Today I am interviewing Angus Macallan, author of the new fantasy novel, Gates of Stone, first book in the Lord of the Islands series.
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DJ: Hi Angus! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
Angus: Hi DJ! I’m Angus Macallan. I’m an Englishman, of Scottish descent, 53, married, two kids: a girl, 10, and a boy 7. I live in the UK, in Kent, about 30 miles outside London. When I’m not bashing out adventure stories in my garden office, I like travelling, reading, drinking, country walks, watching rugby on TV, and cooking for my family. I’m making my debut this month as an epic fantasy novelist with my Indonesian-inspired yarn Gates of Stone. This will be the 12th novel I’ve written: I usually write historical fiction under the name Angus Donald.
DJ: What is Gates of Stone about?
Angus: Gates of Stone is a 500-page epic fantasy novel set in an imaginary world that resembles Indonesia about two or three hundred years ago. It depicts a cut-throat pirate society in the warm southern tropical ocean called the Laut Besar. The chief cut-throat is the Lord of the Islands and he loosely controls the trade in obat – an opium-like drug, that can only be cultivated in this region. Two great world powers – the Celestial Republic to the north (a sort-of China) and the Indujah Federation to the west (a sort-of India) are vying for control of this very lucrative yet addictive and deadly drug trade in the Laut Besar.
DJ: What were some of your influences for Gates of Stone and the series?
Angus: The main influence for the book was reading George RR Martin’s brilliant series A Song of Ice and Fire. But I had wanted to try my hand at epic fantasy for years before that – since reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings as a boy, I guess. The specific inspiration for the extraordinary world of the Laut Besar came from a time in the late 1980s when I worked at an anthropologist in Indonesia. I was studying magic, witchcraft and sorcery in a remote village in Bali as part of my field work for a Masters degree. I spent five months in a remote rice-farming village on the slopes of Bali’s sacred mountain, a lovely, tranquil place but without electricity, or shops or restaurants, and with almost no residents who spoke English. I had an extraordinary time there, living in a bare room above a chicken house, and witnessed some incredible things. The magical parts of Gates of Stone are based on my weird and sometime very scary experiences there. I hung out with the local witch-doctors, known as balian, and came away a changed man. I didn’t believe in magic then, and I still don’t, but I saw things which were hard to explain rationally. I witnessed exorcisms of demons who were infesting sick people, and went to ceremonies at which people became possessed by gods and spirits. I thought I saw – or perhaps I hallucinated – a lot of very strange things. It was absolutely fascinating – and I knew that one day I would have to write a novel about my time there.
DJ: Could you briefly tell us a little about your main characters? Do they have any cool quirks or habits, or any reason why readers with sympathize with them?
Angus: The main character – and the one I like the best – is Princess Katerina. She is a 16-year-old exile of the snowy northern wastes of the Khevan Empire; she has been denied her birthright and comes to the Laut Besar determined to gain huge wealth and power so she can win back the Ice-Bear Throne of her forefathers. And she’s not at all picky about how she achieves her ends. She is prepared to murder, maim and manipulate to get what she wants – even marry, if absolutely necessary.
I’m not sure why people like her – she does some truly terrible things. But so far, people have said she is an exhilarating character – you never know what she will do next. I think her appeal might be because she acts as a ruthless, driven man would, if he were in similar circumstances.
There is also a spoiled prince of a tiny island who is on a quest to get back his family’s magical sword – he has a really hard time when he becomes a slave in a gold mine; a mysterious little old priest on a mission – is he really a sorcerer? There’s weird fisher-girl who might have the most extraordinary powers of all, and a middle-aged spy and chronic gambler who just wants to retire to a life of peace and quiet . . .
DJ: Aside from the main characters in the story, who is a favorite side character or a character with a smaller role for in story? Why?
Angus: My favourite side character is Tung An Shan. He has the unenviable task of being Princess Katerina’s de facto Prime Minister. He has to implement her iron will even though he hates and fears her in equal measure. She also promises him great wealth and a chance to live a wonderful life with his growing family, if he will serve her just a little longer. He is the most manipulated man in the novel: entirely controlled by terror of failure, a need for money and a desire to do well for his wife and children. He remind me of the modern office worker, to be honest. Actually he remind me of me – back when I worked in newspapers. I like him because he endures silently, without complaint, carries on doing his job in difficult circumstances, and always tries to do his best. He is the embodiment of the phrase: “All men live lives of quiet desperation” and he makes a very good male counterpoint to the excesses of Katerina.
DJ: What is the world and setting of the Lord of the Islands series like?
