Interview – Sebastien de Castell
Following up on the review I posted yesterday of ‘Knight’s Shadow’, I had a little chat with the author, Sebastien de Castell.
DK: Who is Sebastien de Castell?
SdC: I’m a Canadian writer of swashbuckling fantasy novels, though if you’d asked me that question two years ago you’d have received a different answer and two years from now you might get a different one still. I love to travel—both literally and figuratively—and that’s led to frequent changes in my career. Aside from writing novels, I still perform as a musician and take on the odd speaking gig.
DK: What books made you fall in love with the SFF genre?
SdC: The first one had to be The Lion, The Witch & The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis, read to my brother and I by our older sister when we were very young. I spent the rest of my childhood looking for Narnia and most of my adulthood looking for things in our own world that would feel equally wondrous. That’s the power of speculative fiction: to inspire us to go out and find things that give us those same feelings of excitement and possibility that we experience reading our favourite books.
DK: That sounds very familiar indeed! Now about your own books: how many books are planned in the Greatcoats series?
SdC: The first series is intended to be four books but I’m deep into the third right now and I feel like I might need one extra to tell the full story of poor Falcio and his band of struggling heroes. One of the characteristics of the books that makes it difficult to be precise about the total is that I’m committed to making sure each one stands on its own as a complete story (which was the case with both Traitor’s Blade and Knight’s Shadow.)
Once the first series is complete there are definitely some other stories and characters in this strange world of wandering judges and desperate duellists that I plan to explore.
DK: Can you tell us a bit more about how the Greatcoats came to exist? How was the ‘journey’ to get to that first book?
SdC: I go running a lot and tend to tell myself stories to pass the time. Over the course of several years a certain disgraced trio of swordsmen kept interrupting my thoughts with their swashbuckling adventures and in 2006 I sat down and wrote the first draft of Traitor’s Blade (then called “Three of Traitors.”) Writing that novel was one of the most positive and powerful experiences of my life and one of the reason why I try to encourage everyone to write a book regardless of whether they want to publish.
In terms of the Greatcoats, part of their origin came from 12th Century English justices itinerant – the judges who were sent by the King to hear cases across the country while also keeping an eye on what the local nobility was up to. I wanted to explore what would happen if those wandering judges lived in a somewhat later, more developed time period closer to our 16th Century, and what it would be like if they lived in a culture where duels and trial by combat were the predominant way of resolving legal disputes.
The idea for the coats themselves came from an actual greatcoat my brother gave me that always made me feel a little invulnerable to heat, cold, and the occasional blade of a sword. I wanted my wandering heroes to have something to counter a Knight’s armour and thus was born the Greatcoats!
DK: That is very interesting! I absolutely love the idea of giving them greatcoats instead of armour. It sets them apart, but the greatcoat is also so much more to them. It has real emotional value.
A question that is always interesting for aspiring authors amongst my readers: how was your road to publication?
SdC: I think I’m a bit unrepresentative of the current publishing climate in that I got very lucky and had a relatively easy time of it. But something I did learn that might be helpful to my fellow writers is the importance of voice and premise.
When I first signed my book deal I asked my editors on both continents (Quercus and Penguin) why they’d decided to buy Traitor’s Blade. Both talked about loving ‘the voice’ of the book. I mention this because it’s not something that comes up very often in books on craft or even at writing conferences. Usually the conversations are all about characters and plot, and yet, I get the sense that publishers and readers alike are really looking for fresh voices—narrative styles that are resonant but feel distinct from the rest of the pack. I, of course, had no clue about ‘voice’ at the time, but I notice now as a reader how I’m drawn to some voices and not to others.
A second point to consider is that for a publisher (including yourself when you self-publish) to be able to get readers’ attention, there needs to be something clear and strong in the premise. For example, think of a book like The Martian by Andy Weir. The premise is absolutely fabulous—a mission to Mars goes wrong and one astronaut is accidentally left behind. You instantly want to know what’s going to happen to him, how he’ll survive and whether he’ll ever get home. Note that I haven’t said anything about the character or even the plot—just the premise.
So while almost every craft book I encounter is talking about plot and character, a strong voice and an engaging premise seem to be two things that are vital to grab people’s attention right now.
