Interview with HL Tinsley

The Hallows: Interview with HL Tinsley

It’s our pleasure to host HL Tinsley, the author of the Vanguard Chronicles series, and one of the authors of The Anatomy of Fear anthology. Today Bjørn chats with her about her new novel, The Hallows, celebrating its release!

Meet the Author
HL Tinsley

HL Tinsley is the pen name of indie author and creative writer Holly Tinsley.

Based in the UK, HL Tinsley is an author of Fantasy, Horror and Grimdark fiction and a regular contributor to gaming and pop culture websites and blogs. Her debut novel, We Men of Ash and Shadow, was a SPFBO7 finalist. The sequel, The Hand that Casts the Bone, was released in 2022. The third book in the series is in production.

In 2023, she co-managed the successful Anatomy of Fear fantasy horror anthology Kickstarter project, which featured work by 12 indie authors. Her grim noir fantasy, The Hallows, will be published on March 22nd 2024.

She is currently the resident DM for the Page Chewing forums and runs regular online D&D sessions for players of all abilities.

She is generally enthusiatic about most things.

Connect with HL Tinsley

About the Book
The Hallows by H.L. Tinsley

The Hallow serum was once sacred to the Auld Bloods. Used to gain access to their lost ancestral powers, now it is regulated and administered by the powerful Providence Company. Evolved from the echelons of the Auld Church, the company exists to maintain the balance between faith, science and politics.

But keeping the peace between humans and Auld Bloods isn’t easy. Taking Hallow comes at a price. Providence Company Assessor Cam must deal with backstreet bootleggers, burnt-out addicts and floating nuns that won’t stay on the ground.

When a string of Auld Blood deaths appear to have been caused by a corrupted batch of Hallow, Cam begins to suspect all may not be as it seems. Bodies are piling up. Someone is hiding something, and the consequences are becoming monstrous.

Tell me a few things about The Hallows that the blurb was too short to mention.

This is the problem with blurbs, they’re too short to mention probably 90% of the things you really want to mention. But let’s go with a few – it’s got a seven foot lizard woman in a wimple in it, that’s probably a good one to mention. The Hallows dives into a lot of social themes that are pretty prevalent in today’s world – the idea of identity and its value, particularly identity as a part of an organisation, be it political, social or religious. It’s got magical drugs, political unrest, terrible quiche and light jazz. 

So, it’s dark and grim grimdark that’s basically like the so-called real world, but with lizard women?

I’d say it’s definitely dark and possibly grim. Whether it’s grimdark, I’m not entirely sure. It’s a lot more whimsical than what I would usually class as grimdark, which is why I went with the term grim noir. It’s a dark urban comedy grim fantasy with nuns. That’s a genre, right? 

I think you’ve just created a whole new genre of your own, which most people can’t claim to have done. It’s a very flowery book. As in, there are quite some flowers, although they’re not very delicate ones. Such as Camellia… 

Delicate definitely wouldn’t be the word I’d use to describe Camellia. He’s pretty obtuse and can be a bit blinkered when it comes to his purpose and beliefs. But he’s really a good person at heart and it was nice for me to write that sort of character. Cam cares a lot more about the people around him then he realises, but he doesn’t necessarily consider them in the consequences of his actions. He’s got a touch of icarus hubris about him, but his intentions are essentially good. It’s the world around him that he doesn’t like and finds it hard to come to terms with. That’s why he holds onto his connections with people. 

How does the author of The Vanguard Chronicles come up with a character like Sister Ramona? (Spoiler!)

Sister Ramona is possibly one of my favourite characters ever. She is my homage to that most powerful and formidable of creatures – the over seventy-year old woman. I wanted to create a character who embodied all the best traits of the older women I have known – the wisdom, the wit and the attitude towards life that says ‘that don’t impress me much’. There’s nothing scarier or more inspiring than an older woman who doesn’t give a ****. As far as the other characters and all the wonderful weirdness goes, I’ve always written characters like that, I just haven’t published them yet. Vanguard was one side of my author personality – the dark, brooding cynical side, and The Hallows is the other – the dark, brooding, ridiculous side.

Since I had a peek Behind The Scenes, I know that The Hallows nearly didn’t get released. Do you want to share something about it? How hard is it for an indie author to deliver a quality product?

I think it is hard to deliver a quality product, there are a lot of obstacles to indie publishing and it’s only getting harder. But I think delivering a quality product isn’t as hard as selling a quality product. We see it all the time, excellent authors get lost in the crowd, good books fall through the net and never get seen. You need to have a purpose beyond selling books to be able to keep going – which, now I type this, seems pretty obvious. Let’s face it, we wouldn’t do it if we didn’t love it. The last twelve months have really been a journey for me in finding the love again for writing. I loved writing Vanguard. But I was getting bogged down in all the worries and the stresses and the pressure to deliver. I needed to remember how to be creative and take chances again. The Hallows was my opportunity to do that. I went back and forth over releasing it because even though I wanted to write it, I wasn’t entirely sure people would want to read a weird book about drugs and nuns and monsters. But it turns out, some people do and I’m very happy about that.

Do you have a marketing plan with lots of spreadsheets and finances and names and so on?

Of course, I can’t function without spreadsheets. I do have a marketing plan for every book, that being said, on this occasion, I haven’t entirely followed it. The Hallows is obviously quite different to Vanguard (while being quite similar in other ways) so marketing this one has been a bit of a learning curve. I was very business-like with Vanguard, but that made sense because Vanguard is all business. He’s a serious sort of character. The Hallows is a lot weirder and that meant having to be a bit weirder with the marketing. Which is fine because that suits my personality very well. It’s a lot more fun to market when you can be creative and do things that are slightly off the wall. The hard part is defining the market – I am sure there is one out there for dark urban comedy fantasies with nuns.

