First of all, tell us a little about yourself. You’re originally English, but live now in Spain. How did that come about? Does living abroad have an impact on the stories you tell?
Hi Nils, thanks for having me. Yes, that’s correct. I hail from not-so-sunny-Shropshire in England, but have always had itchy feet. After spending a year in South America, learning Spanish, I decided I’d had enough of the rain and relocated to Spain. I’ve been here ten years now! Travelling in general has always had an impact on my imagination. More specifically, there is a region in The Ashen Levels called the Valelands which was directly inspired by La Rioja (wine country!) here in Spain, whereas the northern wilds, the mossy woods and misty bogs were more akin to my native homeland. Not that I’m a swamp-dweller, or anything…
Your first series, The Ashen Levels, is described as dark, epic fantasy with subtle GameLit elements. Can you tell us a little about the series? How subtle are the gamelit elements – will you notice them if you don’t know to look for them?
The book is essentially an epic/dark fantasy and was never intended to be litrpg or gamelit at all; it has none of the stat-based number crunching that I know some readers of that genre enjoy. Where the comparison came from (and why I often include the term subtle-gamelit) is because of the magic system I used. I play a lot of videogames and decided to implement some of these gaming mechanics to explain the powers and abilities the ashen have access to. For example, they are cursed to gather a substance called ‘smoke’ for the ‘piper’ (think xp in a game) and this in turn grants them access to better equipment and abilities. It’s a sort of levelling, hence the title, but done in a way where everything is explained (eventually). There’s a reason the piper needs the smoke, there’s a reason they do his bidding. They become addicted to the smoke, corrupted by it and rivals because of it.
All of that said, as a big gamer, I did take inspiration from games I have played. The campfires are very Dark Soulsy, some of the dungeons were inspired by the Legend of Zelda, I was playing the Witcher 3/Red Dead at the time, so ideas such as fast travel or being able to summon your horse came from that… but they had to be explained and have consequences to fit into a ‘real’ world, not a game simulation or anything….
There is no requirement to be a gamer in order to enjoy the book and I’d go as far as to say, it has much more in common with something like LOTR than anything litrpg. But the magic system is progressive like in a game, and I did include a few easter-eggs for readers who choose to scrape away at the surface. Pfff, sorry that was a long answer!
GameLit is something that’s grown in popularity over the last decade and it seems to be here to stay. The same can be said for grimdark. What are your thoughts on this? How has the fantasy genre changed since you started reading, and what changes do you see in the future?
I’ll be honest, I’d never read any litrpg until after I’d written the Ashen Levels, although as a child I did enjoy the choose-your-own-adventure (Fighting Fantasy) books, and have always had a love for rpg open-world games… I can certainly see the appeal, especially with how big a market for videogames there is nowadays.
The same can be said about grimdark… I think I’d read grimdark before it had been given that term, but things like ASOIAF have catapulted it into the stratosphere!
Where do we go from here? Hm, I see audiobooks becoming a much more popular medium, since we are all so strapped for time. Perhaps interactive books with branching narratives…
There will always be a part of me that loves the old school though, the smell of paper, a tree against my back…
You’re launching a new series today, and it’s an epic/grimdark story. Does it have any similarities or connections to The Ashen Levels, or is it completely separate?
It’s in a new world, and is completely separate, maybe more so in tone than in style. People who have read my books often comment on the prose; whilst it’s still me writing, I have tried to dial down the narrator and let the characters do the work. Also, due to the nature of being a grimdark book, it’s definitely grittier and more expletive! I honestly tried not to use too much bad language, but the characters felt flat and unrealistic in their reactions, so I thought, if I’m in for a penny I’m in for a pound sort of thing.
Elements that are similar to the Ashen Levels could be a dark sense of humour, some unpredictable plot twists and a few surreal situations once the prophecy starts to dig its claws in!
The main character is a farmer called Oben. Yes, kill the farm boy and all that! He sets off on a somewhat naive quest for revenge, and whilst his intentions initially seem good, we later come to question them. His journey changes him, and he certainly makes some morally-grey judgments. Even though we empathise with him and hope he doesn’t die, he might just deserve it as much as any other character in the book. This conflict made him fun to write, but honestly, some of the secondary characters steal the show for me.
The cover of Ashen Levels all have a very distinct style. It puts them apart from other fantasy books, while still managing to look like fantasy, which is rather impressive. How do you feel this worked out for you? We know readers do judge a book by its cover, no matter how the old saying goes. Are you going with the same style/artist for your new series, or are you taking it in a new direction?
Thanks for saying so! I’m really pleased with the artwork for the Ashen Levels. It was a bit of a risk, as some people may shy away from something that is not traditional or stereotypically representative of the genre. But I’m pleased with how they turned out and have used the same artist for my new book. It just feels like it ties all my work together, somehow. He’s also a very nice guy and deals with my nit-picking!
And a few quick questions:
What’s your favorite…
…book, in recent times?
River of Stars, Kay; or Lyonesse Trilogy, Vance.
…game, in recent times?
Don’t give up!
…advice for someone who wants to publish their own book?
Get an editor, make it your own, and try not to get too distracted by memes.
…source of inspiration?
Everything! Travel, mostly, but music, video games, other books and right now, the desire to leave my day job and have more writing/family time!!
…way to clear your mind when everything gets a bit much?
Go for a walk. I love nature, so getting away to the mountains or the sea is literally a breath of fresh air.
Thanks for your time! If you’d like to know more about my work in progress or future projects, you can subscribe to my mailing list at www.cfwelburn.com or just drop me a line on Facebook or Instagram where I am most active if you have a question or just want to say hi!
Oh, and if any of the above has piqued your interest, my new book will be discounted to .99c from 5th through 9th October! I hope you enjoy it!
Cheers for now.
Books by C.F. Wellburn
The Ashen Levels series: