Peter McLean is the author of the fantasy gangster thrillers Priest of Bones, released in October 2018 from Jo Fletcher Books and Ace/Roc, and Priest of Lies (July 2019) . His first novels, the Burned Man series, are noir urban fantasy. He has also worked on game tie-in short fiction for various franchises including Warhammer. He lives in Norwich, England, with his wife Diane.
Welcome to the Asylum! Take a seat by the fire, have a glass of beverage of your choice and tell me something about yourself!
Hi Timy, thanks for having me. I’m a British fantasy author based in Norwich, England, which is a small city a couple of hours from London on the east coast of the UK. I wrote the Burned Man urban fantasy series a few years ago, but am now mostly known for last year’s Priest of Bones which came out October 2018 from Ace in the US and Jo Fletcher Books in the UK. I’m married to Diane and, like most authors, am owned by a cat.
Say, you can live in the fantasy house/lair of your dreams. What would it look like?
Oh, I already know that one – it would be the Redoran stronghold I built for myself in Morrowind about fifteen years ago. I absolutely lived in that game for years, and once I learned to make my own mods I went a little bit crazy with it. I don’t still have it installed sadly (I doubt it even runs on Windows 10), but I had easily 250 mods stacked on top of the base game, and the fortress palace I built myself was magnificent, if I say so myself. All hail Great House Redoran!
How did you become an author? Was it a childhood dream or something you realised you wanted to do in later years? What is the hardest part of being one?
I knew I wanted to write back in highschool. I think it was falling in love with Tanith Lee’s writing that first made me want to try to create something similar. The biggest problem was always finding the time to actually finish anything. I went straight from highschool to full-time employment, moved out of my parents’ home early and got married young. Making ends meet financially was always more pressing back then than making writing time. I was in my mid thirties before I finished my first (unpublished) book, and forty two when I signed my first book deal. It can be a long road, that’s for sure.
It indeed can be, but it’s always a great feeling when your dreams finally come true. No matter how much time it took.
What inspires your writing? Do you listen to music, stare into the fire, listen to the whispering of the wind, make deals with the Devil?
Let’s leave my deal with the Devil out of it, shall we? *ahem* Yeah I listen to music all the time. I’m a big classic rock fan, but I’m not sure it inspires the writing particularly. Writing is just something I do, I suppose, I don’t really know where it comes from. History certainly inspires me in terms of setting and mood, but the characters themselves just sort of pop out of my head all by themselves and start doing things, and I write those things down. You did say this was an asylum, didn’t you? How apt.
Yep, it’s an asylum. I’m pretty sure you’ll fit right in 😉 Why fantasy? Why dark fantasy specifically? What makes the genre appealing to you?
I’m a lifelong fantasy fan, ever since my mother first read The Hobbit to me when I was maybe eight years old. Why dark fantasy? I don’t know – the world is a dark place, I suppose. I read a lot of horror novels and war stories when I was a teenager, so that was probably an influence to an extent, but I don’t think I’ve ever written what might be called a cheerful story. Odd, when I’m such a happy soul in real life…
Hey, I’m not judging here! Especially since I’m a fan of your writing. Please, never change! Talking of change, which one of your characters would you like to switch with and live in Ellinburg in their place? And which of them would you like to live with in an Asylum?
Erm, I can’t say I have a great desire to live in Ellinburg at all, to be honest. It could be kindly described as a “reeking shithole” at best, and “a grinding hell of poverty and oppression” if we’re being absolutely honest about it. It’s really not a very nice place at all. The wealth and learning of the land is concentrated in the capital city of Dannsburg, as you’ll see in Priest of Lies, but Dannsburg is… not without it’s problems, shall we say. Which of my characters would I want to live with? I’d have to say Bloody Anne. You couldn’t want for a better friend than Bloody Anne. Just, you know, don’t piss her off.
Oh, Bloody Anne is an excellent choice! Though I think Billy the Boy would make a more interesting room mate in an asylum.
You write your books from the first person POV, which makes the story feel more personal in a way. How do you get into the head of your characters? Do you ever find yourself „staying in character” after a writing session?
All my published novels are in first person, it’s just something that comes naturally to me. Even when I’m writing for Warhammer, where the stories are mostly in third person, I write in a very close, limited third that is almost as intimate as first. Getting inside the heads of characters is important to me. However much action a story has, if I don’t care about particular characters then I’ve got no reason to care who wins, who lives and who dies. I suppose I am a sort of “method writer” to an extent, if that’s a thing. I don’t think I’d want to stay in character as Tomas Piety for very long at a time though.
No, I don’t suppose you do… Many reviewers mentioned The Godfather when trying to come up with a comparison for Priest of Bones. Was it an inspiration? Do you agree with this comparison?
Oh absolutely, on both counts. When my agent and I were shopping Priest of Bones to editors we actually pitched it as “The Godfather with swords”, and I think that’s a completely fair comparison. I’m a huge fan of Puzo’s novel and the films as well. In fact, The Godfather was the first gangster novel I ever read, back in the 1980s when I was maybe fourteen or fifteen, and I fell in love with the genre right there and then.
And staying on that course of thoughts – did you do research on mafia or any crime organisations?
A little bit, mostly for the initiation ritual scene in Priest of Lies, but in all honesty I really just went with the genre conventions established by films like Goodfellas, Casino, White Heat, and of course The Godfather itself. I think the “Hollywood Gangster” trope is so ingrained in the public subconscious now that it doesn’t really matter if it’s accurate or not. It’s become accepted in the same way that movie dinosaurs don’t have feathers like they should, because they’d “look silly” to most viewers. If it’s cool enough, it doesn’t have to be true.
Is there a favourite part in the War for the Rose Throne series you especially enjoyed to write or was special to you for some reason?
Oh, that’s a hard one to answer. You end up so close to your own work after pouring over it for the best part of a year that it’s hard to remain objective sometimes. I love writing the action scenes and the really bloody fights, but I think I take the most pleasure in the more poignant, tender scenes between Tomas and Jochan, or Tomas and Anne, or Anne and Rosie. If I can bring a tear to my own eye while I’m writing, I know I’ve nailed it.
If Tomas Piety had a tattoo, what would it be?
Who says he hasn’t? Actually I don’t think I’ve mentioned anyone in the books having tattoos so far; maybe it’s not a thing they go in for in Ellinburg. Anyway if he had it would probably be an eagle or a pair of crossed swords or something. He’s not really what you’d call an imaginative man.
Yeah, well, I’m looking forideas for my second tattoo, but I admit taking an example from Tomas Piety might be not the best idea…
Priest of Lies will be released on July 2nd. Priest of Bones was pretty well received and there is anticipation for book 2. As an author, how do you deal with pressure from readers and/or the publisher?
Everyone’s been wonderful, I’m pleased to say. Sure I’ve had a few less than complementary reviews, the same as anyone, but in truth the book has been far better received than I could have hoped for, and I’m very grateful for that. I don’t get pressures from my publishers at all, they’re both wonderful. I’m used to writing licensed IP tie-in stuff, don’t forget – now those are deadlines!
Hah, true! What would you say is the main message of the series?
I’m not a “message fiction” type of author who’s hoping to teach people life lessons or change their minds, I’m an entertainer. That said, I guess the key theme of Priest of Lies is that power corrupts, and in none so much as those used to being powerless. And if it makes you think about war and its consequences, and perhaps about family and what that means, then I’ll be a happy man.
How would you persuade those who haven’t read Priest of Bones yet to give it a try?
I don’t like to force my books on people, not everyone likes the same things after all. I guess if you like thrillers, gangster movies, or historical fiction with just a little dash of magic, then it might be something you would enjoy. I’m a terrible salesman, I know!
Nah, I’m sold. But then, I already read the series so far, so I might not be the best person to try to sell it. How do you relax after a long writing/research session? Do you have any hobbies (writing not included :P)?
Whisky. No, seriously, I wish I had time for hobbies! I still work a full time corporate day job, for one thing, so writing and all the things that come with it like editing and proofing and giving interviews and doing podcasts, all that stuff has to fit into my “free time” after work and at weekends. I do read for pleasure as much as I can though, mostly in the genre, and these days I get sent a lot of free books from publishers and other authors. I’ve recently been lucky enough to get advance copies of Joe Abercrombie’s A Little Hatred and Anna Smith Spark’s House of Sacrifice. I’m a big fan of them both and can’t wait to dive in!
I’m quite sure a lot of people died of jealousy reading that answer, lol. What are you working on now and what can we expect from you in the future?
Right now I’m working on the third War for the Rose Throne novel, and I have my first audio drama script in development with Warhammer’s Black Library which is very exciting. That’s a medium I’ve never worked in before, and while the learning curve for script writing has been almost vertical I’ve learned a huge amount doing it, and it’s been a lot of fun.
Whoa, that sounds interesting. I’m not much into audio dramas, but I know a few people who are. I’ll keep my eyes open for it! Where can people meet you this year? Any plans for attending cons?
I’m not really doing cons this year, sadly, although I’ll be at the Summer Festival Meet’n’Greet at London’s Forbidden Planet Megastore on July 20th with Anna Smith Spark, Mike Brooks, Micah Yongo, Greg Chivers and Nick Setchfield. It would be great so see some people there, and hopefully I’ll be able to make FantasyCon as usual again next year.
I’m sad to here we won’t be able to meet this year, but there is always next year! While you are locked in here for eternity, we will allow you one book – what would you choose?
Oh how could you?! ONE book? Seriously? Nope, that’s a cruel and unusual punishment, I can’t. I would die first! Ok, probably The Court of Broken Knives. I’ve read that three times already and don’t think I could ever get tired of it. You’re still mean, though.
Hey, no one said I was nice in the first place! Where did you get that idea? Well then, we hope you’ll enjoy your stay in the Asylum! Any last words? *locks door*
That last question only proves my point – you don’t mess with Terrible Timy, not if you know what’s good for you.
And on that note, before she traps me in the Asylum forever, if you want to keep in touch the best place to find me is on Twitter at @PeteMC666 or my website, Talonwraith.com
Thanks for having me. Can I go now?
If you’d like to get more dark gangster fantasy, or cat pictures, you can find Peter McLean on social media: