SPFBO Spotlight on Patrick Sampire

Anne C. Miles > fantasy book reviews > SPFBO Spotlight on Patrick Sampire

Patrick Sampire entered Shadow of a Dead God in to SPFBO6. This mixture of high fantasy with a hard-boiled mystery worked. I loved the book. I’m a big fan of both Carol Berg’s “Dust and Light” duo and Harry Dresden and this book scratched the same itch in a wonderful way. The world felt Greek. I don’t know if he meant it to feel that way, or if it was just me adding to what was written. But the gods and the spellings of the names of things gave the setting a decidedly Greek flavor. There is a wry humor in the book that I found very entertaining. “Depths” was a favored expletive, and it added to the world’s culture rather than distracting me. There was some normal cussing in the book, but it wasn’t overwhelming and unnatural, it fit the story. Magic in his world is caused by the residue of dead gods. While this explanation did lend itself to science rather than to wonder, I still really really enjoyed the story. It was well-written, well-edited and a lovely read. Highly recommended.

Patrick was super kind to give me an interview. You may read it below.

Patrick Sampire

Patrick Samphire started writing when he was fourteen years old and thought it would be a good way of getting out of English lessons. It didn’t work, but he kept on writing anyway.

He has lived in Zambia, Guyana, Austria and England. He has been charged at by a buffalo and, once, when he sat on a camel, he cried. He was only a kid. Don’t make this weird.

Patrick has worked as a teacher, an editor and publisher of physics journals, a marketing minion, and a pen pusher (real job!). Now, when he’s not writing, he designs websites and book covers. He has a PhD in theoretical physics, which has, surprisingly, turned out to be entirely useless in his everyday life.

Patrick now lives in Wales, U.K. with his wife, the awesome writer Stephanie Burgis, their two sons, and their cat, Pebbles. Right now, in Wales, it is almost certainly raining.

He has published almost twenty short stories and novellas in magazines and anthologies, including Realms of Fantasy, Interzone, Strange Horizons, and The Year’s Best Fantasy, as well as one fantasy novel for adults, SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD, and two novels for children, SECRETS OF THE DRAGON TOMB and THE EMPEROR OF MARS.


Welcome to my lair, Patrick Samphire. Tell me about a great book you’ve read recently!

Ah, so many great books! I can’t believe you’re making me choose only one (this may be a theme in this interview…). Right now, I’m reading one of the semi-finalists in this year’s SPFBO contest, A Wind from the Wilderness, by Suzannah Rowntree, and it’s really good, but I haven’t finished it yet, so I don’t figure I can choose that one yet. I could well be recommending it by next week, though.

So, my choice is going to be Paternus: War of the Gods, by Dyrk Ashton. It’s an epic, contemporary, mythic fantasy, and it’s the final book in the trilogy. Ashton was a finalist in one of the earlier SPFBO contests, and I think his book took third place. I might well have put it in first place. This is a big book with an enormous cast of gods and mythical creatures (and, of course, people) and, really, there are few books *more* epic. I gush to everyone about this series.

What’s your favorite song? 

Come on, now. This might even be harder. I like rock music. 90% of what I love is either rock or heavy metal, so I think I’m going to choose a track by arguably the greatest heavy metal band of all time, Iron Maiden, and I will choose Children of the Damned as my song.

Okay, time to escalate things: you get to travel to any book’s setting and world but you have to choose only one. Where do you go?

You are cruel!

Okay, I read mostly fantasy, with a fair bit of science fiction thrown in, and if there is one thing that most fantasy and science fiction worlds have in common it’s that they are terrible places. I mean, imagine turning up in Westeros. If you weren’t killed by a disease or a passing knight, you would probably end drowning or executed or forced into someone’s army. Nope. Same goes for Middle Earth. I would love to see Lothlorien or Hobbiton, but the truth is, I’d probably be eaten by an orc before I got a chance. Narnia sounds like it might be a safe choice, if it wasn’t for that blasted white witch turning people into statues. Nope.

I’m going to choose the England of Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood, Lavondyss, and sequels. In some ways this is cheating, because it’s essentially the England of this world, but it has the wild wood. For me, personally, fantasy has always been the wild wood, either literally or metaphorically, a place of mystery and magic and discovery. I doubt I would be able to get far into the primordial woodland of Ryhope Wood at the centre of the stories, and that’s probably a good thing, but I think I would feel happy on the outskirts of the woods, catching glimpses of the mythagos just at the edge of my vision.

How do you like to work? (In silence, with music? Do you prefer to type or to hand-write? Are you an architect or a gardener? A plotter or a pantser? D’you write in your underwear, or underwater in scuba gear?) 

Tell me about your writing method!

I absolutely do have to have music when I’m writing. Silence distracts me, and I start thinking of other things. I do like the music to have a bit of a driving beat, though, to keep me moving. Everything else is up in the air. I’ve done books where I’ve plotted really heavily and books where I’ve planned nothing. I think I work best when I’ve got a loose idea of where I’m going. I like to know the underlying story and roughly where I’m going, and I like to plan out a scene before I start it. It also helps to know a couple of big events spaced through the story, set pieces, I guess. 

How I write and where I write tend to change a lot. I’ve handwritten books, dictated one into voice recognition software (I didn’t like that, but my arms and hands were messed up at the time, so I didn’t have a choice), and I’ve typed books. I think I prefer typing when I can, because it’s fastest and I find it invisible. I don’t want to think about the process when I working. But varying the method can be quite helpful, particularly if I’m stuck or not feeling it. As to where I write, most recently I’ve been working at a table under the maple tree in our garden. Now that summer is coming to an end, I guess I’ll be moving back inside. I used to like writing in cafes, but it’s possible I will never go to a café again!

What/Who are your most significant fantasy influences?

I read quite widely in fantasy, and I tend to bring in all sorts of influences. I’ve mentioned Robert Holdstock already, and his more mythical, inexplicable magic had a major impact on my writing, although not so much in my current series. I love epic fantasy, and everyone from GRRM to Brian McClellan and Django Wexler influence the kind of big stories I like to write with rich worlds and big powers. I also take a fair amount of influence from urban fantasy in terms of the kind of voice I use and the more personal nature of the stories. Authors like Jim Butcher, Ben Aaronovitch, Laurel K Hamilton, and even Ilona Andrews have definitely had an influence. 

What’s the most (and/or least) helpful piece of writing advice you’ve ever received?

The least helpful would be anything that was couched as a rule. You have to do this or you can’t do that. I’ve increasingly come to believe that not only are there no rules to writing, there aren’t even really any guidelines. There are only tools that you can use or not use as you need. Anyone who tells you what you should or shouldn’t do is only telling you what works for them. It might be the opposite of what you need.

Having said that, here’s one piece of advice that I personally found useful (it may be of no use to you). Stephen King talked about cutting 10% of your book. In my earlier books, where I was prone to using too many words and including unnecessary scenes, forcing myself to cut at least 10% of every page, every scene, and every chapter forced me to figure out what I really needed.

Can you tell me a little something about your current work(s) in progress?

 Right now, I’m working on the sequel to SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD. It’s called NECTAR FOR THE GOD. Or at least it is for now. It could change. SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD was designed to work as a standalone novel, if necessary, but there is plenty more story that can be told, and the sequels will pick those strands up. In this sequel, my protagonist, Mennik Thorn, is employed to look into the strange case of a woman who spontaneously murdered a stranger and then killed her herself for no apparent reason. (No spoilers there; that’s all in the first couple of pages.) Everything, of course, will quickly go to hell… 

I have loads of other books I want to write, but I’m a very slow writer, so we’ll see.

How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?

Badly. I wish I was better at it, but I am a soggy mess of lack of motivation at times, mainly because I’m a perfectionist and am over-critical of whatever I’m working on. My current attempt at overcoming that can be summed up with my motto, “If it’s not crap, it’s crap,” by which I mean I am forcing myself to write a crappy first draft. Not just allowing myself to, but forcing myself to. I always rewrite massively, and messing around fiddling with an in-progress draft is one of the things that disheartens and unmotivates me most.

Who are your favourite characters in literature or pop culture? And do you have a favourite type of character you enjoy writing?

My guilty pleasure is ‘power fantasy’, the kind of thing where characters develop absurd magical or martial powers over the length of the story. The kind of thing that Brandon Sanderson writes, I suppose, although my personal favourites of that type of story are Julian May’s Saga of the Exiles. I think that series has many of my favourite characters.

In terms of characters I like to write, they are almost the opposite. I like to write characters who are in way over their heads and outclassed by the people or things they are up against but who keep trying anyway. 

Tell me about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.

 Can I say my books? 😀

Okay, this is a YA book by Parker Peevyhouse called Where Futures End. I’m not a big fan of YA in general, but this one was brilliant. It actually consists of five linked novelettes, the first one set in the present and the subsequent ones stepping forward in time until we reach over a hundred years in the future. It’s a book that requires you to pay attention and there’s plenty to puzzle out in it. I wrote a review of it here: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/1352440794 I feel this book deserves a lot more appreciation than it gets. It’s clever, gripping, and original.

Finally, would you be so kind as to dazzle me with an elevator pitch? 

“A unique fantasy read that blends epic fantasy and a touch of detective noir, with excellent results.”

I stole that line from a review, and I don’t care.

Why should readers check out your work?

If you like the snark and humour of Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant or Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden coupled with the magic, setting, and adventure of an epic fantasy world, then SHADOW OF A DEAD GOD is for you!

Buy the book here.

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