About the Author
Lee is a musician and writer in Lincolnshire, UK. He lives with his wife Laura and daughters Luna and Anya in the historic cathedral city of Lincoln. Alongside a lifetime of playing guitar and immersing himself in the study of music and history, Lee is also a practitioner and instructor of historic martial arts and swordsmanship. After writing his advanced guitar theory textbook The Guitar Teachers Grimoire, Lee turns his hand to writing fiction. Lee is one of the founders of Bard of the Isles literary magazine and is now also studying a degree in creative writing while working on his debut fantasy series The Dead Sagas, which includes the novels A Ritual of Bone and A Ritual of Flesh, as well as also generally writing speculative fiction and horror.
First, tell me about your book.
The Dead Sagas series is a horror fantasy. It is the escalating story of a zombie apocalypse but set in dark fantasy/early medieval style setting, told from a variety of point of view characters. Some folks have described it as Vikings versus zombie, with an Evil Dead vibe. Which to be fair isn’t too far wrong. It’s heavy on horror, in fact it is a horror novel, I have tried to make it dripping with sinister malice, but it has a fantasy setting—dark forests, hill forts, a norse-esque/Saxon England style culture, and of course a variety of zombie styles, monsters, and evil demon type things. If that sounds interesting and you enjoy horror or grimdark fantasy please do check out A Ritual of Bone.
What makes you and your books unique? Shine for me, you diamond.
Well I love horror, in particular zombie and occult films, and also read A LOT of fantasy, so it seemed obvious to me to marry the two together and write a horror novel set in a historically influenced fantasy world. Horror fantasy, something I thought was fairly common place, as many fantasy books have horror elements and visa-versa, but it seems it isn’t as common as I thought, at least not how I do it and it appears I have stumbled into a bit of a niche. I’m certainly not the only one doing it, so I wouldn’t say it makes me unique, but the whole fantasy horror/zombie combo seems to have caused a little bit of a stir, which is great! Also I have never read a book that truly scared me, so my quest is to also incorporate all the things that I find genuinely scary and unsettling into a book and set it in one of my beloved fantasy settings and see if I can scare people.
What are you working on now/any future projects you want to talk about?
I am finishing The Dead Sagas, I think there will be possibly two more books in the main series—unless I can wrap it up in one mega last book, but I will likely do it as two more volumes. I also plan to do standalone or two set in the world I have created, or destroyed, depending on how you look at it. Alongside The Dead Sagas, I love writing poetry—mostly dark nasty sinister horror poetry—and short stories. I am currently putting together a collection of contempory horror, historical horror, and fantasy horror into a novella length book. It’s nearly all unrelated to The Dead Sagas except one story to cunningly tempt any fans of the series to check it out. Mwha ha ha… sorry *composes himself* but hopefully that will be happening quite soon. Also, I fancy diving into some wyrd west, or maybe even some sci-fi, at some point in the future—we’ll see.
Let’s celebrate. What’s one of the best things that’s happened to you as an author? Don’t be shy.
Probably the best thing was winning the Readers Corner award at FantastiCon, which is a small Con in the east of England. It came quite unexpectedly, I didn’t even realize there were awards or that my book had been nominated, and it was awarded for the most exciting book at the convention. It was very cool.
Sarah’s note: That is cool! Congratulations!
Let’s talk CRAFT
If you had to start over with writing and publishing, what would you do differently and why?
I would do everything differently, in retrospect I was so clueless when I published my first fiction book. I had zero experience with editors, and other than a very good proof-reader, I got taken for a ride by my first editor, and my second too, if I’m honest. A Ritual of Bone took a lot of effort in the last year or so to fix bad editing. I finally got a great editor though, Alicia did an amazing job on A Ritual of Flesh and it wasn’t until this year I realized what I was supposed to have got from my previous editors. So I’d definitely do editors differently. I also had no beta or proofing team in place when I started, and now I have a much different approach and a great team behind me. I’d also do covers differently; there is seriously no substitute for amazing cover art. If anyone digs hard enough you can find the first Dead Sagas cover ‘which is fondly known as the “eggs” cover and it’s terrible. If I was to give my past self some advice it would be covers and editors are expensive, yes, but never skimp on either as without them the book will never be as good as it should be and those two things are the most important investments.
