Episode 7

Dark pages: writing epics, myths, and legends, with Giles Kristian

24 January, 2024

For the first episode of season two, returning hosts Theo and Julia are joined by bestselling author of Lancelot, Camelot and the Raven and Sigurd trilogies, Giles Kristian.

Although best known for writing bloodthirsty but heartfelt, lyrical tales set in the Dark Ages, the former pop star is a Renaissance man. His many talents have seen him collaborate with Wilbur Smith, release the captivating contemporary thriller Where Blood Runs Cold, and put the expertise forged while working on novels into use on video game scripting.

In this rousing and thought-provoking episode, Giles discusses writing historical epics, how his style and focus has changed over time, and how to deal with loneliness while writing. He also explains his hopes and fears for the future of the novel, with discussion on how writers might diversify and tell stories through different media.

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Click here for the transcript

[00:00:00] Julia Kelly: Welcome to what is the first episode of our second season, our second series of the History Quill podcast. I am historical fiction novelist, Julia Kelly, and I’m joined by my wonderful co host, Theodore Brun. Theo, how, how are you?

[00:00:28] Theo Brun: I’m doing really, really well, Julia. It’s been a little while, since we’ve been together and a few things have happened, some big events. So I must offer you my congratulations. can you, why don’t you tell, tell our listeners what’s happened since the end of season one?

[00:00:47] Julia Kelly: Well, it’s sort of everything going on in the background. I, you know, it’s funny. I was listening to an episode, of season one, earlier and I started out saying I was really stressed and I said it was because I was on deadline. That was true, but I was also planning a wedding at the same time. And that wedding has now happily happened.

Very, really wonderful day. And we also went on our honeymoon. So I am really getting back into, back into my working life with all of the newlywed bliss that everybody always talks about.

[00:01:19] Theo Brun: that’s so good to hear. It’s a new chapter in, in all senses, really.

[00:01:24] Julia Kelly: Absolutely. It is. It is. So no, it’s been absolutely wonderful. And, you know, the deadlines never stop. I’m still working on various things, but it was particularly sweet to have a bit of a break, to get married and to enjoy some, some time off on a honeymoon.

[00:01:41] Theo Brun: And where did you go on your honeymoon?

[00:01:43] Julia Kelly: We went to Mauritius, which was wonderful.

I spent a lot of time sitting under an umbrella so that I didn’t get sunburned, because I am very pale. and I read a ton of books, and that was just fantastic.

[00:01:56] Theo Brun: Where you’ve got actual license just to read not to write and uh Not put too much pressure on yourself. Well, i’m sure you you congratulations in all senses And and i’m sure you deserve the break as well But but there were many things going on because you had a a novel out I know we both had a novel out the same week.

[00:02:13] Julia Kelly: my goodness! We did! We did!

[00:02:15] Theo Brun: A Traitor in Whitehall. I i’m about halfway through it and I love it. It’s brilliant. I was trying to finish it in time for this, but failed miserably because lots of other things going on, but it’s, it’s fantastic, but everyone should go and buy it.

[00:02:30] Julia Kelly: Thank you. Yes, it came out. And then, I think two days afterwards, your latest came out as well. Is that right?

[00:02:36] Theo Brun: Yeah, that’s right. A Savage Moon. so yeah, that’s, that’s been my latest, although I’ve got a short story coming out for Christmas, which is completely the opposite end of the spectrum in terms of genre and vibe.

[00:02:53] Julia Kelly: I was, I was delighted to see that. So by the time this episode comes out, Christmas will have come and gone,

[00:02:58] Theo Brun: Yes, of course. Yes. Next Christmas,

[00:03:03] Julia Kelly: check that out.

[00:03:04] Theo Brun: Yes, do, do. I mean, it’s like a, it’s like a warm cup of hot chocolate, really, as a, as a story’s go, so.

[00:03:13] Julia Kelly: Wonderful. Well, we are, going to be, maybe not so much warm cup of hot chocolate because I think there’s quite a lot of, of deep emotional, turmoil and maybe some swords and some other things going on in this, in this next episode. but we are going to be interviewing, a friend of yours.

So would you like to, would you like to give us the little teaser of who we’re speaking to?

[00:03:37] Theo Brun: Absolutely. We are going to be chatting to Giles Kristian, who is now a friend of mine. I first, he first came on my radar as, another author. in a way, one of the original authors operating in, in the space that I move in, sort of early Dark Age fiction. But, he’s a great guy and I’m very much looking forward to chatting with him. Well, it’s an absolute delight to welcome my friend and fellow Dark Age novelist, Giles Kristian to the History Quill Podcast, and I’ll just give you a bit of an intro because I do know quite a lot about you. I mean, following your career ever since your debut back in 2009 when you first published Blood Eye, which is the first of your Raven trilogy, an instant bestseller, I think I’m right in saying.

Basically all your books have been bestsellers since then. After the Raven Trilogy came the Sigurd Trilogy, another Viking, saga and two, interspersed with two Civil War books, and, more recently he’s been, doing an Arthurian Trilogy, which is just about to reach its climax, I think, in, January 2024.

Is that the release of? Arthur, I believe.

[00:04:55] Giles Kristian: June actually,

[00:04:56] Theo Brun: is it June? It’s been pushed back, from what I thought. Anyway, but not only is he a historical novelist, he’s multi talented, this, this man. He, recently brought out a contemporary thriller called Where Blood Runs Cold, which, which actually won the Wilbur Smith Adventure Writing Prize in 2022. And there’s all kinds of other strings to his bow, but it’s just generally a great pleasure to welcome you to the History Quill, Giles. Thanks for coming and joining us.

[00:05:25] Giles Kristian: Thank you for the kind invitation Theo and Julia Very very very nice to be here

[00:05:31] Theo Brun: Well, shall we kick off in a general sense? because, you know, you’ve made a name for yourself in, as I said, in the deep dark ages, but which, you know, we’ve got a bit of a theme for, for today’s episode, which is about legend and myth. And I suppose that area of history, you know, you could argue there’s lesser known, or there’s more scope to, To kind of bring in the mythic, if you like, bring in legend.

But, but in general terms, what kind of attracted you to, that area of history in particular?

[00:06:05] Giles Kristian: Well, this would have to be because my mother was, my mother is Norwegian. so I’m half Norwegian and having spent a lot of time in Norway as a child, growing up in the fjords and around the, around the fjords, just imagining Vikings, imagining people getting on a long ship and going off raiding across the sea.

It was just something that was always weaving in my imagination, but that wasn’t actually the first. Sort of long form fiction that I wrote. I wrote a novel set during the first crusade And I went I was a subject I was interested in I went in I was living in London at the time and I went and did a diploma in medieval history and crusades and things like that just to sort of get some research under my belt and wrote a very long 166, 000 word novel set during the first crusade and Didn’t do anything with it.

I think I, I didn’t really know what to do with it in those days. I think I sent it off to a couple of publishers, just sort of not knowing that you need an agent and I didn’t know how any of it worked and I didn’t get anywhere with it and I’m glad I didn’t because a couple of times I’ve since looked at that manuscript and I’ve thought, wow, okay, but the thing about writing that writing 166, 000 useless words is that it, it was great practice. And when I sort of felt that nothing was going to happen with that story, then I jumped into the Viking Age and thought, Oh, well, let’s, let’s write a Viking novel. It was actually because I was on a, I was on a, my brother’s stag do, and we went to Oslo and, I was organizing.

And one of the things we, we did, which was very cultured for a stag do, was to go to the Viking ship museum just outside Oslo. Yeah, and where you’ve got the two most beautiful and iconic Viking ships preserved and there and you can reach out and touch them across the rope. Of course, you’re not supposed to, but you have to do it.

The Gokstad ship and the Oseberg ship and, and with the bunch of guys that I was with on this stag do I was looking at them thinking, Oh, this is kind of like we’re doing what the Vikings were doing. Just kind of imagining each of the guys in the, in the group on one of the row benches of this long ship and imagining us going out on an adventure.

And, so that’s where the idea came from for the first Viking novel, Raven: Blood Eye. 

[00:08:27] Julia Kelly: I love it. That feels incredibly cinematic, but I can imagine you all enjoying your stag do, but also doing something cultural. I wanted, before we go any further and dive into historical epic, I wanted to ask, how would you characterize the genre? And what do you think readers are looking for when they pick up a historical epic?

[00:08:48] Giles Kristian: Yeah, I don’t know if my Viking books were epics in that sense. I remember when I was first trying to get a publishing deal. I was an agent actually, and I was living in New York, and I’d got an agent in New York, Writer’s House, and they took Raven: Blood Eye and tried to, Find a publisher for it and and were unsuccessful and then I was talking to an agent in the UK and they also represent Conn Iggulden and I was talking to cons agent about my manuscript about Raven: Blood Eye and What she was sort of quite rightly saying was that the thing about Conn’s books is they are epic I mean he takes a subject and he and a big subject at that or a character in history and just sort of It’s massive.

You know, he, he, you know, like the Genghis books for example, and, and she was saying, you know, that’s what he does. And, and I was thinking, yeah, and he does it so well, and, and so my argument, my counterargument was as to why. and I think one of the things that they should consider taking me was that I do something that’s maybe the opposite of that.

I, I, my stories tend to be quite intimate, so they’re not really about the major events of history. They’re just, they tend to be about a couple of guys or a group of people experiencing their life with this thing going on in the background. And, It was obviously I was just blagging it because I didn’t really know how else to, to pitch this

[00:10:15] Theo Brun: Sounds convincing.

[00:10:16] Giles Kristian: but yeah, I just, I just thought I’m going to bring it in and it’s sort of a microscope of just, just the human experience of, of these people involved in whatever’s going on and, and, yeah, obviously it works.

I got. And right. And, and he did get me a deal with Transworld very, very soon after that. So, so yeah, epic in, you know, I’ve written two books during the civil war. Obviously the civil war is kind of a big, big subject matter, but, but I think sometimes that can be off putting for readers because the Civil War is very complicated. There’s religious and political kind of aspects to it that are hard to wrestle with. And I was very keen to sort of For my publishers to not sell it about a novel, it’s not a novel set during the English, about the English Civil War. It’s about two brothers and a sister who find themselves on opposing sides during the English Civil War.

And it’s really about the family. so I, for me, talking about writing epic books is, is about bringing it into something very personal. and, and, and sort of letting the other stuff play out in the background.

[00:11:29] Theo Brun: It feels like there is something there harking back to that tradition of. You know that this, I don’t know if you want to call them the source material of the Viking world and all these sagas and mythological poetry and, and stories that can, as they, as you say, start quite small with. An individual, you know, gets caught up in a story and then the story gets bigger and bigger because, because certainly when you look at your, what you’ve done, and then, and then looking back, you think, wow, what an amazing saga, sort of epic saga.

And I suppose you can use the word epic in a pretty loose sense, but yours. You know, your, when I look at your body of work, it’s nothing if not ambitious, but I wonder what side of that ambitious, you know, do you, do you feel like, I mean, you’ve got these trilogies of Viking sagas, and then more obviously, I suppose, if we’re talking about legend and epic, the Arthurian sort of world, but whether you, you.

Yeah. You just launch out into them. And then in retrospect, you look back and go, wow, that was an awfully big story I just told. And, and, but there must be a difference when you enter into Arthur’s world where, you know. In a sense we’re more familiar with that. In, in talking in terms of legend and epic and what have you did, was there a difference in terms of how you approached, the Arthurian stuff, vi vis-a-vis the, the Viking stuff?

[00:12:54] Giles Kristian: Yeah, that the, I think the similarity between the Viking books and the Arthurian books is that there isn’t much, historical sort of evidence, or certainly in terms of source material, there’s no written stuff for the Vikings that’s written from their perspective. It’s all, it’s all Christian monks and chroniclers that are writing.

So, and the Arthurian story, well. There isn’t one story. There’s, there are dozens and dozens and dozens of different Arthurian sort of myths. so what, what, why that’s attractive for me is that it enables me to fill in all the gaps of which there are so many. So, the Civil War books were more difficult. It’s fairly recent history. There’s so much written about it. There’s so much evidence all around you, you know, you go to a village church in England and it it was probably standing there during the english civil war So you have to describe it exactly as it is, you know, because people are going to tell you otherwise if you get it wrong whereas the thing about the viking books and the arthurian books is There’s so much space for me to to imagine my own version of events and if I look at um If I look at the Arthur, like Lancelot, for example, the reason I wrote Lancelot was because, well, if I’m being cynical, I could say that I saw an opportunity there to tap into an unexplored subject matter.

