Welcome back to the Indie Deep Dive feature here on my website. Before I continue, please check out my previous interviews with:
Okay, so now you’ve read those, you know what to expect! LOL I’m excited this week as I have a guest on here who has a really accomplished book. And it’s an AWESOME book. I’m also quite jealous of her!
This year I entered Hunters into SPFBO7 (Self Published Fantasy Book Off). Essentally it’s a competition for Indie Books. 300 books start off in to competition, which are then whittle down to 10 semi-finalists. And then a winner is chosen.
Alas Hunters didn’t make the cut for the finalists, though the review by ‘The Critiquing Chemist’ was pretty favourable (Check it out here: Hunters Review) so I wasn’t too upset. It’s not like I expected to win.
Anyhooo, it was a little sad because I was trying to uphold the honor of our little Twitter Group. One of my Twitter chums, EG Radcliff, had entered the competition the previous year and she HAD made it to the semi-final stage! And with very good reason, because her book, The Hidden King, is really REALLY good.
Awesome even. And you’re about to find out just how awesome.
So, without further ado…
Let’s set the scene…
Since I started writing in earnest, I have to confess I find it difficult to find time to read. But I do LOVE to read. The Hidden King had been on my To-Be-Read list for a while, with me slowly but surely getting towards it. I’d heard it was good. Halo had given it glowing praise, and I knew it’s reputation so I was eager to get to it.
And I did.
And I LOVED IT! It was everything I had heard about it and more.
To set the scene for this post, here’s my little review (click the book to buy it, click the review to embiggen):
The Hidden King is merely the first in a three part series…
So, now you know where I stand on EG Radcliff’s book, let’s get into the nitty gritty of it with the author herself!
First things first…
Tell us a little about EG Radcliff. What was your journey to becoming a writer?
I’m not actually sure when I decided that I wanted to be an author. I’ve loved storytelling for as long as I can remember; I told tales before I could hold a pen, and when I learned to read and write, it was like learning how to walk. I tripped a lot, but it felt natural. One thing led to another, and I realized that if writing ever became more than a hobby, I could truly have a dream job.
I want to get this out of the way first… Plotter or Pantser? Or somewhere in between? From reading the book, and I’ll get into why I think this on the questions below, it feels like you’re a plotter. The book feels meticulously thought out? Am I totally wrong on that?.
For the first two books, since they were driven by only a few characters and occurred within a limited geographical space, I had more freedom to make plot decisions according to what felt right as I wrote — I suppose that would be pantsing.
The first book was more pantsed than the second, and the third was almost entirely plotted due to the complexity of the storyline and the larger cast. I’m glad they all feel plotted, though — a lot of that might be from good editing!
Okay, deep dive time – spoilers ahead!
The book begins in a place where we have Áed, Ninian and Ronan. The dynamic between the three is quickly and effortlessly established through deeds rather than exposition, which is wonderful.
The thing I loved about this set up was that you have Aed (who has a disability – hands), an LGBTQ+ relationship (between Áed and Ninian) AND a foster care setup (with the two of them caring for surrogate son, Ronan), but all these elements are just introduced matter of factory with no ceremony.
It means as a reader you’re not drawn immediately to how different they are, you just accept it. Tell us a little about your thought process on these things?
I personally think that emphasizing differences is not as healthy as emphasizing other, objectively more important qualities such as individual values, personal history, etc. This is not to say that acknowledging and accepting difference is not a good thing — on the contrary, to deny the differences in people’s experiences would be to overlook realities that are fundamental aspects of their lives.
But I believe there is a balance to be found between seeing difference and embracing similarity, and my own belief is that if I have a chance to write a fantasy world, I may well make it one where characteristics such as being gay or disabled are not seen as more important to the identity of the character than other, more personally defining traits.
I’m absolutely with you on that. It’s the attention to those other traits that immediately draws you to Áed. I think it’s important to represent, but not draw attention to. I’ve tried to do that in my books, let’s hope I did it as well as you did!
So this is the bit where I’m going to draw a couple of spooky parallels between ‘The Hidden King’ and my own book ‘Hunters’. In my book, Gayle, one of my main characters, is a Fae/Human hybrid who has unusual characteristics and abilities. Aed has the red eyes and mangled hands that make him stand out, while Gayle is green-eyed and pink haired. Both don’t understand (yet) the full extent of their abilities.
Which came first for you…the idea of Fae being a part of the story, or Aed’s unique heritage?
Those came at the same time for me. Actually, Áed’s entire character — that is to say, no history or future, but as he existed in the beginning of The Hidden King — came to me more or less all at once, in a dream on a Sunday morning. I don’t remember the dream now, but I certainly did then, because I wrote forty pages in one sitting, and Áed’s character was born complete.
Talking of Áed, the decision to have his hands ruined.
Was this always part of the character or did this come later when you started to write his backstory?
This was something I learned about Áed as soon as I started writing. Authors always sound a little insane when they talk like this, but it is true that characters speak through you, informing you about themselves; I was writing the scene in the beginning, directly after Ninian’s fight, when Áed helps Ninian to his feet, and I realized that Ninian was grabbing Áed’s wrist instead of his hand, and I realized why. I didn’t yet know exactly how Áed’s hands had been broken, but I knew that they were. Later, as I continued to write, I learned where he had been and where he was going.
