Writing Journeys – J.P. Ashman
So today mark’s the end of the first batch of posts from our amazing author guests, and we’re hearing from Mr. J.P. Ashman. Much of what I considered using for my intro is reiterated by J.P. in his post, however, I will add Ashman is one of those super readers who baffles me. He’ll be reading up to 4 epic fantasies at once on Goodreads and never seems to lose track… pretty neat trick.
Fantasy. History. Warhammer. Whacking folk with swords and, more oft than not, being hit by them myself. I’d say those are reasons why I started writing fantasy, but Wifey was the ‘write a book’ instigator, that’s for sure.
When reading fantasy by your parents as a lad (lucky me, I admit), watching fantasy (The Dark Crystal etc.) and playing fantasy games (Hero Quest and Warhammer), you tend to have your head filled with such things most of the time. You talk about it too… a lot, and despite breaks from gaming or re-enactment, it never leaves your imagination!
Life goes on. You discover alcohol and clubs and motorbikes and women. You stop gaming for years, don’t re-enact as much as you’d like because of pesky jobs meaning you have to work weekends and one thing leads to another and before you know it, you’re in a serious relationship, buying houses, decorating houses, paying bills etc. But the fantasy is still there. The serious relationship brings you so close to that person that you talk about it again, more and more. You start to game again and you even take them to visit castles and the odd re-enactment. Fantasy is flowing back into your life like it’d never left – although the movies never had. Oh how I love the Lord of the Rings films and am thankful to the gods above and below that Wifey does too.
“I’d love to write a fantasy book one day,” I says to Wifey one evening. She tells me to do it. She’s like that is Wifey. If something needs doing, she can’t see why you can’t just do it? I mean, if Dave down the street can fit a kitchen for a living, why can’t she and, alas, me? So, fitting kitchens was learnt. Building decking with my brother whilst landscaping a garden was learnt. All sorts of DIY learnt, due to my relationship with Wifey. So why not writing a book? I always had the imagination for it and wasn’t too bad at English – my editor may disagree as he pulls his hair out, working through my latest manuscript.
“Just do it,” Wifey said. And I did.
Black Cross – First book from the tales of the Black Powder Wars was born, or rather a rough-as-a-Snorri-slaughtered-bear version of the current novel. I wrote it. I poured my imagined world – Brisance – onto page after page of pen scrawled scenes and dialogue and action and magic. I wrote a historic timeline and a bestiary and a list of characters as long as my sword-wielding arm. And I doubted it. I sighed, smiled at the fun of writing it and shoved it in a drawer.
Wifey and I married in a castle in Northumberland with all of our friends and family, and we shot off to Australia afterwards. What an experience! I might have shelved Black Cross, but I continued to soak up every sight and smell and sound I encountered until, well, until we made the huge decision one Christmas day to move 200 miles south to the Cotswold district of England. Wow! What countryside! What views and sights and sounds and peace…
Now as inspiring as living on a hill overlooking a Cotswold vale is, it wasn’t enough to restart my affair with Brisance and all its characters and creatures and plots and so on. No, that encouragement came from a self-published friend of mine, Christopher Thain. “You’ve written a book?” I asked him, all amazed and eager for someone to talk to about such things. Much was discussed and the wonderful world of self-publishing was explained to me. I’d never written Black Cross with a commercial end in mind. I’d written it because it was the story in my head. Simple as that.
I threw myself back into my manuscript and added new subplots and characters, weaving them into the story that, to me, felt like it needed an injection of the new me. I wrote and I sent it to friends and family to read, and read they did, again and again – poor souls. I eagerly uploaded it to Amazon Kindle and away I naïvely went.
Along came Mark Lawrence’s Self Published Fantasy Blog Off 2015. A competition designed to give self-published authors a chance to gain some recognition, and a chance for readers to see if there really were some self-published writers worth a damn. I entered. I just had to. I submitted my tome (even bigger than it is now) and eagerly waited for one of the ten reviewers to read it. I was blown away! Sarah Chorn at Bookwormblues.net gave Black Cross a 4* review and popped it through to her group final stage!
