Please welcome James Maxwell to The Qwillery. Iron Will, the final novel in The Shifting Tides tetralogy, was published on March 13th by 47North.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first piece you remember writing?
James: I remember quite clearly a piece that I wrote aged eleven. There was a young writer’s retreat I really wanted to go to, but you had to be submit a work of fiction to win a place. I remember my piece so well because of how much effort I put in. I didn’t have any experience with short fiction – I thought stories and novels were the same thing: always long. So I wrote a 40,000 word fantasy novelette with the highly-imaginative title Golden Dragons. It was a sprawling homage to everything I liked about fantasy. I went to the retreat and worked with published authors and hung out with other young writers, which was incredible.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
James: People who know me would definitely say I’m a plotter. I work with very detailed outlines! But surely no one can truly be a pantser? Even if all you have is a character, a quest, and maybe a title, that’s still planning. I see it as a sliding scale. You can certainly over-plan – there needs to be space to invent things as you go, in the moment of writing. But under-planning can be a problem too. That’s when you end up retroactively planning while editing, which I think is harder.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
James: Procrastination. Definitely. The modern world puts a lot of demands on our attention and it’s always tough to shut out the world so you can spend time inside your head for a while. When I’m heavily engaged with writing a book I end up playing all sorts of tricks on myself. Turning my phone off; leaving it in another room. Not opening mail. Leaving my wife to answer the door. Getting out of the house and writing in the library. I do think you end up with better work when you stay in the moment as much as possible, and that means not getting distracted.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
James: Travel, history, film & television, fiction, non-fiction, conversation, dreams, walking around and observing… It all goes in and gets scrambled and then something comes back out. In the end I think you write what you loved as a child, combined with the observations you have made about the world since.
TQ: Tell us something about Iron Will that is not found in the book description.
James: There’s a twist that readers of the previous Shifting Tides novel, Copper Chain, may or may not see coming. There’s also an epic sea adventure, a trek through the ice and snow, a search for an ancient artefact, a major evacuation, and a love that’s tested beyond endurance.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Shifting Tides series? What appeals to you about writing Fantasy?
James: For a time I was fortunate enough to live on the island of Malta, right in the middle of the Mediterranean. There is so much history there; you walk past incredible things every day. I also love sailing, and the roving nature of Homer’s stories. It all got me thinking about Greek mythology and modern fantasy and wondering if I could combine the two in a new and original way. We’re used to Middle Ages fantasy but it’s incredible how developed the ancient world was. For example, 500 years before Julius Caesar they were building wooden ships that were so big it wasn’t until the period of European colonisation that they got bigger. I'd better stop now; I can talk about this stuff all day! As for why I write fantasy… I think I just love the fact that anything is possible.
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Shifting Tides Series?
James: I did quite a lot of background research into the period. I didn’t want to write historical fiction – not at all – but it’s important that the world be consistent. I read a bunch of books about Alexander the Great and the Greco-Persian wars but the hard part was answering my questions about daily life, so I ended up getting quite specific with the stuff I was reading.
Ideally, though, you want the research to disappear into the background. World building is amazing fun, and after setting some ground rules I like to let my imagination run free.
TQ: You've written two tetralogies - The Evermen Saga and The Shifting Tides. Why 4 books for each series?
James: I think it came down to the kind of story I wanted to tell. Trilogies are fantastic – I’m actually working on one for my next project. But in the case of my previous two series I wanted to have a bit more freedom to roam and play in the worlds I’d created. I always try to give each individual book a conclusive ending, and that’s actually easier with four books than it is for three. There’s a lot to keep track of, however, and you end up with a lot of narrative threads to tie up. That’s why a five book series might be one too many!
TQ: In The Shifting Tides series who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Which character surprised you?
James: The easiest would have to be Kargan, who starts off as the fleet commander on the enemy side and continues to rise through the ranks as the series progresses. He is ambitious, and he is a bully, and he is utterly contemptuous of other cultures. He just rolled right onto the page.
