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PK Interview: Jonathan Oliver (Part 1)

One of the highlights of the SFX Weekender was meeting Jonathan Oliver, editor of Abaddon & Solaris and author of the recently-published The Call of Kerberos. Mr Oliver kindly agreed to an interview, and, even more generously, allowed me to test my new audio gadgetry and record the whole thing. We had a forty-minute, free-ranging chat that covered all aspects of the fantastic universe... and took a long time for me to transcribe.

As a result of this epic venture, we've got five, wonderfully free-ranging interview segments, all of which we'll be sharing over the next two weeks. 


The Call of KerberosWhy don't we begin with your new book - what are the origins of the Twilight of Kerberos series? How did you came up with the idea for the Twilight world? 

I really love sword and sorcery. I love George R.R. Martin as well, and I love serious fantasy, but Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd & Gray Mouser stories are my favorite things in fantasy ever. 

I wanted to do something that captured the zest and the fun of those stories, while also providing a series structure. We'd already had a fantasy series with Dreams of Inan which didn’t quite work as I wanted it to, though there were some very fine books there. This was way back when I first started and what we actually ended up with was something that was really more space fantasy. It was a bit Buck Rogers-y than I'd intended it be. Entirely my fault. 

Once we'd wrapped Dreams of Inan up, I said, 'right, now we’re going to do straight-down-the-line swords and sorcery'. I sat down with Matthew Sprange, who wrote the Shadowmage books – he’s the director of a role-playing game company, so he knows his fantasy quite well – and we came up with a world. 

Shadow Mage  We wanted the series to be heroic fantasy, so we came up with four different heroes. And then I looked for authors. Matthew Sprange, obviously, has written a couple. Mike Wild pitched Clockwork King of Orl and he got it right the first time. He gave me good, fun, fantasy fiction with monsters and battles and swords and magic flying everywhere. And I thought, yeah, Mike’s absolutely nailed it. 

We also had a one-off character, Gabriella DeZantez by David McIntee, and we'll be doing something interesting with her later in the series. 

How did you get involved as an author as well? 

I always knew there were going to be four characters.  

I was looking for authors to write Silus, and I’d created the character and created the world with Matthew. I’d been writing for a while anyway, short stories published here and there…. and I was so close to the project, so, I thought, why don’t I write it? So I sat down to do it in my spare time after regular work hours. 

Very honest of you… 

Obviously I’m not going to edit myself, for that way madness lies and you can’t get the distance when you're so close to the text. So I asked Rebecca Levene, who’d already written several books for me and had been an editor at Virgin. So she well knew how to deal with a relatively new author. She agreed to do it, which was very good of her, and she guided me through the process. She was brilliant and a vast help in getting the book right.   

The Clockwork King of Orl  And also my junior editor, Jenni, was helpful all the way through. And she was the one who picked up on the fact that I’d killed a character and brought him back to life… 

In your acknowledgements, it looks like you cite a gaming group. 

Gaming has certainly influenced the pacing of some of the fights scenes, keeping it quick and punchy. 

My gaming group is in the novel. They’re the guards in Nurn - they die in the order that they usually die in our games as well.

The first is Officer Springer, who is bent double, with shards of vertebrae sticking out of the back of his neck. That’s Owen – his characters always die horribly and really quickly. At least in the games I run. I have nothing against the man, he just does madness and death really well. Perhaps I should be worried.

Stick around - in the next segment, we get into the detail of Call of Kerberos. And after that? The sky's the limit. The Call of Kerberos is available through Amazon and your local bookshop.