Today’s author spotlight shines down on Jeffrey Collyer. This fantasy author has a fascination with the number four. You know, Jeffrey, there are four elements, four directions…I bet even four fates…wait, now I am giving away MY process! Without further ado, here’s…Jeffrey!
Why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Thanks for having me!
One of the more unusual things about me is that I’ve lived on four different continents through my life. I was born in Australia (and still consider myself an Aussie), but my family moved to the US when I was twelve. Then I spent a couple of years in Chile (loved it!), before moving to England, where I now live amongst its beautiful northern hills.
I’m married to an amazing woman, and have four (yes, 4!) children, with the youngest being twins. I also have four (yes, 4!) cats that love to lie on my laptop and try to trip me down the stairs.
- How did you get started on your writing journey?
I’m not one of those who says they’ve always dreamed of being a writer from the time they were ten, or whatever. No. I always did really well in my English classes, and my favourite book from that time was Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (if you don’t know it, it’s the book from which Apocalypse Now was derived. N.B. I didn’t enjoy the film). Again, it’s a dark book, with loads of imagery that just spoke to me. To be honest, that should have been a signal to me that literature would be more important to me that I thought it was. But it didn’t, and it never even entered my head that writing was something I could do.
Instead, I kept on studying, got a “real” job, and only starting properly writing fiction a couple of years ago, during a dark time in my life. Back then, I began writing with no intention of publishing. I was doing it solely as a form of self-therapy. But once I got about a third of the way into my story, and knew it would take a trilogy to finish it, I passed a few early chapters to some work colleagues.
Their overwhelming response was “Finish it!” That’s when I decided to take the plunge. I’m really pleased I did, as I just love writing
- Are there any poets or writers who influence you? How so?
Without any doubt, the biggest influence on me has been Stephen R Donaldson’s classic series, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. I read that first series when I was a teenager, and it blew me away then. It still does today.
It’s definitely not a book for everyone’s taste, but there are some powerful themes woven through that book that continue to call to my soul. Although I haven’t consciously sought to mimic that approach in my own writing, it is there (though hopefully a bit more upbeat).
But there are others, of course. I loved Lindsay Buroker’s Emperor’s Edge series. That’s Steampunk (not my usual sub-genre), but those books are just a load of fun and a great bit of escapism. Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and Douglas Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy are just fabulous if you like that dry wit aligned with profound commentary on society. I’m playing with another story right now that is more a comic take on a traditional trope, and I have to say those books’ style is my inspiration.
On other occasions, I really love books with beautiful prose. Lord of the Rings, or The Kingkiller Chronicles by Pat Rothfuss – that’s very poetic and just beautiful. I don’t write entirely like them, but I do like to drop in the occasional phrase.
Let’s talk about your novel! What is it about?
The very first image that came into my head when I began this journey was of a lonely young man, sitting in an old armchair in his tiny dilapidated flat. And the words that sprung to my mind were, “But he’s so much more than he realises.”
In many ways, the boy who is a nobody, but who then becomes someone who will shape the events
of his age, is a familiar trope. But whereas the trope is often used by writers as a device to tell the story, in many ways, in the Aylosian Chronicles it is the story.
So, on the one hand, the story is about a young man transported from modern England into the strange and beautiful world of Aylosia where he encounters intrigue, and danger, and strange creatures, and amazing magic. And he has to work out who he can actually trust in order to save himself and others he grows to love.
But on a much more fundamental level, it’s about all of us, and how we often don’t recognise the true value of ourselves: of how unique we each truly are. And it’s about the journey that each of us needs to make in order to realise our true potential.
You can certainly read it on either level, so if you only want a fantasy story, I hope The Aylosian Chronicles fits the bill. But if you’re looking for something that also has a deeper meaning, that is also there.
- How is the title significant?
The series title, The Aylosian Chronicles, simply relates to the world of Aylosia. But the individual book titles have much more meaning. Book 1, Dreams and Shadows, is very much about certain dreams and/or visions the protagonist has. Shadows can be understood on many levels, and is incredibly important later in the series, but for book 1 we can certainly say there is an awful lot of Foreshadowing.
The epigraphs to the first two chapters of Dreams and Shadows are about Dreams, and Shadows, respectively. And I’ve published a short story on my website set in the world of Aylosia that is all about shadows. They have a unique meaning in the Aylosian Chronicles.
