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Interview with A. J. Roberts

I am thrilled to be joined on the blog today by fellow author, Andy Roberts. I met Andy at The Writers' Summer School at Swanwick several years ago and am delighted that he has spared time to discuss his writing with me today. Thank you, Andy.

What inspired you to write your first book?

I wanted to write a Pirates of the Caribbean-type story, but without the fantasy elements which I felt bogged down the later films in that series. I’ve also been inspired by video games such as Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and Sid Meier’s Pirates!

Who is your favourite character in your book and why?

I like writing Scar. He comes across as a “strong silent type”, but he exhibits more common sense than the brash and impulsive Kestrel. But he’s also terse and laconic. It can be a fun challenge to convey his thoughts and disagreements with Kestrel’s shenanigans with as little dialogue as possible. That isn’t to say he can’t speak; he just prefers not to. If he does give anything more than a monosyllabic answer, you can expect him to say something profound.

What was the first story you had published?

Gentlemen of Fortune was the first Kestrel and Scar story I wrote, and the first one that was commercially published. I had it in the works for five years, had two rejections and a couple of re-writes, before I self-published it for a university assignment.

Do you have another story planned or in progress? When can we expect to see that?

Oh yes. I’m wrapping the so-called “Rosanna Barclay” trilogy of Kestrel and Scar stories with one titled The Homecoming, in which they return to England but Kestrel is forced to confront his troubled past. I’m hoping to have that published by the end of July.

Who is your favourite author?

I’d probably say Johnston McCulley, the author of the original Zorro stories.

What do you like to do when you’re not planning or writing your next book?

I like playing table-top roleplaying games. The most famous example is Dungeons & Dragons, but that’s a specific game and it’s not the one I play. I use some setting-agnostic systems like Savage Worlds or Tricube Tales, which I can easily adapt to a variety of genres. I’m using Savage Worlds to develop a game setting of my own; a comic fantasy which lampoons the tropes and conventions found in fantasy roleplaying games, called Misadventures in Planaterra.

I also like designing miniatures using a web tool called Hero Forge. Since my drawing skill never levelled up from “doodling stick figures in the back of school books”, it’s a good way for me to visualise my characters or make fan art.

When did you know you wanted to write stories?

Probably when I was about 17, and was given a rulebook for a roleplaying game called Deadlands, a dark fantasy set in the American West. My roleplaying game group had fragmented, so I tried writing a story set in the world. Around that time, I was struggling with the jump from GCSE to A Level (the UK equivalent of high school junior and senior years). I found an escape in writing, along with a form of rebellion; I didn’t do any Creative Writing as an A Level, which made it something the exam boards had no say in.

After leaving school, I went into accountancy via an apprenticeship route. A year after qualifying, I discovered the Writers’ Summer School and the extensive community of writers there, which encouraged me to take things further. At the same time, I was struggling to fit my writing around a full-time job, and decided to take some time out to go to university and study for a Creative Writing degree. I graduated in 2021, but missed out on a lot of the student experience due to the pandemic. I take on various ghostwriting gigs, but I have no intention of going back a full-time 9-to-5 life.

Do you write stories in other genres?

While I largely write action/adventure in historical settings, I’ve dabbled in other genres and mediums from time to time (mainly for university assignments or ghostwriting work). I have a blog dedicated to my poetry, which I write under the pen name “Skeffington Liquorish”.

What do you like most about being an author?

I like putting figments of my imagination through perilous situations, and watching it unfold. I also like the extensive writing communities, both online and offline.

Do you have a specific routine for writing? Is there a special place or particular tool you use?

I like to do most of my writing after lunch, with a cup of coffee and some music. I mainly use Word, but I’ve started making Discord servers to brainstorm world-building and story ideas.

What advice do you have for other writers?

Work at your own pace. Don’t feel you have to write every day, because sometimes there’s days when this isn’t feasible. In the same regard, don’t feel guilty for not writing anything.

If your book were to be made into an Audiobook, who would you choose to read it?

I’d probably go with Jim Cummings. He can do a variety of voices.

If your book were to be made into a movie, who would you like to play main character’s name?

I’d go with Santiago Carbrera as Kestrel and Howard Charles as Scar, based on their respective roles as Aramis and Porthos in The Musketeers.

The Author

Born in Lancashire, A. J. Roberts has been writing as a hobby since the age of 17. This initially stemmed from writing campaigns for pen-and-paper roleplaying games, and later developed into short stories reminiscent of the pulp magazines.

Always a fan of swashbuckler fiction (especially Zorro), he wrote a story featuring a pair of wondering scoundrels partly inspired by Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser. It was while writing this he found that he wanted to see the protagonists he created get into all kinds of trouble in different stories.

After discovering an annual writers’ retreat in Derbyshire, he decided he wanted to take things further. In 2018, he left his job as an accountant to begin studying for a Bachelor’s Degree in Creative Writing. While he’s experimented with new mediums on his course, he hasn’t forgotten the old pulp style he was originally inspired by.

The Links

The Blurb - The Pirate King

Kestrel and Scar now have their own vessel, and have been tasked with taking Rosanna Barclay back to England. But they're now the most wanted people in Port Royal, and need to find a new haven.

Stopping for repairs in Tortuga, they're met by agents of the French Crown, and given a new mission: Shut down the operation of "Lord" Pettigrew, the so-called Pirate King of Port Royal.

With an offer of amnesty for their past crimes, they have no choice but to accept. But can their new benefactors be trusted? And what if Pettigrew's agents know they're coming?

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