Everybody’s read books about Arthur and Merlin, crops up all the time. But you never really see anything about Lancelot. So I thought there’s something that’s an untapped sort of seam of potential story gold. And, and, that’s what I, that’s sort of what drew me initially to the idea of that. It was just at first, just a title. I did Lancelot. That sounds cool. And then as I got into it, I thought. Here is almost a blank canvas for me to create my own version of this character. Obviously, the Bernard Cornwell Lancelot is sort of famous for being such a baddie and a wonderful villain. So, I also had in my mind, well, this was my opportunity to rehabilitate, It lasts a lot for the reader, for the readership, of the Bernard Cornwell novels so, but, but really it was for me a blank canvas and that’s what excites me. I don’t want to have to follow a chain of events that’s been told already because Where’s the fun in that? I’m creative, that’s just, I’m not academic, I’m, you know, I’m creative and all I want to do is create new stuff where there was nothing before.

So I could look at the myths and I could try and interpret aspects of them and put them in the novels in maybe subtle ways. For example, my round table in Lancelot I think is just the stump of an oak tree and I don’t really say it’s off this round table but there’s maybe a hint there that they’re gathered the warriors are gathered around the stump of a massive ancient oak tree or uh the lady in the lake is a priestess up in Scotland who symbolically lifts a sword out of out of a pool of water and and that’s which is Excalibur and that’s the lady in the lake. 

[00:16:12] Theo Brun: I loved your, I loved your holy grail. If it was the holy grail in Camelot was this sort of drinking cauldron cup that they went off in search of. Isn’t that?

[00:16:22] Giles Kristian: Oh, in the caves on the Isle of Man I think. Well, that’s another one where I got the myth of the Green Knight idea. Because if you look at the Arthurian myths, they’re bonkers. They don’t really make a lot of sense. And it’s hard, if you’re setting your story in sort of a sub Roman Britain, the, um As I am, it’s sort of a very real, grounded, yes, aspects of sort of magic and belief, but a grounded world.

It’s hard to include the myths because they’re full of giants and magic and dragons and giant boars and things that, really don’t make any sense. So it’s hard to include them. So then you have to think of a way of including them. So for me, my green knight in Camelot was a warrior who’s part of a community who live in copper caves in the Isle of Man.

And they, they, they, They, you know what it’s like, and the copper has tainted their skin because that’s where they live all the time. So they’ve got this kind of green taint to their skin, or this warrior has. And for me, that’s sort of the origins of the Green Knight. And, you know, it’s just, it’s just having fun with it.

That’s, that’s, that’s what I enjoy.

[00:17:34] Julia Kelly: Can you dig a little bit more into how you made those decisions to distinguish this very, very well known character who, as, as you say, you know, there’s a wonderful, very different representation in Bernard Cornwell’s books. You see it all through, you know, cartoons and myths and even Monty Python. you know, what is it that you decided you wanted to write about in terms of character and how did you bring that out knowing that there’s this whole background of myth and pop culture behind Lancelot?

[00:18:06] Giles Kristian: Yeah, well, as you say, it’s the most famous love triangle in Western literature, really, the, the idea of Lancelot and Arthur and Guinevere. And that was obviously central to my story, even though Arthur doesn’t come into it till rather late in the book. for me, there was this whole, the complicated nature of love, really, and the fact that Lancelot and Arthur, you know, they are the best of friends.

They have, they, they love each other. but they both love Guinevere and how does that, how does that play out on a human level? and Originally, I was going to write, and it was going to be, in your words, an epic kind of tale of the Arthurian myths, and that’s what it was kind of, that’s what I set out to do.

But then in writing, in writing it, things changed. Like my father, sadly, ill when I just started the book and was dying as I was writing it. And that changed everything about the book for me. I don’t think on the conscious level, but just because of the place I was in psychologically, I was, I was sad, I was grieving, and the themes of loss, love and loss, and things that can now never be, those, those kind of aspects wove themselves into the book, and it ended up being quite a different book from the one that I perhaps set out to write.

And that’s. You know, that’s kind of probably doesn’t happen very often, that’s, you know, such an emotional thing, kind of influences the book in that sense, but. It’s, it’s the one book of mine where I think out of all of them, it’s the one where people seem to have taken it to their hearts. And I can only assume that’s because my heart was on the, you know, on the page as I was writing it.

And yeah, that’s, I guess that’s the way art works sometimes.

[00:20:10] Theo Brun: yeah, I think that it is an amazing book. If anyone hasn’t read it, it was, you know, it’s one of those ones where you just have to lay it aside when you close the final page and just sit and be quiet for a while and just think about what’s just happened. But, and, and, and the emotion that, You as an author must, or you as a person, individual, going through that grieving process sort of comes out this kind of, not, is bathos the right word?

Probably not. That sort of tragic undertow to that book. But then in a way, it, it translates into Camelot. I found, I read it, I think it was in the first lockdown and like the whole of the world had changed. Gosh, it’s changed a lot since then as well. And, and yet part of the essence of that book, I felt was again, this band of sort of brave, idealists in a way, like trying to keep the dream alive, I think was one of the taglines, wasn’t it?

And, and it was interesting. I know, you know, we’re not here to sort of put anyone on the spot about myth making and the connection with, with the sort of general culture, but I got the sense that this idea of Arthur as a myth, Obviously, it’s been reworked, reimagined many, many times, and yet there was something about the way you’re doing it now, and I can only look forward to the, the, the third book in this trilogy, that seems to sort of say something about the uncertainty of these times, like, The fact that you kind of got to hold, hold on to something in spite of all that’s going on around you and that may be a subconscious thing going on in you or not.

I don’t know. Do you feel like there’s something of the bleeding of our culture, our present day culture that inevitably comes into the books that you write that happened to be about something in the deep past?

