Interview – Wrath of the Medusa author, T.O. Munro
Self-Publisher’s Showcase: Today we are joined by T.O. Munro, author of fantasy novels LADY OF THE HELM and WRATH OF THE MEDUSA, books 1 and 2 of The Bloodline Trilogy. Welcome to the Showcase Lounge, Tom. Do make yourself at home.
T.O. Munro: Thank you, very happy to be here.
SPS: Before we settle down to talk about your work, can you take a moment to tell us a little bit about yourself?
TOM: I’m married with four daughters, two of whom are at university, and I have a wonderfully supportive and understanding wife. I live in Kent, but I was born in Wales, my father is Scottish, my wife is from Northern Ireland and as a child I lived in Brazil for three years. So I feel I have a range of cultural influences.
SPS: After early experimentation in other genres, what was it that finally encouraged you to publish your first work in the Epic Fantasy genre?
TOM: Timing and the miracle of modern self-publishing. When I was younger I did write to agents and to publishers about my various naval novels and murder mysteries but never with enough perseverance. Advances in self-publishing have meant I can now appeal to a readership directly and at a very low cost on both sides. When MP3 music files first came out I was sure there was an equally big market for electronic books and so it is proving to be. The fact that these developments aligned with my fantasy phase is perhaps just a coincidence, but I do feel this series draws on all that I learnt in my early writing experiences.
SPS: Lady of the Helm: Book One in the Bloodline Trilogy came out in June of this year. How easy did find the self-publishing process?
TOM: Very easy really. There have been lots of self-help guides but I drafted the book in word and then KDP select converted it for kindle use with the minimum of fuss.
SPS: In your reviews so far we’ve seen references to both The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. That must be really pleasing?
TOM: It is. I aimed to write epic fantasy and there can’t be many higher accolades than being mentioned in the same sentence as those works. The epic scale is all about world changing events which rest on the actions of a few key individuals and that is the aspect of Tolkien’s work which I was most trying to emulate. However, my story has some key differences, not least in the number of leading female characters.
SPS : Tell us a little about the novel; what can someone expect if they sit down today and start reading?
TOM: People they can recognise. Yes it is a fantasy world setting in which there is magic and there are monsters, but the story is driven by human attributes like love, greed, ambition, duty. The reader should also find an intricate weave of story lines which cross and merge and as the story accelerates towards its conclusion. I also hope they will enjoy the writing, I have tried to focus on action and dialogue more so than on great descriptive passages. I find that story and character are both developed most rapidly through what people do and how they interact.
SPS : The main protagonist, Niarmit has gone from Priestess to Outlaw. How does that shape who she is now?
TOM: I really like Niarmit. She is driven by duty and faith. The Battle of Bledrag field was where it all changed, where she lost her family, her position and her homeland. But she didn’t run away, not then. She tried to fight back in a defiant continuation of the conflict. She does what she thinks is right but finds that sometimes being right is not enough. People and situations do not match up to her expectations. That brings some cruel disillusionment for her before events conspire to set her on a new path, embracing new duties and a new family and with that a whole host of new problems.
SPS : Can you tell us about where you found your inspiration when writing the Dark Lord, Maelgrum?
TOM: To be honest as a teenager I used to play a certain well known role playing game, in the days when we relied on multi-coloured dice and a dungeon master, rather than the easy access of modern Massive Multiplayer online role playing games. I was captivated by the idea of a Lich a powerful undead wizard who had traded his soul for immortality. I suppose my one disappointment in Lord of The Rings was that Sauron’s motivation was never really revealed and he never really existed as a character. Being evil is not a motivation, nor is power without purpose a valid ambition. So I wanted a Dark Lord who was very much a person, an incredibly powerful scary person, who had a thirst for something other than mindless power and who at times would show a sense of humour albeit rather warped.
SPS: Was the idea always to produce a trilogy from the outset, or was it originally just to produce a standalone novel?
TOM: I started the book ten years ago with some clear ideas of the key nexus points in the plot. But I wasn’t clear about the order I put them in, or how they would link. When I started writing, it quickly felt as though the book was sprawling out of control and so I stopped. I revisited it a couple of years ago and re-plotted how it would all fit together, but even trying to cut and edit my abandoned effort, the novel was eating up words faster than plot lines. With 100,000 words down and only a quarter of the plot covered, I didn’t give up this time. I just realised it was going to be a trilogy. Fortunately, it does divide into what I hope are satisfying separate books, albeit ones that should be read in order.
SPS: The second book in the saga, Wrath of the Medusa, was released today. Without giving too much away, what can we expect from this second instalment?
TOM: Ooh – not giving too much away. That’s hard. My daughter Tess has been very impatient to know in advance what is going to happen, but I managed to keep some key plot twists back and she really did appreciate it at the end. So I guess the main thing to expect is surprises, which is a feature of Lady of the Helm that seemed to please a lot of readers.
