Giles Kristian has led an “unconventional life.” Ex-rock’n’roll-star with the boy band Upside Down, he has sung for H.R.H. the Prince of Wales, performed with Eric Clapton, Shirley Bassey, the Back Street Boys, and Meatloaf. As a copywriter, he has worked for marketing and ad agencies. As a model, he’s appeared on posters and TV for Panasonic, Canon, and Magnum Ice Cream. He has even played semi-pro soccer. With that kind of a wildly varied past, he sounds a lot like a writer, too. His debut novel Raven: Blood Eye was released this February by Transworld Publishing, a division of Random House, and it’s getting good reviews. Gotta love a good Viking story!
TH: Can you give a brief arc of your career as a writer/author?
GK: Like many people I began writing short stories and poetry in my teens as a way of attempting to make sense of the world and my place in it. Most of it would make me cringe now, but at the time it seemed to fit and helped me to get a feel for language. Throughout my music career I wrote many songs but often felt constrained by the pop format. Writing my own songs was far easier than writing them for other artists. As a freelancer I wrote slogans and sales copy for several companies, which was good fun but can be frustrating when you think you know better than the account-handler or client! By 2003 I had finished my first novel, a 160,000 word story of the First Crusade of AD1095. I approached a few literary agents but without success. Refusing to give up I launched straight into a new story and wrote the first line of RAVEN Blood Eye in 2004. By 2006 I was living in New York and by the end of the year I was lucky enough to secure representation with the prestigious NY literary agency, Writers House. Nevertheless, finding a publisher was not easy and a year later a London literary agency, A.M. Heath, took me on in a sub-agent capacity. On 25th October 2007 my agent Bill Hamilton of A.M. Heath mailed me the incredible news that Transworld Publishers (part of Random House) had made us an offer for RAVEN Blood-Eye. Within weeks the contract was signed, though it all moved agonizingly slowly with my novel having only just been released on Feb 26th. Meanwhile, I am just putting the finishing touches to the second book in the RAVEN series.
TH: What is The Story of Giles? Is it a novel? A short story? A Viking epic? Song lyrics?
GK: It is saga tale, a tall story so full of unlikely events that even I begin to suspect the skald has been swilling a little too much ale. My life has been utterly unconventional, which is just the way I like it.
TH: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer? How did you know?
GK: I have wanted to be a writer for as long as I can remember. When I was eight years old I was sent to my headmaster’s office, though for once it was not because of bad behavior. My headmaster wanted to tell me how much he had enjoyed a story I had written in class about a shopping trolley that was determined to escape from the supermarket. I remember him being particularly impressed by my use of the word ‘determined.’ Over time this enchantment with storytelling has woven into my life-long passion for history. I have always had an overwhelming sense of the past and suffered from the frustration of not being able to go back, not being able to feel and experience the reality of life in another time. For me, good historical fiction is the closest thing we have to a time machine. Through my writing I get to intensify the experience of ‘nearly’ being there. Writing is the perfect antidote to an overactive imagination, and being published gives my time-traveling fixation an air of respectability.
TH: Is there some unrealized accomplishment that you’re striving for in the near future?
GK: Well, I’ve had to admit that I’m not going to play professional soccer! As a youngster I played semi-pro and had trials for a Premiership side. These days I hardly ever play and it’s no easy thing to admit to yourself when you’re past it. In terms of writing, I’d love to see the RAVEN series translated around the world. So far we’ve sold it to Russia and Spain, and I hope they’re just the beginning.
TH: Do you have any writing stuck away somewhere that will never see the light of day, but nevertheless helped you build your skill to publishable?
GK: Yes, the crusades novel I wrote. I doubt now that I’ll go back to it, but there is no doubt that writing it gave me invaluable practice. Your writing is never ever wasted. That novel might be 160, 000 words that will never see the light of day, but every word of it helped RAVEN Blood-Eye become the book it is.
TH: What are some of the things that inspire you?
