I’m delighted to have Dublin author Máire Brophy in my hot seat today chatting about debut After the World, a fantasy novella about an orc general surviving after his world has been torn apart.
Find out what inspired Máire Brophy to write After the World, why her protagonist surprised her, tips for aspiring writers and more.
Here’s more about After the World:
After the war is lost, all that remains is to survive. And when you know what you’ve done, you can’t hope for anything more.
Bereft in a hostile world, an orc general struggles to come to terms with his role in the destruction of his people. Running and hiding from the humans and elves that hunt him down, he searches for other orc survivors.
When two human wizards finally pin him down in an abandoned orcish mountain fortress, he must use his wits and cunning to prevail, redeeming himself and the magic of his people.
After the World is published by Strange Fictions Press and is out on 8th May 2018.
Welcome to Jera’s Jamboree.
What was the idea/inspiration for After the World?
I had started playing Dungeons & Dragons, and my group were talking about running an evil campaign, where we all play evil characters. We never got to it, but I thought it might be amusing to write a story about a mid-level evil character. Not the big bads, but the little bads, somewhere in the middle of the hierarchy, and maybe someone without all the power that they want.
It went a bit far away from that when I started writing, and I started thinking about how we reflect on decisions we regret, and how we go on when we have lost all the things we think keep us going on.
I obviously thought a lot about orcs. Most fantasy follows on from Tolkien in his depiction of the land hating orcs and depicting them as meanly living, destroying things and only clever in lowly ways. After the World explores what it’s like to live like that, to be hated by the world and still exist in it.
Orcs are usually characterised as highly emotional, but that seems to be exclusively about anger. But anger is not the only emotion and I wanted to play with a lot more emotional colours with this character.
Was there anything about your protagonist that surprised you Máire?
How much I liked him. I mean he’s a horrible person, who has done horrible things, but there’s an irreverence to him that I love. He gives two fingers to the world as its crushing him. He has a sort of spirit that won’t die despite everything.
He also doesn’t have any illusions about himself any more. He’s forced to look at himself clearly. That’s not the character I thought I was writing about when I started. Somewhere in the writing I skipped from situating him with an impending disaster to after the disaster happened. And nowhere left to hide was quite an interesting place for him.
Panster or plotter?
I am most certainly a panster. Sometimes I plot a lot inside my head and then start to write, or at least have a shape of the story, but in the first draft of this book I genuinely did not know where it was going. All I knew is that I wanted to write about the bad guy but I didn’t even know who he was. I was about 4,000 words in before I realised I was writing about an orc.
The thing about being a panster is that plot comes and kicks your ass at some point. I wrote most of this book as part of NaNoWriMo, so about two-thirds of it were written in one month. It took me another six months to write the final third because plotting is hard!
Which authors have influenced your writing?
I have all the standard bearers of fantasy in there. Terry Pratchett is my favourite author and has been since I was 13, so there’s always a bit of Pratchett tone in there somewhere, and I have a great fondness for Tolkien and the other giants of fantasy fiction. My reading is pretty eclectic and I read a lot of literary classics, which definitely has an influence. You can’t beat Jane Austen for subtle sarcasm and Tolstoy for characters with emotional punch.
I’ve been really inspired by contemporary fiction, and there’s some incredible fantasy books being written these days. They move it forward from this epic, saga (and boys only!) level to something with greater human complexity, both in term of grit and feeling. Like everyone else I’m waiting for the next installment of A Song of Ice and Fire, but I’m also loving the books of Nnedi Okorafor and Sarah Maria Griffin right now.
Do you have a favourite book Máire?
My favourite book is Thud! By Terry Pratchett. It can be hard to pick amongst the Pratchetts, especially the later discworld ones, but this one hits all the marks for me. Pratchett manages a blend of humour and a deep understanding of human beings. He’ll make you laugh while railing against injustice. Pratchett has a depth that creeps up on you, while you are laughing at jokes, puns and absurdity.
Have you joined any writing groups?
I think my writing group is the reason I have written anything at all. Before I joined them I had just finished by PhD, and I was still burned out. The memory of driving myself to do minimum daily word counts and the pure stress of it all was still too fresh. My writing group were a subset of a bookclub, and I eventually succumbed to their charms and started writing fiction.
We now podcast about writing together – Irish Writers Podcast – where we talk about the ups and downs and sometimes interview other writers.
They offer a different perspective which is incredibly valuable to me. We approach writing so differently, that if I’m stuck I know they’ll ask me a new question, or give me a new insight, which will help me to move forward.
Finally, what tips do you have for aspiring writers?
Write it down. If you have a great idea, a good idea or half an idea, write it down. Get it out of your head and on to paper. It makes it easier to push it forward. We all write shitty first drafts, join the club!
Let other people see it in its imperfect glory. And find a way to take feedback in constructive ways. This is easier said than done, and it’s so understandable to feel raw and deeply vulnerable about your words. But if you can find a little distance, it can be so valuable to you. It can enable you to get the best out of rejections, reviewers and beta readers.
Remember everyone that’s ever published anything has been rejected many times and kept going. It’s the keeping going that makes the difference!
Thank you for being my guest today Máire.
Wishing you success with all your writing projects.
Máire Brophy lives in Dublin, Ireland. By day, she works with researchers to help develop and express their ideas, and by night she mostly sleeps. In between she’s often found playing Dungeons and Dragons, eating cake and watching movies. She is currently considering learning to play golf. Máire cohosts Irish Writers Podcast – a podcast about writing – and tweets @mairebro. You can find out more information on her website mairebrophy.com. And don’t worry no-one else pronounces her name correctly either!