David Wragg is the author of the Articles of Faith series (The Black Hawks and The Righteous) and the upcoming Tales of the Plains trilogy (starting with the Hunters). He is too tall and has tendons like banjo strings. He lives with his family in Hertfordshire, in a house steadily being overrun by animals.
Tell me what inspired you to write your (debut) novel?
My debut, The Black Hawks (2019), was something of a love letter to the fantasy I read as a teenager (which might sniffily these days be referred to as ‘landfill fantasy’); as well as the big names (from Tolkein onwards), I read just about anything that featured wizards, elves or dragons (or dwarves!). Some of it, on reflection, was not great, but it did leave me with the firm impression that I could have a go myself.
Of course, being a bit of a tittering contrarian, when it came to writing my own I wanted to subvert as many of the Great Fantasy Conventions as I could manage in 120,000 words.
What came first, the characters or the world?
A bit of both. The characters are absolutely paramount to the book, and the setting has sort of filled itself in around them. I wanted the classic archetypes of fantasy quest narratives, but mixed up and rearranged, and the setting had to go with that – familiar, yet unfamiliar. To get away from the classic Western European (cod-Tolkein) Fantasy feel, I decided on a southern hemisphere analogue of 13th century Transcaucasia as the setting for the books. And despite it being 100% fantasy, there’s no magic or mythical creatures in the books – just to be difficult.
How hard was it to get your first (debut) book published?
I was lucky – I wrote the first draft of The Black Hawks in 2015, then a draft of the sequel in 2016, then as I was polishing up the first book again in 2017, I won a lot in a charity auction in aid of the victims of the Grenfell fire. The spectacular writer and poet Francesca Haig reviewed my manuscript, gave me insightful feedback and recommended some possible agents. I submitted to those agents in early 2018, one of them – Harry Illingworth – read the submission within a week and requested a full ms, then offered representation a week later. The others never got a look in!
Publication was harder – after we submitted the book (with a few edits along the way), it went a long way with a few editors before eventually getting a thumbs down, and in the end only HarperVoyager offered, 2 months after I signed with Harry, in July 2018. The editorial schedule came and went over the next year, but the book made it into print in October 2019.
How long did it take to write?
The original Black Hawks took about a year and a half to plan and draft. Then another year to revise and submit. Then about 3 months of editing, spread over a year. The sequel, despite being considerably longer, only took me 9 months to plan and draft, and 2 months to revise. Unfortunately, its edits coincided with the pandemic, and it was getting on for 2 years between submission and eventual release in summer 2021.
I started writing the Hunters in 2019, while waiting for edits on The Righteous, and it took around 7 months to plan and draft. It was then parked for 2020 for other things, revived and revised, and then unrevised (long story) over the course of 2021, and submitted at the start of 2022. Edits were brief over the summer, and for once the book is completely on schedule for release in July!
The shameful reason for the specificity of my answer is that I keep a spreadsheet of what I have worked on and when…
Do you have a writing playlist? If so, do you want to share it?
I do, but it’s basically Seventh Son of a Seventh Son by Iron Maiden on repeat, occasionally broken up by a Silversun Pickups album for the sake of variety. For some reason, I know the music so well that it absolutely fades into the background while I’m writing, while also being energetic enough to keep me moving forward!
My year-end music wrap-up did not make for exciting reading.
How many publishers turned you down?
I can’t say for certain, but my guess would be four. “All but one” would be the accurate answer!
What kind of reactions have you had to your book?
The full gamut, from old colleagues messaging me to express their (astonished) delight to my mother telling me it had “too many fucks”. It’s been great, honestly, especially when a reader connects with what I was trying to do with the story and the characters.
What’s the favourite reaction you’ve had to your book?
Aside from my mother’s? It might have been Nate Crowley’s, who wrote a lovely review, but also expressed his enthusiasm in person when we met at an event. Not only is he a top fellow, he’s also an astute judge of genre fiction.
What can you tell us about your next book?
My new series, starting with The Hunters (2023), takes place in the same world as The Black Hawks and its sequel, but 13 years later and far to the north. When I set out to write The Hunters, it was driven by a combination of things – to scratch an itch of some dangling threads from the first series (did you ever wonder what happened to…) but also tell a different kind of story with a different kind of feel – something a bit more like a Western, with more clear-cut lines between good and evil, goodies and baddies. Fortunately, the world I created for the first series bordered a set of vast plains, mountains and desert, which made an excellent place to move the action for the new books.
The story follows a middle-aged horse farmer called Ree, who has something of a chequered past, and her 12-year-old niece Javani, who has designs on a profoundly chequered future. Some very nasty people come looking for them, and Ree is forced to confront some new foes and old lies if she’s going to keep them both alive.
