Peter Flannery - Classic Fellowships, Breathtaking Conflict, and Underdogs Fighting Impossible Odds
Peter Flannery lives in the Scottish Borders with his wife and two sons. After leaving school he attended art college before leaving to work in forestry. However, an accident at work resulted in a broken neck so, after a year's convalescence, and a few years of horticulture, he set himself up as a sculptor making dragons, robots and warriors for fantasy wargames. In addition to sculpting, Peter began writing exciting stories for various wargames companies and in 2012 he published his first book, a thriller about the world's first genuine psychic which has since been adapted for film, under the title of "Dark Sense". After a lifetime of being inspired by all things from Lord of the Rings to Star Wars and the Exorcist, he poured all his passion into his epic fantasy book Battle Mage, which has now been published in five different languages. This amazing standalone story contains many elements that fantasy readers will find familiar, but Peter has managed to infuse it with his own unique vision making it feel exciting and fresh. When writing, Peter always keeps his readers in mind. "When someone picks up a fantasy book they have hopes and expectations of what might be inside. My job is not just to satisfy those expectations, but to try and exceed them... to try and give the reader something more." As our Author of the Day, he tells us all about his book, Battle Mage.
Please give us a short introduction to what Battle Mage is about.
Battle Mage takes place in a world that is being overrun by armies of possessed warriors led by terrifying demons. These demons exude an aura of fear that normal people cannot withstand, only a battle mage has the strength to stand in the face of a demon. As children, these individuals suffer terrible nightmares and those who survive the nightmares have the potential to become a battle mage. The book tells the story of one such child, a young man by the name of Falco Danté. Falco is the son of a battle mage who went mad, so he is weighed down by guilt, shame and an illness he developed as a child. As the armies of the Possessed continue to advance, Falco must overcome these challenges in order to fulfil his destiny (classic stuff, I know!:).
Surrounded by a cast of friends, mentors and evil adversaries, Falco travels from his remote mountain town to the great city of Wrath where Queen Catherine de Sage is trying to unite the kingdoms against their common foe.
People familiar with fantasy books will recognise many familiar elements, one might even call them tropes or clichés, and they would be correct. Battle Mage is a coming of age cliché, but I tried to make it fresh and exciting. I tried to make it the best ‘coming of age’ story that I could.
What inspired you to write about an infernal army on the march?
When writing about battles and war, I feel quite uncomfortable when it is just two human factions fighting against each other, because this is not really a case of good against evil, it’s just one group of normal people fighting against another. Writers and filmmakers often struggle with this problem. That’s why Luke Skywalker fights ‘Storm Troopers’ not people. It allows the hero to defeat the ‘baddies’ without killing people who might have families of their own. So for me, I wanted my enemy to be the embodiment of evil, but I also wanted to introduce the tragedy of these normal people being lost to darkness. Thus we have a terrifying host of Spartan zombies, but the battle mages have enough compassion to realize that they are just normal people who have been claimed by the enemy. This gives every encounter with the Possessed a greater emotional impact and it also captures the fear of normal soldiers who know that if they lose, they too will become one of the Possessed.
Where does your fascination with fantasy come from?
I have loved fantasy since I was a child watching films like Jason and the Argonauts, but I also loved more historical films like The 300 Spartans and El Cid, basically anything with swords! From there I went on to read books like the Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings and then onto others like The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, The Magician, The Wheel of Time etc. But my love of fantasy is also drawn from films, artwork and videos games. From corny old films like The Archer and the Sorceress right through to modern films and TV series like HBO’s Game of Thrones. For many years I played D&D with friends, I worked in the fantasy wargames industry, and I love games like Diablo, Baldur’s Gate and Skyrim.
Tell us more about Falco Dante. What makes him tick?
Falco has not had an easy life. His father was a battle mage who ‘went mad’ and killed numerous people in the town, and so Falco lives with the shame and the guilt of being a murderer’s son. He also suffers from a debilitating lung condition which has limited his physical fitness. However, despite all these challenges, he remains a positive and loyal friend. He has a witty and playful side, but this is counterbalanced by a seriousness that often makes him seem older than his years.
As the story progresses, Falco is cured of his illness, but then he must try to overcome the guilt and shame that he has lived with all his life. But he never succumbs to bitterness and, even as his powers grow, his ego remains grounded in humility, friendship and faith. Any person whose ego leads to arrogance, anger or bitterness would never have survived the nightmares as a child. And so battle mages are always respectful and humble. They are a bit like Jedi Knights in a medieval world.
