The interviews keep coming! This time it’s the turn of Rob Donovan the author of The Crystal Spear, an entrant in this year’s SPFBO competition.

  • Hi Rob tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to write?

 I am 42, married with three boys and live in West Wickham, a small town in greater London, UK. I’ve always dabbled in writing and wrote my first novel of sorts when I was 14. It was entitled, “the Scarecrow” and was derived from my love of reading Point Horror novels.  I never really considered writing novels properly though until 2009. I had read three books from three of my favourite authors in a row: Robert McCammon’s Speaks the Nightbird, Stephen King’s The Wolves of Calla and George R R Martin’s, A Storm of Swords. I loved all three books but two of them went in directions I wished they hadn’t and “a Storm of Swords,” just blew me away so much, that I wished I could write something as good as that. My wife had just given birth to our first boy Joseph and was extremely ill. I would do many of the night feeds and it was whilst sitting up in the quiet one night around 3 am, that an idea popped into my head that involved aspects of those three novels and how I wished they had gone. Not tired, I lay Joe down and on a whim, scribbled down a scene. I had no idea of a plot, but the scene was just so vivid to me, that I wanted to write it. The next night, I read over what I had written and the next chapter came to me immediately. It really was that simple, every night I would write a bit more until I got in a routine of doing the night feed at 4am and not bothering to go back to bed, but writing until I had to leave for work at 6am.

  • What appeals to you most about the fantasy genre?

How broad and diverse the genre is without a doubt. Not only do you get to create brand new worlds with rules and laws of your choosing and fill them with all kinds of characters and species but you are not restricted in any way to the genre. If you fancy adding in elements of horror you can, want some romance, comedy, detective novel etc go for it. With the fantasy genre you can have the choice of including all of those elements or none of them and still be creative.

  • Tell us a little bit about your latest project and the challenges you’ve faced putting it all together?

I’m currently hard at work with the sequel to the Crystal Spear entitled, The Kraken Churn. I’m around 80k words into it and have roughly 30K to go I reckon. I aim to finish the draft by the end of July. That should allow me to release the novel in autumn.

There have been two main challenges in putting this one together. When I finish a novel in my series, I normally go onto a lighter project or short story before delving into the next in a series. It clears my mind and allows me to let off steam. I did that by starting to draft a prequel to another book I wrote 7 years ago. I was having great fun doing that when suddenly the urge to write a prequel of sorts to the Crystal Spear took my fancy. I always try and finish the current project before moving on to the next but this time the story was so clear in my mind, I knew I had to get it down on paper or risk losing it. I was really enjoying that story when I woke up one day and thought I really need to be getting on with the next book in the Forbidden Weapons Saga. So once again I put my pen down and started on another project. It was a challenge to start with as I had three separate stories whirling around in my head and it took a while to quiet the other two voices.

The second challenge is being productive. Being in lockdown and working from home has not been as fruitful as I thought it would be. I had a nice routine of writing before work and at lunch whilst in the office. At home with three kids that routine has been harder to maintain and so some weeks have been very productive but there have been others where I have managed a few days writing and then it has just not been possible.

  • What type of characters do you like to write the most and how much of yourself do you put into them?

Flawed characters are always great to write about, especially ones that don’t know they are flawed. I also like to write a good villain. The best villains are complex with understandable motives, but I also love to create “cool, almost cartoonish villains.” Villains that you just love to hate. Darth Vader in a New Hope, the Emperor in Return of the Jedi, Joffrey, the Ringwraiths, Voldermort, the list goes on, but all of them are just evil because they are evil and everyone loves to hate them. There is a push to make villains masterminds or Machiavellian and I love that type of villain but sometimes you just want to read a classic good vs evil story. 

  • For any wannabe writers out there what’s the most useful thing you’ve learned?

Reach out and back yourself. Being an author is a lonely profession and with it comes a large imposter syndrome complex. No matter how many times you get good reviews or praise, there is always an element of doubt as to whether you are good enough to do what you do. The truth is, if you want to write, it is because you have a story to tell. Someone, somewhere will love that story and so do it for them and yourself.

Writing is inherently a lonely profession but it doesn’t have to be. The writing community is the most friendly and helpful community I know. Everyone is rooting for each other and ready to help in any way they can. It is hard work but the help is there to make sure you have the best chance of succeeding.

  • What writing tricks do you utilise to hit your deadlines and keep your stories on track?

I find setting the mood definitely helps and I have a variety of things I try depending on what scene I am about to write. Often I will work in a dark room, light a candle and play medieval music on Alexa to get me in the zone, if I am not in the writing mood, a walk through woods and imagining myself in another time period often helps.

In terms of tools, I use Dabble writing software, which I have found to be excellent. I wrote my first 7 novels in Ywriter which was a simple but great free software, but I saw Dabble and loved: its simplicity, its planning feature and more importantly, being web based, I was enamoured with the fact you could log in on any laptop or phone and write at any time. It is subscription based but I think the fact that I changed from a perfectly acceptable free software to paying a monthly subscription tells you how impressed I am with it.

Finally, I am on a few writing Discord channels. One of them is very active in running 15 minute sprints where you compete against other writers to write the most. I say compete but it is really not a race, but it does inspire you to stay focus and distraction free for those 15 minutes. I average around 450-500 words during those 15 minutes. Do that three times a day and I achieve my daily targets.

  • Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Mostly a pantser for sure. The majority of the novel is definitely made up as I go along, allowing the characters to drive the story. Around about three quarters of the way through where I sense I should be wrapping things up soon, I will sit down and plot the last ten chapters or so to make sure characters have a decent arc and the story is cohesive. I always find this part (the plotted part) hardest to write as it begins to feel like doing a homework assignment or a task at work.

  • What plans do you have for the future? A new series or perhaps a dip into other genres?

A busy one. I aim to finish off the other two projects I mentioned earlier. I am roughly 15K words in to both of them and I don’t plan on them being long – more novellas really. I have also been jotting down ideas around a coming of age story with a supernatural element that I am quite excited about. I might attempt that one during NaNoWriMo this year (writing 50,000 words in the month of November).

Then of course there is the third book in the Forbidden Weapon saga.

  • With the world the way it is at the moment what sort of tales do you prefer? Ones with heroes where good triumphs over evil or ones that take a darker approach?

I am not sure if it is do with the state of the world at the moment or my personal circumstances but my tastes have changed. I always used to love a dark ending. I loved any book where evil triumphed unexpectantly, or the hero died at the end. Those are the endings that stay with you (the Mist for example). However, since having my three boys, I tend to want good to triumph and with all the doom and gloom around the pandemic, I think we all need a feel good story.

  • What’s better, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings or Star Wars?

Wow, now there is a question. The answer is without a doubt Star Wars but I feel guilty about saying it. I am a huge fan of all three. I grew up watching Star Wars on repeat and had all of the toys and played with them daily. I loved the Ralph Bakshi Lord of the Rings and had read the books but it wasn’t until the Peter Jackson films came out that I went back and read the books again and truly fell in love with Lord of the Rings. Harry Potter is just a magical series and I am not ashamed to say that I queued up at midnight for the books as they were released. Star Wars though just affects me like nothing else ever will.

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