Q&A with J.L. Worrad

Written by / Interviews

This Q&A is part of The Keep Within Blog Tour.

J.L. Worrad
J.L. Worrad

J.L. Worrad lives in Leicester, England, and has for almost all his life. He has a degree in classical studies from Lampeter University, Wales. He has found this invaluable to his growth as a science fiction and fantasy writer in that he soon discovered how varied and peculiar human cultures can be.

In 2011 Worrad won three grand on a lottery scratch card and so attended Clarion, the six-week SF workshop held at the University of California, San Diego. There, he studied under some of the genre’s leading professionals and also got to see a lot of wild hummingbirds.

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The Keep Within by J.L. Worrad
The Keep Within
by J.L. Worrad

When Sir Harrance ‘Harry’ Larksdale, bastard brother of the king, falls for a mysterious lad from the mountains, he is unwillingly caught up in a chaotic world of court intrigue and murderous folk tales. Meanwhile Queen Carmotta Il’Lunadella, First-Queen of the Brintland, needs to save her life and her unborn child. With the Third-Queen plotting against her, and rumours of coups rocking the court, Carmotta can rely only on her devious mind and venomous wit.

But deep within the walls of Becken Keep squats the keep-within – patient, timeless, and evil. To speak of the keep-within outside the walls of Becken Keep guarantees your bizarre and agonising demise within nine days. All the while, people fearfully whisper the name Red Marie: a bloodied demon with rusted nails for teeth and swinging scythes who preys on the innocent.

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Q&A with J.L. Worrad

-Your second dark fantasy book, The Keep Within, is set in the same world as Pennyblade, but is a standalone book. Is it similar in style to Pennyblade or is it a different kind of a book?

The main difference is it’s not just one person’s viewpoint this time, which is how it should be for a story stuffed with courtly intrigue, dark conspiracies and bloody misunderstandings. The reader gets shown characters from within and without and I dearly hope they find their loyalties are divided in the most satisfying ways.

Also, Pennyblade was very filthy, very spiky and unapologetic and so it swiftly became a book people either chugged down like lemonade or vomited out like bleach. The Keep Within is far more welcoming, I think. It’s made a pot of tea and sliced some cake for you before you’ve even arrived. It’s wider and richer too. You can get lost in all its streets and alleys.

- The characters, Sir Harrance ‘Harry’ Larksdale and Queen Carmotta Il’Lunadella, First-Queen of the Brintland, are fascinating characters. Is there anything you could tell us about them with a few words?

Larksdale is the illegitimate brother of the king and has eked out a niche between two worlds: the royal court of Becken Keep and The Wreath, a commoner’s theatre in Becken’s tumbledown streets. Though far from perfect he’s a kindly, soft-hearted sort. I relished the idea of someone like that being the hero of a grimdark novel.

Carmotta is the king’s first and primary queen. She is very concerned about the king’s newly-acquired third queen and her popularity. Carmotta hails from another country, her marriage being part of a strategic alliance, and despite this isolation she survives and thrives on her wits. She detests Sir Harry Larksdale.

- Is there anything readers should know about this book and its contents before delving into its intriguingly dark world?

The Keep Within is best paired with a glass of red wine, ideally a nice malbec or grenache. One glass a chapter; you deserve it.

- Because Pennyblade and The Keep Within are deliciously dark and entertaining, it would be interesting to know what inspires you to write this kind of fantasy? How do you come up with all the ideas and plot twists?

People inspire me. The people I know in my daily life and the people I read about in history books and, of course, other writer’s tales. Character is everything to me. Character equals plot because plot is ultimately the choices characters make. Even the fantastical elements—such as the unspeakably cursed keep in this latest novel— really exist to cause the people in the story to make fresh, interesting choices they normally would not or could not. Indeed, I think that’s the unique strength of fantasy, horror and sci-fi. They allow authors to strip away layers of the human heart and reveal things hitherto unknown.  

- Are you planning on writing more fantasy books set in the same world as Pennyblade and The Keep Within?

In theory, absolutely. Given The Keep Within is set centuries after Pennyblade it makes sense to continue leaping eras. I’ve outlines for a novel about an atheistic missionary set in my world’s equivalent of the 19th century and a rough idea for a final novel set in that world’s version of 1980 or possibly 1982. No author, to my knowledge, has set their high fantasy world in the time of polyester. I’m eager to rectify that.

I’d love to write oodles of Pennyblade sequels, I adore the gang in that one, but the stars just aren’t right yet. The Keep Within says everything it needs to say in one book but never say never. But as of writing this sentence I am exploring a new world and its people. You gotta try new things, y’know?

- Is there anything you'd like to add?

The hedgehog is a most remarkable beast. Mustard is a double-edged blade. Beware the crooked hat. These are all cryptic clues, my dear prospective readers. Good luck.