Eventually, Falco achieves great power, but he also needs the love and support of the people around him, from Fossetta, who raised him, to the Emissary who rides to his aid at the end. Falco succeeds because he is never alone.
Besides writing, what other secret skills do you have?
Well, I’m a world-class procrastinator for a start! Few people are as easily distracted as me, but then I have always been a daydreamer. For many years, I worked as a sculptor for the wargames industry, making models and figures for D&D and tabletop games. I know a bit about astronomy, and I run the local astronomy club in the village. I used to be a pretty good archer, but I haven’t really practiced properly for a number of years. I love puzzles of all kinds, but it’s not that I’m particularly good at puzzles; it’s more a case of being stubbornly persistent.
If I was to single out one ‘skill’ I would probably suggest problem-solving. I love nothing better than being faced with a problem and thinking, ‘Okay, how am I going to solve this?’
Obviously, this skill is essential when writing a book and I am sometimes genuinely surprised at how quickly my brain will solve a problem or rearrange the elements of a story until they work better or make sense. To me, it’s almost like that part of my brain is separate from me, and it kind of says, ‘Okay, Pete. You get on with doing the dishes. I got this one.’ And then it’s off, so much so, that I swear I can sometimes hear the gears of my own mind turning!
For example, after dropping my eldest child off for his first day at school, I was so impressed by his courage (he’s a very sensitive boy) that by the time I had walked the 100yards back to my house, I had come up with an entire children’s series of books called Fearful Freddy The Bravest Knight of the Realm!
Why did you make a weakling nobody trusts the one person who could stop the infernal army?
That was a trick I learned from Ender’s Game and the Richard Sharpe novels. Namely, that you can have a really powerful character if you constantly beat the crap out of them.
So, for me, it was a question of breaking Falco down to his lowest possible point before he began the slow climb to power. I also wanted to show that strength comes from within and is not just all about physical strength and fighting skills. So when the army from Caer Dour is cowering in fear of a demon, it is not the great knights who ride forward to save the people, it is the sickly young boy that they had always reviled. His strength comes from his inner spirit and this is something we see all around us in the world. People who face difficulties and yet refuse to give up… People who live through terrible childhoods and yet turn out to be strong and beautiful adults. That’s one of the reasons why there isn’t a God in battle mage. I wanted the evil of the enemy to be opposed by the courage and goodness of ordinary people.
What was your greatest challenge when writing Battle Mage?
The greatest challenge was getting the book to work the way I wanted to. Just writing a book of that size was a massive challenge for me. I had lots of ideas and numerous scenes that I thought could be powerful, but it was trying to put it all together that was really difficult.
I like to imbue scenes and characters with powerful images and emotions, and then I like to bring all that potential to a sharp and satisfying point. So, the choreography of something like a battle can be very challenging, because battles without emotional content can be quite boring. So to weave the threads, load them with emotion, and then to have them all come to a head at a particular moment, takes a lot of careful thought. I don’t think I always achieved this, but I felt as if I came pretty close.
Do you have specific rules for the magic system in your story?
Rather than specific rules, I have a general sense of how the magic works. When talking about magic, we’re talking about something that does not exist in real life, so trying to explain it can be difficult because at some point people are bound to spot holes in your logic. So writers just need to provide ‘coat hooks’ on which the reader can hang their disbelief.
For some books, like Harry Potter, detailed explanation of the magic is very much a part of the style and the story, but for Battle Mage, I wanted the magic to seem like an extension of the mind. So, in some instances, this takes the form of elemental magic with things like fireballs, at other times the magic is used to change a normal sword into a medieval light-sabre that can cut through the unholy armor of demons.
In the next instant it is used to fortify a person’s flesh or create a protective energy field, but all the time, it is connected to the wielder’s mind. So, if the person wielding the magic begins to doubt, then the power of the magic will fail. If they weaken, then their magic will weaken in turn, but at the end of the day, a person’s power comes from their faith (not religious faith) and if their faith remains strong, then so will their magic, even if their body is broken and close to death. Dusaule, at the battle of Nevaria is a good example of this.
Did you plot out your book before you started writing, or did some of it just "happen" along the way?
