Hello and welcome to everyone! I’m planning on updating this blog twice a week from now on, with various thoughts, insights and information about writing and life in general.
These are strange times, in lockdown just as the sun starts shining and late spring turns the countryside in Southern England green. So, as it is a relative impossibility to actually have a real interview to give you all some background on who I am, what and why I write, I have decided to interview myself. And let me tell you, it was a tough gig…
Q: Is this thing on?
A: I think so. It sounds like it.
Q: OK, it’s a bit temperamental. Right, first up, how about a bit of background on yourself for the people out there?
A: Yeah, fine. My name is Julian Armstrong, I live in Brighton & Hove on the south coast of England. Married, three kids, although as the youngest is now 18, I can work on the basis that they are now all grown up. I’m 56 years old and last year, I was lucky enough to have stashed away enough to allow me to retire from the IT Consultancy business that I’d worked in for the last 30 years in various guises.
Q: So, why the Julian M Armstrong then?
A: Ah, well, strangely enough, there’s a celebrity chef in Canada who has the same name as me. I worked on the basis that people might get confused as to why he was suddenly writing novels or why I had taken a career change into recipes, so I included my middle initial, which stands for Michael.
Q: What first got you into writing?
A: I kind of always did. I was always making up stories as a kid (and not all about what happened to my homework, although that did figure sometimes). I’d see people and just wonder what they were doing, where they were going, why that person looked sad, another looked angry or happy and so on and make up stories about them. I still do it to be fair. It kind of grew from there, so the ideas and stories became more involved.
Q: So when did you write your first book?
A: God, must have been when I was 18-19. It was set in a dystopian future, a kind of mystical science fiction and it was absolutely awful! It will never see the light of day, trust me. However, at least I tried.
Q: And why did you choose fantasy novels as a genre?
A: Well, I write other genres as well, but the Tala books are the only published ones; so far. It came from playing Dungeons and Dragons in the very early days. I was the Dungeon Master and some of the players gave me the old “you should write some of this down properly” speech. So I sat down some time later and tried to do just that.
Q: Did it come easily to you?
A: No! On the contrary, it was very painful. The whole narrative arc and operating at two levels; what’s happening now and the overall picture, is very hard! The Southren Road has probably gone through about ten or twelve complete re-writes over the years, as has The Elephant of Mardis. It took many years, with long gaps in between working on the books, to make them good enough that I was happy to have them edited and published. The newer books need much less work now.
Q: Are you a perfectionist then?
A: Not particularly, but I certainly wouldn’t want to put my name to anything that wasn’t as good as I could make it.
Q: Why did it take so long to finally publish the Chronicles of Tala novels?
A: Life! Marriage, child, divorce, re-marriage, more children, work, all of those things left very little time to actually physically write anything. If I did have spare time, it would be 11PM on a Monday night and I was already knackered. Gradually, life changed and I got more and more time to write. When I came back to The Chronicles of Tala, I realised that they were a good story and just really needed extensive polishing and re-working. The rest, as they say, is history.
Q: What do you think that sets The Chronicles of Tala apart from other fantasy novels? What makes it unique?
A: Well, unique is a loaded word, however I would say that my novels are character driven first and foremost. I’ve never been keen on characters in any genre who are one-dimensional or ciphers for the views of the author. It’s how my characters react to the situations they find themselves in, that makes the books a little special. Plus the story is more ambiguous than you first think; the long narrative twists in ways that are quite unexpected.
Q: Who were you most influenced by in your writing style?
A: Well, anyone who writes fantasy and who doesn’t say Tolkien is basically lying. I was very fond of the Stephen Donaldson books when I was younger as well, but in the main, I’ve just tried to write in a style that is natural to me. Took me about 30 years to find that style, but you can’t have everything.
Q: Did you always want to be a writer?
A: No, not really. I wanted to be an astronaut when I was growing up, then I played keyboards and guitar in various bands (none you’ll have heard of, trust me) as I dreamed of stardom. I also write classical music (still do) and that was probably my first love, but I do really love writing books, although it’s taken me longer to get to grips with them.
Q: Ok, a few quickfire fun questions now…
A: Oh God, do we have to?
Q: Shut up.
Q: Chocolate or cheese?
A: Cheese every time.
Q: Who would win a fight between a tiger and a lion?
A: Tiger I think. They look meaner.
Q: Wine or beer?
A: Both, but not in the same glass.
Q: Blondes or brunettes?
A: Excuse me?
Q: Sorry, wrong author. That’s the afternoon interview. Favourite character in the Tala books?
A: Ooh, probably Azanda. As the Americans would say, she kicks ass.
Q: Fantasy dinner party guests?
A: Dmitri Shostakovich, Jean Sibelius, Dara O’Briain, Hedy Lamarr, Josie Lawrence, Dr Alice Roberts.
Q: So, no Kanye West or the Kardashians then?
A: Funnily enough, no.
Q: Biggest regret?
A: Not going to university when I had the chance. I’d have had a ball.
Q: Favourite biscuit?
A: Don’t really eat them, but if pushed, I’d go for a hobnob.
Q: Worst personality trait?
A: Always trying to solve every problem. Took me about 54 years to realise that you can’t actually solve everything, some things can’t be fixed and you can’t be the immovable object around them.
Q: What would your friends say about you?
A: Funny, loyal, reliable, thoughtful, opinionated.
Q: And your enemies?
A: I am, thankfully, enemy free. Don’t believe in having them; if I meet someone I don’t like, I just don’t meet them again. You can’t like everyone.
Q: Worst trait in others?
A: Rudeness. There is just no need. And arrogance. I find the most arrogant people are those with the least to be arrogant about quite frankly.
Q: Greatest success?
A: Having three nice, funny, clever and well-adjusted children.
Q: Desert Island Discs?
A: That will take me about 6 months to work out.
Q: OK, how about the book then?
A: Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. Complete genius.
Q: And the luxury?
A: A piano (and something to tune it with).
Q: Thanks, that just about wraps that up.
A: No, thank you. Hope the rest of your day is as successful.
Q: Yeah… successful… thanks.