The author of new fantasy books The Traitor’s Heir and The King’s Hand talks about influences on her world of world of intrigue, passion and divided loyalties
Anna Thayer is a writer and critic who works as a teacher of English literature and gives talks internationally on the works of JRR Tolkien. She has also edited a volume of essays examining aspects of CS Lewis’ work. SFX caught up with her recently to discuss the publication of her own fantasy stories.
SFX : Without any spoilers, how would you summarise the plot of your novel series in one sentence?
Anna Thayer: Bound by oath to opposing masters, Eamon Goodman must make his choice – and pay the price.
SFX : You work in the field of Tolkien and Lewis. What did you take most from their work into your own?
Thayer: My love of the genre comes entirely from early exposure to these writers, so it’s pretty inevitable that I’ve ended up absorbing elements of their work. In broad terms, I think it expresses itself in terms of creating a world that has the "inner consistency of reality" so prized by Tolkien – which of course means creating idioms, histories, geographies and myth to add texture to the story – and also wanting to tell a sweeping tale that allows both writer and reader to explore grand themes. At the same time, I wanted to keep the narrative earthy enough that it was applicable to people’s own lives – like Tolkien and Lewis, I think that the fantasy genre is the perfect vehicle for this kind of story-telling.
SFX : Lewis brings a strong religious message to his fiction. Tolkien enjoys etymology and world building and myth making. What themes drive your work?
Thayer: Thematically, the series explores the challenges of doing the right thing in a society that rejects truth and goodness. I also sought to make my villains developed characters in their own right. The armies of the villain aren’t nameless hordes, but real characters with personalities and motivations. Even the darkest of the villains have aspects of their personality that are good and sympathetic. Lord Cathair is a personal favourite!
SFX : What drew you to the work of those writers in the first place? What made you want to become a lecturer in these literary subjects?
Thayer: Tolkien and Lewis told stories full of wonder, adventure and heroism – things that definitely appealed to me as a child (and I haven’t grown out of it, either!). I really fell into lecturing on their work: I decided that I wanted to write the final dissertation of my English literature degree on the models of heroism explored by Tolkien’s work. My supervisor strongly counselled me against it (saying that it would not be graded highly), but I stubbornly persisted and had the pleasure of being awarded a first for it. I was a member of the university Tolkien Society, and was invited to present my dissertation as a paper at Tolkien 2005 in Birmingham. It was there that I also made connections with Walking Tree Publishers, who then invited me to speak at their conference at the University of Jena in Germany. Things snowballed from there! Since then I have lectured at a number of conferences and conventions and edited a book of essays on Lewis’ work called Doors In The Air .
SFX : Is being a fantasy author a long-held ambition for you? What's the first thing you're going to do when you finally get a finished copy of your very own novel in your hands?
Thayer: I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was ten years old – which was when I was encountering Tolkien’s work for the first time. I think my love of that work influenced my choice of genre, and I’ve been working towards being a writer of fantasy ever since. I’ve actually just recently had the pleasure of receiving my first books in print. I had to hold them for a long time to believe that they were real! I confess, though, that after that I’ve just put them in pride-of-place on our bookshelves – I’ve edited the first two books so many times that I’m not sure I’ll want to read them for a long, long time!
SFX : What tips would you give to new authors just starting out trying to write their first book?
Thayer: Firstly, read. Read especially in the genre that you want to write, and then read broadly and widely around it, both fiction and non-fiction. That’s how you’ll get the feel for language, tone, dialogue, imagery, and all the other tools that you need to be able to write.
Then, you have to write. Lots, and not just in your comfort zone. Experiment, and don’t be too harsh on yourself when you write something terrible – that’s your chance to learn the most important discipline of the writer: editing.
Editing is the most painful part of this vocation. It really is a case of refining something seven (or hundreds!) of times in fire to turn it into something precious. You have to learn to look objectively at the work that you’ve nourished as completely as if it were a child – and learn to take criticisms of it on the chin, so that you can continue to polish. It’s a long journey – but it’s worthwhile.
SFX : No spoilers! But where will the third in the series take Eamon?
Thayer: The Broken Blade sees Eamon face the consequences of his actions and loyalties – and the greatest betrayal imaginable.
SFX : What will you write once you've finished this series – are there other worlds you want to explore?
Thayer: I'm currently co-authoring a non-fiction book with Peter Gladwin (whose first book, the autobiographical Out Of The Ashes: The Restoration Of A Burnt Boy is about the most harrowing and uplifting personal story I've ever read). I’d love to write the "prequel" story to The Knight Of Eldaran – to explore exactly how Edelred effected his takeover of the River Realm, and how the House of Brenuin escaped total annihilation. After that, I think I’d like to explore other genres. But with a one-year-old in the house, these things are likely to wait a while!
SFX : Thanks Anna!