I normally start with a core idea that begins to form a story. For example, Battle Mage draws on countless references from TLOTR to Star Wars and the Exorcist, but the main thread of the story was born when I entered a competition to write a story in one hundred words. This story was called ‘Dragon’, and the emotion of the piece informed the main dragon thread for Battle Mage.
So, I start with a general idea and a core group of characters, and I do tend to plan out things as I go. However, I think it is important not to have things planned too rigidly. You need to leave scope for the story to develop and grow.
I sometimes feel that books and films suffer from a weak ending, and I think that this is due to the fact that writers often conceive their ending at the beginning of the project. The book grows and matures in the writing and then they slap on the ending that they had had from the start, but it has not grown and matured as the rest of the story has. So, my advice would be to plan out the story sufficiently so that you know you have a story worth telling, but don’t tie things down to tightly. Leave enough room for the book to breathe and grow.
Which character did you have the most fun with?
‘Most fun’ is a good term, because trying to choose a favorite character is impossible! So thanks for that! :) I think the ones I had the most fun with are the cantankerous ones like Aurelian Cruz, the roguish ones like Patrick Feckler, and the thoroughly evil ones like Brother Pacatos. I like characters that might seem a little rough and uncouth, but that we know have a heart of gold.
When starting on a new book, what is the first thing you do?
Panic… sigh… then look up the mountain and think, ‘Okay… Here we go again!’
But seriously, by the time I start writing a book, I have normally been thinking about it for years. My first book, First and Only, is about the world’s first genuine psychic. As a child, and even as a younger man, I was a firm believer in all things supernatural, but then I made the mistake of looking for proof. After years of searching, I could not find any verifiable evidence that supernatural powers existed. After a long period of grief, I then began to ask the question, ‘What if they did? What if there was someone who could see into the future, read people’s thoughts, and move things with his mind? What kind of person would they be and how would they reveal themselves to the world?
I mulled these ideas over for years before actually writing the book. And it was the same with Battle Mage. Like many writers, I made numerous aborted attempts at writing a fantasy book, and while these attempts might have fizzled out, they developed my ideas and my own voice as a writer.
So, in practical terms… the first thing I do when starting a new book is to write down my ideas. I tend to write a whole series of bullet points laying out a brief summary of the plot, characters, and key scenes. But these rough plans can be done numerous times, and they are always updated and modified as the story grows and solidifies. What I find weird, is looking back over these early plans when I’ve finished a book because I am often surprised by how much things have changed from those initial partially-formed thoughts.
Do you have any interesting writing habits? What is an average writing day like for you?
Unfortunately, an average writing day for me is dominated by doing anything at all apart from writing. No, honestly! Sometimes I am amazed to find that I have finished a chapter, and it still amazes me that I have now written five complete novels! Count’em… five! (one as yet unpublished. Needs a rewrite!)
Thinking about writing comes very easily to me. Actually getting the words down on the page is extremely difficult. I spend a huge amount of time thinking about my books, but I struggle to avoid distractions. Like I said… once a daydreamer, always a daydreamer!
Having said that, there are occasions when the words come out in a flood. This happens especially when I’ve been struggling with some important scene. I think my eagerness to get it right can inhibit me, almost like stage fright, but then it’s as if the tumblers of my mind suddenly fall into place and I can write two thousand words in an hour. This just shows that a good part of writing a book is carried out by our subconscious minds.
What are you working on right now?
Okay, you got me! I have just finished the second book in my Decimus Fate series. This is a new fantasy adventure based around a sorcerer called Decimus Fate and a demon hunter known as the Tutor. I definitely intend to complete this series, but I get so many emails and reviews asking for a follow up to Battle Mage that I have now chosen to embark on that. My intention is to write a prequel and a sequel to Battle Mage to complete the story and tie off some of the loose threads that people ask me about. However, I must warn you that I am a slow writer so it will be some time yet before I release anything new.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
As a self-published author, readers are my life-blood. I really enjoy hearing from people who have read my books and I am frequently humbled by their comments. I know this sounds a bit weird, but I genuinely feel that my readers are basically just friends that I have only met through the pages of a book. We are all fantasy fans, and we are all just people going through this human journey we call life.
So people can contact me via Twitter:[email protected]
Or via my website where you can read a bit more about me and my books:
I am not very good at the whole social media or mailing list thing, but I always try to respond to the people who write to me, so please drop me a line to say hello.