There is another character, Kyphos, who is the right-hand man of a king who has returned to claim his throne. He was a bit more difficult to write because I wanted him to be both ruthless and likeable. It’s his loyalty to his king that made it work, despite some of the terrible things he does.
The character that surprised me was Aristocles, the father of the heroine, Chloe. A politician, he is used to wealth and power, and when he is betrayed and cast out of his city he is thrown into a completely new world. He’s out of his depth, yet he finds a way to keep going.
TQ: What are your feelings on concluding The Shifting Tides series.
James: It’s always a bit sad to finish a series. I end up feeling very close to my characters and I know I’m saying goodbye to them when I wrap it all up. At the same time, I love getting started on a new project. It’s a really exciting time.
TQ: What's next?
James: For my next project I’m really letting my imagination soar. I’m blending genres a bit more, and rather than using a setting based on history I’m building something fresh and new. It’s the most threatening world I’ve created yet. There will be three books, and I’m writing them back to back, which will help a lot with immersing myself in the story.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
James: Thank for having me! And let me take this opportunity to thank all my readers. I hope you’re enjoying the journey as much as I am.
The Shifting Tides 4
47North, March 13, 2018
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 416 pages
The epic conclusion to James Maxwell’s gripping fantasy series.
The world is facing a war to end all wars, a confrontation that will destroy everything Dion and Chloe hold dear. With Palemon’s dragon army growing in number, time is running out…
Dion is doing everything in his power to prepare his kingdom, but he knows it will not be enough. Although he needs Chloe’s help, recent tragedy makes him terrified for her safety. Magic is dangerous. Only Palemon is too arrogant to see it.
As chaos engulfs the land and Palemon risks civilization itself, Dion and Chloe must unite people of all nations to have any chance of survival.
The Shifting Tides 1
47North, May 1, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 464 pages
The first book in an epic fantasy series by James Maxwell, author of the bestselling Evermen Saga.
War is coming to Xanthos. The king refuses to face the truth, but his overlooked second son, Dion, can see the signs: strange warships patrolling, rumors of a new tyrant across the sea, and the princess of a neighboring land taken hostage…
The princess, Chloe, refuses to be a helpless pawn in this clash of nations. She and Dion will need allies to turn the tide of war – and there are none more powerful than the eldren, a mysterious race of shapeshifters who live in the Wilds.
As a world-spanning conflict begins, a king is betrayed, a prophecy is fulfilled, and Dion learns a secret about his past that changes his life forever.
The Shifting Tides 2
47North, November 8, 2016
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 492 pages
Chloe’s quest to escape the Oracle’s prophecy leads her to a magus with a secret: the eldren are not the only race to use magic in warfare. An ancient power is rediscovered, and a forgotten people will return.
Meanwhile, cursed by his birth, Dion tries to forge a new life at sea, away from both the eldren and his former life in Xanthos, but the one thing he can’t leave behind is his heritage.
Two kings on opposite sides of the ocean prepare for war.
The Shifting Tides 3
47North, August 3, 2017
Trade Paperback and Kindle eBook, 380 pages
When a desperate king threatens Dion and everything he loves, only dangerous magic can keep him safe.
Dion, now king of Xanthos, is finally in command of the naval fleet he’s always dreamed of. But his hopes for peace are jeopardized when King Palemon, in dire need of ships to rescue his starving people from the frozen wastelands of the north, invades the Salesian city of Malakai.
Too weak to confront Dion directly, Palemon turns to magic: mysterious copper chains from the lost civilization of Aleuthea, which have the potential to control dragons…and Dion.
With the people he loves in danger, and his own freedom at risk, Dion’s only hope is Chloe and the power she struggles to tame.
James Maxwell is the bestselling author of The Evermen Saga and The Shifting Tides series, and has previously ranked in the top 5 bestselling authors on Amazon worldwide. The final book in The Shifting Tides series, Iron Will, is out now in paperback with 47North, Amazon Publishing. Find out more about James and his books here.