Author of the Magelands Eternal Siege series
Join me as I chat to Christopher Mitchell about his epic fantasy series the Magelands Eternal Siege, which is now eight books long. I have read the first book The Mortal Blade and it was amazing. You can find my review here. Welcome Christopher, it is lovely to meet you. Congratulations on the release of your latest installment, Red City. Tell us about your wonderful series.
Christopher: I release around six books a year, and am usually in the process of drafting one, while editing another, and releasing a third at the same time. My most recently published book was Red City, Book Eight of the Magelands Eternal Siege series, and it was released on Friday 10 September 2021. The Eternal Siege series, when complete, will consist of four interlinked trilogies, followed by a four-parter, and Red City is the second volume of the third trilogy (the ‘City’ trilogy). It follows on directly from Book Seven, and picks up the threads of the main characters. Like the previous series, it centres on the members of a single family – the Holdfasts, and every book has at least one Holdfast as a main character. In Red City, that honour falls to Kelsey Holdfast, the youngest daughter of the family. The main theme of the book is the possibility of redemption. Two old characters are re-introduced, both of whom have done some terrible things in the past, and both start off with every intention of trying to redeem themselves. One succeeds, while the other one fails, and the novel ends with the catastrophic consequences of that failure.
Helen: The life of a writer can get extremely complicated, and releasing six books a year is phenomenal. I have to say I am a fan of your covers they are absolutely gorgeous. Tell us about how you first came up with the concept.
Christopher: The cover of Red City is a character portrait of Kelsey Holdfast, complete with a little image of her dragon in the top corner. Each book of the Eternal Siege series has a portrait of one of the main characters of that novel on the cover. This came about due to the acquisition of the first cover, for Book One – The Mortal Blade, which was produced by MIBL Art. It fitted perfectly with the character of Aila, a demigod assassin and shape-shifter, and that choice governed the types of covers that would go with the rest of the series. MIBL have done a fantastic job with these covers, producing some beautiful artwork, and I think Red City is a great example of that – it encapsulates exactly how I pictured Kelsey in my head!
Helen: They are very distinctive covers, and you definitley recognise them as yours. How about the book titles? Is there a story behind those?
Christopher: The names of the books in the Eternal Siege series follow a set of patterns, and for the City trilogy, each book had to have ‘City’ somewhere in the title. The use of ‘Red’ covers several meanings – for instance, the sky of the City is red, rather than blue. The city is plunged into a chaotic civil war during the course of the book, and red also stands for the bloodshed that results. It also stands as a warning; as both sides in the war stoop lower to gain victory, the survival of the city itself is at stake.
Helen: Your series is epic fantasy, what made you choose that genre?
Christopher: I chose the epic fantasy genre originally as it seemed to me to be the best way to express the ideas that were rattling around in my head. I pictured a blank canvas, one that I could paint with whichever colours I liked, free from the restraints of following a prescribed framework.
Helen: I must admit the freedom of creating your own world is what tempted me to start writing fantasy. I started writing quite late in life, and after being a lifetime bookworm, I started to write my own stories. When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
Christopher: I’m not sure there was a time in my life when I wasn’t thinking about stories. I started writing my first books when I was about twelve years old, then moved on to write role-playing games for my sister and friends to play. I sweated and toiled over a couple of novels in my late teens and early twenties, which, if I look back on them now, were pretty awful, but it was all part of the long, slow process of getting there in the end. I almost gave up on many occasions; constant rejections can be tough, and wrote almost nothing in my thirties except for factual reports for my day job, and essays for my post-graduate degree on Greek Tragedy.
Helen: I think resilience has to be a key trait of any writer, and an innate belief in yourself, that you can complete your story. Was there anyone in particular who inspired you to write?
Christopher: When I hit forty, my wife kept asking me – ‘when are you going to write a book?’ So, one evening, when a friend of hers was round visiting, I retired to my little study and thought ‘alright; let’s give it a go.’ The notes I wrote out that night became the basis of the worlds where the Magelands book are all set; all the basic precepts were put in place, and three months later, I started writing the first book. If my wife hadn’t pushed me at that vital point, then there is a very good chance that none of the Magelands would exist. She had faith in me, and that is exactly what I needed.
Helen: Thank goodness she did! Considering you have plans for many more books in this series, how do you keep coming up with new ideas?