[00:22:03] Giles Kristian: If there is, it’s, it is subconscious. And I think it’s almost one of those things where I hear you speaking like that and I think, Oh, that’s clever. I should have meant that. You know, and it’s like when you’re at school and you’re an English teacher, it’s sort of, you’ve got to, you’ve got to work out what the poet meant when he was writing the poem.

And, and maybe you’re miles off and, and maybe, and maybe not. For me, it was the experience of. in Camelot, the experience of Galahad and the idea of legacy, and I think that trailed on from sort of Lancelot, Lancelot, his father, once he’s gone, it’s, it was about how does Galahad, what’s his place in the world and, and how much is he free to choose his own path and how much is already sort of preordained because of whose son, He is, so they were, again, for me, it’s about bringing it down to sort of a microcosm of the human experience, the human condition, I think, rather than looking at sort of the world today and making a social comment.

Although, even with Arthur as well, the next novel, it’s, for me, there’s always something poignant about, time moving on and about, Glory being in the past. And I think maybe that’s just a natural part of the aging process. You know, we remember when we were young and everything was ours. And, you know, everything was so exciting and vibrant and we were legends, you know, in our own lunchtime. But that idea of never being able to go back to that moment and sort of step in the same. Part of the river again because it’s, it’s gone. That’s always very poignant for me. And I think that that does definitely feed in. So there is an idea in, in, in Camelot. and Lancelot of a fading world of, of, of something disappearing.

And yes, certain individuals trying to hold on, trying to cling onto it. And, and maybe even to daring to dream about recovering something that, we all know. Can never really can never really be. and that’s, and that’s sad. I think a lot of my books are sad nowadays. I don’t know why, but when I was my Viking books used to be just sort of just…

[00:24:26] Theo Brun: Swashbuckling. They’re sort of swashbuckling. They’re joy, they’re joyous, aren’t they? It’s just like, I don’t, you know. We’re coming at you, so you better stand out the way.

[00:24:36] Giles Kristian: Exactly, certainly the first trilogy is very much a bunch of Vikings running around doing Viking stuff and I make no apologies for that. You know, it’s um. So it’s time, but, but as I’ve gone on as a novelist, I found that I, I’m only really interested in writing something now if I have to really engage on a sort of heart and soul level.

it has to have to be something that moves me. So the thriller, it was, it was a father and daughter survival thriller in the Norwegian Arctic. The fears of a parent and, and, and how, how fearful I am for the sakes of my children and what I would do and if, you know, if it came down to having to look after them and those kind of fears.

So, yeah, it’s, it’s, the books become more personal and, and more retrospective as I’ve gone on. So, I don’t know, which is, you know, I don’t think it’s healthy, actually, frankly. I don’t know, some people might say it’s cathartic, but I’m not sure. I’m really not sure it’s good to be spending your day, all day, going into these dark places.

I don’t know. What do you think?

[00:25:48] Julia Kelly: It’s interesting you say that I, I think I’m thinking about it now and I think I’ve also gone a slightly darker, darker path in different periods of time in my career. And I, I do know that at the end of the day, it takes me longer, especially in those books to pull myself out of it and to sort of come back to the real world and resurface a bit.

Theo, I don’t know if you’ve had the same experience.

[00:26:11] Theo Brun: Yeah, I was, I mean, the, the last sort of big book I write along these lines, it absolutely shattered me. I was destroyed by it. Not only the process of it, but it was just exhausting. I mean, it was very, there’s quite a lot of darkness in that as well, but I was trying to counter it with some light as well.

And, Yeah, I think maybe that’s why it takes us a bit of a while to, you know, in our particular little corner of the historical writing world, Giles, I know we, we know we’ve got a few colleagues who just burn out, churn out these books, bam, bam, bam, like two a year. And I’m just looking at them going, how do you do it?

I just emotionally, I couldn’t take it. But maybe that’s because they’re slightly different kind of books. I agree. What I wouldn’t, I mean, there is, there is, there are reasons to write books that you don’t feel like you’re, you really want to go on that emotional journey, but I, I just can’t every time I sit down and try and write one, it doesn’t really come out.

So, you want to, you want to be in, you want to be interested by your own characters, and therefore there’s probably more going on than there could be if you were going to write something a bit later and quicker.

[00:27:22] Giles Kristian: Yeah, character is everything for me. It’s really, I know people say character is story and story is character or plot, but it’s true because if you don’t care about these characters, if you don’t really, really immerse yourself in these characters, then who cares if they make it or not, if they overcome these challenges that you as an author sadistically put in their way every day.

[00:27:48] Theo Brun: I think particularly, particularly in that world of swords and splatter, as it were, it’s like, it can just become Monty, it can become just Monty Python, can’t it? It’s just like, how about you, you know, and off comes another limb, you know, it’s got to be something a bit, bit

[00:28:04] Giles Kristian: our, we’ve all cut our hands on a kitchen knife, and that feeling of it just going into, the knife going into a finger, and it’s just a terrible, terrible feeling. And you think, we’re talking about people getting their limbs hacked off with swords here. You can’t really take that lightly, I don’t think.

[00:28:21] Julia Kelly: Well, Giles, I love it when somebody gives me a perfect segue into, into my next question. so you’re talking about character and, and wanting to write about characters that you really care about. I was having a nose around on your website and I really liked this quote when, looking at the section about your, work in the gaming world, the quote is every great game starts with a great story and great characterization, which I thought was a wonderful way to set up, narrative gaming and to connect into also obviously your work as an author.

So I was wondering if you could talk a little bit about how, how that has informed your, your novel writing and how your novel writing has informed your writing for, for video games.

[00:29:04] Giles Kristian: Yeah, so I’m working on a game called, Norse, which is a Viking, a Viking game, tactical, turn based tactical game. And, it’s hopefully going to be out next year. And they came to me as a, they looked for Viking authors, I think, and that’s literally just googled and found me. This was back in 2016. And, I’ve been involved in writing this game ever since. And what I, what I love about this is that it’s a perfect sort of antidote to the deeper, darker writing that I’m doing in my novels. When I’m writing for the video game, yes, there’s light and shade. There are kind of, there are dramatic moments in the game, in the cut scenes particularly, where, when we’re sort of writing the cut scenes and, you know, and the actors come into the studio with a mo, mocap suits on and, and act out the script.