What about self-publishing appeals to you? Why did you choose this particular path to publication?
My very first book was a guitar theory textbook, as mentioned above I had zero industry experience and had no idea how to go about getting a book published. There was a steep learning curve with that book, but it gave me the experience to self-publish my fiction. That first fiction book was nowhere near as good as it should have been but again there was a steep learning curve. By the time I knew what was what, I already found myself in the self pub camp and happy to be there. I have complete control over who edits my books and what cover art I have. I do a lot of my design and formatting myself, my own maps too, and of course all my own promotion, which is a lot of work but, now I have my game down, it has given me a broad skillset in publishing on top of the writing itself. There are other reasons I am remaining self pub, for example, my series will never get dropped and be left unfinished. I have a certain vision for The Dead Sagas and I will make sure it ends up complete and the way I want it. I won’t rule out a hybrid approach in the future, but for now I am proudly self published through my own imprint Wolves of Valour Publications.
Let’s talk about diversity. How do you incorporate realistic diversity into your books? And why is it important to you?
In The Dead Sagas one of the issues I felt I wanted to explore was that of racial prejudice. I took a black character and put him in a world full of ignorant white people that have never encountered his like before. This was a risky move to be honest as the that story arc doesn’t come into its own until book two, but after much thought I decided to go with it. With this particular character there is fear and ignorance, there is othering, but I also wanted to show, the kindness that I believe dwells in every human soul, all shown in the difference between the way different characters interact with him. I wanted to explore how people assume that because someone doesn’t speak their language that they must be un-intelligent, and in the second book I explore this, and also the character’s frankly incredible intelligence shines through, plus he’s bad ass too, both quick of mind and of the blade, hopefully becoming a hero of the series. I can’t wait for you guys to check him out.
Weapons are cool. They often require research. Tell me about a cool weapon you’ve researched and used in your writing.
I do a lot of weapons research, in a weird way I am actually very knowledgeable on certain weapons and combat mechanics as I am a historical martial arts instructor. I specialize in 15th-16th Century longsword of various styles, but also train and teach in 18th Century military sabre, backsword, and tomahawk & bowie knife. It’s very good fun, keeps me fit and is a fantastic release.
How do your non-writerly hobbies influence your writing?
As just mentioned I am a historical martial arts instructor and that often spills into my writing. My weapons training does give me an in depth insight into writing fight scenes, I like to keep things realistic but I try not to let it become a combat manual, as that doesn’t make for good writing, but my weapons training certainly helps me visualize a combat sequence so I can select the most interesting points to highlight and write about, which hopefully makes for an exciting fight scene.
Time to talk about BOOKS
Tell me about the most recent book you’ve read.
I am currently reading the Merkabah Rider series by Edward M Erdelac. It’s about a Jewish gunslinger that fights demons. It’s super cool! He has special glasses that let him see into the spirit world so he can see demons and spirits in their true form. He also has a volcanic pistol inscribed with holy symbols to fight them. There’s a whole bunch of other cool stuff too, and he generally battles all manner of awesome biblical creatures. It’s very much a horror in a wyrd west setting and there’s a definite Lovecratian Mythos thing going on too on top of the biblical stuff. I’m on book four, the final book, now and it’s a series I have very much enjoyed and I’d definitely recommend it.
What book(s) or authors have influenced you, and why?
I was hugely influenced by two authors in particular, one being Steven Erikson for his pure epic scope of storytelling from multiple points of view. His books are amazing and the world he created is just mind blowing in its sheer scope. The second author is Bernard Cornwell, who I have been a fan of since childhood. The way he can take historical events and breathe so much life and action into them is something I have always tried to emulate. On the horror side of thing I love Stephen King (doesn’t everyone though) and H.P. Lovecraft (despite some very troubling views the man held), both masters of their craft.
