John Gwynne shares his favourite fantasy books
I’ve always loved fantasy, it’s just been one of those constants in my life, part of me as far back as I can remember. One of my first solid memories is of a primary school teacher sitting my class down and starting to read from The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander. I loved it. After that I went in search of more fantasy, discovered and devoured The Hobbit, and moved on to The Lord of the Rings.
As I was growing up my dad was in the RAF, which meant a lot of travelling - usually a new home and school every three years. Books became my friends during these years. Don’t get the violins out, though, it wasn’t so bad. And I do have real, living, breathing human friends now, actually we settled in Eastbourne on the south coast when I was fifteen, where I proceeded to make some amazing mates that I still have today. I count myself very fortunate in the friend department.
But back to the early years - I think then that books became a big part of my childhood, something that has stuck with me ever since.
I remember being lost in the Lord of the Rings and looking back feel that it had a big influence on my young life and certainly in my writing today. It just seemed to have it all - an epic landscape, a cause to fight for, human drama. To say I loved it is an understatement. I was one of those geeks that re-read it every few years.
Of course it wasn’t the only book I read - back then in the mix I remember plenty of Robert E. Howard and Michael Moorcock, Stephen Donaldson and then Raymond E. Feist and Terry Brooks and David Eddings, as well as about a million comics. Batman was always my favourite.
I can’t remember how old I was when I read Shogun by James Clavell, probably fourteen or fifteen. That was amazing, and it opened up the idea of historical fiction; a whole new world. Now I can’t get enough of that, either.
When I started writing Malice it was for an audience I can count on my fingers - my wife and three boys. And me, of course. So I tried to write something that would appeal to all of us. Something with the epic-ness of Tolkien, Robert Jordan or Tad Williams, a world that felt historical, with some depth, but with a more character driven heart, inspired I suppose by contemporary writers like J. V. Jones and Brian Ruckley. I wanted a political story with plenty of double-crossing and multiple points of view. That was really inspired by George R. R Martin. But I also wanted it to be an exciting tale, with action and adventure. I guess David Gemmell is to blame for that. And I wanted a coming-of-age tale in there, for my boys.
All of the authors I’ve just mentioned are personal favourites that have written books that are imprinted on my mind and heart.
One of my top reads of all time is Bernard Cornwell’s take on Arthur. I love that series. To me it has everything that I’ve described above, to perfection. I know that technically it is classed as a historical novel, and it is written as if Arthur were history, but the fantastical is in there, if you look hard enough. And the love story is one of the few I’ve read that feels real. Bittersweet. And the battles are so cool...
I am constantly amazed that Malice is an actual book now, rather than ideas in my head, or notes on my desk. It’s a wonderful feeling to see it in my hands, to feel the weight of it and to open the pages. A dream-come-true. My hope is that it will entertain, that it will whisk the reader off to another place for just a little while. Whether it does or not is another question, but hey, I’ve already seen a few dreams come true.