And it’s really, it’s really, really gratifying to see, see it come alive in that way. But a lot of it, There’s a lot of humor that I’m sort of trying to get into this game, and I’m really enjoying it. You know, it’s because as I say, it sort of harkens back to my earlier writing, the Viking books, where there’s a lot of Viking insults and bawdy jokes and, you know, pretty lowbrow humor, I have to say.

But it’s really good fun to write and I think it’s important from a sort of a mental health point of view that I get to, to do that at the same time, in terms of the narrative. Yeah, it’s, it’s a different thing because it’s so collaborative compared to novels where I’m just on my own. The game is very collaborative, obviously, because I can’t necessarily write a scene if I don’t know if the guys in Norway, if the, if the programmers and developers can actually.

Do the mechanics for whatever it is that I’m thinking of So I have to go we’re back and forth all the time about what we can actually Do in the game, you know, is it, is it, is, is it possible to, to, to have a character fight a wolf, for example, in this game and, and the designs will tell me yes or no, or whatever.

And if so, then I can go and write the scene. so it’s a different experience, but it’s actually really also nice to. Have an aspect of my writing job where I am talking to other people because as you guys know It’s it can be very lonely this this business of ours And and I used to love that. Um I left the music industry which was very noisy and chaotic and I loved just being a writer and sitting on my own and and doing my own thing.

I loved it. those days have actually passed now and I Actually would like to return to the world a little bit here and there so The gaming is good for that because I get to talk to other human beings.

[00:32:00] Theo Brun: But you’ve had a great relationship. I know you’ve got a great friend in, in Philip Stevens, but a great sort of collaborative relationship with him. And you’ve done quite a few things over the years, haven’t you? You did, I remember the first time I saw you guys working together, it was, it was a poem you’d written about Harold Hardrada. Is that right?

[00:32:19] Giles Kristian: That’s right. Yep.

[00:32:19] Theo Brun: And, and, and he’d, and then you sort of made a video and he produced it and acted in it. And then, but you’ve done a lot of things since. Do you think as a novelist, it’s useful? Or, you know, should we, you know, for our audience, I guess, who, you know, when you identify people who you come across, who, who sort of somehow you click with creatively to kind of cultivate those relationships, and that there’s a positive feedback loop with those kind of collaborative relationships.

[00:32:48] Giles Kristian: Yeah, I feel incredibly lucky actually that Phil and I found each other because we, we are on the same wavelength and we’ve come to a point long since where we can discuss ideas and we’re not, we’re not sort of embarrassed about an idea or, and sort of, or to say to the other, Oh, yeah, that’s all right.

But what about if we do this and we have this kind of collaborative relationship, which just works and and that’s I think That’s not always going to happen. Um You know, especially because in our job you don’t tend to get out and meet different people all the time so if you do find somebody who Who sort of sees the world in the same way or roughly and kind of that you can vibe with creatively It’s it’s so important about we bounce ideas around all the time whether it’s about my novels or he’s working with me on the game As well.

He’s now he’s now narrative director of the game. So he’s directing all the cutscenes stuff like that So when it comes to the writing We can sort of discuss and plan that together so that we know, so that then he knows how it’s going to be shot with the actors and in the studio and all that kind of stuff.

So yeah, it’s, it’s really important. and, and as I say, it’s just fun to sit on the other side of a FaceTime call and, and, and tell sort of talk to each other in Viking accents and make up

[00:34:13] Theo Brun: And he does very well in your books. He’s the narrator of your books, isn’t he?

[00:34:18] Giles Kristian: he’s the narrator of my audio books as well. So yeah, yeah.

[00:34:21] Julia Kelly: when it comes to sort of opening your world up and I, I absolutely feel every, every word of that, you know, with writing being a very small world sometimes and needing to introduce. people back into it sometimes. where does your relationship with readers come in? obviously you’ve had a great success and you have a great following.

How much time are you spending and how consciously are you, you know, going out and engaging with readers, whether it’s virtually or in person?

[00:34:52] Giles Kristian: I think it’s hard in person these days because I’ve been to plenty of talks where I’ve been invited to go and talk somewhere. And frankly, I’ll turn up and there’s sort of six or seven people that that’s just. The world. I did an event recently with, with four other authors, and the only people that turn up were people that come with one of us, you know, our family or whatever.

And that was, was four names there. And there was no, nobody had really bothered to turn up. Now, some of that might be to do with how an event is. Publicized, advertised, marketed, whatever. but I think a lot of it is to do with, it’s actually just very hard to get people to leave their home, to come out and see authors.

I think things like this haven’t helped that actually, because I think. There’s so many podcasts now. There’s so many online channels where you can actually see authors listen to what they’ve got to say, whether it’s Facebook or Instagram or Twitter, X, whatever it’s called now. And I think the mystique about authors has gone.

And actually, I think the mystique was really kind of cool. And if we could, if we could turn off all of this. And just be authors and have that mystique again. I think that would be great But now the cat’s out of the bag and we’re all sort of doing this sort of stuff But I do think that doing interviews like this Well, why does somebody need to come and see any of us guys in a library because they can just Click on click on and watch, you know, or listen to a podcast or whatever So I think it’s really hard actually to get people to engage it or to go and engage with with readers in real life Obviously we can do it online and that’s that’s good fun And there’s not an author alive who doesn’t like to talk about their books, I think So if you get a tweet from somebody mentioning your book There’s a little endorphin rush in there.

There’s a you know, it’s a it’s a good thing. It’s I don’t think we want to just sort of send books out into the void and Never know if anybody’s reading them or not. I think it’s just Certainly not for me. I I I don’t do this just for the for my own sort of state of mind I do it because I want people to I want to actually sell a ton of books actually if i’m being completely honest i’m commercially minded I want lots of people to, to, to buy my books and I want to make a living out of this.

so you have to do what you can to, to sort of help that along. so it is great when we get to talk to readers, but it’s not, it’s, it doesn’t happen in real, in, in real, in real life. Very often, I don’t think.

[00:37:31] Theo Brun: It’s a bit like, it’s, it’s, the theme of Camelot coming back again of like, Oh, it was so good before, if only we could go back, if we could put the genie back in the bottle. But, alas, we can’t.

