Interviews · Uncategorized

James Oswald talks bad sheep and Sir Benfro

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James Oswald is a best-selling international crime writer and a livestock farmer from Fife but what you may not have known is that he has also written an epic fantasy series.

Not only that but his fantasy books, set in a mythical land of magic and dragons, are inspired by Welsh sheep farms.

In fact, the baddies in his books were inspired by breeds of sheep.

James already has a successful crime fiction series, Inspector McLean which landed the sheep farmer a £150,000 contract with Penguin three and a half years ago.

The next book in the series, Written in Bones is out February 2017 and is the penultimate book in the current contract.

This week James’s latest novel, The Obsidian Throne – the fifth and final book in The Ballad of Sir Benfro series, hits shelves nationwide.

Fifth book: The Obsidian Throne
Fifth book: The Obsidian Throne

I was lucky enough to chat to James about his fantasy series which is, he told us, inspired by his time working in the Welsh countryside.

James told the Student Record: “I started doing evening classes and where I was living in Wales was in the middle of nowhere.

“As I was learning to speak the language I was finding about out about all the local myths and legends and it just kind of lent itself to an epic fantasy setting. It’s an epic quest and the struggle of good against evil as all the best stories are.”

James told us how he came up with the concept after moving down to Wales in 2000’

He said: “My partner had a job there so I followed her down before I took over the farm in Fife. It was about 15 miles inland from Aberystwyth [West Wales], up in the mountains in the middle of the forest.

“It was a really wild part of the country and a really beautiful part. As I was learning to speak the language I was finding about out about all the local myths and legends and it just kind of lent itself to an epic fantasy setting.”

First book: Dreamwalker
First book: Dreamwalker

But it was the sheep farms where he really found his inspiration.

He went on: “I was working on a sheep farm, so we were looking at different sheep breeds and how to maximise the efficiency of sheep farming. I was learning about all the different Welsh sheep breeds and I thought we would use all these for my baddies.

“So you have [in the books] Beulah the Speckled Face and the Beulah Speckled Face is a Welsh sheep breed. All the names are a Welsh sheep which is a bit of an in joke. That just gave me a basis to start from.”

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James and his sheep

The fourth instalment of the series, The Broken World, saw the protagonist Sir Benfro escaping his arch nemesis by grabbing his two companions and jumping from the top of a tall tower.

The Obsidian Throne is the final book in the series but James plans to eventually revisit the fantasy world.

He explains: “I don’t think that will be the last we see of some of those characters. There’s so many stories, so much character and that world is built so well in my head that I could very easily come back to it and write some more.”

As with many books, challenges come and go as authors try to push through them.

Third book: The Broken World
Fourth book: The Broken World

With The Obsidian Throne, James said: “The most challenging part of The Obsidian Throne and the one before it [The Broken World] was coming back to the series. There were five books in the series and I started writing the first one in 2000/2001.

“I wrote the first three very quickly and then realised I hadn’t managed to get a publisher for any of them and they weren’t setting the world alight. I stopped writing the series and moved onto something else. I basically had a gap of about 10 years between writing book three and book four. “

Having tried to get published for years, James ended up self-publishing the first of the two Inspector McClean books on the Kindle and they took of completely unexpectedly.

After being offered the six figure sum for the McLean series Penguin wanted more from James.

He said: “Basically my editor at Penguin asked, ‘have you got anything else you’re working on’ and I said jokingly I had this fantasy series I never finished.

“He said he’d like to see it and so I sent him the first three books in the series about two and a half years ago. He read them all in a weekend and then bought the series and started publishing it. I had thought I’d never finish it but things turned out slightly differently.”

The unusual thing about this series James thinks, is that the dragons are sentient beings.

Second book: The Red Cord
Second book: The Red Cord

He said: “They talk and they have their own society and as the whole epic saga unfolds we realise they are very different to the creatures we started with at the beginning of the books.”

The dragon Benfro is the one character James relates to the most as he is young and confused with the world.

James said: “He [Benfro] is permanently confused about things and doesn’t really quiet understand what is going on and that kind of sums me up growing up. I did find the world very confusing, I think a lot of children do and I kind of projected that into Benfro.”

There is a completely different process in which James writes crime fiction series, Inspector McLean to The Ballad of Sir Benfro series.

He said: “My process for the crime books rather than Sir Banfros is organic. I start with a loose idea of what I want to do and then kind of tell the story to myself. With the fantasy books I’ve had to be more structured. I have to know more of where the story is going so I will plan things out.”

With the series finishing, James explained that he has a few ideas that he has been trying to find time to work on.

He said: “I have a science fiction-ish type thing. I say science fiction-ish because while it’s set in outer space it’s not really about space ships and hard science. It’s more of a character driven story which I need to find a publisher for.

“But before I do that I need to finish the next Inspector McLean book and get all of that out of the way. Having so many hours in the day and running a livestock farm it’s quite difficult to put everything together. I have lots of things I’d like to write but it’s finding the time to do them.”

Fourth book: The Golden Cage
Fourth book: The Golden Cage

James would also love to see his series make it to the television screen.

He explained: “There are five books so you could easily make a five season series about it for Netflix and I would love that to happen.

“It would make the books better known. The first four books haven’t had much publicity. The first book did reasonably well but with the next they hadn’t caught the public’s imagination yet. 

“But now that the series is finished my publishers are going to spend the whole year from The Obsidian Throne’s publishing date on Wednesday through until next Christmas doing as much publicity and marketing as they can for the series to build up a readership now that the whole thing is available.”

The Obsidian Throne is available to buy now via Amazon.

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