Angus: The Laut Besar is the main setting of Gates of Stone. And that is a tropical sea studded with islands with white-sand beaches. It is pretty much like Indonesia before tourism – maybe two or three hundred years ago – or perhaps like a Pacific archipelago. In short, it looks like a sunny holiday paradise – but with all the drugs and violence it is in truth very far from that. The technology is pretty basic – an agricultural society, rice-growing, pigs rootling around. But in the big cities like Singarasam there a lot of shipping trade – in obat, slaves, timber, spices and silks – and that is where the real money is made. The two great colonial powers – the Celestial Republic and the Indujah Federation – are trying to control the Laut Besar and their rivalry is the main cause of strife in the region. The ruler of the Laut Besar is called the Lord of the Islands and he is, basically, a pirate chieftain with a huge fleet of war junks. There are other countries mentioned in Gates of Stone: The Khevan Empire, which is a bit like 10th-century Russia: snow, cossacks, wealthy but barbaric nobles and oppressed dumb peasantry. There is also Frankland – on the western fringes of the Khevan Empire. A backwater but it does make some superb wines. Then there’s the island of Kyo, to the far north – where the Niho knights comes from. These are sort of Ninja-Samurai types, tough and loyal fighters. They make up Katerina’s bodyguard.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Gates of Stone?
Angus: One of the most satisfying parts was writing about a powerful woman – Katerina. In the dozen or so other novels I have written the heroes were always men. It felt liberating to climb inside a female mind – not a girly-girl – but a complex, ambitious and determined woman.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
Angus: I hope they’ll be saying: “When is the next one coming out?”
DJ: Did you have a particular goal when you began the Lord of the Islands series? Gates of Stone is only the first book, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across when readers finish it? Or is there perhaps a certain theme to the story?
Angus: Not really. I just wanted to write a gripping story.
DJ: When I read, I love to collect quotes – whether it be because they’re funny, foodie, or have a personal meaning to me. Do you have any favorite quotes fromGates of Stone that you can share with us?
Angus: I like this one. It is a desperate man thinking about the woman he loves:
“He realized then, in a blinding moment of clarity, that whether she wanted him or not, whether she loved him or not, it made no difference at all to his calculations. He loved her. That was the point. She was still his angel; his light in the darkness. During all the rackety traveling he had done, all the dangers faced, all the difficult tasks accomplished, she had always been there in his dreams. A shining vision of future happiness. And if it was a delusion, so what? He loved her. To the voyager in him, the man ever among strangers, sometimes lost and always homeless, she was his home.”
DJ: Now that Gates of Stone is released, what is next for you?
Angus: I have another book coming out this autumn. It’s the third novel in a historical series about a real 17th-century English artilleryman named Holcroft Blood. It’s called Blood’s Campaign and is about the wars in Ireland between William of Orange and James II (1690-91). I’m just finishing off the first draft to send to my UK publisher. But I’m going to be working on that in the coming months, then promoting it.
DJ: Where can readers find out more about you?
DJ: Before we go, what is that one thing you’d like readers to know about Gates of Stone the Lord of the Islands series that we haven’t talked about yet?
Angus: If you enjoy reading Gates of Stone and would like the series to continue, please leave a review on Amazon or elsewhere and help to spread the word. Whether I write any more books in this series or not will depend on how enthusiastic the response to Gates is. If you like it, and tell me and other people so, I’ll write more. If not, I’ll move on.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
Angus: My pleasure. Thanks for having me on your blog!
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*** The Ruin of Kings is published by ACE Books and is available TODAY!!! ***
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In a world of blood and magic, a powerful epic fantasy begins…
AN EMPEROR’S DAUGHTER WHO WILL NOT BE DENIED
Just before her sixteenth birthday, Princess Katerina is refused her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear–solely because of her sex. Determined to regain her inheritance, she murders the foreign lord she’s been ordered to marry and embarks on a perilous voyage to the lush, tropical islands of the Laut Besar in search of the vast wealth and power she needs to claim the Empire for herself.
A PRINCE FORCED TO TAKE A STAND
On a small island kingdom, Prince Arjun’s idyllic life is shattered when a malignant sorcerer invades, slaughters his people and steals the sacred sword of Jun’s ancestors. With his royal father dead and his palace in ruins, Jun reluctantly tracks the sorcerer and the magical blade far across the pirate-infested waters of the Laut Besar.
A SORCERER SEEKING TO DESTROY THE WORLD
Long ago the powerful relics known as the Seven Keys were used to safely lock away the terrifying evils of the Seven Hells. With Jun’s ancient sword in his grasp, the sorcerer Mangku has claimed the first Key, and begun his mission to unleash catastrophe upon the land.
As the destinies of these three entwine in the lawless islands of the Laut Besar, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. For if the sorcerer cannot be stopped, the world itself will be unmade…
About the Author:
Hey there! I’m Angus Donald and I write historical novels (mainly). Most people know me for the Outlaw Chronicles a series of eight medieval tales about a gangster-ish Robin Hood. The last one, The Death of Robin Hood, was published in the summer of 2017. But I’m now deep into a 17th-century series about an unusual but rather brilliant chap called Holcroft Blood. The first book is Blood’s Game, which came out in hardback October 2017 (paperback out September 2018). I’ve written a blog about Holcroft, if you want to check him out. I’ve also just finished a novel called Gates of Stone (as Angus Macallan), first in my Lord of the Islands fantasy series, which will be published in February 2019.