Risingshadow has had an opportunity to interview Tej Turner about his new fantasy book, Bloodsworn.
Tej Turner is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. His debut novel The Janus Cycle was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and its sequel Dinnusos Rises was released in 2017. Both of them were described as ‘gritty and surreal urban fantasy’. He has also had short stories published in various anthologies.
Tej Turner has spent much of his life on the move and does not have any particular place he calls ‘home’. For a large period of his childhood, he dwelt within the Westcountry of England, and he then moved to rural Wales to study Creative Writing and Film at Trinity College in Carmarthen, followed by a master’s degree at The University of Wales Lampeter.
After completing his studies, he moved to Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day and writes by moonlight. He is also an intermittent traveller who every now and then straps on a backpack and flies off to another part of the world to go on an adventure. So far, he has clocked two years in Asia and a year in South America. He hopes to go on more and has his sights set on Central America next. When he travels, he takes a particular interest in historic sites, jungles, wildlife, native cultures, and mountains. He also spent some time volunteering at the Merazonia Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ecuador, a place he hopes to return to someday.
Everyone from Jalard knew what a bloodoath was. Legendary characters in the tales people told to their children often made such pacts with the gods. By drawing one’s own blood whilst speaking a vow, people became ‘Bloodsworn’.
And in every tale where the oath was broken, the ending was always the same. The Bloodsworn died.
It has been twelve years since The War of Ashes, but animosity still lingers between the nations of Sharma and Gavendara, and only a few souls have dared to cross the border between them.
The villagers of Jalard live a bucolic existence, nestled within the hills of western Sharma and far away from the boundary which was once a warzone. To them, tales of bloodshed seem no more than distant fables. They have little contact with the outside world, apart from once a year when they are visited by representatives from the Academy who choose two of them to be taken away to their institute in the capital. To be Chosen is considered a great honour… of which most of Jalard’s children dream.
But this year, the Academy representatives make an announcement which is so shocking it causes friction between the villagers, and some of them begin to suspect that all is not what it seems. Just where are they taking the Chosen, and why? Some of them intend to find out, but what they discover will change their lives forever and set them on a long and bloody path to seek vengeance…
“Classic epic fantasy. I enjoyed it enormously” – Anna Smith Park
“a stunning introduction to a few fantasy world” – Christopher G Nuttall
AN INTERVIEW WITH TEJ TURNER ABOUT BLOODSWORN
1. Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
Well, the two most interesting things about me are already mentioned in my bio: I am an SFF author (with three novels published so far) and a travel blogger who has spent three years backpacking around Asia and South America… I am slightly pressed trying to think of anything which tops those two things…
I have been struck by lightning. That is fairly interesting, right? I just Googled it, and apparently, it will only happen to one out of every fifteen thousand people during their life.
It happened to me when I was on Rainbow Mountain, in Peru, and details of this experience can be read on my blog entry for that part of my adventures (click here).
I didn’t gain any powers, though, unfortunately. Just bragging rights 😉
2. How did you become interested in writing speculative fiction?
There are lots of ways to answer this question.
Writing is something I have always felt compelled to do. If I ever go through a period where I am unable to write, I start to feel weird. Even when I am not writing fiction, I do other things such as keep my travel blog (which is almost like a diary, in a sense).
My brain is a bit strange. It is always churning, and I have a very wild imagination. My thoughts often go off on weird tangents, so sometimes when I converse with people, the things I say can come across as a bit incoherent. I also had a stutter when I was a child – something which isn’t as noticeable now, but it has never completely gone away – and I suffer from anxiety, so social interactions in person can sometimes be difficult.
For all those reasons just mentioned ☝️, I have always been much more adept at expressing myself in writing than vocally. Writing gives me a chance to sort through all of my mental clutter and figure out a coherent way to express what I want to say. And also do so whilst I am feeling calmer. I always feel much more understood when I have had time to prepare.
As to why most of my writing (besides my travel-blogging) has been speculative fiction; I am not sure if I know the exact answer to that to be honest. Ever since I was a child, most of the fiction I have read has been fantasy or science fiction, so it just makes sense that that is what I would want to end up writing myself.
3. Your latest book is called Bloodsworn. What kind of an epic fantasy book is it?
Bloodsworn is a book that will simultaneously feel familiar to a lot of readers and yet keep surprising them.
It begins in a similar vein to many of its kind – with a handful of young-ish protagonists from the backwaters of a medieval second world – but shortly after they get their call to adventure, the story takes a grim turn. It is darker and grittier than its original premise might suggest.
4. What inspired you to write this book?
With this series, I didn’t only draw my inspiration from the huge wealth of epic fantasy I have read, but also other things, such as horror and anime.
I wanted to write something that was firmly grounded within high-fantasy – and thus have the usual tenets of political intrigue, swords, and sorcery – but also novums usually restricted to other genres. Without giving too much away (as it always better for such things to be discovered by reading the book itself) the magic system I have created allows for people to be augmented through ritual (as opposed to scientific means), and this leads to things appearing in the story that are more typically associated with science fiction, such as mutants that can shapeshift into monstrous forms at will, bio-armoured beings with shimmering blades for arms, and a manmade contagion ravaging the world. This has not only made for some exciting fight scenes and battles but broadened the number of themes that can be explored.
5. Is there anything that you could tell us about the world of Bloodsworn?
One thing that has always struck me as being a little odd about the epic fantasy genre is just how many worlds seem to be almost the same as our own in a cosmological sense. With that in mind, I decided to not only focus on creating a unique history and geography – whilst world-building – but also consider the kind of planet I wanted the story to be set.
