This is an interview with R.J. Barker, author of the Wounded Kingdom series. This interview took place via a sophisticated chat platform (Twitter DMs) on August 13th, 2018.
Hiu: So to start off… How the hell have you been? King of Assassins finally out, the whole trilogy out in a year… Must be a hell of a time for you right now.
RJ Barker: Yes! But I kind of don’t think about it. I mean, it’s brilliant that it’s gone down so well but I finished the books over ten months ago so I’m well on with new things, and I tend to always be looking forward and don’t tend to think about things I have done. Which is lucky, I suppose, for the eventual time when I do something everyone hates as there’s a degree of separation.
Hiu: Talking about that degree of separation… Have you finished the story you wanted to tell in the world of the Wounded Kingdom, or do you have more stories to tell there in the future?
RJ Barker: I’ve completely finished the story I wanted to tell. I knew it from the start which allowed me to do lots of set up and it all ties up. That doesn’t mean I would never go back but I’m generally more interested in doing new things.
Hiu: New things you say? Is this that mystery project you were tweeting about a while back?
RJ Barker: Yes! But I can’t talk about it. But it is exciting and involves HUGE SHIPS. I’ve said too much.
Hiu: I’ve seen you mention that you’re very into books about crime and all that good stuff. The Wounded Kingdom books have a kinda “detective-y” feel to them, so was this fantasy/mystery mashup something you wanted to explore from the beginning?
RJ Barker: Yes. I’m a huge crime reader and I really love both modern American and classic British writers. I wanted a character who could mooch about unnoticed and Merela and Girton were modeled on Ninja (the historical version, not the black clad version) but it has such a strong association with an image I changed it to assassins. I wanted people who could become some one else. But this was also linked with the idea that in Age of Assassins, Girton is stripped of the martial skills he defines himself through. So while pretending to be someone else he’s forced to discover who he is and what he believes. Questions that have never come up in his life before.
Hiu: Was Girton’s search for identity something that had personal significance to you when you were writing?
(…and on a much more tangential note, just how often does your auto-correct change “Girton” to “Horton”? Because I swear I’ve had to change that like 10 times in the last 5 minutes.)
RJ Barker: Not really. I’ve probably always been a bit of an outsider and that went into Girton (It’s in my phone’s dictionary…). I’ve always been interested in the ideas of who we think we are, and how lying to ourselves about it is quite damaging. Girton is finding his way through that process, which gives him a lot of room to change.
Hiu: On the subject of Girton lying to himself… What is his problem with kilts? Kilts are magnificent!
RJ Barker: Well, they are but a full kilt is a devil to drape. I think the truth of it is he doesn’t really know how to do it properly and it annoys him intensely. But he can’t admit that.
Hiu: Writing about assassins must have led to some… Amusing research on your end. What is the most “out there” thing you’ve ever had to look up, and just how incriminating is your search history?
RJ Barker: It’s probably not very exciting at all. The most out there thing I’ve researched is “what do rotting bones smell like” but I ended up not using it. I did a bit of research on Iron Maidens too, but generally I just make stuff up (though I read a lot of history so it’s stored in my head).
Hiu: Y’know, it’s actually a relief to hear someone admit to just making stuff up. So many folks have these grandiose historical inspirations (which is fantastic), but you always kinda wonder just how much is history, and how much is just pure imagination.
RJ Barker: I have quite a solid grounding in history, and Historian friends to call on if I want to. But it’s fantasy, making stuff up is the fun bit. You can make a world to fit your story, I’m not about to let realism spoil my fun.
Hiu: Some of my favourite scenes in your Wounded Kingdom series were those with the mounts. Were they based on any real creatures, or are they straight from the head of R.J. Barker?
RJ Barker: Straight from my head, but I think giant antlercats is probably a fair description of them. My friend Tom Parker has done some drawings that really capture the fact there’s something catlike about them.
Hiu: If we can take a step back from the writing stuff for now… Within the blogging community, there’s a whole lot of love for folks like yourself and the other Orbit folks for being so approachable, kind, and generally just nice on social media. How important do you feel this kind of nurturing, supportive and uplifting community is?
RJ Barker: That’s sort of a hard thing to answer and I can only really answer for myself (though Orbit as a whole seems to have a real culture of enjoying what you do which helps.) But I never really think about the blogging community or interacting with people because they review or read what I do. That’s just part of them and really, for me, one of the fantastic things about being an author is it brings me into contact with more people and I really like people. So I’m not thinking—when I talk to you—about doing it because you’re part of the book blogging community, that’s just what brought us into contact. I’m talking to you ‘cos I like talking to you. The only worry is ‘cos, Twitter in particular, can be so fast is that I might miss someone saying hello and appear a bit stand-offish. Which isn’t ever on purpose.
Hiu: Thanks a lot for visiting the Inn and chatting with us, RJ! Anything you’d like to say to our readers to close off?
RJ Barker: Just thank you really. It’s an amazing thing to be writing for someone like Orbit but it’s pointless if no one reads the books. So thank you for reading.
R.J. Barker lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been ‘that one with the book in his pocket’. Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician, R.J. returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that.
As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, R.J. has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.
You can buy R.J’s books at the following links:
- Age of Assassins (Wounded Kingdom #1): Amazon US/ UK / CA
- Blood of Assassins (Wounded Kingdom #2): Amazon US/ UK / CA
- King of Assassins (Wounded Kingdom #3): Amazon US/ UK / CA
You can find R.J. Barker on Twitter @dedbutdrmng
As a quick personal note… R.J’s Wounded Kingdom trilogy is a fantastic read, which I’m sure a lot of you guys would enjoy. It’s the story of Girton Clubfoot, a super-competent, partially-disabled apprentice of the best assassin in the land. But like R.J. has mentioned above, these aren’t assassins like those you’d usually see in fantasy novels.
The plot of these books has a very detective-like feel to them, but still with plenty of action. There are battle scenes, there are cavalry charges on huge “antlercat” mounts, and yet there’s a tonne of emotion there. I’ve read very few books with a strong, female mentor figure, and R.J. manages to pull off the complex relationship between Girton and his master in the most beautiful way.
These books have action, and they have heart. I strongly suggest that you try them out.
At the time of writing, the first book of the trilogy—Age of Assassins—is currently part of a Kindle sale for 0.99 in the UK. The Amazon links are just above… why not go click em?