I read the beta version a… while ago. I seem to remember there were more laughs, and the final version is sort of more… I don’t know. Subdued? Jaded? Realistic? Or is it just my memory being the Swiss cheese that it is?

I think it just comes down to perspectives and comedic taste. Some people told me that Vanguard was hilarious and they loved the jokes in it. And other people told me they didn’t find a single joke in it and it was really depressing (in an enjoyable, great read sort of way, obviously). I think there is probably the same amount of comedy in there, but later versions expanded on some of the more serious elements, so it was more a case of there weren’t less laughs but there were more serious bits. The Hallows sort of looks at the ridiculousness of things and you’ll either laugh about it or cry about it, but you’re looking at the same thing. 

I find your humour very British, which works for me. Is it possible that it’s just lost on American audiences, or did the “depressing in a good way” remarks come from Brits as well?

I think it’s just down to the individual and the sort of content – books, films etc. that they consume. Some of my readers in the US love my comedy – the people who like Guy Ritchie movies usually. I think sometimes people don’t feel comfortable about laughing in dark places and that’s OK, but it’s equally OK to find laughter amidst tragedy cathartic or helpful. I think it’s important to be careful how you use humour when you’re writing a dark book. You’re never laughing at people or their pain – you’re laughing in the face of hopelessness or at the sheer ridiculousness of life and the world. 

The awkward question. Do you feel threatened by AI?

I probably should but the honest answer is no. Not because I don’t think AI is a problem – I think it’s going to fundamentally change almost every facet of life and I don’t think it’s going to change it in a good way for 90% of us. But if I worried about it, I’d never get anything done. If I worried about any of the terrible, devastating things that we are told on a daily basis are going to be our doom, I’d never get anything done. People will always want art. There will always be a percentage of people who want things crafted by human brains and human hands. Whether it’ll be enough to make a career out of, who knows, but that’s already a challenge we’re all facing without AI. I’m just enjoying this wonderful journey, looking at the scenery and not worrying about the potholes ahead. It’s pointless. Worrying only gives you stress lines.

I think that AI might be very good at coming up with generic stuff, but The Hallows is just too weird for a bot to write. It’s got too many ideas and AI doesn’t have ideas. Do you agree on that last bit?

That was actually my plan all along, to write something so weird that even a robot couldn’t replicate it. But more seriously, yes I do agree and sinful though it may be for an author to say it, there are some positive sides to AI in terms of helping people with accessibility – for example, I have friends and family who are dyslexic who can now read my books because they have assistive technology – I’m happy for technology to help people who can’t read books to read them, but I don’t want it writing my books. I want to read stories written by people who have so many ideas they make robot heads implode. Technology should be about bringing more people to art and books, not about replacing the people making them.

You gave me a good excuse by saying ‘replicate’ – will there be a sequel, or even a series? There is this CHARACTER I WON’T NAME who is at the end and I would very much like to know what happens to them next. So many possibilities. Or have you just decided “this is a standalone, off I go to work on my REAL books?”

A bit of both. I knew The Hallows would be a standalone, and that after it was done I would go back to the Vanguard series because I have missed the old guy and I do want to feel the sense of achievement that comes with finishing a series. But I would never say never about returning to The Hallows world and writing another standalone. I’ve sort of backed myself into a corner when it comes to not making it a series by tying up loose ends which can’t be untied (she said, mysteriously trying to avoid spoilers). But it would be fun to pick up with some of the other characters to see what adventures they might like to have. Watch this space. 

I used to think grimdark was slash-blood-cackle-emotions-are-for-wusses. Now I think of grimdark as literary – as in, character-based, not pretentious – fantasy. Would you agree with that?

I agree to an extent, but I honestly think – after many years of scientific research – that grimdark is just one of those indefinable terms that means something different to everyone. Some of it is absolutely slash-blood-cackle-emotions-are-for-wusses (which are not the stories I enjoy personally) and some of it is character-based literary fantasy (I do enjoy these stories). Then there is a whole lot of stuff that falls somewhere in between. This really is a tough one to answer because the term has become (hang on while I google the word) quite nebulous. What is grimdark? What is the meaning of life? These are the unanswerable questions. This is also quite clearly why I have not been voted in as spokesperson for the Grimdark writers community. [HL Tinsley takes a short break due to having a cat stuck to her and needing to unstick it, unfortunately has not provided visual proof – Ed.]

Were you influenced by any books/movies/etc. while writing The Hallows?

A lot of my inspiration for The Hallows actually came from the gothic classics like Dorian Grey, Frankenstein, and Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. They’re all stories that deal with identity and how we perceive monsters. The Hallows is very much a look at how we feel about the monsters in the world, within ourselves. I don’t know if many people will have watched it, but there’s a show called Call The Midwife which is based on a midwifery service performed by an order of nuns in 1950s Poplar, London. A lot of the inspiration for the Auld Church and the nuns came from reading about their order – and reading a lot about nuns in general. That was really interesting because it was about really understanding who they were as people. How they manage to evolve and develop their identities in a world that has changed. I’ll also throw in a mention for the voice actor Talesin Jaffe, who played a character named Percy in Critical Role. The whole character of Cam was inspired by one particular piece of artwork for Percy – so without him, the book probably wouldn’t have happened.

Artwork inspiring Cam by Bertrand Todesco
Artwork by Bertrand Todesco

Need some more encouragement? Check out HL Tinsley‘s promo video for The Hallows!

Grab a copy of The Hallows by HL Tinsley, which is out now!

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