I loved the idea of The Maze and The White City being these two very diametrically opposite places. There’s such a contrast between the two, but also this connection. Love and friendship can be borne in the hardships of The Maze just as easily as abuse and physical harm can be found in The White City.
Can you tell me about how you approached writing each area?
I wanted to avoid categorizing one place as ‘all bad’ or another as ‘all good.’
The Maze has been wronged and deserves much better, but that doesn’t mean everyone there is purely innocent. And the White City lives in comfort, but that doesn’t mean everyone there is malicious. I liked the idea of identifying two very separate cultures and taking their existences at face value before exploring the effects each has on the other, and the potential for mutual improvement when dedicated individuals come together.
Of course our arrival in The White City introduces us to Boudicca (who I confess I think was my favourite character!). I thought she was fascinating. She sort of comes across as lonely despite the fact she seems to know everyone. When she takes Aed and Ronan in, you feel that while she’s doing it partly because she’s a kind hearted woman, she also needs something to fill a hole in her life. Is that just me reading into the character? Or was that part of the design?
Oh, no, that was very deliberate; you hit the nail on the head! It’s quite possible to have a wide network and still lack for something, and that’s exactly the situation in which Boudicca found herself.
She’s also a very nuanced character. She has this kind and generous manner, but also comes across as someone in control. But at the festival she gets drunk and you see this other side of her, a little more loose and reckless maybe. This carries over to other characters other than the main three. While there are a couple of characters who are very obviously evil, many other characters you don’t like at first, or are suspicious of (like Boudicca’s brother) are more than just one dimensional villains. It makes things interesting for the reader as you’re never sure about the characters motivation. Are they good? Or bad? Do you enjoy writing these more grey characters?
I personally think that just about everyone is “morally gray” in reality. To this end, I find that it’s not as important to assign a character a spot on the good guy/bad guy scale as it is to work out the details of their personality, and that allows any character tension to feel more natural. I found myself doing a lot of this in the two later books, and ultimately had a lot of fun with it. Not all “bad guys” are mean, aggressive, or even malicious. And not all “good guys” are decent.
I think that’s true in life as well as in fiction. I’ve certainly tried to do some of that in my own books. If I’m writing a villain (so to speak) I want it to be a villain that you can kind of understand. And I love a flawed hero. People are more than black and white, and I think the interesting stuff is in the shades of grey.
Now the story in The Hidden King is deceptively (and refreshingly) simple. Direct almost at this point. Which I loved. There’s no massive world threat or overarching villain to defeat. No ‘chosen one’ trope that do many fantasy tales fall into the trap of. Just a man finding out where he comes from. Aed, of course, is special (of course he is, stories only follow the special people by design! Lol) but he’s not fulfilling a destiny do to speak. In fact, the twist, when it comes sets up a very unusual ending and a really interesting direction for the next book. Was it always a conscious decision to keep it simple?
The plotline of The Hidden King was always going to be more or less direct, since I wanted the focus to be largely on how the characters experienced/reacted to/initiated the events. That character-driven emotion was the main priority of the book, and I wanted to avoid distracting from it. I’m happy that you enjoyed it!
I really did. My ‘Ballad of the Songbird’ saga is really complicated, and I did feel a need to write something more…direct. I’m really enjoying doing my first draft for my new Superhero type series as they’ll be much more focused and simple stories. It’s a nice change of pace for me. LOL
Talking of the other books in the series, the next book The Last Prince is a prequel (I’ve heard!). What made you decide to go backwards rather than forwards for your second book?
Part of it — and I say this honestly and without shame — is that it’s hard to write a prequel. When you’re writing a sequel, you’re building off of earlier events, but since you’re moving forward, there is a lot of space, and freedom to explore. In a prequel, though, you’re caged to an extent by the canon you’ve already established, and it can be difficult (especially when the prequel takes place not to terribly long before the first book) to fit a full arc without contradicting anything that’s already set in stone.
So part of the choice to write the prequel after the first book but before the third was that I didn’t want to limit myself further by establishing more future canon in the third book before writing the prequel. The reason for writing the prequel after the first book in the first place, though, was simply because it came to me that way.
Again, I know that sounds hokey, but it’s true. And overall, I think it works. Some of The Last Prince’s power comes of the fact that the reader knows the ultimate outcome; some stories just work that way.
I don’t think that’s hokey at all. 😛
Okay, to finish up, The Story of Aed is a strong fantasy book. Wonderfully written. Are there other genres you’d like to try? Or are you firmly in the fantasy corner?
I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at historical fiction! I think I would have fun diving into the research to make it as historically accurate as possible. But I’m not sure I’d be able to resist slipping in some magic or maybe a dragon.
Okay, last question… Elsewhere on this website (link) I do a ‘Casting Call’ where I talk about who I’d cast as the main characters in the inevitable HBO Max/Amazon TV series of my books. So, who would you cast as Aed and Boudicca?
I’ve considered this before… for Boudicca I thought Sophie Turner, Nathalie Emmanuel, Emma Roberts or Saoirse Ronan. For Áed, I thought a young Cillian Murphy, Asa Butterfield or Tony Regbo. They’re all grown up now, but their young selves might work
Thank you so much for answering my questions, EG. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Last Prince, and then we’ll HAVE to do this all over again! I will defnitely have questions!
E.G. Radcliff’s Links