Anthony Ryan didn’t start writing books until he retired from a long career in the British Civil Services. He starting full-time after he achieved some success with his self-published debut Blood Song, which would be book one of the Raven’s Shadow trilogy. Later, Anthony would be offered a three book by major publisher, Penguin Books. I was introduced to Anthony Ryan by previous guest of The Reading Lists, Jeff Wheeler – who is not only a friend of Anthony’s, but also a big fan. It’s great to have Anthony on the site, so here it is, my interview with Anthony Ryan…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I usually say ‘I’m a writer’ because ‘I’m a novelist’ sounds a little pretentious, even if it’s technically true. If people ask for clarification I’ll say I write fantasy novels at which point I’ll usually discover they’ve never heard of me.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m currently splitting my reading time between an advance review copy of the upcoming fantasy novel Infernal by Mark De Jager, which I’m enjoying a great deal, and the audiobook of ‘End of Watch’ by Stephen King which is every bit as terrific as I expected it to be.
The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander which was my gateway drug to a lifelong fantasy addiction.
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Before the age of ten I vacillated between astronaut and paratrooper, but became fixated on being a writer when I found out you could do it as an actual job.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
Probably that I should get more exercise. I like to think they would also be somewhat amazed that I actually got to do the thing I always wanted, albeit after two decades of trying.
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
On Writing by Stephen King would have been a great help to an eighteen-year-old me, but sadly he didn’t publish it until I was in my early thirties. It’s pretty much the best book about writing I’ve read, though novice writers should be cautious about slavishly following all of King’s advice, there is no one size fits all when it comes to writing.
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
I read mostly at night or during long train journeys. I also listen to audiobooks when driving. I have noticed I read a lot more slowly these days, I guess it’s an age thing. I certainly miss the days when I could get through four books a month.
The book that inspired me to write the way I do is probably Wolf in Shadow by the late and sadly missed David Gemmell who was one of the greatest exponents of heroic fantasy. Wolf in Shadow is essentially a weird western told via a fantasy narrative with a break-neck pace that still manages to fully flesh out the characters. The main lesson I learned from this book is that it’s possible to entertain the reader without compromising the emotional punch of the story.
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Most recently the Matthew Corbett mysteries by Robert R. McCammon, beginning with Speaks the Nightbird. These are historical detective stories set in early 1700s Colonial America and McCammon does I great job of making the past feel like a real place.
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I love both equally and try to alternate my reading between the two. It’s also important for me to read a lot of non-fiction, especially history, as I find it’s where many of my ideas come from. It’s also useful for research and world-building; fantasy worlds don’t spring out of thin air.
Do you think reading is important?
I think it’s crucial. Reading expands the mind, both in terms of knowledge and imagination. I think the poor decisions people make often stem from a lack of knowledge or an inability to imagine a better course. Reading is an antidote to ignorance and limited thinking so we should all do more of it.
I’ve read a lot of really good books recently, but if I had to choose one I’d go for Blackdog by K.V. Johansen which is a lyrically written fantasy dealing with themes such as the corrupting nature of power, as well featuring some great sword fights.
Do you prefer real books or digital books?
I’m equally comfortable with both, but tend to read non-fiction in print and fiction in digital. I use a lot of history books for research and find it’s a lot easier to navigate a print book for relevant information than a digital book.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
I think it’s a very slippery slope if we start forcing people to read anything. But, I believe there are few lives that won’t be improved by reading The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
It’s difficult to pin down just one book out of the thousands I must have read in my life, but I’ll go for Game of Thrones by George RR Martin. I always wanted to be a writer but this book made me want to write epic fantasy which is how I make a living these days.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
I could name a few hundred, but to save space I’ll limit myself to the fantasy books I’ve liked the most in recent years. Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence is a masterly piece of dark, epic fantasy I can’t recommend highly enough. In even darker territory is Beyond Redemption by Michael R. Fletcher which is a powerful mix of black humour and violence with a brilliantly original take on magic. The Thousand Names by Django Wexler is a great mash-up of epic fantasy and military adventure (think Bernard Cornwell meets George RR Martin). Although it’s technically horror, I also greatly enjoyed The Passage by Justin Cronin, the prose is exquisite and story frightening and captivating in equal measure.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
I’m hoping to expand the scope of my reading, delving more into science for non-fiction; Death from the Skies by Phil Plait is a book I’ve been meaning to get round to for some time. Fiction wise I want to get back to reading more crime, a genre I’ve neglected recently and The Power of the Dog by Don Winslow looks like a good place to start.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
‘Happy accident – The Anthony Ryan Story.’