[00:37:47] Giles Kristian: Well, I loved the, one of the things I loved about the music industry was the adrenaline rush of performing, of being on stage, as sort of shy as I was and sort of how nervous I used to get. I still, once I was on stage, that, that rush, that feeling, the, the endorphins was absolutely amazing. And there aren’t many rushes in this line of work, I don’t think. There’s the day your book comes out, that’s amazing, but only sort of in your own head and you’re sort of my book’s out today. Yeah you’re ready for the trumpets to poke through the clouds and blow a fanfare, but nothing really happens. It’s

[00:38:23] Julia Kelly: isn’t it anticlimactic?

[00:38:25] Giles Kristian: It’s massively anticlimactic.

That’s why I always have a launch party, because at least I’m going to have a few drinks and celebrate my book coming out. So, so I make, I do whatever I can to make it a moment, because otherwise it’s just frustrating, because what happens is you go to a shop and you can’t find your book in there and you go, No!

[00:38:44] Julia Kelly: Or you have to wait for people to read it before they tell you that they like it.

[00:38:48] Giles Kristian: Yeah, yeah. So, it’s a bit quiet and I, I, I miss the, I miss the rush of that sort of performing side of, of, of the other, that other entertainment.

[00:38:58] Theo Brun: just on that. I know we can’t go on that much longer because I’m sure we could talk for another hour, but, you do have an interesting backstory and I, and I just need to touch on it. You just did. The music industry, you’re, you’re in this, what do you call it? A boy band, a pop, pop group?

[00:39:14] Giles Kristian: it, it was a boy band. There’s no getting away from it.

[00:39:15] Theo Brun: Back in the nineties called Upside Down, touring with, you know, people like Take That, the Spice Girls, you know, as you said, massive extrovert world transferring into this introvert world, but as it were, but at the same time, you know, a lot of people have described you in endorsements and blurbs and what have you, a modern day scald. And you think, you know, that’s like a Viking singer, storyteller, but literally you. You literally are, you know, your language, the way you write is very poetic and in a lot of ways, probably more, I’d say that’s a defining feature of your, of your writing.

You’ve obviously got this music backgrounds, and you’re a natural born storyteller and you sort of have this range, you know, I was looking at your website and seeing you. You know, this graphic novel, obviously you’re video gaming. Is there a lot going on in terms of just this creativity bubbling out of you?

It doesn’t really matter where it comes out. It’s just, you know, it’s important to allow that to grow and have its expression.

[00:40:23] Giles Kristian: Yeah, I get excited by new things and Well, there are two aspects to this I think one of them is I actually worry about the state of publishing and the future of readers because I look at young people. I’ve got a little boy. who’s 11 and he He watches on his ipad. He watches youtube videos. He doesn’t you know, we’ve got netflix and amazon prime and and paramount plus and all the all these Where you can just go and find all these TV shows which is on films and movies That’s what I’d be doing, but he just watches like these little clips on YouTube like just clip after clip after clip the sort of never ending scroll of random and quite odd videos and and that seems to be kind of Where it’s going and with young people’s attention span, and I, I fear I look at sort of young kids and this isn’t about all young young people today.

But I just think that we’re encouraging that we’re kind of raising a generation of people who won’t have any form of attention span, and I cannot imagine many of them actually sitting down to read a novel. I just can’t and So I fear that in the future, I can’t see who’s going to be reading. novels, out of, out of this, this new generation.

I just don’t, I can’t imagine it. so, so part of my scheme is to diversify and to do other things. So hence the gaming and doing, you know, I, because I just don’t think that you can put all your eggs in the writing basket at the moment. When you see the Booker prize winner talking about, you know, struggling to pay his mortgage and stuff like that.

And you think it’s hard, it’s, it’s hard to make a living. And if you can diversify and look at other avenues, because the world needs stories in, in different forms, and, and we are storytellers. So let’s not just narrow the focus and only, you know, if we’re capable or if there are opportunities to explore other ways of being creative, whether that’s writing films, trying, trying to hand up film scripts or, or video gaming or, you know, Graphic novels or whatever it is, you can get that same sort of kick out of creating in other areas and also things that don’t take a year and a half like a novel does, you know, something you can actually start.

And see the end of is, is also appealing, which is another reason why I loved writing the thriller because it’s, I didn’t even know this before I started writing the thriller. I was like, how, how long a thriller is supposed to be? And I looked into it and said about sort of between 80 and 90, 000 words.

And I thought, what? That’s hard. That’s only half a book.

I loved, I just loved that idea that I could actually sit down and, and, and start writing and think, Oh, I can almost see the end of this project already. Whereas my other novels are just every day you sit down to write, it’s just a drop in the ocean.

Just one more drop in the ocean, and you never seem to be getting anywhere. And I see that little word count, progress bar kind of. edging up so slowly it’s almost impossible to see. so shorter form, projects and creative, endeavors can be really, really rewarding, while you’re waiting for the novel to sort of cook. Yeah.

[00:43:54] Julia Kelly: Absolutely. Well, before we let you go, where can people find you online so they can follow all these different things that you’ve diversified into? And then of course, also find your books as well.

[00:44:05] Giles Kristian: well, my website is gileskristian.com and I’m on Instagram at gileskristian and x @gileskristian and that’s basically gileskristian with a k. As long as you put the Kristian with a k, you should find me.

[00:44:18] Theo Brun: That’s wonderful. Well, thank you so much, Giles. It’s been such fun to see you. I’m going to see you in person soon.

[00:44:24] Giles Kristian: We could have gone on for an hour or more. Yeah, I’m going to see you soon. We’re going to go drinking with some vikings aren’t we?

[00:44:27] Theo Brun: I know, we are. It’s, it’s, yeah, the, one of the few perks of having a very populated marketplace is like you get lots of friends of other Viking authors. So, we’re going to meet up for Christmas, or Yuletide, as we’re calling it. so I’ll see you then, but thank you so much for spending time with us.

here on the History Quill podcast. It’s been really, really insightful, fun, and just great to hear you unpack some of these ideas and what your experience.

[00:44:56] Giles Kristian: Thank you, Theo. And thank you, Julia. It’s been a great pleasure. Thank you.

