Author Interview: Peter V Brett

The author of The Painted Man talks to SFX‘s Stephen Jewell about the third book in his Demon Cycle series

Ahead of his trip to the UK this month, American fantasy author Peter V Brett spoke to Stephen Jewell about the latest instalment in The Demon Cycle, The Daylight War:

Author Peter V Brett

Author Peter V Brett

SFX: The Demon Cycle was originally planned as a trilogy but you have since extended it to five or six books! And you’ve also done some standalone novels?

Peter V Brett: The truth is, the series was originally pitched as a quintet, and I have always worked with that arc in mind. But because I was an unproven author, my US publisher, Del Rey Books, only contracted me for three books initially, and other publishers like Voyager in the UK followed suit. This led to a mistaken assumption by some that the series was a trilogy, a misconception I battle to this day. The second contract was for another three books, which is meant to finish the series and to lock in my next project. That sixth book will be a stand alone story set in the same world with many shared characters, but it will not be necessary to have read the main series to enjoy it, or vice versa. In addition to this, there’s a series of standalone novellas that act as companions to the series. As with the sixth book, they can be enjoyed independently or as part of the larger mythos of The Demon Cycle.

How did you develop your interest in demons? And, as Arlen and Jardir’s rivalry suggests, the most insidious and fascinating demons are within all our hearts…

I’ve been obsessed with demons since reading The Elfstones Of Shannara and Master Of The Five Magics by Lyndon Hardy. But as with most SF stories, the monsters are mostly background atmosphere and mood for the human drama in the foreground. This is not to say they’re not important drivers of the story, but the real tale is in how the characters interact beneath the pressure the demons impose on the world.

From George RR Martin to Brandon Sanderson, many American fantasy authors are fascinated with the traditional, mostly British idea of monarchy: do you share this obsession?

I don’t romanticise that idea as much as Martin and Sanderson, and have limited interest in heraldry. The city states in my series are ostensibly ruled as duchies, but the king and queen are centuries dead, and the states are both independent and interdependent. On the local level, people are more worried about their next meal – and not becoming a meal themselves – than they are about royal decree. The Painted Man is a folk hero without an ounce of noble blood and the stories I tell tend to take place more out in the field than at court.

Where will The Demon Cycle go from here? What can you tell us about the next two volumes?

Book four is tentatively titled The Skull Throne, and book five is The Core. It’s kind of hard to talk much about them without giving away things from Daylight War, however. Suffice it to say that those who live through the current book will see their problems intensify rapidly in the next. That’s a bit of a cop-out I know, but I hate spoilers! Book six has a working title of Tibbet’s Brook, and will take place in that town. Like the other books I’ve done, this will take place in two time periods, opening up just as Arlen leaves the town in chaos after giving them battle wards, and then weaving back to tell concurrently the life story of Selia Barren and how she came to be Town Speaker. It’s going to be quite a ride.

The Daylight War by Peter V Brett

The Daylight War UK cover

You wrote your debut The Painted Man on your mobile on the subway while on your way to work. Did you have to keep the story concise to keep all the plot threads in your head?

One might expect that I would have done. The phone app I was using, Docs To Go, allowed for smooth synching from device to desktop, but had problems opening large files. This was back in 2006-2007 before iPhones, so anything that was more than 20 pages would start to strain the phone’s small processor. And of course, it is harder to skip around a big file when you can only see a handful of lines of text at a time. My solution to the problem was to create one master file, called a stepsheet, where I outlined, in great detail, the events of each chapter of the novel using bulleted lists. Using this as the skeleton to keep all the plot threads straight, I began writing prose for the chapters in order, breaking out each chapter’s stepsheet file into a separate document small enough to work on using the phone. I would get on the train with bulleted notes for the days writing, and could usually add 400-800 words of prose to the file a day. When a chapter was done, I would paste it into the main file and break out the next one. This allowed me to work steadily and with complexity despite the limitations of the process.

How has your writing process changed since then?

I think my current style developed in that forge, as I work much the same way now. Even my iPad 3 has no writing app that allows me to comfortably edit an 850 page book. I am still forced to break out chapters and work on them individually!

Has the TV success of Game Of Thrones made fantasy more accessible to a wider audience?

Both the book and the TV series of Game Of Thrones along with other high-profile fantasies like the The Lord Of The Rings movies have reinvigorated the genre with a huge crop of great new writers and a vast audience hungry for more complex stories and characters, not limited to very stark good versus evil. It’s been a rising tide that lifts all ships, and I think the genre is stronger now with more varied voices than ever before.

Do you think The Demon Cycle would work on a similar small screen scale or indeed on the big screen?

There have been discussions of doing The Demon Cycle on both large and small screen scale, and while there is no project currently in development, I think the series has both the big imagery and complex character development to have legs either as a TV series or film franchise. Here’s hoping something comes of it.

The Daylight War is published on Monday 11 February. Peter V Brett will be at Topping & Company Booksellers in our home town of Bath on Thursday 28 February – book your tickets now!