I spoke with Dark Fantasy author Simon Williams about his books, craft and living as a writer:
1) Hi Simon, welcome to my blog! I'm happy you finally made the time for us. You write Dark Fantasy; what is that? Why do you feel so drawn to it – or is it drawn to you?
I like to think of it not so much as dark but as a particularly atmospheric, emotional style of fantasy which is more about the characters, their struggles and all the issues they face. I suppose it gravitates towards the darker end of the spectrum because that (to me) seems to be the natural state of any world occupied by humans. I guess I could write about some peaceful, happy elves and the tranquil life they lead in a perfect society... but how satisfying is that? No one finds their inner strength that way. So I’d feel compelled to put some human invaders in there... unspeakable acts... bloodshed... revenge as the peaceful race finally realise that living peacefully alongside humans is impossible... and it would just accelerate from there.
2) By all means tell us: How do all those gnarled, twisted and fascinating beings and characters in your stories come to you?
Sometimes they appear in dreams, although often they just emerge from situations and scenarios I think about. I create a little history, a phsyical appearance and they just sort of grow. I’m also a big believer in the situation and things that happen to a person then causing the character to evolve - we’re all what the world makes of us.
3) What do you strive for in your books? Is it a specific tone, atmosphere, or overall philosophy?
While I don’t try to go too deeply into politics, I guess my work often (but not always) has a guiding philosophy of characters having the tenacity and courage to tear down established ways of doing things, old orders, bureaucratic structures etc.
4) How do you write your books? Do you work in a logical order, or intuitively, or all of it combined? Do you have a specific approach or method?
It’s all intuition and instinct and very little else. I can be working on four or five different projects during the same day (as I am at the moment) and switch from one to another quite easily (it also helps if I’m not really feeling inspiration for one project - quite often I can switch to another and find the inspiration there instead). I tend to let my books plot their own course - often the characters seem to decide to go in directions I hadn’t planned, or I think of something that turns the whole story on its head but which absolutely has to be included. Planning is overrated!
5) Do you have any preferred season or weather for writing? A favourite smell?
I’m very much an outside sort of person, so I sometimes find I have to make more efforts to get my writing work done during the spring and summer, because my natural tendency is to be out walking, exploring, running or even sitting out in the sun listening to music. In the late autumn and the winter in the UK, there are not many hours of daylight and the weather (whether it’s rain or snow) is almost always miserable, damp and cold so I’m inside for much of the time.
So I much prefer the spring and summer, but winter may be best for productive writing.
6) Do you write by hand or on a laptop/tablet/smartphone, and why?
Sometimes I’ll write the very first draft (or pre-first draft notes, really) on a desktop computer but more often I prefer to scribble it down in a writing pad. No particular reason for this other than it gives me the opportunity for less screen time.
I certainly couldn’t write using a phone keyboard. In fact I only ever use a phone for receiving verification codes to get into my bank account!
7) A little more about the "technical" side of books: How do you publish? Do you self-publish or work with a publisher, or both, and how does it work?
Many years ago I tried approaching publishers and agents but found the experience very dispiriting - and their attitude not exactly pleasant - so I took the decision to do everything myself and at least forge my own destiny. Working with a traditional publisher would have probably meant them insisting on an editor to hack large parts of my works apart and rewrite much of them, meaning that the end result wouldn’t be entirely my own work or even anywhere near it.
8) You write very unique books. How do you reach your audience? And – how do you know what it looks like and where it dwells?
That’s a difficult one to answer. In a word, marketing - but I’m no expert at that. So I guess I should say trial and error. I try to use social media, which is tough as I have to try to appear interesting and engaging - but at the same time really it’s all about my books so I have to work them into whatever I’m saying, somehow. If it wasn’t for my writing and the need to market my books, I very much doubt I’d be on any social networks.
9) Do you listen to music while writing, or prefer silence? If you do listen to music while writing, what type of music or musicians do you prefer, and why?
I almost have music playing, usually on headphones. I like pretty much any genre, the only exceptions being r’n’b / grime / drill / gangster type artists, free form jazz, overly pompous classical, old school blues (it all sounds the same) and anything with Autovoice. I tend to like particular artists rather than specific genres, although I tend to listen to a lot of indie, metal, shoegaze, post rock, trance, drum n bass, breakcore, prog rock, grunge, house... I like to mix it up.
10) Do you have any talents other than writing, which you’d like to tell us about?
I can compose music and play piano / keyboards. I‘m okay but not great, and I haven’t had the time to produce and fine tune my musical works, which is why no one else has heard them.
11) What also interests me much: Can you live off your writing, or do you have another job? How do you manage to balance writing itself, earning money and the marketing tasks like social media, advertising, newsletters?
Balancing social media with actual writing is something I try to be disciplined about. I try to have a plan regarding what I want to say on which networks, when I want to say it - and I try not to spend too long scrolling through things and getting lost in all the chaos.
There are very, very few authors who are able to make a living entirely from their writing. I have to do other jobs - whatever I can find, whenever I can find them, basically. But that’s ok, because I never realistically expected to make money from my work. It isn’t why I began writing, and it isn’t something that bothers me too much. I’m more interested in getting as many people as possible reading my work.
At the moment I have enough money for food and a roof over my head, and that’s more than most people in the world, so I’m grateful for what I do have.
12) Who are your favourite authors? Why do they mean so much to you?
Alan Garner, Clive Barker, Tad Williams, Ian Irvine, C J Cherryh, Neil Gaiman, C S Lewis and many others. Most have been favourites since I was very young, which is why they’re so important to me - they were each instrumental, in their own way, in charting my course - convincing me that being an author was what I wanted to do.
As it turned out, I didn’t do that well at school and to this day I don’t really have what I believe are now called transferable skills - so writing is the closest thing I’ve ever had to a career, I guess.
13) I could ask a hundred questions more, but let me finish with this one: What is your latest work, and why should we read it? Can you describe it with three words for us curious noses? :-)
My latest completed work is „The Switch“, a sci-fi / futuristic novelette which is something of a departure from my usual work. This is coming out very shortly (on April 22nd).
My main work in progress is the first volume in a new fantasy series, „The Heralds of Misfortune“, which looks like it may extend to six large books. Considering all the writing, editing and marketing to do, that’s as frightening to me as anything in any of my works...
Thanks for taking the time and reminding us that dark things also need a place in our world.
Amazon links for „The Switch“: