Based on the strength of his debut novel, The Serpent Calls, fantasy author Christopher Bramley can proudly stand among fantasy giants such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Robert Jordan, and George R. R. Martin.
Spellbinding from beginning to end, the gripping novel introduces readers to the living, breathing World of Kuln, where an ancient and reawakening evil must be fought to prevent utter destruction. Among these heroes is scholar Aldwyn Varelin, the member of a secretive sect known as the Darostim, and his young companion, Karland.
Populated with strange, gigantic beasts, fearsome monsters, demons and gods, not to mention terrifying dragons, the World of Kuln is not for the fainthearted, but with seven novels planned in total, it will provide an epic, unforgettable journey unlike any other.
To mark the release of a revised edition of The Serpent Calls, we summoned its creator, who credits his high-functioning autism with giving him the ability to construct such a vivid and realistic fictional universe, to answer our questions about his unfolding high fantasy masterpiece.
Q. What would you say makes your fantasy novels unique?
A. The mix of elements I bring. This is not just amusement, horror, epic fantasy or sci-fi undercurrents—which really mean the novels are more speculative fiction than traditional fantasy, I suppose—but also the level of detail, the deep focus on the characters as people, and the love I have for this place and those within it. It’s the only place I can openly explore the ‘everything’ that makes me up: the light, the darkness, the fears, the hopes. It’s hard for me to judge, though, as I’m deep within the context of the books, and it’s hard to navigate when you’re too close to the sun. I’m told, however, that my books are extremely visual, thought-provoking, and have a mix of the above which makes them stand out as stories and makes me stand out as an author.
Q. How does your autism affect your writing style?
A. Up until the point where I burn out and have to disassociate, it makes me extremely focused and driven to find out even minutiae, and very perfectionist. It makes me extremely self-judging, and it means I tend to explore everything I can, uncomfortable or otherwise. I do bring a lot of minor detail in, things others might perhaps ignore, but it also means I use a deep empathy to connect to characters and situations, and I can see everything very clearly.
Q. Fantasy is often perceived as a male-only genre. How would you respond to this?
A. I think that the stereotype of a nerdy basement male being the sole domain lords of fantasy, Dungeons & Dragons (D&D), et al is long dead, and the mainstream needs to catch up to this fact. Some of the best fantasy I’ve read has been written by women. My female friends who like fantasy are pretty much as numerous and involved as any of my male friends across the board, in games, books, film, D&D, and more (probably only Warhammer being the last bastion of male focus I am aware of now). It’s slowly being realised that the white male isn’t the only, or even most numerous, type of protagonist, and that women don’t just exist as love or temptation for a pure messiah figure. It isn’t helped by tropes which still exist (and which I make a little fun of), but if you look especially at the YA fantasy fiction genre now, it’s incredibly diverse, and definitely not male-only. Nor should it be! I have spent a lot of time writing my female characters – and checking with many female friends and peer readers – so they aren’t ‘women’ I’ve written, but just people in their own right as much as possible. You’ll always get gender tropes in novels, but the characters themselves are people, whether they are male or female, and the latter definitely pass the Bechdel test. The novel is from the point of view of a young boy, so I’ve also enjoyed watching (and writing) his viewpoint of women changing as the novels progress.
Q. Can you provide a very brief overview of Kuln, the world in which your novels are set?
A. Kuln is a world similar to ours but with higher oxygen and being a little smaller and denser. It has an interesting and unusual mix of life on it, and is inhabited by lesser gods and immortal creatures as well as evolved life. It’s the last world in universe untouched by the wars of order and chaos, and is where success or failure could mean not only the end of all human realms, but perhaps a great deal more. The cultures on Kuln feel familiar, but have significant differences to our world. It’s a small planet facing a very big convergence of powers. It’s also somewhere I’d love to visit, for quite a few reasons.
Q. What first inspired you to become an author?
A. I have always loved books beyond passion, especially stories in fantasy worlds. I had a reading age of 21 when I was 12 and the realisation that I ‘grokked’ it all (‘grok’ is a term invented by author Robert A. Heinlein to mean intuitively understanding something) combined with how much I devoured fantasy, especially, was a first step. But I had this feeling building inside, a pressure, of needing to explore and share my own worlds. When I was at school, my English teacher was the first person to recognise what I was doing and truly encourage it, and for the first time I realised I was actually really good at something. Alongside the amazing work by J. R. R. Tolkien, David Eddings, Terry Pratchett, Harry Harrison, and many others, this set my feet on the path to writing. I wanted to pay tribute to the giants before me, upon whose shoulders my formative feet wobbled. But there was more; I didn’t understand the world, didn’t fit, didn’t feel I had a voice like other people, and this was a way I felt I could express those things which didn’t fit. Now, of course, I understand why.
