. Christianity draws from a few other religions and belief systems, thus becoming some kind of melting pot, representing many cultures one can research. Devil’s Night Dawning got some attention thanks to SPFBO. You ended up being 3rd (or 4th, depending on your view with the tie on the second place). What are your experiences regarding the competition? Did you learn something from it?

I learned that you can’t please everybody. Getting to the final was a blast, being in the final… less so. I think honestly the book business is a highly critical one, and I don’t agree with a lot of what gets said about what authors ‘should’ be putting in their books. The more exposure you get, the more criticism you’ll attract. It goes with the territory, but you have to stick to your artistic principles! As I’ve said above, our job is to reinvent – but I believe it is possible to do this without falling into the trap of being formulaic. Yes it’s a fine, fine line to tread, but that’s part of the challenge of being an artist.

Criticism goes with the business, I guess. Everyone who creates something will end up facing criticism at one point. Warlock’s Sun Rising gets less attention, although it’s even better than Devil’s Night Dawning, in my opinion. It’s obvious you’ve evolved as a writer between book 1 and 2. Did you do something differently?

Not consciously. I go where the story tells me to go. Book 1 involved a lot of back story and scene setting, the sequel was obviously the follow-up so I was able to pick up the pace a bit.I’m a bit surprised Warlock’s hasn’t had more uptake – I’m hoping that more people who liked book 1 will go on and pick it up.

Well, I can wholeheartedly recommend book 2 myself. Any future plans? What are you working on right now? When can we expect book 3?

The audio book version of Devil’s Night Dawning comes out this week. It’s published by Podium (who are known for breaking the Martian) and narrated by Ralph Lister (who has done Malazan Book of the Fallen among others). You can order a copy on the Audible website now. Pilgrim’s Storm Brooding (book 3) is provisionally scheduled for Christmas time this year. Failing that I should have it out by spring 2019 at the latest.

Sounds exciting! Personally I can’t wait to get my hands on book 3. Would make a nice Christmas present. You are a fellow music addict 🙂
 You used to play music, right? Would you like to share a story with me? 🙂

Er, I’m not sure how printable those stories are…! I’m trying to build up a reputation as a respectable author! I played in a rock band on the London ‘toilet circuit’ for five years and did a bunch of mini-tours on the continent. We were totally small time, but I had a blast! To be honest, I’m not sure how much of it I actually remember.

We are online, so no worries about print 😉 Do you use music as inspiration while writing? Do you have a soundtrack? A theme song for one of your characters?

Actually, no. For me music and writing were like two competing mistresses. The time came when I had to settle down with one of them. I chose writing. She’s less wild but a lot more sensible. If I put tunes on when I’m writing, chances are I’m going to reach for the guitar and get distracted. That said, I did the folk scene for a while, and when I’m writing songs that feature in the Broken Stone Chronicle I have a traditional score running through my head. It helps me to get the metre right, so it reads like poetry for the reader.

Fascinating. You should play something to me next time I visit London (probably in a few months time)! Besides, I got you covered on the theme song part in my Warlock’s Sun Rising review 😉 It’s a new thing I’m planning to do from now on for books I read. I’m still experimenting. I need to combine my love for both arts! Speaking of combining, did you ever think of collaborating with another author? Who would you like to work with?

I did talk briefly with M L Spencer about doing a historical novel set in the time of the Crusades, but we’re both too busy for that to become a reality. And also, I had enough of team sports playing in a band to be honest. Creative disputes can be a pain. I like being my own boss!

Yeah, I get you. I’d be the best boss I ever had. Probably I wouldn’t be too productive though… Anyway, thanks for taking the time to answer my questions! It’s always nice talking to you 🙂

Thanks for asking them. It was nice talking to you too!

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If you’d like to get in contact with Damien, you can find him on social media:

Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Get Devil’s Night Dawning at:

Amazon, Barnes&Noble, Audible US, Audible UK

Get Warlock’s Sun Rising at:

Amazon, Barnes&Noble