DK: I think every author is secretly thinking about what would happen if his or her work got adapted for the big screen. Any favourite actors that you’d like to play the characters in the Greatcoats series?
SdC: I’m a big fan of Timothy Oliphant (from the TV series Justified), though I’m not sure if fans of the books would appreciate him as Falcio. I think Tom Burke (who plays Athos in the BBC series The Musketeers) is terrific in the role but, alas, probably wouldn’t want to jump to another swashbuckling adventure series. Finally, although it’s casting against type a bit, I think Martin Freeman (from BBC’s Sherlock) would be terrific as Falcio.
My friends disagree about this, but I think Benedict Cumberbatch would make a fabulous Kest. It needs to be someone who, at first glance, you wouldn’t think was especially muscular or athletic but whom, once you saw them in action, you would realize had perfectly shaped themselves to wield the sword.
Brasti’s always a tough one for me. He’s roguish and cheerful on the surface but there’s a fragility underneath that is vital to his character. This is especially true for Knight’s Shadow (since, if we’re imagining a movie based on Traitor’s Blade, why not have a sequel, too?)
That said, I’m much more interested in hearing other people’s ideas on this subject! Who would you cast to play Falcio, Kest, and Brasti?
DK: I’m personally quite bad a making casting decisions! Though I have been watching Suits recently, and I think Garbiel Macht (who plays Harvey Specter in Suits) would make a good Brasti. I’m curious to see who others might choose though!
Do you have any ambition to write in a totally different genre than Fantasy?
SdC: I love weird detectives—the ones that are defective to the core but somehow use their flaws to make themselves brilliant investigators. I’m working on a mystery novel with a character I really enjoy and I’m hoping will come to life sometime in the next two years. I wrote a thriller/horror with a friend of mine a couple of years ago and we’re debating whether to give it another draft. Alas, both our writing schedules are pretty full right now.
DK: Which SFF books would you recommend to the Draumr Kopa readers?
SdC: I mentioned The Martian by Andy Weir which was the first book I’d read in a long time that I just ploughed through at light speed. Peter Roman’s Mona Lisa Sacrifice is a cool book for fans of Roger Zelazny who like their fantasy on the edge. For years some of my favourite books were from Steven Brust’s Vlad Taltos series (the first of which is Jhereg.)
Truth be told, though, my biggest recommendations these days are for books outside the genre. Sometimes it’s nice to give something else a try and see how other types of authors fashion their worlds, wether fantastical or mundane. In that spirit, City of Thieves by David Benioff, The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper, and The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett are all books with an element of the fantastical but their heroes have to work their way through life without the benefit of swords or magic.
DK: What can you tell us about ‘Tyrant’s Throne’?
SdC: I’ve been unintentionally working on both book 3 and 4 at the same time and so I’m not sure yet whether in fact Tyrant’s Throne will be the name of the next book in the series. What I can tell you is that it’s a story in which Falcio will come to learn that not everything he believed about his beloved Greatcoats is true and he’ll be forced to decide how far he’s willing to go to enforce the King’s Laws.
DK: I can’t wait! Where can fans meet you this year? Any conventions or singings coming up?
SdC: I’m going to be in The Netherlands for the next year so I’m positive I’ll be doing something in the UK this summer. I love meeting readers who enjoy the Greatcoats so, you know, if you’ve got a convention going on, give me a shout!
DK: Thank you very much for this interview!
Now it’s time to hear some suggestions! Who would you cast if the Greatcoats made it to the big screen?
About the author
Sebastien de Castell had just finished a degree in Archaeology when he started work on his first dig. Four hours later he realized how much he actually hated archaeology and left to pursue a very focused career as a musician, ombudsman, interaction designer, fight choreographer, teacher, project manager, actor, and product strategist. His only defence against the charge of unbridled dilettantism is that he genuinely likes doing these things and that, in one way or another, each of these fields plays a role in his writing. He sternly resists the accusation of being a Renaissance Man in the hopes that more people will label him that way.
Sebastien lives in Vancouver, Canada with his lovely wife and two belligerent cats.
‘Traitor’s Blade’ is also nominated for the Gemmell Awards, so if you liked the book you can vote for it via this link!