Phil Williams is the author of the Ordshaw urban fantasy series and the Estalia post-apocalyptic sagas. Living in Sussex, UK, with his wife, he also writes educational books and spends a great deal of time walking his impossibly fluffy dog, Herbert.
1.Why storytelling? What made you yearn to tell a good story, and how long was this story within you before it came out?
I went to a parody literary salon a while back where the audience had to pretend they were workshopping novels. They did a plaintive call and response every now and again that went “What are we?” “Writers!” – “Why do we right?” “Because we must!” Every time the host did it, that final phrase got more sad and desperate, and I don’t think I’ve ever experienced a more accurate summary of the writing experience than that.
I tell stories because I enjoy discovering them. They fester in my brain for years. Under Ordshaw started as anecdotal jokes about the world around us, and slowly blossomed into something of its own.
2.What is it about your genre that speaks to you?
I write urban fantasy to reimagine the world as something infinitely special and bizarre. I like the challenge of convincing people the unreal is possible, within their own lives. That’s, I guess, another answer to why storytelling.
3.If I were stuck in a room with your main character, what would we be doing?
That would be Pax, who’s quick-witted but a bit of loner. Most likely, you’d be quiet in anticipation of her judging you, while she persuaded you to play a game of cards that you’re likely to lose.
4.Everyone has at least one specific challenge that holds them back. What is that challenge in your work and how do you overcome it?
My biggest challenge in the craft is letting go, in the sense of actually finalizing my writing to push it out into the world. I’m prolific, but I’ll churn out a novel and say “We’ll edit that and release it in a few months,” then forget I wrote it until half a decade later. I wrote four or five novels last year and I’ve only released one of them so far!
The other challenge I have is the pretty typical “I prefer writing to promoting”. People complain about the time suck of social media. For me, it’s writing that distracts me from the real world. Sure I *could* create adverts and promotions…but what if I wrote another chapter of a novel instead…
5.When you are writing, tell me about the emotions that are running through you and what it takes to work alongside them.
Writing isn’t much different to reading for me. I go through the same gamut a reader would, and get drawn along by the same anticipation and excitement that I hope grips a reader. I want to know what’s going to happen, I’m excited to spend time with my characters.
All that combines with a problem-solving drive, the sort of feeling you get when you’re doing a Sudoku, trying to piece it all together in the right place.
6.If you could live anywhere other than where you are, where would it be?
Probably Krakow, my wife’s hometown and the place I’ve vacationed to most frequently. It’s a beautiful city, full of surprises (and excellent food), and its medieval charm appeals to the fantasy-hound in me. There are two problems though: I’ll be hard pressed to ever move away from the sea, and Krakow’s sadly heavily polluted, which I don’t think I could abide.
7.If you could choose any other writer, living or dead, to be your mentor, whom would you choose and why?
Most likely Mark Twain. Aside from his exceptional talent, I’m a big fan of his Southern Gentleman style, and the way he could spin a yarn that goes from the ordinary to something bizarre without skipping a beat, leaving you unsure what’s true or not, but at the same time not caring.
There’s a section in A Tramp Abroad where he goes on a 50-page tangent about enlisting an enormous party to go for a walk up a hill that ends in the chaotic dynamiting of a massive rock. It goes from the ordinary to the utterly absurd, leaving you wondering what, if anything, is real, and it would’ve taken guts to commit to such an extreme and ultimately pointless story. It’s also very entertaining (at least to me). On the strength of that, I think we’d get on.
8.If we reach beyond the written word into visual media, and you could choose how your story is consumed, would you want a television show, a movie series, or anime to tell the story of the book and the world it takes place in?
A TV series would be most fitting to the Ordshaw books. There are many, many more stories on the way, all rather complexly interwoven and character-based, so it’d be best to have a format that takes advantage of that.
In the long-run, I’d like to create a multi-media affair from Ordshaw, with different media feeding in original parts of the story. A few years back I started designing a computer game (and a board game) that addressed particular bit of Ordshaw lore. It’s still on the back-burner. VR would be a nice avenue too.
9.Can we expect an audio book from you, and if you had the ability to choose anyone to narrate it, is there someone in particular you would hire?
At some point I’d love to get an audio version out there – it’s not something I’ve dabbled in yet, but I think it’s a great and growing area. As I do with most things, I’d like to do it myself, but the problem there is I think a female voice would be more appropriate to Ordshaw, suiting its main characters. That said I don’t have anyone in mind beyond “probably not me”.
10.Do you have any regrets about the story you told? Would you make any changes to its telling or did you capture exactly what you were looking for?
Under Ordshaw is actually the product of retelling – it’s seen various iterations, over almost a decade of tinkering, so I must’ve experienced the regrets with the earlier versions. It’s quite a different beast to what it once was. At this juncture, I’ve got to say it’s hit the notes I always intended for it, and I’m ready to let it go.
11.What are the things you’re most proud of in this book or series?
Two things stand out for me: the setting and the characters. Ordshaw and the people in it have really come alive. I can see the city, and its neighbourhoods, and the characters’ conversations feel so real to me. Their humour is a particular product of that. It’s a tense and dark book at times, but I love how Pax and Letty play the tension for humour without breaking the spell. I never planned them to be funny, but I go back over some of the conversations and they continue to surprise me and make me laugh.
Oh, and there’s the grugulochs, I’m pretty proud of that. But that’s coming in Book 2.
12.What element of this story can we expect in your future work?
More mysteries, more monsters, more sharp dialogue and a great, twisty ride. Under Ordshaw, while forming its own arc, lays the foundation for a lot more to come – if there’s any aspect in it you like, from the smallest detail to the great arching plot points, there’s more to come. Even the throwaway anecdotes are likely to be fleshed out in future…if we ever get a book about Jack the Tee McGee, that’ll be a riot.
13.You are going to commit a crime, bank heist, murder, you can choose a co-conspirator from your book. What crime would you commit and who would you choose as your co-conspirator(s)?
Without doubt Letty. Most likely for a (naturally, morally forgivable) diamond-heist. She’s got the skills, the means, the temperament. You’d best spend some time with her in the story to learn exactly why – I wouldn’t want to spoil it.
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