The magic used within the world of Aylosia is called Weaving, and the title of book 2, Woven Peril, comes from this.
- Where did inspiration for this come from?
I’ve already mentioned going through a pretty tough time in my life when I began to write Dreams and Shadows. I’ve written a little about this separately here.
But in short, escaping into invented worlds of fantasy was a form of escape for me. That’s where the first ideas developed, and eventually I had enough there that I thought at least I would enjoy the story, so I started to write it down.
Tell us a little bit about the characters? What are they like and how did you come up with them?
In Dreams and Shadows, we only really get to know Michael, the protagonist – there are plenty of other characters but he’s not really in the same place for long enough to get to know them.
He’s in his late teens, and is a quiet, somber type. He has a really good heart, but struggles to see that goodness within himself. And he is really self-sacrificing. I really like him as a person, and love to see his development through both Dreams and Shadows, and the rest of the series.
There are a couple of other characters who we really get to know better in Woven Peril. I can’t talk about some without giving away spoilers, but Aneh and Pava are interesting. Aneh is the very plain girl Michael meets when he first arrives in Aylosia; Pava is a woman he meets in the city, who is utterly stunning. This contrast between the two women is really important as “What does beautiful mean?” is one of the themes I have running through the story.
- Who do you think would like your story and what kind of readership are you aiming for?
People from 12 to 80+ have enjoyed Dreams and Shadows. The Aylosian Chronicles is really aimed at all ages (it’s a clean read), if you like a certain style.
If you like unique creatures and world-building; if you like a really interesting magic system that will make you think about other possibilities with it – about what sort of magic you might have; if you like an interesting world with unique creatures; if you like a story that spends a lot of time inside the MC’s head; if you like a pinch of suspense and drama, along with moments of tenderness; if you like original wisdom literature that will make you stop and think about how it applies to you and your life…
If you like all of these things, then you will love The Aylosian Chronicles.
Of course there is action and excitement – in Dreams and Shadows, it’s especially towards the end. But it’s not really a story about great fight scenes, and if you read it primarily for the action, you may find it’s not really your thing. Instead, it’s a story about a young man who is lost, and who needs to learn about his true self if he is to save those he grows to love. The magic, the quests, the creatures, the lore: these are all part of that much more important story.
What is the message you are trying to get across in your book?
Wow. That’s a big question. I have a whole series of posts on my website for newsletter subscribers about the meaning behind elements of each chapter!
If I had to pick one overarching theme, I would say it’s about our pursuit of love: romantic love, motherly love, childhood love, friendship. And then the power of that love to transform us.
Another major theme relates to the magic system itself – the Weaving. Every person has their very own, unique, Weaving, and this relates to my belief that every person on the planet has their own unique contribution to make. It’s not about comparing ourselves to others, it’s about discovering who we are, and then finding fulfillment in becoming the best version of us we can be.
- What is your writing process like?
It’s safe to say that it’s been a little different for each book in the series. For Dreams and Shadows, I knew the beginning and some key scenes along the way. It was then a case of trying to work out how to get from Important Scene A to Important Scene B as I wrote.
Woven Peril was more challenging as the story becomes more complicated, and by the end there were several strands of the story that had to come together for the climax. I therefore had to do a little more planning, although I could still keep it all in my head.
For Erallis, the third book in the series which I’m writing now, it’s way more complicated and I’m having to write down an outline, just to be certain I’m capturing everything.
- How do you go about editing your story?
By the time I finish the last chapter of a book, I’ve already edited most of it five, six, or seven times, as I regularly reread previous chapters and scenes, and edit as I go. I’ll also have some feedback from early beta readers with typos or story line issues I need to fix.
With a complete draft, I’ll then go through it again another two or three times, and have another couple of beta readers. Then I’ll send it to my professional editor.
Once it’s back from the editor, I go through it again another couple of times. This includes printing it out to read a physical copy, and to also get a proof copy of the paperback to read that through, too.
Writing is enormous fun. Editing, for me, is incredibly tedious, and just hard work. But, to be honest, the more I can do, the better the result, so it’s worth it.
- Where did you find your cover artist and what was the process like?
I always have a really clear vision of what I want the cover to look like, so my first stage is to mock it up using some design software at home. I then tend to get some quotes from a few designers to turn my mock-ups into something that looks professional.