I didn’t want to make it so different that it ended up jarring readers, so I mostly focussed on making small changes. Their gravity is a little weaker than ours (meaning that people jump a little higher than we can). Their years are slightly longer than our own. And, for reasons tied to their mythology, people measure their days in ‘aeights’ (eight days) rather than weeks.
Most of these changes will probably not be noticed too much by the readers. Especially as the characters live in medieval society and are thus unaware that other cosmological alignments could exist: to them, these aspects about their planet are not particularly noteworthy and taken for granted.
But one thing that readers will almost certainly notice, however, is that the world has three moons.
This made for some interesting consequences for the way its people live. Their nights aren’t as dark, so they are at more liberty to do things during these times. Their tides are much more violent and unpredictable than ours, so none of their settlements are located too close to the coast, and seafaring is something seldom attempted. This also means that the people of this world have not discovered any other continents besides their own.
I could mention lots of other things, but I think it would be better for people to discover them for themselves. 😉
6. Could you tell us something about the protagonists in this book?
Bloodsworn doesn’t have a singular character who can be defined as the main protagonist, but several. And they are quite a diverse bunch. There are lots of big personalities, and many of the subplots are based upon the variety of ways they bounce off of each other throughout the story.
I am not a big fan of messiah-like narratives where one main character is a wholly benevolent centre of the story and the morality becomes a black and white tale about two sides that are entirely good and evil. Bloodsworn does have its heroes and villains, but all of its heroes are flawed and the motives of its villains are understandable.
Most people are the hero of their own story, and we all have our own agendas and incentives behind the decisions we make. Most often, they are prompted by our circumstances. I like to tell tales that reflect this nuance by populating them with people who are mostly different shades of grey. For a character to be believable, their impetuses must be understood.
With the main characters of Bloodsworn, I aimed to make them all very different to each other because I wanted every reader to have at least one person they could relate to.
Also, as people have come to expect from my novels, Bloodsworn has queer representation. This is something that is quite a full-circle moment for me because, being queer myself – and having grown up in the nineties, reading lots of epic fantasy – I never really got to read characters who were like myself getting centre stage in narratives. Later in life (as the world became a bit more liberal and accepting) I did begin to occasionally see queer secondary characters, but it is only been quite recently that I have seen more of them take meaningful roles. I am happy that my book is going to be part of an upward trend in that regard.
7. Did you find it challenging to write an epic fantasy book after writing two books (The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises) that are set in an urban landscape?
Not really. Bloodsworn – despite being the third novel I have had published – was actually the first novel I started writing in my adult life. I did originally submit it to some publishers and agents before The Janus Cycle was published. Back then, it did generate some interest – some of them took my submission to the next stage by asking for the full MS – but it seemed to just miss the mark, and didn’t find a home back then.
In truth, I am glad it wasn’t published back then. My writing has improved a lot in the years since I first wrote Bloodsworn, and a few years ago, I unearthed it and spent some time polishing it up. I even ended up re-writing some of it from scratch. Bloodsworn is a much better novel now than it would have been if it had been published all those years ago.
If anything, it is my urban fantasy novels that are somewhat the anomaly. Epic fantasy was always my first love in terms of genre. I am still very proud of The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises. They were semi-biographical, so the process of penning them gave me a sense of catharsis that I needed at that moment in my life – which I guess is why many of the people who have read and/or reviewed them said that they resonated quite strongly on an emotional level. I may return to that world someday, but at the moment, I am happy to continue churning out epic fantasy.
I never found it jarring switching between the two projects, as they are quite different to each other. Not only in terms of their different genres but also styles. My urban fantasy novels are written in the first person, they are a bit more literary in their style, and were penned whilst I was expressing a side of my writing that was more experimental and arty. My epic fantasy – although still being quite gritty, and drawing some inspirations from my life – is written in the third person, and more escapist in nature.
8. Do you explore any themes in Bloodsworn?
Yes. There are too many to mention them all – and compiling a list would probably be a bit monotonous for people to read, so instead, I will speak about one of them in particular.
I have already mentioned that Bloodsworn is somewhat of a pastiche and that it brings together elements from other genres. One of the things that I have drawn from the horror genre is create circumstances in the story that force people who typically wouldn’t ever choose to be in each other’s company to band together. I have always loved narratives like this. Two of my favourite examples of it include The Walking Dead and the 90s film The Faculty. With Bloodsworn, I wanted to capture a similar energy, but within an epic fantasy setting.
For me, the essence of these kinds of stories is that they do not only test the human condition – by showing how extreme circumstances can draw out both the best and the worst in people – but they also put society under a lens. The sudden removal of civilisation makes everyone’s needs much more immediate. They come to realise that many of the tribal creeds they once contended over during fair-weather times were actually petty and trivial. Some of them will be forced to unite with people they once considered their enemy and find common ground with them in their shared struggle to survive.
9. Did you have to do any research before or during the writing process?
With it being a second world, I was quite free to use my imagination whilst fleshing out this world. I did draw some of my inspiration from the medieval societies of our own world, though, which I think is quite standard for the genre.
I have a background in studying history (at college, university, and in my spare time) and that has greatly helped me. Even when I am creating entirely fictional societies – that are not based on any particular past civilisation – this knowledge does enrich my world building because it helps me appreciate how complex societies are (and how they mingle and evolve over time).
10. Is there anything you’d like to add?
An excuse to show the map for the world Bloodsworn is based in, perhaps? 😉
Its original layout and design were by me, but I got my partner (who has much better computer and drawing skills than me) to make a more polished version. Alison Buck (from Elsewhen Press, the publisher) also gave it a nice border so that it matches the cover.