Friday 16 December 2011

Turning the tables #2 - Fantasy Faction

Welcome to the 2nd turning of the tables - in fact really this is the first true turning since this episode's victim has actually interviewed me:

My subject this week is Marc Alpin, to whom I was able to apply my one-size-fits-all interview (not something he did to me, but rolling out the same questions each time is a common interview style & one I'm adopting out of cussedness). And I've been pleased to see Marc assailed by the same host of 'are my answers too long?'/'how will people take this' doubts that an interviewed author (i.e. me) has to struggle with.

Without further ado let us grill Marc Alpin, Overlord of the excellent Fantasy Faction site:

1. So what's the 411 on Marc Alpin? Tell us a bit about your background? (from Pat's Hotlist)

Marc Aplin is a 24 year old male who has brown hair, hazel eyes, an athletic build and... wait, this is a speed dating application, right?

No? Mark Lawrence? Interviewing Fantasy Bloggers... Oh, in that context... I guess I'm not your 'typical' fantasy fan. I only started really getting into Fantasy books after getting injured cage fighting a few years back.

When I trained in Martial Arts I was constantly surrounded by people who pretty much lived and breathed martial arts. For years, pretty much all I did was train, eat and talk to my friend about Martial Arts.

Then though, as I said, I got injured. I lost touch with a lot of those friends and because I had so much spare time, I needed something to fill it. Something exciting, something that could keep me hooked for hours and hours a day - it just turned out that this was fantasy books.

As for Fantasy-Faction? Well, as I've already said, Martial Arts is a very 'group' orientated hobby. As much as I loved reading Fantasy books and that certainly filled the hours I'd usually be training, I missed the social aspect. So, I looked around for 'community' style fantasy sites and I couldn't really find one that suited 'me' and what 'I' was looking for... that's when I thought I'd set one up!

2. Why should we read your blog? Convince us?

Fantasy-Faction isn't 'my' blog. I might have set it up, but essentially it belongs to the community and everything we publish on there comes from the community, from our forum members and our Twitter followers.

Essentially, that is what Fantasy-Faction is; a community. Anyone who has literary talent can write an article for Fantasy-Faction. We publish one article a day on average. This article might be about writing Fantasy, it might be a book review, it might be an interview with an author (such as yourself) or it may be an in-depth article on a certain genre convention. The diversity of our contributors means that we have a huge variety of content going up throughout the week and I'm really, really proud of each and every article/interview/review that we publish.

Logging on to google analytics now, I can tell you that we had 1238 visitors on Fantasy-Faction yesterday. So, that proves to me that we are doing something right and I hope that those reading this will pay us a visit and also become part of the community 

3. What inspired you to start a review site?

I think I covered this already in question 1. But, just to reiterate... I think that although 'the act' of reading is solitary and should remain that way - the eventual interpretation of the novel and the process the mind goes through when filling in the blanks in regards to what happens after the book has finished or what was left unsaid should be a communal one.

4. Where do you get your ideas for new books to review from?

To be honest, because we have so many people contributing to Fantasy-Faction (around 35 now I believe), I just read what I want to read. This might be a classic such as Game of Thrones, Wheel of Time, etc or it me be a hot debutee such as Douglas Hulick, Elspeth Cooper or some guy I heard about last year; Mark Lawrence!

I believe that if you write a good, thought provoking review - people will read it. There is a misconception amongst bloggers that visitors to your site only want to read about 'new books'. Of course, they do want to read about new books, but also, if you have the personality and the ability to really judge a book, analyse it and show your visitors something they perhaps missed when they read it or make them see the book in a different light, they will be rewarded by reading your review of the classics.

5. What's your favourite book and why?

Wow. That is a very, very hard question. How much do I get sent via paypal if I say: "Prince of Thorns"? Certainly, Mark your book is up there with the best things I've read in the last few years.

I don't think there is such a thing as 'the ultimate book', because the way that 'reading' works is that you as a reader will connect to a book completely differently than 'I' as a reader will connect to a book. This is because, when an author writes a book they are injecting certain attitudes and values that they have into their work and your reaction to these attitudes and values will inevitably affect how you respond to the book as a whole.

That is of course on the deepest level possible, but even things like characters, setting, time period, etc - if you look at your character Jorg for example Mark... A dark, self assured male - a young, female reader might struggle to connect with him. That of course doesn't mean you are doing something wrong as an author, it means that the young girl is unable to connect to the book, nothing more and nothing less.

I think then, if I had to pick one book that really made me think 'oh wow' and a book that I think resonated with 'me' more as an individual more than any other book in the entire world ever has... it would be 'Beyond the Shadows', which is book 2 of 'The Night Angel Trilogy' by 'Brent Weeks'. The character reminded me a lot of myself and he asked the same personal question that I often asked about my own life. I guess the fact that he is an assassin who takes pleasure in killing people might concern your readers (I guess I should emphasise... I have to homicidal thoughts!)