Let’s throw some light on diversity. What are some books you love that feature diverse characters, diverse authors, etc.
Well I mentioned the Merkabah Rider series I am reading right now, one of the things I have enjoyed is the diversity and the Jewish point of view on an old west setting. It tackles the issue of othering and religious harassment very well from a Jewish perspective. In a wild west setting full of white back-water folk, The Rider, with his Hasidic outfit, orthodox curled hair, and general ‘not the same as them’ look, does certainly cause some tension and it is awesome to read about him overcoming it with complete dignity and is also often the last man standing alive at the end. There is also an Ethiopian main character which faces racial prejudice too, again, a very important subject I think we need to see tackled today more than ever. I am also a big fan of several women authors, it’s a great time for women authors right now, never before has there been such a huge selection of incredible books written by incredible women. Anna Spark Smith has some of the most hauntingly beautiful prose I have ever read, Anna Stephens is ace, Alicia Wanstall-Burke is amazing, there are just so many right now and it makes me happy to see them winning top awards and I hope this age of diversity continues so I can discover more great authors.
Hobbies & All Things Weird
When you aren’t writing, what can you typically be found doing?
Playing guitar, recording music, sword fighting, gaming and painting minatures would be my go to hobbies. I spend a lot of time hanging out with my family, I have two young girls that keep me busy. I play guitar professionally as my day job and work for a recording studio too, so I play a lot both for work and pleasure. Love my heavy metal! I also spend a lot of time recording progressive melodic comedy metal in the guise of a blood thirst goat. I already mentioned my historical martial arts earlier, which is a big part of my life, but when I’m not swinging swords around I like to game both digitally and tabletop and with that comes the painting of miniatures also.
Best comic book character ever. Why?
I’m gonna go straight in with Conan, Dark Horse’s Conan is my all-time favorite. I’m also quite partial to Spawn (Todd Mcfarland is god) and Judge Dredd too. Never been that big on the whole Marvel/DC thing, as I always though Vertigo, Dark Horse and 2000 AD smashed their bigger rivals out of the park, but that’s just one man’s opinion. And don’t get me wrong I do enjoy Marvel and DC, just not as much as the others I mentioned, love the recent Marvel films though. But let’s bring it back, Conan, just like in the R.E. Howard books is my favorite, he’s just such an amazingly fun pulp character and translates really well into badass in comic form, plus with the right artist and writers *cough cough* Kurt Busiek *cough* What!?! So the best!
We all have family recipes. Share one of your favorite ones.
Family recipes? I do have an excellent pizza I regularly make. It’s rectangle so it fits in an oven tray, but I have done it circular before, but having corners and a deep dish makes this one the best. So, pizza dough as the base, tomato puree next, then baked beans (stay with me) evenly spread and covering it all, then chopped pre-cooked Lincolnshire or Cumberland sausage, then mozzarella torn up and scattered over all of it, and finally grated strong mature cheddar cheese. Bake at 200 Celsius for 20-25 mins and boom! Super tasty square pizza, pie, type thing—its glorious! But remember, I invented it, it’s a Lee Pizza!
What’s your favorite holiday and why?
Easy, Halloween, or Samhain, as we call it in my house. We’re weird pagan types and to us it’s a holiday that rivals Yule, we have a huge dinner and a party, we join in with contempory style of celebration alongside the more pagan style rituals and celebrations. Love it!
Any final thoughts?
Thank you to Sarah for hosting and interviewing me, and thank you to anyone reading this also, I hope you found my ramblings interesting. Please do check out The Dead Sagas and if you do, I would love to hear from you. The first book in the series, A Ritual of Bone, is out now, and second book, A Ritual of Flesh, is available from October 10th.