In The Spotlight: Interview With Tej Turner

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Let’s start from the beginning. Who were the writers who inspired you to become an author?

Now that is a big question… Some of my earliest memories were of my parents reading Narnia to me, so my entire introduction to fiction was through the fantasy genre.

I lived in a tiny village, and there wasn’t all that much to do there, so I became a massive bookworm. Once a week, my father would take me to the library, and I would take out as many as I was allowed. Looking back now, and I wish I had as much free time to read in my adult life.  😉

Tamora Pierce was one of the authors I discovered at my local library. Her Song of the Lioness and Immortals series both had a huge impression on younger me.

Because there was no internet back then, I didn’t have any way to discover new authors besides browsing the shelves of my library and seeing what caught my eye. This way, I discovered authors such as Jean M Auel, Maggie Furey, and Freda Warrington. Later in life, I discovered (and became rather fond of) others, such as Tanith Lee, Storm Constantine, Charles de Lint, and Jeanette Winterson.

What is the very first piece of fiction you ever wrote?

The first novel that I ever started writing was a very primitive version of what would end up being the third (and most recent) novel published. Bloodsworn. I began daydreaming its main characters and basic premise when I was around fifteen. I even wrote about six chapters of it back then.

Eventually, I ended up putting it aside for several years, because adolescence got in the way. I discovered cider and all sorts of other things that teenagers get up to.

Bloodsworn has changed a lot since then. When I was at university (a place where I honed my writing skills) I came to realise that, even though that primitive draft I wrote during my teenage years was very rudimentary and unrefined, the characters and premise still had potential. So, I grabbed those characters (and premise) and planted them into a new world. Started writing it all over again from scratch.

Think back at your debut book. How did you approach the ‘getting published’ process? Any tips, resources that you can share with our readers?

Bloodsworn, although being the first novel I ever completed, did not end up being my debut. It was The Janus Cycle that was my debutTo better explain my process for getting a novel published for the first time, it might be best to compare Bloodsworn and The Janus Cycle.

Bloodsworn was the one I started submitting first. And did so not too long after I finished it. Back then, it was certainly a vast improvement on the rudimentary version I started writing as a teenager, but it still wasn’t quite as ready as I had believed it at the time.

Despite this, I did get some positive responses. Quite a few of the publishers and agents I submitted to gave me personalised (and encouraging) feedback; something which is always said to be a good sign. I even had a few of them take my submission to the second stage – they asked me for the full manuscript after I sent the original submission package – but, despite generating some interest, it never quite managed to find a home all those years ago.

Upon reflection, I am glad Bloodsworn didn’t get published then, though, because several years later (when I was a much better writer) I polished it up yet another time, and made further improvements. Bloodsworn did find a home eventually, but it happened several years after I initially started submitting it, and it is now a much better novel for it due to the improvements I made between submissions.

The Janus Cycle has a very different story to Bloodsworn when it comes to how it got published. By the time I had finished writing it, I already knew (from my experiences testing the waters with Bloodsworn) that it would be extremely hard to pitch to the bigger publishing houses, because it was quite experimental, and hard to classify in terms of genre.

Despite knowing that I probably wouldn’t have much luck with the bigger publishing houses, finding a home with the independent presses for The Janus Cycle was surprisingly easy. I only ever sent it to three publishers. Two of them got back to me very quickly (with requests to see the rest of the manuscript) and one of those happened to be Elsewhen Press, who sent me an offer just a few months later. The Janus Cycle found a publisher very quickly, and it was never actually rejected. This was wonderfully validating after all those years of rejections.

Tell me about your book. What was the inspiration behind it?

As I mentioned during my last answer, The Janus Cycle has always been quite a hard novel to classify. When it was published, it was marketed as ‘urban fantasy’, but that is quite a broad term. It is more in the vein of the earlier progenitors of the genre (such as Charles de Lint and Emma Bull) and doesn’t contain as many of the tenets people typically associate with it presently. In truth, The Janus Cycle is more of a literary magical-realism novel, with elements of surrealism.

It is also semi-biographical. Many of The Janus Cycle’s events were inspired by things that happened to me during my youth, and writing it was quite a cathartic process for me.

Is there a particular character in the book that it’s closer to your heart? What makes it so? 

The Janus Cycle in general is a novel that is very close to my heart. Out of all my novels, it is the one I feel the strangest about when people I know personally read it because it almost feels like I am bearing a part of my soul.

Although it has multiple narrators – none of whom are completely me – each one of them has a small part of me within them. It was through conveying narratives of fictional characters living through some of my actual experiences – whilst combining it with fictional events – that I was able to process some things that happened to me during my youth. And, that way, I was able to do so whilst maintaining a certain amount of psychic distance, and not reveal too much about myself publicly.

How did you find the publishing process, in general?

It is always exciting, but it can also be quite hard work.

The first time you receive your annotated manuscript (with comment boxes and red marks all over it from the tracked changes) can be a little daunting, but you eventually get used to it. I have found that the editor is most usually right. I am also finding that I am needing less editing with each successive novel. The process certainly helps you achieve a much fuller understanding of English grammar.

Seeing what the cover is going to look like is always an exciting moment, too!