So far, it’s been a relatively painless process.
- How did you go about getting published?
I loved the process, actually. Because of things going on in my life at the time, I didn’t even consider approaching an agent or traditional publisher. I’d done enough research to know it would take months (or years) of rejections, and even then most authors don’t get published. And to be honest, I wasn’t going to be able to deal with that.
So, instead I looked into doing it myself. I worked out how to get my book formatted; found an editor I could work with; got a graphic designer to help me with the cover; worked out how Amazon worked, and then Createspace for the paperback.
It was fabulous because I could really throw myself into it, and to have something tangible at the end, that I could say, “I did that”, was really powerful for me.
- What was your self-publishing experience like?
It’s been good. The tools out there for a writer now are just amazing, and I love having complete control of my work.
To be perfectly honest, I only expected to sell a total of about ten copies of Dreams and Shadows, so my expectations were low. But everything about it (including the sales) been so much better than I expected.
- What are the pros and cons of self-publishing?
The pros are that you keep total control of your art; you retain much higher royalty rates on sales; you also have complete control of marketing; and your books get to market much more quickly. These are all things that are incredibly important to me, and so for something that I really want to get published, I can’t imagine ever doing anything else.
The cons are that you do need to source some professional help yourself (e.g. editors and cover designers), and it may take a while before you know whether you’re getting good value for your dollar. Plus, you either need to know someone who can format your book to the various e-publisher standards (as well as a print-on-demand printer like Createspace if you want a hard copy of your book), or be able to do it yourself. It can’t be that hard though – I’ve done it!
The biggest con for many people, though, is that self-publishing still carries something of a stigma – not with everyone, but with quite a few. So there are some blogs and other websites that treat you like a second-class citizen and refuse to even look at your work. And some people just don’t feel like they’ve “arrived” as a writer until they get that publishing contract.
None of that remotely bothers me, though, so it’s just not a big deal for me.
- What were the surprises? Good or bad? If so, what were they?
Pleasant surprise: It was so much easier than I expected it to be.
Less pleasant surprise: There is just so much editing to do. And it’s dull… really dull.
General surprise: It seems to me no-one really has a solid handle on marketing. Loads of people can say what’s worked for them (and get rich off selling their ideas to desperate writers), but others have used exactly the same techniques and got nowhere.
The self-published market is still incredibly young, and I think it will be a while before anything is known for certain – and that’s only if trends ever stay the same for long enough.
- How do you go about promoting your book as a self-published author?
I think a lot of self-published authors say they’re terrible at marketing, and to be honest I’m no different. I’ve done a bit of advertising, and used Social Media, run some discounts, but so far I’ve kept it fairly low-key – with only one book in the series out, I know a lot of people won’t want to take a risk. I’m hoping that changes a little now that Woven Peril is about to be released, and then even more so when the trilogy is complete.
- Is there something about the whole process you wish someone had told you before? Good or bad?
It’s difficult getting reviews. Like, really, really, really difficult. And if you’re going to give free copies away for an honest review, make sure they are your target market, or else you’re just giving away books for negative reviews. Really not a great idea.
- Do you have any advice for writers who want to self-publish?
Build your resilience. You’re going to need it.
For those times your muse has abandoned you and you just have to write anyway. That can feel like hard work.
For when you edit. Yawn. Really, really tedious. Writing is fun. Editing is… not.
For when you get negative feedback. Maybe from your editor, maybe from beta readers, or maybe from reviews.
It’s okay. Everyone gets negative feedback. The trick is to identify what’s valuable. Then take that and use it, ignoring the rest. If I’m feeling sorry for myself, I sometimes search out the 1-star reviews of Lord of the Rings. The fools! It makes me feel better.
- What plans do you have for the future of your writing?
My list of ideas for new books is already getting too long! I have some ideas for other fantasy settings, plus some other more quirky stories.
There are loads of stories within the world of Aylosia I hope I can write about. I’ve deliberately written the current series leaving open the possibility for both a prequel and a sequel. And there’s a novella connected with the main story I’d like to write in the next year or so, too.
Check out my lastest work in progess Jeffrey Collyer Mistress of Snow and Ice (June 16)
- What are you social accounts if people want to connect with you?
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