Ringlander: The Path and the Way by Michael S. Jackson
What led you into writing?
I remember it vividly. I was playing drums in a band, when the singer and I decided it might be fun to film a music video based around the game Fallout 3. It went ahead and gave me the writing bug. I started writing a script for a film called Barren Skies — a zombie short with some actor friends filmed in the Cairngorms of Scotland — but the band came to an abrupt halt that summer and so did Barren Skies. I faltered for a while, unsure of myself and where to channel my now misplaced creativity. Fast-forward 6 months and I’m standing in Leeds train station after watching my wife on trial (she’s a violinist, not a criminal.) I’ve just finished A MEMORY OF LIGHT by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson and I’m staring at the cover glinting in the light as the train pulled up. I’ve been reading this story for 5 years and I’ve just reached the end, don’t get me wrong, I loved it, but I’m struck with a sudden and very poignant thought: “I could do this.”
I’m not saying I could write A Memory of Light. Sanderson and Jordan are two masters, but the thought that this thing I was holding was no longer just an object to be entertained by, and something that was created by someone struck me hard. Because if they could do it…So could I.
Long story short, I started writing Ringlander that week. That was 8 years ago.
How does a typical day look?
I get up around 730am, coerce my children into getting dressed for school (shoes seem to always be the hardest). I work from home as a UX Designer so my workday is usually 9-5, then it’s dinner, after school clubs, homework and reading. Eventually we sit/fall down about 8pm. During that time I’m constantly carving out pockets of time to work on writing. It’s a bit mental really, but I love writing so much that it’s really not a chore. My parents used to complain about there not being enough hours in the day, and at the time I was like “REALLY?”. I get it now.
In what ways do your characters test your abilities?
This is cool question, because I try to make my characters as real as possible, and real people constantly make mistakes, or act “out-of-character”. I know I do myself. Some days I feel happy and energised, others I’m trudging through knee-high shit all day, fighting for everything. And besides, where is the fun in rigid consistency — who is actually like that?
The biggest challenge for me is everything beforehand, like writing distinctive voices, relationships, goals, and how they all relate to the plot. Timelines too, how and when do the characters meet, and what do they gain from each other? That’s where it gets tricky. But I find if I get that stuff right, when I start writing them into scenes their reactions come very naturally based on what I know about them. Stepping into a character’s shoes is probably one of my stronger skills, and a good reason why I chose the 3rd person limited POV for Ringlander.
What’s your setup?
I’ve not long moved house, and my office is on the hit-list for redecoration, so at the moment I have my desk and a couple of laptops to work from, plus a monitor. Pretty simple set up, and it means I can surround myself with books, rubiks cubes and action figures. Some say they distract, others say they… Wait. What we’re talking about again?
What lasting effects have your favourite authors had on your writing and style?
Abercrombie taught me to write with attitude, to not be afraid of letting your characters do the awful things they need to. Grimdark is such an awesome genre, and I love the anti heros that we see from him. Jordan helped me realise that writing has no bounds, you can write epic landscapes or you can zoom in and watch as Rand walks to Winespring Inn to chat to local Peddlars, all within a single sentence — the only limitation is your imagination. It sounds a bit cliche of course, but it’s true, and it one of the big realisations that stuck with me while I was writing Ringlander (which probably has more of Jordan in it than I would care to admit.)
Tolkien and the Peter Jackson adaptation was huge for the world, but not so much for me, I loved Lord of the Rings, and it really is one of the best trilogies ever written/directed but the Wheel of Time was more epic in scope and went into more detail in the magic systems. I also loved how strong women were in WOT, because so often it’s the men who take the hero role. Rothfuss’s magic system, and the mixing of science and fantasy really took hold of me in In the Name of the Wind, as did H.G.Well’s dark lustre for dramatic sci-fi. The science of Sagan’s Contact. Pullman’s His Dark Materials stayed with me too, not just because of its clever links to religion, but because of the revelation of moving from Northern Lights to Subtle Knife and realising that the character Will was from our world. I adored that, and would love to be able to write something that creates such a shock to the reader. The many worlds concepts in HDM definitely left a mark on me. I just really enjoy good stories, and have watched and rewatched the marvel series, star wars, star trek a million times. Picard was rubbish though.
What do you do for inspiration?
Try and create headspace. Ideas come very quickly to me, but they need space to grow, and when you’re hopping around all over the place it does tend to beat the life of ideas. But as they say, ideas are cheap, it’s the execution that matters.
What repeating themes do you find yourself pulling into your stories?
Well, I’ve only written one book and one short story (currently in the final editing stages) but strong characters are a must for me. Conflict lies with people, and the more personalities you have the more conflict inevitably follows. You just have to be there to catch it.
How do you wind down?
There’s a few different stages of winding down. Sometimes I need a creative break and writing will not help me, so I play drums. I play with my kids, listen to music, watch movies, play games, do rubiks cubes. The one thing that really resets the brain though is getting out and exercising. I live at the bottom of a hill, and the children go to school at the top so convincing myself it’s good for me is no longer a problem, and to be fair it really does blow away the cobwebs.
What sort of challenges do you regularly overcome while designing your world/setting?
I enjoy world-building, but it all has to be for a reason. There’s no point in designing a religion in a fantasy world unless it features somehow in the story. The fun part comes with creating those links. I wrote a new religion into Ringlander based around a female Goddess called Beaivi, and one day I wrote a story about her fighting a cosmic giant called a Stallo. It felt important at the time but it was only when I started writing that I realised this scene might become part of the backbone of the series. Up until that point the happening was all science, but it changed drastically in those 15 minutes to become much deeper, and eventually helped me figure out the ending of book 2 and the outline for book 3.
Sometimes I found that I might design something big like a cultural tradition, festival, profession only for it to become less important in later drafts. That happened a lot in Ringlander, but I was able to keep the implication for much of it, hinting that there is indeed a larger picture than just the one you’re reading about. It might only be an extra sentence here, or an extra word there, but all together it gives a flavour of something deeper that helps immerse the reader that little bit further.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Prince of Thorns by Mark Lawrence at the moment, and absolutely loving it. First person POV and 14 year old anti hero Grimdark. YES.
What’s the most useful advice you could give to an aspiring author?
swimming. Writing. Forget editing until draft 2, 3 or 4. Get that thing written while that passion is there, then pick it apart later.
Tell us about the book you’re promoting.
RINGLANDER: THE PATH AND THE WAY is a fast-paced, epic fantasy adventure novel full of games, grit and magic. Here’s what a recent reviewer said, that I really liked:
A daughter and a father fight against time to find her missing brother, amidst a land torn apart by mysterious forces. An aimless idealist faces the horrors of war. A spy masking as a courtesan uncovers deadly secrets and navigates the political games of a conquered city. A demoted commander and an ancient assassin dance around scheming and imperialist thirst.
I’m offering the hardback in a special AUTHOR EDITION which is limited to 50 copies and you can buy from my website mjackson.co.uk. Although I’d be quick, I only have about 30 left!
👋 Hi! I run Author Interviews
As a new writer I found myself itching to contribute to a thriving, creative community, so I made Author Interviews and I've met loads of wonderful people in the process. You can buy my debut fantasy RINGLANDER: THE PATH AND THE WAY from Amazon.