[00:45:00] Julia Kelly: Thanks. Well, that was an absolutely fantastic conversation and I can’t wait to dive into it, with you, Theo. There’s so much to talk about there, but first, I think you’re going to, you’re going to tell us about something that we all need to know.

[00:45:20] Theo Brun: Indeed, yes, before we dive in, I just want to let all you, listeners know about a special bonus episode of the History Quill podcast available exclusively to our email subscribers. The episode’s about how to succeed  in historical fiction, and we’re joined by two very accomplished historical fiction authors, Jill Paul and David Penny, who share with us the ingredients of their success and how you can succeed in the genre as well.

To get the bonus episode, go to www.thehistoryquill.com/bonus find the link in the description or just enter it into your browser.

[00:45:57] Julia Kelly: Yes, there is a lot of really great advice and insight in that bonus episode. We had a lot of fun recording it. So if you are a historical fiction writer, you won’t want to miss it. Okay. Back to this episode. Where should we, where should we start? There is so much to talk about. And I feel like I say that every single time, but I really enjoyed this conversation because I felt like it was so wide ranging.

[00:46:20] Theo Brun: Yeah, I mean, it’s probably quite topical. It was epic, wasn’t it? But it’s interesting. He, he, he sort of, he sort of shied away from wanting to sort of label his own work with that. But I suppose maybe it feels like a high bar or something. I don’t know, but, but his work definitely does meet that standard.

It does have that, that feeling to it. But I, I liked. What he was saying that it always starts small, you know, even if it ends up being this kind of grandiose story or involving grandiose events, it starts just with a character and like with an emotional, like with an incident between two people, and it grows from there.

And I suppose that’s a good. You know, there’s, there’s, there’s always this wrestle of, like, the far, the extremity of your goal and the reality of how on earth do you get there? And often it can be quite daunting, I feel, thinking, oh, now the next novel, what’s it going to be? How am I going to do it? And, but if you just, You know, have a sense of a shape of it, maybe, but then you just start out in this smaller scale, then there’s some, there’s something there that I think is of value.

I think.

[00:47:30] Julia Kelly: I really, really liked what he said about sort of taking these big moments in history or these big stories and making them very intimate, focusing on a character or a group of characters, because I think, at least my experience with writing World War Two has very much been. Getting your arms around this huge subject, which people have written about since even before the war ended, and trying to figure out how to make that into a story that feels relevant to people who are reading it today, who didn’t go through that experience.

That can be really, really daunting, but if you focus down on character and, and understand who it is that you’re trying to write about and what you’re trying to say about them or what you’re trying to put them through, I think that really helps. Focus the story, at least it does for me, and it also helps remind me that really, ultimately, novels, that I really enjoy, often it’s because of those characters who are really central to what’s happening, and you have this very intimate relationship with the character as a reader as well.

[00:48:36] Theo Brun: yeah, I think it’s, it’s got to be relatable, doesn’t it? And you’re, the world that you’re writing in is, is so sort of, I mean, it’s the world war. So it, it could be, it couldn’t really be any bigger and it couldn’t, the stakes couldn’t be higher. in a, in a kind of storytelling sense, but at the same time, you know, You’ve got to sort of thread that needle of one life or a couple of lives that are kind of making their way through these, these great events, but he does that beautifully, I think.

But I think it’s, maybe it’s his experience of his past career as a musician, but not only a singer, you know, performer, he was also writing songs as I understand it as well. And so it’s that sense of, You know, this freedom that he feels of just expressing his creativity, I thought was, was really helpful.

And obviously he doesn’t feel limited by just sort of pigeonholing himself as a writer. He’s, he’s, he’s been in these different sort of creative places and therefore, In a way, his landscape is a bit broader. It felt like quite broad, the way he was talking about, you know, what he does with his imagination, as it were, and where he’s prepared to take it.

And I think there’s possibly a lesson there, you know, whether you, you may be a terrible, you know, artist or photographer or, or love dancing, but not very good at it. You know, there’s always something about, Just giving vent to our creativity that I think will feed back into the stories that we want to tell as well.

I don’t know if you, I mean, you do gardening, don’t you? Is that, is that one of your things?

[00:50:22] Julia Kelly: it is. Although not as much in this, in this flat that I’m in right now because we only have a tiny, tiny little back patio, but I have in the past and I do love it and I love having a creative outlet. I think there’s often a compulsion with creative people to, um. comes out in other forms. So I also knit and I, I used to be a, a swing and blues dancer.

[00:50:47] Theo Brun: Really? That’s so cool. I would love to do that.

[00:50:50] Julia Kelly: that, Oh, it was, it was so much fun. And you know what I really loved about it? so I, I don’t dance as much as I did, when I was living in New York, which funnily enough coincides with me, Starting to publish more and more. Turns out that if you write, it takes up a lot of time and a lot of focus, but I loved it when I was first starting out because I would spend all my day at my my day job as a journalist, and then I would spend all this time after work or on the weekends writing and.

And dancing was such a wonderful way to sort of have something, creative, be something physical also. So whether it’s sort of cooking or gardening or doing something different, sometimes that can be really helpful. And ironically, I’m going to try to loop this all background again. great dancers are great storytellers as well.

It’s just in a different form. So I loved what he was talking about, around. Gaming and telling story that way and through his, you know, experience in the music industry. I thought that was a really interesting take on, on what it means to be a writer and a storyteller.

[00:51:59] Theo Brun: Yeah, and I think it was relevant in terms of from a commercial sense as well, you know, a little bit sobering his, his, what he was saying about his daughter and the attention span and it’s not just. children either, is it? It’s, it’s adults as well that, you know, as a novelist, you’re competing on a multi plane, sort of multimedia, plane, aren’t you?

In terms of basically, what do you, how are you going to hold someone’s interest? And the world is not the same as it was, you know, there’s much more on offer than mere, a big wad of pages. and so, Yeah. What can we do within ourselves? Like, you know, you, you start with a blank page as a novelist, don’t you?

And so, in a way, you kind of get used to the idea of bringing something out of nothing and trying and failing and failing again, and maybe failing another time. Do you know what I mean? And yet. You sort of, there is some direction of travel and maybe that’s an encouraging thing, ultimately, that if you have this ability to concentrate and to tell stories that actually that can come out in so many different ways.

