Tom Lloyd was one of the original Gollancz fantasy authors. His first book, The Stormcaller was published in 2006 and was the first book in the Twilight Reign series. He followed this up with The Emperor of a Hundred Houses series and is currently partway through a new series entitled The God Fragments
For the uninitiated, how would you describe The God Fragments series?
A fantasy adventure – full of magic guns, explosions, monsters and drunk, mouthy mercenaries.
My aim was always to have something a little more episodic than most epic fantasy – there’s an overall series plot but first and foremost each book is basically a mission in itself, keeping the scale modest so I could focus on the fun adventure story I want to be reading.
The setting for The God Fragments has a lot of 18th Century trappings. What attracted you to that era as a basis for the world?
It wasn’t really a conscious decision. One of the series that had been nagging at the back of my mind was the Sharpe books, so while I didn’t want to just copy that I was always aiming for a post-medieval setting of some sort. When debating the matter of guns with myself I came up with magic ammunition and at that point things start to click into place without me trying to make it era-specific. I’m not the biggest fan of research so it wasn’t like The Thousand Names where there’s a clear parallel, the presence of magic has twisted the world building away from any specific time so I can pick and choose with less constraint.
Both Stanger of Tempest and Honour Under Moonlight play with non-linear storytelling. Was that always the plan or did that come about later?
It came about later in fact. While I was writing I was unhappy with how late Toil came into the story (given I always meant her to be almost as big a focus of the series as Lynx and it’s her actions that drive the plot) and the action in the book was weighted towards the second half. When my wife commented that I’m possible too linear a writer by inclination, it spurred me to fix both sides. It’s a common enough TV device but it seemed to fit quite naturally here and allowed me to bring in one of the images that had sparked the whole idea (a Twilight Reign short story I never wrote, featuring Legana getting rescued by a misguided heroic knight)
When it came to writing Moonlight I thought I’d give it a swing to see if it also fitted, and I liked the result. I’ve done the same with Princess of Blood because it suits the story and sets the tone for the book – so now my starting point for the whole series is going to be using this format unless it doesn’t serve a purpose.
You have invented a deck of cards for this series. Is that as difficult as it sounds?
Nah, it’s easy. Then you realise all the various problems brought up by the things you thought up on the fly and it gets a bit more complicated!
Having come up with the cards was inventing the games played with them equally challenging?
This was the real challenge. I came up with my deck and then sat down to work out probabilities for a poker-type game. I’ve got an A level in maths after all, how hard can it be? The answer is pretty damn hard and my A level was a lot longer ago that I realised. So I recruited my brother with his A in double maths, we spent an afternoon in the pub to try and work things out then realised actually it’s very fucking hard to do properly. The quick version we worked out had huge flaws that actually rendered all the work pointless. Having a decent understanding of poker and doing what seemed sensible actually was at least as accurate as trying to calculate all the probabilities. I then was introduced to someone on twitter who was a proper mathematician. We emailed a few times about the details because he was interested and could write programs like that, but when I explained the complexities I’d run into he went somewhat silent… If the series becomes a big success I’ll get it worked out properly so I can run a Tashot game at a convention, until then it’s a bunch of pages in one of my notebooks and a single deck that sits on my bookcase.
Last year The Stormcaller celebrated its 10th anniversary. Do you think fantasy has substantially changed in the intervening years?
Loads! I think it was changing at that time anyway, Lynch and Abercrombie came out that year and it feels like the wind had just changed towards a different sort of fantasy. Then add in the rise of ebooks and self-publishing (I had to force Gollancz to publish an ebook edition of Stormcaller in 2009ish because backlists still weren’t being produced as standard by then. In retrospect I should probably have reclaimed the rights and done it myself, but I was busy and lazy….)
Overall though, the quality and variety has gone up along with the volume of books produced. It’s one of the areas where the self-published side is massive and the competition is such that a bad book will get eclipsed by a hundred great ones unless you’re a huge name, so the pressure to deliver quality is always increasing. And that of course is another change, the withering of the mid-list where authors like me could make a half-decent living. There were big names but it feels like more of the market’s cash goes to the very top tier and a smaller amount gets shared among an expanded number of lesser known authors.
What is next for The God Fragments books?
Princess of Blood sees a new mission for the Cards, heading to a neighbouring city-state. Toil’s heard about an academic who has had a breakthrough in deciphering a millennia-old mystery and may be about to open a rumoured labyrinth beneath the city. Naturally she wants to get in on the action and equally naturally, her and the Cards barrelling into the situation only makes it all go to shit.
What was the last thing you read that you would recommend to someone else?
The House of Binding Thorns by Aliette de Bodard. A beautifully written fantasy set in the ruins of an alternate Paris. Thorns and the first in the series, House of Shattered Wings, are very different to your average fantasy and all the better for it.
I’d like to thank Tom for taking the time to be interviewed.