An interview with Scott Lynch

Winning the much-coveted SFX Reader Award for your debut novel is a pretty startling feat – in fact, we can’t remember it ever happening before. But that’s just what Scott Lynch did with 2006’s The Lies of Locke Lamora, a fantasy tale centring on a bunch of young grifters called the Gentlemen Bastards.

The second book in the series, Red Seas Under Red Skies, hits book shops this week. You can read our review in SFX159, on sale 4 July. In the meantime, here’s a chat with Scott!

How did it feel to hear you'd won the SFX Reader Award for the best book of the year?
“What sort of heartless jackass troglodyte of an author wouldn't be thrilled? I was delighted. In fact, I cordially invite SFX readers to do it again and again...”

Which writers would you say are your biggest inspiration?
“Matthew Woodring Stover, the most under-appreciated SF/F writer I know of. This guy should have streets and buildings named after him... he simply doesn't write anything where the passion and quality knobs aren't turned to 11. When I want to improve or refine my technique, I steal from Matt before anyone else.”
“Fritz Leiber is also huge on my personal landscape - so eclectic, clever, and proficient. The highest compliment I can pay another author is to desperately wish that I'd written some of their stuff. Leiber has scenes in his work that make my teeth crack with envy.”

Was writing the second book in the Gentleman Bastard series a "difficult second album" experience?
“Not really... other than a brief period of intense discontent toward the end, it was a faster and smoother process than writing The Lies of Locke Lamora. For me, at least. My scramble to try and fix what I thought was wrong with Red Seas Under Red Skies and still hit this year's publication date is the sort of thing that makes editors hang themselves in their offices... and all of mine are now definitely going to some sort of heaven when they die because of what I put them through.”

You've got ambitious plans - Red Seas Under Red Skies is the second of a proposed seven-part cycle, we heard. Seven parts?! What's wrong with the usual fantasy trilogy, eh?
“Oh, I'm firmly convinced that the septology is the new trilogy.
Everyone's going to be doing sevens, sooner or later. Shit... JK
Rowling and Stephen King have already. And here I thought I was punk before punk was cool. Sigh.”

Do you have any ideas about what you might do next after you've completed this cycle? A nice long lie down, maybe?
“Yeah, I'll need to spend some time catching up on my drinking problem.
Nah, typically what I need after finishing a book is a very brief and intense bout of relaxation - say, three days in the middle of
nowhere - and by then I'll be twitching to get back to work. Sales allowing, if this seven goes over well I've got a number of other series and one-offs in mind. Plus the seven that follow...”

You're a fantasy literature fan - were there any conventions you deliberately set out to break with this series?
“A couple. I wanted to write a series in which none of the protagonists had supernaturally-granted powers, or Destinies Foreordained From On High, because it's just too easy to make the lazy mechanism of prophecy/destiny the force that drives (or excuses) your plot in place of human schemes and desires. The unexamined ‘chosen one’ plot is one of those few old chestnuts that bores me to such an extreme that I'll bring it up in public. I also wanted to write a series that didn't skimp on the unfortunate realities of life in a world without things like antibiotics, refrigeration, and writs of habeas corpus... Locke's world is, to my mind, quite beautiful and striking, but it's not a land of pastoral innocence and cleanliness.”

Got any writing advice for would-be fantasy authors?
“Read. Read heaps. Of anything and everything. Christ, you don't have to like everything you sample, but at the very least do sample it. You're never going to figure out how to write a decent novel if you don't peel a few hundred apart to figure out what makes them tick. And then, for the love of all that's holy, follow the guidelines and suggestions set forth by the editors to whom you'll be submitting - this sounds obvious but it is actually a huge obstacle for a depressing number of would-be authors trying to squirm their way out of slush piles.”

Your fantasy world was partly inspired by your role-playing game experiences. Do you still play, or is that behind you now you're a famous author and all that?
“You have to sort of put quotation marks around ‘famous’ there. And for the record, no, I am as much a gamer now as I ever was... in fact, my wife and I have made a deliberate effort to slip more gaming back into our life, since we did have a dearth for a couple of years. I like to think that while we still do game less than we did before, we've replaces quantity with quality because our tolerance for bullshit has plummeted in our cranky old age (her a doddering 26, and me an ancient 29)...”

The Lies of Locke Lamora had a light, often humorous tone, while at the same time dealing with quite dark even violent criminal occurrences - what was your inspiration for that?
“I wanted to shoot for a constant variation of tone and experience.
Part of any good author's job is to arouse an emotional reaction in the reader, and I've always found, when reading, that that seems to come easiest when the prevailing emotional tone isn't too monomaniacal... you need relief, at intervals, from too much darkness or too much light, so that the flavour of each emotional highlight is more pronounced and contrasted. The intrusion of the miserable and the hilarious into our own real lives is often quite sudden - I don't want my characters to be immune to that.”

The first book had a real sense of place (the city of Camorr) but the second book sees the characters flee to a new location. Does this mean a change of tone and approach?
“Eh, not really. I've tried to invest the scenes of shipboard life with the same sort of gritty ‘people actually live here’ verisimilitude that I tried desperately to plug into Camorr. I've read several nautical fantasies (almost all of which I quite enjoyed) in which sailing ships were essentially treated as stable wooden vacation platforms on which people could happily sail for six months at a time enjoying the balmy ocean calms. Nobody got seasick, or pitched from a mast, or herniated. The drinking water never went bad and the stores never spoiled and the ship never leaked and nobody ever had to do hours of tedious maintenance on everything, every day, without fail. Talk about fantasies...”

Will the other books in the cycle see Locke and Jean revisiting places from previous novels, or will you be looking for new settings every time?
“Books I-IV will feature a new primary setting, a new city, in each one. Books V-VII will be set in the same primary location but feature secondary visits to new places. And the odd-numbered books will feature extensive flashbacks of a length with those in The Lies of Locke Lamora, about Locke's past. So by the end of it, we'll have seen nearly all of the ‘civilized’ world as Locke's culture knows it.”

We read on your blog that you're planning to set up some sort of Wiki-style website to deliver loads of information and background about the Gentlemen Bastard universe. What's the thinking there, and how's it coming along?
“It would be coming along a hell of a lot better if I weren't so technologically inept. My enthusiasm for messing around with HTML, various e-mail enhancements, etc is exceeded only by my fumbling incompetence.”
“The thinking there is to provide a sort of easy and thorough reference for people reading the Gentleman Bastard books, to better seat themselves in the milieu and answer niggling questions about world or period details... what's a tabard? What's a promissory note? Who the bloody hell is Lord Such-and-Such Arsewallow the Fourth? Such content I have, yes, but as to how to build a wiki into my existing website...
the stars have yet to align. More dark sacrifices may be required.”

Questions by Dave Bradley/Ian Berriman

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