Welcome back to Sunday Brunch! Episode 24 features fantasy author W.P. Wiles, in conjunction with the online tour for his recently published novel The Last Blade Priest!
I really appreciate Angry Robot for letting me nag so many of their authors, and of course the authors for taking the time to interview!
Without further delay, let’s jump in!
🍳Welcome to the Sunday Brunch Series! As an introduction, can you tell everyone an interesting fact about yourself that isn’t in your author bio?
🎤I very much wanted to call my daughter Halo, after the Alan Moore character Halo Jones, but my wife said that people would think I had named her after the computer game, and she was right.
🍳What would your brunch order be?
🎤Orange juice, black coffee, apricot danish, poached eggs on toast.
🍳Everyone talks about tropes these days and The Last Blade Priest seems to be full of subverted tropes. Were there one or two specific ones you went out trying to tackle ?
🎤When I first started writing, I thought it would be almost entirely from the point of view of Inar, a builder who is reluctantly employed as a guide by a party of rich, arrogant people from the League who want to survey a mountain pass that leads into a forbidden kingdom. So you’d have a fairly standard fantasy set up: a questing party of mismatched outsiders trying to penetrate this mysterious holy land, containing a magical mountain, facing perils and so on. But I quickly realized that I wanted more than a taste of this distant and decadent religion, I didn’t want to only present it from the outside, I wanted to spend time with it and in it. So you also get a perspective within the religion, among the scheming priests in their forbidden fastness – you get the quest from both sides. Another trope that I had fun with was the Elves, but maybe we’ll talk about them separately …
🍳On the trope topic, do you have a least and most favorite one to read!
🎤I am a sucker for the Gothic, so I will always enjoy crumbling, isolated houses, forbidding ruins, dark ancestral secrets and all that jazz. It’s hard to name a least favourite because I think almost anything can be executed well, or at least given an interesting twist. Zombies have been done to death, though. Let’s have more ghouls, mummies, wraiths and skeletons instead.
🍳I had to look up a ton of words used in TLBP to describe locations and building structures; most seemed rooted in old English. It felt authentic! Was the language used a conscious choice to set atmosphere/tone/setting or what brought you to your architectural descriptions?
🎤 Naturally an author doesn’t want the reader to have to go to the dictionary too often, and I hope you didn’t have to! But a little bit of unfamiliarity in the language helps give a world a sense of difference and that difference can help it feel real. I write about architecture in my day job so I guess that’s also a language I’m familiar with.
🍳The book is pretty dense to start with – names, places, titles, etc, did you have any thoughts about including an index or did you trust readers to stick around for the explanations later on?
🎤I hope that explanations follow new words or concepts pretty closely, even if they don’t happen at once! An author has to walk a line between two dangers. On the one side is the danger of confronting the reader with too many unexplained terms and concepts and leaving them struggling to understand what’s going on. On the other side is the danger of stopping to explain everything as it comes up, which slows everything down and can feel like an author showing off how much attention they gave to all the details and the world building. So you have to navigate between those perils. As a reader I don’t mind having to figure out some stuff for myself, and I find early exposition dumps a little dry, so maybe that’s the direction I tend to lean as a writer. But maybe a glossary would be a good idea for the future!
🍳I personally love world building and it was pretty intense in TLBP. Lore, religion, tradition, text, there were so many factors. Was there one part of the world you liked creating and embellishing the most or did it all come together as one piece?
🎤I did enjoy thinking about the architecture a great deal. I wanted it to be coherent across the various locations and cultures that appear. Some places build in timber because they don’t have ready access to stone, in other places it’s the other way round. The religious architecture of the Mountain worshippers bear traces of their history: they once built cairns for sky burial and human sacrifice, emulating their holy mountain, and when they got to building temples they made them faintly mountainous, with sloping sides, lit only from the top. But I would like to reassure any prospective readers that this is kept very much in the background! Some people enjoy inventing fantasy languages – I enjoyed creating a fantasy architectural tradition.
🍳One other question I love to ask is – What idea or theme or visual came first for you in creating the novel?
🎤 A hidden religious kingdom and a holy mountain were probably the starting points. I am a keen armchair mountaineer. I love to read about mountain-climbing and the high places, the strangeness of glaciers, the almost mystical experiences brought on by altitude sickness. There is an astounding surrealist film by Alejandro Jodorowsky called The Holy Mountain, which I saw as a young man and it left a deep impression on me – it’s saturated with this very disturbing imagery, much of it religious. I think that probably planted a seed, long ago, although the book is very different.
🍳Elves as chaotic villains! I liked your recent short piece on Orcs as villains. What prompted the choice for elves in this role?
🎤As I wrote in that little essay, Orcs are great antagonists, but they’re just antagonists. They can be a little one-dimensional. Meanwhile, I’ve long been tired of the haughty, cultured Elves we’re all familiar with. Their immortality made me think of a short story by Martin Amis called “The Immortals”, which is in Einstein’s Monsters. It’s about a group of immortal beings who have just watched civilisation get wiped out in a nuclear holocaust. But are they in fact immortal, or are they just delusional, traumatized survivors, slowly dying? I don’t want to give too much away about it, but what if Elves were less a race and more an altered state, and an extremely dangerous one? So they have pointy ears and a sense of overpowering superiority and they think they’re immortal, but …
🍳One random bookish question – what’s your favorite fantasy novel?
🎤My favourite recent fantasy would have to be Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir. It’s a terrific novel, with vivid characters, an unforgettable gothic setting, intrigue, gore, well-executed magic, mysteries … everything, really. It’s also very funny. As for long-term favourites … Titus Groan meant a great deal to me, and the influence of Gormenghast castle can be felt in my own creation of the Brink. Also Gene Wolfe’s Book of the New Sun.
🍳Thanks so much for joining Sunday Brunch! If there’s anything you’d like to add or say about anything at all, please do so here!
🎤Thanks for having me! Don’t eat any strange mushrooms!
Meet the author:
W P Wiles was born in India in 1978. He is the author of three novels: the Betty Trask Award-winning Care of Wooden Floors (2012), The Way Inn (2014), and Plume (2019). When not writing novels, he writes about architecture, and he is a regular columnist for RIBA Journal. He lives in east London.