Last week, we announced the acquisition of The Tenets of Truth, the debut novel from British fantasy author, Quillem McBreen. In this interview, we catch up with Quillem to discuss his writing career to date, his upcoming novel and the themes it deals with, and the fictional worlds that have inspired his own.
What was your writing experience like before beginning The Tenets of Truth?
QM: I’m a totally new author, so The Tenets of Truth is my first foray into writing. I remember meeting Claire Coombes from the Liverpool Editing Company after I had finished my own round of editing, and I looked on with dread as she waved a print copy of my prologue covered in her notes. One of the first things she asked me was about my previous writing experience. You’re holding it, I told her.
The Tenets of Truth was something that was burning in me for so long, so I knew it was the story I had to write. I plunged straight in, setting the book up as the first in a four-part series, but I envisage writing more books in and around this world, too.
Your book deals with themes like church and state, and good versus evil — what drew you to this in the first place?
QM: What I wanted to demonstrate in The Tenets of Truth is that there isn’t a singular good versus evil trope. People aren’t motivated to do anything because they think of it as inherently evil, it has to be justified and rationalised. Even acts we understand to be wicked or monstrous — to the person committing them, they have to make sense, even if they are seated within a twisted and distorted worldview.
More broadly, the book deals with themes like oppression, manipulation and institutional gaslighting. There are twisted loyalties, repressive religious drama, power-hungry noble houses, and fanaticism. Beneath all that, we follow a series of characters who, in one way or another, wake up and seek to challenge the existing order. The Tenets of Truth has everything you’d expect from a fantasy novel but, I hope, with a fresh sense of perspective.
What’s your writing process like? Do you plan everything out in meticulous detail or do you leave things open to develop as you write?
QM: When I started, I had an overarching idea of how I wanted the book to feel. I knew how it started, how it ended, and I had an outline of the four main characters and how their individual arcs would shape out. But the detail grew as I began to write. The prologue was where the voice and overall tone of the story began to ferment — and then, as I progressed from chapter to chapter, a picture emerged of how everything and everyone fitted together. I drew a lot of diagrams on wipe boards, so there were lots of different coloured arrows for each character, plotting how they moved from place to place, and how those timelines crossed and interacted. It was so different from the way I’d imagined books to be written.
I thought that in order to write, you needed to have everything fully-formed in your head before sitting down and writing your story neatly from A-Z. But I knew that if I tried that I’d never write anything. I enjoyed the freedom of writing it in the way I did. There were nights when I was surprised by how a passage or a chapter had turned out — I’d start out expecting A to flow into B, and then into C, and so on. Then, by the end of the night I’d have something quite different to what I’d intended.
Most people won’t ever see the first draft of an author’s work, as it’s just a way of getting your initial ideas down on the page, like a stream of consciousness. It’s a base layer — lots of colour-blocking that lets you make sense of where everything goes, before you can begin filling in and refining the form. But I did share my drafts with people. I needed to know whether this was just a hobby or something that I could legitimately share with the rest of the world. The support of those who read my work was vital in giving me the courage to carry on and I’m not sure that I would’ve finished The Tenets of Truth without the encouragement that gave me.
Which authors most inspired your own writing? And are there any novels that you looked to when you were beginning to shape your own world?
QM: Over the last ten or so years, I’ve become a bit of an audiobook fanatic. If I’m not working on my own writing, I’m constantly listening to books, whether I’m walking to the office, shopping, travelling, wherever I am. I don’t think I would have tackled Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time if I’d had to physically read them, because I wouldn’t have had the time to sit and read so many books. But I really enjoyed listening to them and I took a lot of inspiration from the world he built. Brandon Sanderson’s The Way of Kings is a phenomenal read, with such a detailed and textured world, that I don’t think anyone could help but be inspired by it. I’m also a huge Bernard Cornwell fan. His Heretic series masterfully plays with the reality of historical fiction, while balancing that with elements of the fantastical. I always gravitate towards John le Carré because I love the way he sets a scene with such gritty descriptions. I always come away from his books thinking I must stink of cigarettes like my mum when she’d come home from the bingo. There are so many incredible writers whose books have inspired me, and I’ve taken something from each of them that’s impacted greatly upon my work.
But, as an avid listener of audiobooks, I find narrators equally inspiring. The way that Anton Lesser brings characters to life in Phillip Pullman’s books, or how Roy Dotrice creates a full cast of voices and accents for George R. R. Martin’s incredible A Song of Ice and Fire series. I find that as I am writing, I imagine my words being read aloud and it really influences the way you feel about a character, or how a scene develops. It’s definitely as much an inspiration as reading the work of some of these amazing authors.