6. If music be the food of love, what do you think book reviewing is and please explain your answer? (from the Falcata Times)

I think book reviewing is to books what movie reviews are to film. To a certain extent they can make or break a book... I know that is wrong, but to give you an example: I won't read anything with a score of less than 3 on Goodreads generally. That actually goes against my theory that what you read is down to individual tastes and preference, however, I think Goodreads provides a decent enough cross section to say that if 1000 people read a book and the majority of them agree it is 'alright' then I should probably concentrate on the books that thousands of people think is 'good' or even better 'excellent'.

In regards to how reviews can support a book. Well, I think that a good review will give readers a sense of what they can expect and tell them whether they should spend their time reading it. The review should also connect to the reader in a way that has them thinking about the book in ways they might not have should they not have read your review. This is especially true if you have an active user base like Fantasy-Faction. Because Fantasy-Faction is full of people who have already read the books we review (even the ARCs) we have to write reviews that are appropriate for people who have already read what we are reviewing. This means we cannot simply retell the book, we have to look at the underlying messages within that book and what the author is saying beyond the words on the page.

7. Everyone says they understand that people's tastes vary, but not everyone truly accepts that. If someone adores a book you hate ... does that give you any pause, emotionally or mentally?

There are two sides to this: taste and the readers’ ability to connect. Taste is the easy one. What do you like in books? Usually there will be a genre preference. For myself, that preference is fantasy, simply because that is what I like reading about. People who are nostalgic, typically do read fantasy. People who like to dream, think of the past, wish they were knights killing dragons and such. That's me...

How much you enjoy a book will depend upon how easily you connect to the protagonists and what is being said. I quite like the whole darker style fantasy vibe that we have going on right now because I can connect to that.

However, I remember before I read fantasy a few years back, there was a trend of publishing books about young girls who suffered abuse. I read them, but never really found them enjoyable because I couldn't connect with these young children experiencing pain. If I was to review them I'd probably give them 2 star type reviews, however, people with children are in a better position to feel the 'shock' factor of a child being hurt or someone who themselves suffered abuse will probably give them 5 stars as they will connect and 'feel' the hurt with the characters.

So yes, once you connect with a book you can begin to feel emotions as a result of it and it is this emotional experience that makes reading a book far more enjoyable than a film. If that connection is never made, you will never enjoy the book and I think that is why book reviews vary.

8. Do you ever hold back when you might want to vilify a book, or put a more positive spin on it in an attempt to be even handed and not colour the review too much with your personal reaction?

Perhaps I should have mentioned this in my last answer, but there are times when I think: "How can you say that?" and something about a review truly angers me, sometimes even offends me. As long as the language and the structure of the novel is sound, you will really have to justify yourself giving a bad review. And in fact, I think a reviewer should really, really think hard about themselves and what they are writing before they publish it.

Why do you feel this way about a book? What about YOU makes YOU dislike this book? Is it the authors fault?

I very, very rarely publish a bad review. My personal feeling is that if a book is a two star read, I probably didn't enjoy it enough to write anything that a visitor to Fantasy-Faction is going to want to read and so I just move onto the next one....

Someone else can give their thoughts and feelings on it because obviously it just wasn't for me.

9. Does your personal opinion of an author ever sway a review in any direction?

Tough one. I'd like to say no, but, essentially that is not true. Having studied Literature for a while now I can tell you that knowing about the author/context of a piece of fiction will greatly affect how you read a book.

There are a lot of different ways you can approach a book and how much you know about why it was written, when it was written, what was going through the authors mind as he put those words down on that page will affect your judgement, even if you don't know it. The limitations of Practical Criticism (reading a book without context) are that you don't really understand why a piece was written and without knowing that you cannot answer the question: did they pass of fail.

Again, I chose your book because I am talking to you Mark. You look at Jorg, he is an obvious lashing out at those whiter than white protagonists that I would presume you read about when you were younger (not that you are old or anything :P). Now, without understanding the fantasy genre or perhaps not being well read in it I might turn around and say, well, how on Earth can I support this guy with his dark intentions and dash back off to read about that gallant knight in shining armour who is off to rescue that princess.

So, if you speak to a reader before reading their work or at least recognise what they are trying to do (say by reading a blog post) it will be easier for you to recognise why certain things happen, accept them and enjoy the book more because of them.

10. Are you all about story, or does the beauty (or otherwise) of the writing count for much? Or more broadly - what is it, between the covers, that's most important to you?

Mark Lawrence, Patrick Rothfuss - beautiful, beautiful prose.
Brent Weeks, Brandon Sanderson - Unbelievable stories.
I enjoy both as long as there is enough of the other to support them. The four I've mentioned above all have great stories and a certain beauty to their work that I really rank up there with the best around today.