What is your take on social media, when it comes to being an author? Do you think that an author should have at least one channel of communication with the readers?

I do try to make a presence for myself, but I could probably do a bit more if I am honest. I work a full-time day job (as a chef) and I already have to squeeze in time to write around that. Finding time to be constantly posting on Twitter/Facebook/etc can be difficult some weeks. I am getting better.

I am also a travel blogger, and initially, I was more known for that than as a fiction author. I think that has pivoted now, though.

What is the hardest part of writing, in your experience?

I personally find getting the first draft down can often the hardest part. Each novel has its own journey. Some parts seem to just write themselves (and you get it almost perfect the first time) whereas others can be a struggle. There is always at least one slump that a writer needs to overcome.

I often enjoy editing more than getting the initial draft down. It is at that point where the quality of the prose improves and you get to bask in what you have created through all of your hard work.

 

What do you think is the status of publishing today? I’m referring to issues such as representation, diversity, etc.

It is improving, but we still have a long way to come. I am gay, yet also white presenting and cis. In some ways, I am privileged and over-represented, and in others, I am dis-advantaged and under-represented. There are a lot of discussions surrounding representation and OwnVoices right now. I am not sure if I can definitively tell you what my fully-rounded opinion on it is, because there are so many nuances. I have also found my opinion on it is completely fixed, too, as the discussions surrounded it have altered my perspective with time

One thing I will say is this: if I were to claim that every time I have been rejected, it was because I am a queer author submitting books with queer themes, I would be arrogant, and yet if I was to assume that it was never the reason I got rejected, I would be extremely naïve.

The Big Four Vs Small Presses. What are your thoughts in terms of strengths and weaknesses?

I don’t think they should be thought of as being entirely in opposition to each other. In some ways they are complementary. Both of them publish great books, and there are many authors out there who tread the line between working with both.

I do think that more readers should try to make a point of paying attention to the independent presses, though. Many books published by them don’t always automatically make it to the shelves of bookstores, and they don’t have the same connections, staff and resources behind them as ones published by the Big Four. Therefore, people who don’t actively seek out the indie books are missing out on a lot of gems.

The independent presses are important. Not only do they help champion diversity by being more active in who they publish, but also in the types of books they publish. Books that don’t fit neatly into classic categories (in terms of genre or word count) are much more likely to end up being published by the indy publishers because the indy publishers take more risks. They are they trailblazers, whilst the slightly-more-cautious big presses help bring things into the mainstream after they’ve been established.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am juggling two different projects at the moment.

Bloodsworn is the first book in an epic fantasy series called ‘The Avatars of Ruin’. I have already finished its second book (Blood Legacy) and will soon start writing Book 3. Blood War.

 I have also been working on the first book of a brand-new project called Children of The Gloom. It is probably the most ambitious project that I have ever taken on, as It is set in the twilight-zone of a world that is tidally locked to its sun (so the people don’t experience a day/night cycle; it is always dusk). This has made for a very atmospheric setting but also required an extraordinary amount of world-building.

The society is medieval-ish and post-apocalyptic. Its people live in an enclave surrounded by an eerie, glowing forest they call ‘The Gloom’ and believe themselves to be the only survivors of humanity. Each month, (when their moon eclipses their sun and they are plunged into darkness) they fall prey to humanoid beings who emerge out of it.

I am quite excited about where it may go.

If you had to recommend an author and/or a book, who would it be?

I am not sure if I want to play favourites by naming people (because I know that I would ultimately end up forgetting some that I should have mentioned 😉) but I think I would like to finish by emphasising one of the points made earlier, concerning indie presses.

Seek them out.

We all enjoy reading books published by the bigger presses, and most of them are great, but the indie authors don’t have as many promotional resources behind them and thus can be easily missed. Some of the indie presses (from the UK) that I would like to give a shout out to include Elsewhen Press, Eibonvale, Fox Spirit, Grimbold, and, of course, Luna Press.

About Tej Turner

Tej Turner is a writer of fantasy and science fiction. His debut novel The Janus Cycle was published by Elsewhen Press in 2015 and its sequel Dinnusos Rises was released in 2017. Both of them were described as ‘gritty and surreal urban fantasy’. He has also had short stories published in various anthologies.

He has since branched off into writing epic fantasy and has had a novel called Bloodsworn released. The first in his ‘Avatars of Ruin’ series.

Tej Turner has spent much of his life on the move and does not have any particular place he calls ‘home’. For a large period of his childhood, he dwelt within the Westcountry of England, and he then moved to rural Wales to study Creative Writing and Film at Trinity College in Carmarthen, followed by a master’s degree at The University of Wales Lampeter.

After completing his studies, he moved to Cardiff, where he works as a chef by day and writes by moonlight. He is also an intermittent traveller who every now and then straps on a backpack and flies off to another part of the world to go on an adventure. So far, he has clocked two years in Asia and a year in South America. He hopes to go on more and has his sights set on Central America next. When he travels, he takes a particular interest in historic sites, jungles, wildlife, native cultures, and mountains. He also spent some time volunteering at the Merazonia Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Ecuador, a place he hopes to return to someday.

Tej Turners’ Books and where to find them

Bloodsworn

The Janus Cycle

Dinnusos Rises