Risingshadow has had the honour of interviewing Tej Turner.
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 is due to be published later this year. He has also had short stories featured in a few anthologies, including Impossible Spaces (Hic Dragones Press) and The Bestiarum Vocabulum (Western Legends).
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 spent a couple of years travelling around Asia, where he took a particular interest in jungles, temples, and mountains. He returned to the UK in 2015 for the release of his first novel and since then he has been living in Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day, writes by moonlight, and squeezes in the occasional trip to explore historic sites and the British countryside.
He will probably get itchy feet again in a couple of years, and when that happens he has his sights set upon South America.
Click here to visit his official website.
AN INTERVIEW WITH TEJ TURNER
- Could you tell us something about yourself in your own words?
I will try to keep this one fairly short so as to not bore people ;)
My name is Tej, I am 31 years old and I live in Cardiff, Wales. In the daytime I work as a chef, but by night I am an author of fantasy and science fiction.
- How did you become interested in speculative fiction?
I guess there are many things which prompted me to getting into speculative fiction, and a lot of them stem from my childhood.
I need to give much of the credit to my parents. Some of my earliest memories are of them reading stories to me at night, and the ones which stuck out the most for me were Watership Down and the Narnia series. Both of which had a lasting impression.
I grew up in a very rural area and some of my early years were spent in a small village in Dorset, a quaint and inspiring place of old cottages with thatched roofs. There wasn’t much to do there and I didn’t have many friends, so much of my spare time was spent reading books in my garden. My father used to take me to the library every week and I would always return home with a large stack of books, usually fiction of the fantasy genre, but I also read a lot of history and mythology, and I later took a big interest in ancient folklore and mysticism.
My parents also took me for lots of walks when I was young. Most weekends we would go traipsing around the countryside, exploring hills, forest and castles, and I guess this helped to instil in me a passion for nature and history. Even now, in my adult life, I am often in the habit of going out for a walk when I am seeking insight. It helps my thoughts wander.
- You're the author of two speculative fiction novels (The Janus Cycle and its companion novel Dinnusos Rises), both of which feature an urban landscape and fantastical events. What inspired you to write these novels?
The Janus Cycle was actually a novel I wrote by accident. The initial few chapters that I penned were originally short stories I submitted as coursework when I was at university studying Creative Writing, and it was only later that I realised that they were actually part of a bigger narrative and wrote more. It was semi-biographical – many of its events were inspired by experiences I had during my childhood and teens – and the process of writing it was very cathartic for me.
Why did I choose an urban landscape and to fill the story with fantastical events? I am not completely sure to be honest – they are not the sort of questions I have ever had reason to consider until now…
I guess the urban landscape was largely inspired by my time in the city of Exeter, the place I spent much of my latter teens while I was studying for my A levels. Those three years were very memorable for me. I had just left school. One which had a particularly insular and claustrophobic atmosphere (like they often do in small towns), not to mention a belligerent stance towards diversity and a serious problem with a bullying culture which the faculty never properly addressed. And I transitioned from that kind of environment to suddenly find myself in a place which was much more progressive and, most blessed of all, anonymous. Due to the sheer number of people, it was much easier to just blend into the background there, and I found could finally express myself without being harassed. It was the early 2000’s – the era of baggy jeans, nu metal, and a resurgence of goth culture – and back in those days there weren’t as many rules. You could still smoke in bars, and they didn’t really ID youngsters. Exeter was a vibrant, free-spirited, bohemian place, and I met many likeminded people there. It was where I began to find happiness, but it wasn’t an overnight process and there were a few destructive episodes along the way.
The fantastical events are harder to explain… like I had said earlier, I have always been reading fantasy and I decided I wanted to write at a young age. The Janus Cycle features a lot of dark moments from my past but, by adapting some of the details of these moments, telling them through imaginary characters and blending them with fictional narratives and fantasy, I managed to keep a certain amount of distance whilst writing it. Which was helpful, both for me to better revisit unpleasant memories without it feeling too raw, and it also meant I was comfortable having it published because it wasn’t too exposing about myself and other people around me.
- Could you tell us what kind of a novel Dinnusos Rises is? What can readers expect from it?
Dinnusos Rises is a contemporary fantasy novel based in an alternative present-day. A world which is very similar to our own but more surreal and quirky. My publisher, Elsewhen Press, refer to it as ‘gritty and surreal urban fantasy’.
I guess what one can expect from it is a meeting of both gritty realism and fantastical elements. Because its setting is within modern day, most of the issues the characters face are very relevant to the here and now, and yet at the same time there is lots of weirdness and magic lurking in the background.
- Can Dinnusos Rises be read as a standalone novel or should readers be familiar with the events in The Janus Cycle before reading it? Is it different from The Janus Cycle?
It is an indirect sequel. So yes. It will be perfectly possible to jump straight into Dinnusos Rises without reading its predecessor. But I would also advise anyone that does plan on reading both to read The Janus Cycle first for a more rewarding experience. Some of the characters who narrated the first book return for the sequel and you will have a better sense of where they have come from and how they have grown.
In many ways, Dinnusos Rises is very similar to The Janus Cycle, but it is also quite different. Both books are split into eight chapters – each one narrated by a different character – and in both stories these characters all end up crossing paths and becoming involved in a cataclysmic incident at the end. In both books, there is also a location which serves as the nucleus for the events which unfold (but in Dinnusos Rises it is in a bar called ‘Dinnusos’, rather than the nightclub ‘Janus’).
I will now discuss some of the differences.
