Interview with Author Dewi Hargreaves
Welcome back to another author interview on the blog! In case you missed it, this month's theme on Coffee, Book, and Candle is Adventure (psst, sign up for our newsletter to keep track of monthly themes and extras).
Today, we have author Dewi Hargreaves: writer of short fantasy adventures, map-maker extraordinaire, and history enthusiast. His first novel, The Shield Road, "is a collection of fantasy short stories that take place chronologically in the same world. Featuring thieves and assassins, road-weary warriors and a slew of interesting monsters, no character has a simple choice to make, especially when ancient evils threaten to return and tip the world upside down."
Jordan: Hey, Dewi! Thank you so much for joining us on Coffee, Book, & Candle. You’re something of a jack of many trades, so let’s start with you highlighting a few of those trades and your interests for our readers.
D: Hey, Jordan! It’s a pleasure to chat to you, and I love what you guys do at CB&C. Yeah, I have my fingers in many pies as it were—my primary job is as a freelance illustrator, drawing maps to be in the front matter of books. I’ve worked on well over a hundred of those now. On top of that, I’m a writer with stories published by Noctivagant Press, Lost Boys Press, Etherea Magazine, and Magic and Moons Press, amongst others. And finally, I work over at Lost Boys Press in editorial, reading submissions and such, though I started out on the admin team originally.
Jordan: Your debut fantasy book of short stories, The Shield Road, released a little over a year ago. Can you tell us a bit about it and what inspired those stories?
D: Of course! Okay, general run down: it’s a collection of fantasy short stories that, when read together, create a cohesive narrative. I started working on the first story around January 2020, though I had no idea it was going to be a book at that point. My plan was to get back into short story writing again, after a year of writing freelance copy.
As I wrote, the stories naturally fell into the same world as each other, and about two/thirds of the way through, I realised it could probably be a standalone book. At that point, I started crafting the final stories so they would read like a natural conclusion to the book, so they’re more novelesque than the other pieces—more like chapters, really.
It’s a strange little hybrid book that I knew would have absolutely no chance of being picked up by a traditional publisher because it’s not mainstream, so I went ahead and published it myself.
Jordan: Self-publishing can be daunting for any new author, and I know a lot of writers go back and forth on whether they should self pub or go with traditional publishing. What have been some bonuses and drawbacks of self-publishing? What do you like about it and what has been the most challenging?
D: The age-old question. For me, self-publishing is perfect because I have full control. I like control, especially over my own projects. I got to format it myself, design my own cover, design my map, choose the layout of the stories, decide on the content, decide who to work with as beta readers, choose the release date, market it, etc etc. It’s all my choice. For some people, the idea of that is hellish—they’d rather spend more of their time writing, which I totally understand too. For them, traditional publishing is a much better option.
Traditional publishing is also better for sheer reach, if that’s something you care about—your book will be seen and read by more people, though you will be paid less per sale. A caveat though: I was able to get my book out for a really low cost because I knew how to do a lot of the steps myself. You absolutely need a decent cover, and if you can’t design one yourself, that alone can set you back a couple of hundred dollars.
Jordan: I know your new fantasy book is still in its drafting stage, but is there anything you can tell us about it? What can we look forward to in the next publication?
D: It is happening, but slowly. It’s my first time setting out to actually write a full-length novel—short fiction is my comfort zone—so working out that process and what works well for me and what doesn’t is another challenge. But yes, it will be out at some point, and I think people who’ve enjoyed my fantasy writing so far will enjoy this too, because it’s a similar thing. And in the meantime, there will be further short fiction releases that I will talk about as and when they happen.
Jordan: Since you’re a history buff, I have to ask: what are your top three favorite historical eras, and what is one of your favorite historical facts?
D: Hmm, my three favourites. I’ve always been obsessed with the period immediately following the Roman exit from Britain—the Dark Ages, the early medieval period, or Sub-Roman Britain, depending on who you ask. It’s still wrapped up in so much mystery and we don’t really know what happened, or how Old English became the dominant language. I also love the American Revolution and specifically 1300s and 1400s medieval Europe, where you start to see the modern world emerging.
A favourite historical fact: I was recently reading about how the peasants organised themselves in the German Peasants’ War of 1524-25, and they had a fascinating democratic decision-making system: in their military units, they made decisions in things called Rings, where they literally all stood together in a big circle and debated and voted. There was no single leader, though they did collectively appoint officers and things like that to keep order. We think of democracy as being a strictly modern concept, but the battle between democracy and autocracy has been raging since at least the times of Pericles and Alexander.
Jordan: What has been your favorite fact or detail uncovered in your writing research?
D: Hmm. Good question. I . . . don’t really tend to do writing research, or not much of it, at least. I suppose the best thing I’ve discovered in researching the process of writing was that not everybody writes books linearly from start to finish. Brandon Sanderson, for instance, starts plotting by thinking up the end and then working backwards from there. Other people write their key scenes first and then fill in the blanks. It opened my eyes to the fact that it literally does not matter how you write the book, as long as you have a decent, finished product at the end of it. Find the method that works best for you.
Jordan: What major themes do you use in your writing and why do you like to use them?
D: In Shield Road, the major theme was, I suppose, adventure and found family, and I’ve used found family tropes elsewhere too. I don’t tend to write much romance. I think one of the most beautiful things is when we meet other people who we truly, deeply connect with. It’s one thing to be loved by someone because you’ve grown up with them, but when someone new sees everything you are, good and bad, and still decides that yes, you’re a person they want to stick with in a sort of companion-esque way? That’s so special.
Jordan: When you’re feeling uninspired or stuck with writing, what do you do to get “unstuck”?
D: Usually I leave it and do something else, unless it absolutely must be written for a deadline or something. I find that I’ll usually work out the solution while I’m working on or doing something else. If it has to be written? I’ll get some of my favourite snacks and just force the writing to happen, even if it's trash, then edit it up nice after.
Jordan: Do you listen to music while writing, or do you prefer silence?
D: It honestly depends on my mood. Sometimes I can write to a band, sometimes I like to listen to an instrumental playlist, and sometimes I write in silence. I haven’t noticed any particular pattern to my preferences, except that if I really have to concentrate on a particular piece of writing, silence does generally work best for me.
Jordan: What are your typical writing rituals?
D: I don’t have many hard-set rituals. If I’m struggling to get in the mood to write, secluding myself somewhere quiet with my laptop and an instrumental playlist can help. Otherwise, I’ve written in the kitchen when there are six people dancing around me; I’ve written outside, in coffee shops—it depends more on whether I have an idea in my head or not. My environment is generally chaotic, so I don’t have the luxury of being picky!
Jordan: What advice would you give to a new writer?
D: Finish the things you start. That’s the best piece of advice I can give. It doesn’t matter whether that’s short stories, novellas, novels, screenplays, poems—finish the stories you start, because that’ll teach you story structure quicker than anything else, and it also gives you the chance to get your writing out there. And don’t be afraid to get eyes on your work—people are very unlikely to steal your ideas, and even if they do, you have a head start because you’ve already written it and they haven’t. Get multiple people to look at your writing and see if their criticism lines up. If more than one reader is telling you that you have the same problem, then you probably need to work on it.
Jordan: Last but certainly not least, do you have any fantasy books you recommend?
D: Oh so many! An anthology of dark short stories about curses came out recently, edited by Marie O’Regan and Paul Kane, called Cursed, and there were some brilliant pieces in that, including a Neil Gaiman story. The Witcher short story collections will always hold a place near and dear to my heart, especially The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. Finally, you have to read Travis Baldree’s low-stakes fantasy phenomenon, Legends and Lattes. I picked it up when I saw how many glowing reviews it had on Amazon and I’m a third of the way through—so far, it more than lives up to its high expectations. Very much recommend that one.
Thanks so much for joining us, Dewi! If you'd like to spot more of Dewi's work, check out his website at dewihargreaves.com. You can snag a copy of Shield Road down below!