There are authors though, who write beautifully but just don't have enough substance to their stories to really, really impress you. Daniel Abraham would be one example... some of the best, most captivating prose I have ever come across and yet his story didn't offer enough intrigue to have me diving for book 2. Steven Brust has a great, great story, but the language in his early books feels a bit monotonous at times and you find yourself pulling yourself through the novel in order to reach the end.

I don't think you need both in abundance in your novels, but I do think that you need to do either both relatively well or have one that is so good that it covers you for the other if there is something lacking there.

11. Do you write yourself? If so what're you working on?

I most certainly do write! I don’t consider myself a writer though. I envy people such as you Mark, those of you already at the level I aspire to reach. In fact, I curse you under my breath as I read through my work and think “for f**k sake!”.

I am currently working on a novel. Something Brandon Sanderson wrote inspired me... he said that the day he decided to be an author he realised that he’d have to write novels and probably the first few would not be any good or see the light of day. I thought about when I used to box... my first few fights sucked... but then, the more I had, the better I got and I presumed that would be the same for writing. Rather than just thinking ‘one day I will write a novel’ I just decided to write a novel and then should it suck, move onto the next and ensure it is better.

So... the one I am currently working on is set on a world that in the prelude is not all that different from our own.

This world has reached a state in which they have completely rejected their God. They don’t believe in him and have reached a stage where they are in mutual agreement that he does not exist. Then, one day, God appears. He says to his people that he recognises they don’t want him and shall from this day forth take no further part in their lives.
The demon realm delights in the fact that God with no longer be around to provide salvation to the world’s inhabitants – however, before he leaves he seals the demon realm in such a way that no entity may ever pass between them. The demons sit and watch as the world falls into a rather unexpected state. Although God is gone, things don’t really seem to change all that much.
Humans still go about their day jobs, living relatively normal lives, but the world has fallen a little flat. Although no one believed in God, there was always that sense that there ‘might’ be something after death. Now, when people die, souls just begin to float around the world such as butterflies flutter about a field. They have nowhere to go and no way of communicating with the living world and their constant hovering around reminds people of their imminent death and the fact there will be nothing for them after dying.

We now fast forward a couple thousand years. We see that the demon realm has found a loophole in the binding that God placed on them before he left. They managed to throw into the human realm objects that have been enhanced with their own demonic forces as well as a scroll that gave humans the secret of souls. The humans have now learnt from this scroll how to harvest the souls that float around and use them to enhance their own abilities. Evolution has seen three distinct lines of evolution come into existence: Blades, Necromancers and Elementalists.

So far only one of the objects that the demons threw in has been found and the man that holds that object has placed himself on the throne as King. It is rumoured though that there are many, many more and of course, who could resist the hunting of an object that could result in them taking the throne?

12. What are you goals and hopes for Fantasy Faction & how does it feel to be read across the globe?

I am so, so proud of how Fantasy-Faction has turned out. I remember talking to the guys from Ranting Dragon (another blog site) about a year back when we were getting about 25 hits a day and saying something like: if we ever reach 100 hits a day I'll be ecstatic. For the last 2 or 3 months we have been getting at least 1000 hits a day and there was one day a few months back that we got 7000 hits in a single day!!!

I always remember a day when my teacher had us in the school playground and said 'there are 1300 people out here today'. Now, whenever I see figures, I always compare it to that... so when I saw 7000 it just blew me away.

Where do I see Fantasy-Faction going? Well, we have a lot of exciting projects in the works. The biggest one is that we are looking to launch a writing competition next year and an anthology of 12 short stories that we hope will represent some of the finest unpublished writers from around the world. Hopefully they will be supported by a couple of recognisable authors too 

What we will focus on though is bringing our visitors a new article every day that will provoke their thoughts, entertain them and enhance the reading experience.


  1. Interesting! You don't see this technique everyday, interviewing an interviewer.

  2. I am a life long fantasy fan (and its been a long life). Now retired, I have been looking for credible fantasy sites on line. You are doing an excellant of providing those along with food for thought. Thanks

  3. Enjoyed the interview - looking forward to seeing who else you torment with your questions... erm... I mean... interview.

  4. HEy, ...

    >>a young, female reader might struggle to connect with him. That of course doesn't mean you are doing something wrong as an author, it means that the young girl is unable to connect to the book, nothing more and nothing less.<<

    I AM a young girl and I connect with Jorg very well.
    Sorry. It's just something I had to say!
    I have the german and the english book and read both ... LOVE IT!


  5. Hey Julia!

    I didn't mean 'all' young females of course :) I meant there would be some young female readers who would. There would be some young male readers too! I was just trying to give an example of how it is easier to enjoy a book if you can connect with the character. Male / Female connection was indeed a little sexist of me as you pointed out.

  6. Hey Marc,

    No problem. I just wanted to piont at your >little mistake< and say >That's not true!< so I could feel better. ;)
    Although all girls I gave the book to read love, love, love Jorg and none of the boys even want to read the hard stuff so ... I thought it right the other way around. ;)


  7. Great interview