I read an extract from Dinnusos Rises at a convention the other day, and one of my reviewers for The Janus Cycle was there. He commented that he could see a reoccurring theme. One he called ‘the normalisation of social injustice’, and I think he was right. I am revisiting this theme, but approaching it in a different way.
The Janus Cycle was a ‘coming of age’ story, and through its narrative I examined some of the social structures we live in – ones which many of us take for granted and consider normal because we were brought up with them – but actually, when you really think about them, they are not only oppressive and force us to go against our very natures, they are the cause of much suffering and completely irrelevant to the modern ‘enlightened’ age. During the course of the story of The Janus Cycle, most of the characters manage to break free from these social conventions, liberate, and find themselves (and also each other). Dinnusos Rises is about what happens after. It is less about the ‘I’ and more about the ‘we’.
In Dinnusos Rises, the characters from The Janus Cycle now have the capacity to go on from their own personal liberation and consider the bigger picture. There is a strong political theme, and it is very relevant to the climate we are currently experiencing in the UK (and the US). In Dinnusos Rises, I explore the normalisation of social injustice in a post-truth society – how ‘alternative facts’ are used to manipulate and control people – and the effect a widening wage-gap and welfare cuts are having upon the young and vulnerable.
- Because you've written about many characters and their lives in both novels, it would be interesting to know if it has been challenging to write about them?
No, not at all. Characterisation has always come very naturally to me. It is actually world building which I sometimes find more challenging (but I am aware of that so I consciously put a lot of effort into it).
Even though the variety of narrators I tell the stories through seem very different to each other, I give each one of them something I can relate to (usually an aspect of my own personality or the way I have felt during a certain moment in my life) and that is what I anchor myself in when I approach each story.
None of them are completely me but they all contain a part of me.
- In The Janus Cycle, you wrote boldly and realistically about different kinds of sexuality and also about the problems that LGBT people face in their lives. Will you write more about similar themes and issues in Dinnusos Rises?
First of all; thank you for saying that. It is very appreciated.
The answer is a big ‘yes’! There are several reasons why I chose to tell the story through eight narrators again for the second book, and a big one was so I could have diverse representation. I don’t want to reveal too much about this particular matter because I want some things to be a surprise.
- What was the most challenging part of writing Dinnusos Rises? And what was the most rewarding part?
I guess it was treading that careful balance of familiarity and innovation, because I think the secret to writing a successful sequel is to find a way to both satisfy the reader’s expectations from the first book and yet also introduce new things which are fresh and will excite them.
I was very aware of this when I began to plot Dinnusos Rises, and it was both the most challenging, and ultimately the most rewarding part of writing it. The Janus Cycle had some of the most poignant moments of my life behind it as inspiration for the story. How can you compete with something like that?
The way I went about it was to embrace the fact that I am older now and make it a more mature novel. Which I guess only made sense, as it wasn’t just me who had aged since The Janus Cycle, the characters had too.
And, while are still some echoes from past, this new book is less biographical, and it is where I let the characters – ones I originally created to express certain aspects of me – come into their own and live out their own stories.
Another way I went about this was to bring in new voices. Of the eight focal characters who narrated The Janus Cycle, only three of them have returned as narrators for the sequel (although almost all of them make an appearance way at some point). The other five narrators of Dinnusos Rises are mostly secondary characters from The Janus Cycle whom I felt deserved a chance to shine, and it is them who take the reins and drive the direction of this new story.
- Did you have to do any research during the writing process?
Yes, quite a lot actually! When I was about halfway through writing it I realised that there were some strong Jungian themes creeping into the narrative, so I watched some documentaries about the life and works of Carl Jung and read up upon his theories about archetypes and the collective unconscious.
I also – for reasons I am not going to divulge for risk of giving too much away – familiarised myself with certain details about the UK’s Georgian era and the Industrial revolution. And also the history of canal system (how, when, and why they were created). Which I know is a bit random, but those who read the book will discover the reason for that.
There were some other things I had to research, but to reveal them would create too many spoilers…
- How would you classify Dinnusos Rises? Is it modern fantasy, urban fantasy or something else?
Genre categories are a double-edged sword. In some ways they are great. They are something which readers recognise, and it certainly makes pitching your books to potential publishers and agents easier. But they can also be rather boxing.
There are several terms which this book could fit within. ‘Contemporary fantasy’ is probably the most accurate. ‘Magical realism’ is another which could be used, but my novels have some quite surreal elements which stretch the definition. ‘Urban fantasy’ is the one which is most recognisable – and the one me and my publishers most often use – but I have also found it can conjure a misleading impression. When people hear that term these days they tend to think of vampires, romance, secret organisations, and leather-clad agents, but the flare of it I write is more related to the original roots of urban fantasy which surfaced in the 80’s through authors such as Charles de Lint and Emma Bull, where the setting is contemporary real-world and the paranormal elements are subtler and pay more homage to ancient folklore and mythology.
- What can readers expect next from you after Dinnusos Rises? Will you ever return to the urban landscape of The Janus Cycle and Dinnusos Rises?
There is definitely a possibility. In fact, I intentionally planted two threads into the story of Dinnusos Rises for the possibility of a sequel and a spinoff I could write.
But I don’t think they will happen for a while yet. Both of these books happened by accident (very good accidents!) and I have actually been working on an epic fantasy series. That has always been my main project and I am going to turn my focus back to that now.
- Is there anything you'd like to add?
Thank you for interviewing me. It has been a pleasure.
The only thing I can think to add is that I don’t just write fiction, I am also a travelblogger. I spent a couple of years backpacking around Asia, and much of it is accounted for on my website if anyone is interested in giving it a browse.