And in a way, it makes that relationship with our ever shifting audience and, you know, the fact the way that they’re evolving and they’re changing, maybe as it creates opportunity as well as. Problems for us. And you know, it’s up to us to, to try and think around that and respond to it, I suppose.

[00:53:30] Julia Kelly: I think it just, is a reminder that, you know, there’s a lot of joy and a lot of wonder in being a writer. Um. But there are also some commercial considerations and some business considerations. If what you want to do is to be published and to have that be. Part of your income or supplement your income or be in your entire income.

But I think, you know, I, I really enjoyed him talking about his Viking books and how, you know, there was a lot of joy there and, and, you know, a lot of fun. And you mentioned that, you know, there’s a lot of fun in those books, very swashbuckling and, you know, writing can serve a lot of different purposes and can, can fill a lot of different emotional needs for the writer, but for the reader as well.

And, and I think, I hope that when people listen to these episodes. they’re, they’re remembering that everybody is approaching this in their own way. Everybody is, wants different things out of their publishing journey. if they even do want to be published. There, there are some people where the satisfaction of having written and having written a book and completed a book is, is the goal.

And trust me, finishing the first book is such a huge milestone and such a huge moment and, and should be celebrated.

[00:54:45] Theo Brun: Yeah. Can you, I can remember the moment of finishing my first book. Can you remember yours? But was it, was it, was there a promise of, of, of like the industry already or was it just purely for you at that point,

[00:54:57] Julia Kelly: So I, I had been, I started writing my first book in graduate school because I thought I was going to go out of my mind if I did any more work on my master’s thesis. so I just started scribbling stuff down and, I worked on that book for maybe three, two, three years off and on, picking it up, putting it down.

And finally I decided I needed, if I was going to tell people, That I wanted to be a writer. In addition to being a journalist, I needed to actually like finish something. So, I do remember I was sitting at my tiny studio kitchen table in my tiny studio in New York, because that was the only place I had to work and it was probably a Saturday night because I decided if I’m going to do this, I’m going to spend the time and the time was, you know, nights and weekends and I finished it and I kind of pushed away from my computer. And I thought, well, that’s really exciting. I’ve never done that before. And it was terrible. I absolutely needed heavy editing, but it was done. And that was really, really thrilling. Do you have a, do you remember where, where you?

[00:56:01] Theo Brun: I do, I was actually sitting exactly where I am now. So I’m in a, in a, a little cottage on, my, my family come from Norfolk, which is the east of England, so I’m up here. I’m visiting in this little cottage I used when I was about in my bachelor days. So this was about 11 years ago, I think. again, this idea that just basically grew and grew and eventually sort of got to the end and it was about March time of whatever year it was.

And it was actually quite a warm evening and I basically put aside the cigar and I had a bottle of champagne and I went out. I think I was literally in. Underpants and trainers and a shirt and I just it was it was warm enough because it was it was supposed to be a little bit ridiculous and you know had my cigar and my bottle of champagne and I literally ran.

I think I had it was listening to music as well. We’re basically running up and down and this beautiful full moon. Pouring out on the landscape, quite warm and just howling at the moon. So, so that was like quite, what’s the word, cathartic, you know, and I don’t think any, I’ve probably not had any moment in my entire writing career that was as fun as that since.

But anyway, it was, it was, it was. Memorable.

[00:57:16] Julia Kelly: Oh, wonderful. Well, I feel like I should have had champagne with me, but I think I was so broke at that time. It was not going to happen. So.

[00:57:22] Theo Brun: Yeah, maybe it was, maybe it was Cava. Who knows? Anyway, it all got drunk, which I don’t think I’ve ever drunk a bottle of anything fizzy or bubbly just entirely on my own out of the bottle. That was a bit extravagant, man.

[00:57:36] Julia Kelly: No, I love it. I think you should celebrate things. And I, I liked what Giles said about sort of throwing himself a launch party because, you know, why wouldn’t you, you should celebrate things. And, and I think little milestones, big milestones, you know, all of that.

[00:57:51] Theo Brun: Yeah. And I know Giles, I think, does carry that with him. Like, I think he’s got a levity to him, which, which definitely comes through in some of the humor in his books as well. But also he, he just feels like quite a buoyant, character to observe as well in, in himself. And, and, you know, I think that’s, it’s, it’s nice to have, friends in the industry like that, who, who kind of make you see that there’s some fun to be had here as well as.

you know, all the struggles that one personally endures.

[00:58:26] Julia Kelly: No, there’s, I mean, I know we talked about it a little bit in the Sid Young episode about, you know, writing community and, and critique groups and all of that. But I think there’s nothing quite like another author who understands what you have just gone through and understands a bit about the, the world of writing, to, to celebrate those moments with you.

So, when you can find them, you, you hold them close to you. I just had, my, my five very close writing friends who, um. I’ve been with since long before I was published, all of them were at my wedding. those that had, have husbands, the husbands were there and there was something really special about having that moment and that celebration with all of them, knowing that we have this history together and we’ve seen each other go through all these different aspects of our career and try different things and, you know, successes and struggles.

[00:59:17] Theo Brun: Well, we’re going to have quite a collection of conversations in which we’ve gone through our, our struggles, you and I together By the end of, by the end of last season and this next season, but yeah, it is a joy to, to, you know, meet with these other authors, talk to you about their experience, our experience. so I hope that, yeah, onwards to the next episode.

[00:59:44] Julia Kelly: Absolutely. Well, thanks again to our wonderful guest, Giles Kristian. I really, really enjoyed that conversation and I think Theo is fully agreeing with me on that. That concludes our episode of the History Quill Podcast. Before we go, I want to remind you to head over to the historyquill.com /bonus to get our bonus episode on how to succeed in historical fiction, featuring our guest authors Gill Paul and David Penny. It’s essential listening for any historical fiction writer. So make sure you check it out. You can find the link to the episode in the description or enter it into your browser.

[01:00:21] Theo Brun: And of course, wherever you’re listening to this podcast, make sure you like, subscribe, and leave us a comment or review. Thank you so much for listening to this episode, and we will see you next time.

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