GK: I am inspired by bonds of brotherhood and by the camaraderie of fighting men. I suspect I suffer from something I call ‘last stand syndrome.’ It sounds quite brutal but most of the historic events that fascinate me are episodes of conflict. I want to stand in King Harold’s shieldwall on Senlac Hill. I want to crouch, Martini-Henry rifle in my shoulder, behind the mealie sacks at Rorke’s Drift. I want to face the flower of France on the field of Agincourt, and draw strength from friends on the walls of the Alamo. I am inspired by the great figures of history, men like Alexander the Great, Hannibal of Carthage, and Napoleon Bonaparte. As men their charisma must have been overwhelming. They inspired thousands to follow them across continents and into terrible battles. Thousands died for the ambitions of these men who lived in times when individuals could change the world. Nowadays the red tape just wouldn’t allow it – which is probably a good thing. I also admire the Norwegian king Harald Sigurdsson (Hardrada). To me he was the ultimate Viking and at Stamford Bridge met a good old Valhalla-worthy end, though I suppose he may have missed out on the eternal feasting in Odin’s meadhall seeing as he was, at least nominally, Christian. Shame.
TH: What about the writing process most appeals to you?
GK: Sometimes, I’ll write a scene and get so excited that I have to get up and walk around the house – I’m just too charged to sit still. When that happens I like to think my readers might share some of that excitement. I believe that to engage the reader you must stimulate his or her senses. Sometimes it can be hard to imagine a time and a world so far removed from your own, but if my words connect with the senses you use every day; sound, sight, smell, touch, taste, then I can begin to make the world I’ve created seem more familiar to you. We all know the smell of stale urine or wet wool or roasting meat. We know how it feels to jump into freezing cold water when your insides squeeze so that it’s hard to breathe, and we’ve all heard the desolate croak of a crow on a frosty morning. I think you can use the reader’s own memories and experiences to enhance your story. There’s a difference between simply describing a place to the reader and making them recreate the environment in their own mind. It gives me a tremendous thrill when I feel I’ve done this well.
TH: What are the most successful ways you have used to promote yourself and your work? Are there any promising marketing avenues that you might yet explore?
GK: I made a book trailer, though I have no idea how much it has helped promote my novel. Having written copy for a movie marketing company it made sense to me to use my contacts to make a trailer. However, I’m not keen on those book trailers that look like movie trailers, because they simply cannot compete with movie trailers. The budgets are infinitely smaller, the actors are usually of a lower caliber and the expertise simply isn’t there in most cases. Furthermore, I don’t agree with feeding the reader images of the story’s protagonists. As readers we like to form our own ideas about how the characters look and behave. So my trailer was more of a mood thing, something to get across the novel’s atmosphere. It was fun to make and I think it works well.
TH: Have your reached the point at which you realized that you had “made it” as a writer and author? If so, can you describe the milestone or circumstances where you had that realization? Do you recall how that felt? If not, what is the milestone you’re seeking?
GK: Seeing my novel in a bookshop window was an experience I have been striving towards forever. It was incredible. Then when Blood Eye became a bestseller in the UK I could hardly believe it. You beaver away year after year because you are passionate about what you are doing. At different times you are plagued by doubts and insecurities and I certainly wondered if anyone would actually walk into a shop and hand over their hard-earned cash for my book. The fact that people are now doing this is a constant surprise to me.
TH: Some say that professional writers have to look at themselves as a business, a branded commodity. Do you take that approach?
GK: I am writing a series and so I think it is very important to develop a brand identity so that people will recognize each of the RAVEN books as part of the same story. These days, bookshops need to know exactly where an author fits amongst their limited shelf space. I’m sure some writers find this pigeonholing a little frustrating and constricting, but as a new author trying to establish myself I think it is probably essential.
TH: What can readers expect to see from you in the near future? What are you working on?
GK: I have almost finished the next book in the RAVEN series, in which Raven and the Fellowship, out for revenge, find themselves in Frankia, the lands ruled by the Great Emperor Charlemagne. Now the Fellowship must tread carefully or else risk the wrath of the most powerful leader since the fall of Rome. It is a new and vast world to Raven, but his thirst for fame remains unquenched and the path he treads becomes ever more dark and dangerous. I first conceived the story as a trilogy, but if readers are enjoying it I may take it further. We’ll see.
TH: What is the most memorable moment (good, bad, or other) you have had in your life as an author?
GK: My editor Katie Espiner was kind enough to arrange for me to visit the factory where my book was being printed. The chaps there showed me around, explaining each process as I watched my book evolve from giant rolls of paper to the finished thing. At the end of the line I was presented with a beautiful, shiny hardback literally hot off the press. After a lifetime of hopes and dreams it was overwhelming.