Do you take notice of online reviews?
Only when they’re good. I keep an eye on the overall review count as a rough measure of whether people are a) reading and b) enjoying the books, but I try to get no more involved than that. That way lies madness.
Would you ever consider writing outside your current genre?
Try and stop me. I’ve got plans, such plans… watch this space!
What did you do before (or still do) you became a writer?
I work in software, and have done, in various forms, for the bulk of my adult life (and a bit before that). I was freelance for many years, but circumstances have forced me to become a full-time salaried employee in the last few years, which while not ideal does at least keep a roof over my head and my kids in shoes.
Seriously, you would not believe what they do to their shoes.
Which author(s) inspire you?
It’s glib to say “all of them”, but I’m genuinely so impressed by the astonishing talent of my contemporaries (and feel very lucky to be considered in the same bracket). If forced to choose (and look at my bookshelf), some names in no particular order would be: Terry Pratchett, Robin Hobb, Iain Banks, William Gibson, China Mieville, Katherine Addison, Anne Leckie, Margaret Attwood and Robert Jackson Bennet. But it’s also all the others…
Which genres do you read yourself?
Most of them, really. My heart is SFF, but I’ve got great gooey soft spots for crime, airport thrillers, spy novels, legal dramas and anything comic. I’m not big on horror or romance, but only because I already have too much to read.
What is your biggest motivator?
Reminding myself whenever I’m about to Not Do Writing that “this doesn’t get books written”. I have stories I want to tell, ideas I want to explore, and it’s a thrill to think my work really connects with people (some people, sometimes). I’m getting on a bit now, and it’s a challenge to get a book out a year, which means I have a limited amount of time to write a finite amount of books. I know that sounds morbid, but I’m squarely in mid-life crisis territory and it’s that kind of thinking that keeps me focused.
What will always distract you?
The BLOODY cat WALKING on the BLOODY KEYBOARD AGAIN like he just did. He just wants to be involved, bless him. Also feeling hungry.
How much (if any) say do you have in your book covers?
Not a huge amount, beyond preparing the character descriptions and reference material – now the publishers and I have an understanding on the style of the covers, I’ve got quite good at working out who’s going to feature, what they should look like, how they should be dressed or armed/equipped etc. It’s really, really exciting seeing it come to life.
Were you a big reader as a child?
Yup, shockingly so; although never a particularly fast reader, I made up for it with volume. My nephew has been the same – I witnessed him monster an 800 page Percy Jackson over the course of a family day out a few years ago, and my own kids are just reaching the Dangerous Reading age now. I have to hide the kindle at bedtime.
What were your favourite childhood books?
Depending on what age we mean, it’s probably going to be Pratchett (although I adored the Worst Witch which I read with my sister), the only question is which one…
Do you have a favourite bookshop? If so, which?
David’s, in Letchworth up the road from me, has been a recent favourite. They even stock my books, which demonstrates excellent taste.
What books can you not resist buying?
At the moment, anything new by William Gibson, or anything related to Gaiman’s Sandman. It’s difficult for me to leave a bookshop without buying something. It seems rude.
Do you have any rituals when writing?
Make a cup of peppermint tea, sit down, headphones on, arse about for 15 minutes, make another cup of peppermint tea, sit down again, arse around again, accidentally start writing something.
How many books are in your own physical TBR pile?
It’s really more of a TBR bookcase. My wife has had words.
What is your current or latest read?
I’ve just finished John Keegan’s The Face of Battle and am starting Indian Summer by Alex von Tunzelmann. I’ve got a load of reference books to get through too, then I’m going to reward myself with Gibson’s Agency and maybe a Peter F. Hamilton.
Any books that you’re looking forward to in the next 12 months?
The second Empire of the Vampire book is on my radar – I galloped through the first, despite its whopping girth (and despite thinking vampires weren’t really my thing). Beyond that, I probably ought to read some of the books I already own…
Any plans or projects in the near future you can tell us about?
The new series will be keeping me busy for another couple of years (book 2 is now with the editor, awaiting inspection, and I’m currently putting an outline of book 3 together), and after that I have plans for something a little different. Too early to say much, but you can always subscribe to my mailing list on my website!
Any events in the near future?
I’ll be at Fantasy in the Court in London in May, FantasyCon in Birmingham in September, possibly some kind of launch event in July, and maybe some other stuff besides. I really ought to sort my calendar out.
and finally, what inspired you to write the genre you do?
I think, on a fundamental level, that I just fucking love goblins. Dragons! I mean dragons.