Good Morning My Fellow Bookworms and Page Turners,
It has been a while since we have had a guest on the blog, but I was lucky enough to persuade Peter Mclean to join us for a quick chat about his current ongoing series, War for the Rose Throne, as well as a little about his writing process and experience as a whole.
Peter has completed two books in this series so far (Priest of Bones & Priest of Lies). The storyline follows the strife and life of Mr Tomas Piety, Soldier, Spy , & Gangster and his colourful posse of memorable compatriates. I have both read and thoroughly enjoyed each installment so far, and I am itching to get my hands on the third, which is due for release later this year.
Peter! Its great to have you here, and thank you again for joining us today. Could you please introduce yourself to our readers and tell us a little about your background and career journey?
Hi, I’m Peter McLean, author of the War for the Rose Throne quartet. I live in Norfolk, England, with my wife Diane and a particularly demonic cat. I’ve been writing for years, but only really started to take it seriously in my late thirties. My first novels, the Burned Man series (Drake, Dominion, and Damnation), were published by Angry Robot books who picked me up through their Open Door unagented submission window. I’ve subsequently achieved representation by Jennie Goloboy of the Donald Maass Literary Agency, who sold Priest of Bones and Priest of Lies to Ace Books and Jo Fletcher books. The series continues with Priest of Gallows, which releases on April 29th 2021, and will conclude with Priest of Crowns in 2022. Priest of Bones is currently in development for TV by Heyday Television in partnership with NBCUniversal International Studios.
It must be really exciting to have your book Adapted to the small screen, how much influence have/will you had so far in the process, will it stay true to the source material, or is the plan to only use it as a guideline?
Oh absolutely, I’m thrilled to have got this far with it. At the time of writing, Heyday are still narrowing down the search for a script writer so it’s very early days yet, but I’m definitely hoping to be involved in the process to some extent as the project progresses. I think, with a close first person narrative like Priest of Bones, it will inevitably need to be restructured for television. I can’t think of a TV drama I’ve ever seen that’s shot exclusively from a single point of view so sure things will change, but I’m hoping to keep the feel and spirit of the original story.
Well I for one look forward to how it all works out, you mentioned earlier that you wrote the Urban Fantasy burned man trilogy; what inspired you to go from demons in modern-day London, to gangsters in Ellinburg?
My two favourite genres are fantasy and crime fiction, and I just really wanted to ram them together and see what would happen. The Burned Man was sort of that, in a faux-70s British cop show kind of way, but my main fantasy love is what I always call “swords and horses” fantasy. With Priest of Bones I finally achieved what I really wanted to do.
Do you have any method to the madness that is writing? do you plan, and jot or does it just come out as an unrelenting torrent of words and scenarios?
As I say, I plan extensively. In a four-volume, fairly politics-heavy narrative you have to, or you’d get hopelessly lost trying to follow your own plot. That said, there are still parts I make up as I go along. I plan in a storyboard fashion, outlining the major plot developments and set pieces in advance, but many of the transitions between them are off the cuff. Sometimes this leads to changes in the plan, if I come up with a development or an unexpected new character that I like. Then I’ll flex the rest of the plan to accommodate them, and weave them into the ongoing narrative.
Interesting, so as an extensive planner is your writing day as regimented as your process, and do you have a favorite time or place to write?
Oh good heavens no, I am one of the most undisciplined car-crashes of an author you will ever meet. For one thing I have a full-time corporate day job which takes up a lot of my time, and for another I am very much Not A Morning Person. Some of my best writing stints have been in the 10pm-3am bracket. As for a favourite place, it’s difficult to have options at the moment. I’m fortunate enough to have a dedicated home office in a separate annex on the side of our house, but I’ve been working from home full time since March 2020 due to the pandemic and this is also the room where I write so I’m starting to go a little bit stir crazy I think!
Was there anything that did/didn’t make it into the War for the Rose Throne series, that you in hindsight wish you had included/removed?
Hmmm, that’s a difficult one to answer. I mean, I don’t think so. I plan very thoroughly, so what’s there is needed for the whole story, not just the book you’re reading at the time. I already knew how Priest of Crowns was going to end while I was still writing Priest of Bones, for example. I guess it would have made my life easier if I could have explained more about Dannsburg and the Queen’s Men in the first book. The thing is though, with a first person narrative the reader can never know more than the POV character does and Tomas Piety isn’t exactly what you’d call an educated man. He barely knows where the capital city is, never mind what goes on there, and we don’t find out until he does in Priest of Lies.