Christopher: Create an interesting world with complex characters, then the ideas will take care of themselves. Drop any notion that characters are good or bad – everything is grey. If in doubt, add in some dragons.
Helen: Dragons solve everything! What is the most useful piece of writing advice you’ve received, and from whom?
Christopher: Drop adverbs when writing dialogue. Instead of writing ‘she said excitedly/sorrowfully/wistfully’, use the dialogue itself to transmit the appropriate feeling, and trust the readers to work it out for themselves. This simple piece of advice led to the cutting of over a thousand words from my first book! It was given by a lecturer in creative writing, at the only session of hers that I attended. The lecturer didn’t know what genres her students were writing, and she called fantasy ‘pathetic’ in front of the class. I didn’t return.
Helen: That is good advice, and one I try to follow as well. Shame she wasn’t a fan of all genres of writing, her loss, I think. With writing and releasing your books at such a phenomenal rate – your books are not short! – I am amazed at how fast you write. How do you fit your life around your writing?
Christopher: For almost a year, I have been in the fortunate position of writing as my full time job, so I fit it in nine-to-five. Prior to that, it was hard, I won’t deny it. I used to cram writing into any free time I had – evenings, weekends, holidays. I’d come home from my day job, tired out, then help put the four kids to bed, and then have to get myself back in front of the keyboard, no matter how much I couldn’t be bothered.
Helen: When you are in your writing zone, do you prefer silence, or do you have a favourite playlist running in the background?
Christopher: I have tried, but it’s too distracting. The only book where, somehow, it worked out, was Book Four of the Magelands Epic series – Sacrifice. For some reason that I’ve never fathomed (and have never been able to repeat), I was able to listen to music while I wrote much of that. It was a mix of lots of different artists, but with loads of Beatles and Lana Del Rey (my favourites). There’s a certain Moby track that kept coming on, and every time I hear it now, it reminds me of writing Sacrifice.
Helen: I would imagine with such a complex world that your books are set in, you must be a planner, just to keep everything straight as you write?
Christopher: I like to think of myself as a planner! I spend a lot of time building the worlds for the books, and painstakingly crafting the character arcs, usually starting at the end and working my way back. However, if I’m honest, much of the ‘plan’ evaporates into mist as soon as my fingers make contact with the keyboard. Characters keep saying and doing things that continually surprise me, and I have to pause and think again. It can be fun to compare my original plans with the finished article, and I often wonder ‘how on earth did I get from here to there?’ One thing that almost always survives is the ending that I started with, but the route there certainly has its twists and turns.
Helen: Characters do have a tendency to take over. I imagine that Corvie Holdfast was particularly troublesome. Outside of writing do you have any favourite past times? or hobbies?
Christopher: I love writing so much that it’s also my hobby! I go for long walks up hills with my wife (and the kids occasionally). Living in Scotland means that there are always hills and old castles to visit.
Helen: That sounds wonderful. An inspiration for your next story no doubt. When you sit down to read a book, what do you like to read? What book are you currently reading?
Christopher: I am reading All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days by Rebecca Donner. It’s a factual book about an American woman in Berlin before and during the Second World War – Mildred Harnack. She was the leader of an underground resistance movement opposed to Hitler and the Nazis, and showed immense courage and compassion.
Helen: Thank you so much, Christopher, for spending the time with me to talk about your books and your writing process. Congratulations again, on the release of your latest book, I look forward to reading the rest of the series. Just to end with, what advice would you give aspiring writers?
Christopher: Keep writing. It sounds simplistic and maybe even patronising, but there is no magic trick to get round the fact that any writer has to practise, and probably fail, for long, long hours. Persist; keep at it; force yourself to sit in front of the keyboard and get on with it, even if you can’t be bothered – especially if you can’t be bothered. There is no other way.
About the author:
Christopher’s first memory is of Elvis dying. His gran told him it was because he’d eaten too many cakes, and Christopher believed her. She also told him that there were fairies at the bottom of her garden, and he believed that too.
He counts himself very fortunate to have a supportive wife and four beautiful children. He loves deserts, which is too bad as he lives in Scotland, but the mountains, glens and lochs more than make up for it.
His other love is Greek Tragedy, especially Euripides, and he also reads history, science, fantasy, and pretty much anything about the Beatles…
You can find more about Christopher via:
You can purchase Christopher’s books from Amazon:
The Mortal Blade – Book One of the Magelands Eternal Siege
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