There are still the same distinctive characters. Dema the Medusa is a key player. Also much more is made of Prince Rugan the half-elf who becomes a pivotal figure in how the story develops. There are battles and mysteries and some of those moments of human weakness which drive novels of every genre.
SPS: How did you find the process of introducing new characters into an already established cast?
TOM: It felt fairly natural, driven by the story. I have the world I created and the crisis that confronts it. Then it is a matter of thinking how the individuals and the leaders would respond to that crisis and before you know it this person or that persons has stepped forward and said “hey I’m in your story.”
SPS: How does Niarmit deal with the need to work with and trust Prince Rugan?
TOM: There are some interesting moments between them, which were quite fun to write. She has good reason for not trusting him, she feels her family were betrayed by him. However, the situation she is in forces her to work with him. It is that clash of duty and emotion, and sometimes the cracks in their relationship really show.
SPS: How much research was involved in creating the character of Dema the Medusa?
TOM: The Medusa is a well known mythological figure, but it has been presented in so many different ways. I wanted Dema to be as human a monster as possible. It is only from her cheek bones upwards that she is anything other than human. I liked the idea of the mythical powers of a medusa allied to human motivation and ambition.
SPS: Can we expect huge a huge battle between the Medusa and Rugan and his army, or are we getting ahead of ourselves?
TOM: Oh there has to be battle, but it is more of a starting point than an end point for the story. It is a five part story and the biggest set piece battle is in part one. But battlefields turn out to be not the only dangerous place for Niarmit and her friends, in fact probably not even the most dangerous place.
SPS: Once the trilogy is complete do you plan to close the door on the saga, or is there potential for more in the future?
TOM: I will bring the saga to a hopefully satisfying conclusion in book three, provisionally entitled Master of the Planes. I know how it ends, I know what the last key scenes are, but there a lot of threads which need to be drawn together towards that point and I am not sure exactly how all the threads will finish. Certainly there are plenty of characters whose story will not end with the final page of Master of the Planes, so there is scope to take some of them forward in a new direction within the same world setting.
SPS: Now would be a good time to ask if you can let us in on what we can expect in the near future from the pen of T.O. Munro, presumably book 3 of the Bloodline Trilogy?
TOM: Master of the Planes is the obvious next work. I do like to finish things. However, I need to take a bit of a rest to let the ideas marinade in my head before settling down to write. I enjoyed writing the short story of Beldrag Field, 2000 words to fill in some of Niarmit’s back story. I might write a few more short story prequels, just for the fun of it.
SPS: Was the Self-Published/Indie-Published route always your preferred route for your work?
TOM: Not always, but time is the most precious commodity that any of us have. Finding time to write is hard enough, time to trawl around publishers is much harder. There is enough neglected DIY around the house to keep me occupied for quite a while. Without the simplicity of electronic self-publishing I don’t think I could have got these books out there at all.
SPS: We like to spend a moment touching on an individual’s book covers. Can you tell us about how the covers for your Bloodline Trilogy came about and whose handy-work we are viewing?
TOM: I knew that covers were very important in marketing your book in a very crowded market. Self-publishing being cheap and simple works very well for me but it also works for everyone else leading to over two million e-books on amazon.co.uk. An eye-catching professional cover is a vital first step in getting your book noticed, your blurb read and your look-inside feature sampled.
So, I found a website 99designs which ran competitions for cover designs. You offer a prize and you get some very qualified designers competing to meet your brief. In the end I had 86 design submissions. You can see all the entries on this contest page https://99designs.co.uk/book-cover-design/contests/t-o-munro-needs-book-magazine-cover-222108
I picked an exquisite design by a designer named Paganus, and when it came to Wrath of the Medusa I went straight back to him to see how he could transform my sketchy design brief into a very compelling image. You can see more of Paganus’s work on his website paganus.weebly.com
He is a very gifted and professional designer and working with him – and all the designers at 99designs – was a joy.
SPS: If you could give one piece of advice for someone looking to get into writing, what would it be?
TOM: One piece of advice ? – ooh that’s hard. How about this, buy and read Howard Mittlemark’s book “How Not to Write a Novel: 200 Classic Mistakes and How to Avoid Them–A Misstep-by-Misstep Guide” It is very funny and gives 200 pieces of excellent advice all for the price of one. The only book on writing that I have totally re-read.
SPS: Thank you for joining us today Tom, and good luck in the future.
TOM: Thank you very much for having me.
SPS: Wrath of the Medusa is modestly priced on Amazon at £1.99 or $2.99 while for those new to the series, Lady of the Helm can be picked up at the bargain price of £0.77 or $0.99. For a teaser you can even read a prequel short story to the trilogy here on the Showcase. The Battle of Bledrag Field is available right here.