If you could have a night out with any of the characters you have created over the years, which one would it be and why?
Oh, Bloody Anne for sure. She’s probably my very favourite character I’ve ever written. She’s a battle-hardened, cynical veteran who’s desperate to find love, and prepared to do absolutely anything it takes to protect her woman. She is also the most honest and loyal friend anyone could ever want for. I want her to be my best mate.
Ah, Bloody Anne, I must admit she is definitely one of my favorite characters in the books so far, you do have a lot of interestingly named characters throughout both book so far how do you decide on characters names, is it from people you know, or do you just fit them to their personality or is there more to it than that?
Ah, there is a power in names. I can’t write a character until I know their name. These people are commoners, so their family names carry no social weight. Most of them don’t even use a family name, at least within the crew. They are also soldiers, and soldiers have earned and been given nicknames since the birth of armies.
Bloody Anne: “Anne always had preferred the close work, that was how she got her name in the first place.”
Will the Woman: “We called him that because every time Will kills a man he weeps afterwards, but he’s killed so many men it ain’t funny no more.”
It’s the way of things, I think, that people who have gone through horrendous trauma together find a way to make light of it, to make it seem less than it had been. To tell each other tall tales, so they don’t have to remember the real stories. Names are given like medals, as reminders of a person’s deeds or personality. “Bloody Anne” immediately tells you that she is low-born, using no family name or title, and that she has done red violence. From the name of another character, Cookpot, you can deduce that he is, obviously, a cook, but also that he isn’t a naturally violent man despite being a conscripted soldier, having no name that would suggest it. Names aren’t even given kindly, either. As Will himself says, “It ain’t only women who weep.”
What do you feel are the key elements of a good story?
Characters, first and foremost. You can create the most intricate and believable world ever, but if I don’t care about the people who inhabit it then it won’t interest me. For me, reading fiction is all about the characters. I’m indifferent to magic systems and forgiving of worldbuilding, but I have to engage with the characters or you’ve lost me. This is why Joe Abercrombie is one of my very favourite modern fantasy authors. His characters are absolutely believable, fully-realised people who grab your interest and linger in your memory. Many of them are extremely unlikeable people, of course, but an interesting character isn’t necessarily a nice person. Give me a reason to care about your protagonist, to want what they want, and I’m on board for the ride.
I know you also write for Games Workshop’s Black Library and Warhammer Horror Lines, but what is your favorite Warhammer faction and why?
Warhammer was fun to do, but I very much stuck to the human factions. The good old Imperial Guard will always be my favourite. They absolutely represent the archetypical Poor Bloody Infantry, the ordinary conscript soldiers caught up in a massive conflict that’s far too big for them to understand. It’s the same in Priest of Bones – Tomas and his crew were just ordinary people scraped off the streets and forced to go to war whether they liked it or not. There’s a lot of World War One energy going on in both Priest of Bones and Warhammer 40k, and I definitely felt some synergies between the two. I could no more write about Space Marines in Warhammer than I could about noble knights and great generals in fantasy. My heart will always be with the common men and women who fight.
Other than your own work within the Warhammer universe, your latest I believe being ‘Blood Sacrifice’, what stories have caught your eye?
I’m a big fan of Danie Ware’s Sisters of Battle stories. They’ve been such an under-represented faction in the lore until recently, and Danie just gets them. They might wear power armour like Space Marines but under it they’re still human beings not transhumans, and Danie’s tough, battle-scarred veterans carry the weight of war on their shoulders the same way as my Pious Men do.
Finally, what genres do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
If I’m not reading SFF it’ll either be some kind of crime fiction or something factual for research. In Fantasy I’ve recently read and adored RJ Barker’s Call of the Bone Ships, book two in the Tide Child trilogy. In Horror, an early release of Catriona Ward’s The Last House on Needless Street which absolutely blew me away. It’s out in March 2021 and is honestly one of the best books I think I have read in the last twenty years. In Crime, Karin Slaughter’s Pieces of Her which is coming to Netflix in the next year or so, which I also enjoyed a great deal.
Well that concludes todays interview, I would like to thank Peter again for joining us today. If you would like to know more about the War for the Rose Throne quartet, you can check out my reviews of the Priest of Bones and the Priest of Lies and the Third installment Priest of Gallows is due to release on April 29th and can be purchased here.