Q. If you had to pick your favourite character, and least favourite, in the novels, who would they be, and why?
A. I have many favourites for differing reasons. The warrior Grukust is a much deeper character than he appears, and obviously I identify with the young protagonist, Karland, deeply. I think Xhera, a fiercely independent girl whom Karland loses his heart to, is a really strong character, and Rast is, well, Rast. He’s just awesome. But if I were to pick from the first two novels in the World of Kuln series then it would possibly be The Green Warrior. He’s largely based on one of my closest friends, whom I lost, and he’s very similar to how he was in this life – he sticks out like a sore thumb on Kuln, confuses all the other characters, causes mayhem with mirth, but is a very haunted character and definitely an antagonist – you can never tell if he will help or hinder. Currently he might be my favourite character, but in a very bittersweet fashion.
As to least favourite, that’s a tough one. Probably a supporting character from my soon-to-be published second novel, Tides of Chaos – either Aran or Bradwr. Out of the two, I’m going with Bradwr, who is repulsive, but hides it like a true narcissist.
Q. What part of the writing process brings you the most satisfaction, and why?
A. I think this depends. Seeing your first book in print for the first time is a feeling beyond any other, and finishing a book (Ha! You quickly learn that isn’t a thing) is a feeling of a great work accomplished. But re-reading pivotal scenes and feeling those emotions, and hearing from readers that they experienced emotions too, is also a feeling of bonding and assemblage. I also just love the feeling of writing, of getting the words down. Actually, there is one thing I think feels almost holy, although it’s a little alarming—the extremely rare moments where you write, and then think, “No, that’s not right” –and go back to change it, and realise that if you do, you change the story. That moment when I first realised I wasn’t in charge and that the book was flowing through me rather than me creating it, similar to composing music, was simply incredible – and a bit heart-breaking given what I’d written. Call it a muse, call it flow, call it whatever, but that was profound.
Q. You have planned seven books in the World of Kuln series, with the first three forming their own distinct arc. Without giving away any spoilers, what we can expect in book two, Tides of Chaos, and book three?
A. In Tides of Chaos you can expect matters in The Serpent Calls to continue, of course, although possibly not how you expected, and the characters will become more real as people as Karland grows up more and his perceptions of them all change. The continent of Anaria moves to war, and it’s a real war, with more focus on order and chaos than good and evil. Topping the epic events in the first book took some doing, but you can expect the world to continue shaking, possibly even more than in the first. The resolution dials out a bit for grander events, and we learn a lot more about everything. Book three will show that things have moved well beyond humanity and mortals, and lead us to a single inflection point which won’t be as you expect, with some final realisations … and some events which are momentous to say the least. I feel a little exhausted just thinking about it!
Q. In addition to your novels, you have written a series of short stories set in the same universe. Can you tell us more about these?
A. These are a mixture of origin/backstory (The First Vampire) and world expansion (Notes on Dragons) with many more planned. They exist to add in the interesting things which I can’t ram into stories without throwing the flow out completely (nobody wants to sit through chapters of random exposition, but that information may make a world more complete, so adding it elsewhere as an option seems like a good approach). The First Vampire is very dark, almost horror, and pays some homage to Interview with the Vampire author Anne Rice (whom I was very sorry to see pass recently) and the way she explores vampires from a position of tragedy rather than either monster or charismatic murderer. I find it very sad as an origin. Notes on Dragons is taken from the extensive notes of Aldwyn, who is a principle character and scholar in the main series, where he explores how dragons work through the lens of his world’s science, which isn’t quite ours. I’m not saying he’s right or wrong, either! Many more are planned in both story and informative form.
Q. As a fan of fantasy fiction, which books and authors have been the most inspirational to you, and why?
A. There are a surprising mix of authors and works which run from the expected—Tolkien, Pratchett, Gaiman, Eddings, Wurts, the amazing McCaffrey, Jordan, Feist, and of course Tad Williams, whose different take on elves I loved—through to the more esoteric, such as Stephen King, Tom Sharpe’s absurd humour, Willard Price (whose detailed descriptions of animals I loved), and many solid sci-fi writers, some very serious, like Clarke and Asimov, but others include Harry Harrison and Orson Scott Card. Amazing authors like Martin, Rothfuss, Weeks, and Sanderson don’t influence my writing as the others have, but I love their worlds and explorations. I’ve actually steered clear of a lot of Game of Thrones stuff, specifically so it doesn’t influence me too much! Stand-out books and series of course start with Lord of the Rings and the lighter The Hobbit, and go on to include books and series like Pern, Belgariad/Mallorean, Dragonlance, Memory Sorrow and Thorn, Discworld, outliers like War of Powers and others, and probably too many more to count. I have five bookshelves full of books and I’m running out of space anew!
The Serpent Calls by Christopher Bramley (Sanctum Publishing) is out now on Amazon in paperback, priced at £15.99, hardback priced £24.99, and as an eBook, priced £8.99. Tides of Chaos will be published later this year. For more information, visit www.christopherbramley.com.