I didn’t get any further. Sarah rightly pointed out that Black Cross was in need of a professional editor. She loved the story, characters, political plot and magic system, but it fell short on editing. I was gutted… but not. My story hadn’t failed, I had, and I could live with that. I’ve seen myself as a story teller more than an English guru. I also received a wonderfully supportive message from Fantasy Faction’s Marc Aplin after Sarah’s review, telling me how great it was that my let down with Black Cross was fixable with an editor, rather than failing through poor characters or some such. He was dead right, but where the hell do you find an editor you can trust?
Luckily for me, my re-enactment days came to the rescue. An old friend of mine runs Crooked Cat Publishing, which publishes Historical Fiction. I asked her about editors and my fear of throwing my manuscript and money at a stranger. She pointed me to an editor she used often, who also enjoyed fantasy. Jeff Gardiner and I hit it off immediately. He not only helped chop thousands of words from Black Cross’s clunky beginning, but coached me through a myriad of questions I fired his way. He pointed out the good as much as the bad, which is important as far as I’m concerned, and we’ve continued to work together since. I couldn’t recommend having an editor enough, to any self-published author. It’s worth the money for a wealth of experience, an ear to bend and a guiding hand.
So what now? Well, Wifey and I have since had Freya, our little Norse goddess. I’m doing a diploma in optics for work. I’m doing all the usual chores at home and helping Wifey set up her own catering business. Life is hectic, tough, hard work and oh so tiring (as well as rewarding, of course), but there’s nothing like writing and editing Black Guild – Second book from the tales of the Black Powder Wars to escape the busy days. Oh, and I started playing Dungeons and Dragons after years of wanting to! I have a game in less than an hour, in fact.
As for my writing, I’d say I’m somewhere between an architect and a gardener, to use a popular phrase. I plan, then deviate and digress. The scenes I like the best are the organic ones where the characters genuinely make decisions for themselves. Sounds weird, but it’s true. I want Longoss to do something and he does something else; when writing that half-planned scene, it just doesn’t seem right for the brute to do x after y just happened, so he does z. And that’s just Longoss. When I come to duos like Sears and Biviano, or Correia’s pathfinders, all hell breaks loose, unruly bunch that they are. But that’s what I love about writing. Some authors may plan meticulously, like Peter V Brett, and it clearly works for him, but that’s not me. I like to roughly know what’s happening as a guideline and see how it pans out. It’s a fascinating subject and I look forward to the other authors’ posts on this blog.
Self-publishing is tough. It’s not the easy way a lot of folk think it is. Well, not when you do it properly like a lot of us do. There’s formatting to learn or pay for, editing to pay for, artwork to pay for – our host knows all about that, the competition winners that he and his artist are! 😉 But it is rewarding. I would love to have an agent and publisher one day. In fact, I intend to! For the Black Powder Wars, however, I wanted – needed – it to be as it was in my head. I needed it to be my journey and my story, full stop. No outside influence other than my awesome team of beta readers and my editor, Jeff. My story, to tell to you!
A huge thanks for the opportunity to write this, and a huge thanks to everyone who supports me continuously, from Wifey and the rest of my family, to all those Fantasy Faction friends and beyond. I love you all!
Born Lancashire, England, J. P. Ashman is a Northern lad through and through. His parents love wildlife, history, fantasy and science fiction, and passed their passion on to him. They read to him from an early age and encouraged his imagination at every turn. His career may be in optics, as a manager/technician, but he loves to make time for writing and reading every day. Now living rurally in the Cotswolds with Wifey and their little Norse Goddess Freya, he’s inspired daily by the views they have and the things they see, from the deer in the fields to the buzzards circling overhead.
Writing is a huge part of his life and the medieval re-enactment background and tabletop gaming lend to it; when he’s not writing the genre, he’s either reading or playing it. He plans to keep writing, both within his current series, and those to come, whether short stories or epic tomes.
Well, we’re over half-way now. I have around 10 more amazing posts to share with you all! I hope it’s been enjoyable for both the authors and the readers involved. I’ll be deciding on the schedule for the 2nd half today so tomorrow’s guest will remain a mystery for now *cackles*
fantasy authors, j.p. ashman, writing journeys