Today I am interviewing James Lovegrove, author of the new fantasy novel Age of Legends, the latest and last instalment in his Pantheon series, which consists of eight novels and three novellas.
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DJ: Hi James! Thanks for agreeing to do this interview!
James Lovegrove: You’re welcome.
DJ: For readers who aren’t familiar with you, could you tell us a little about yourself?
James: I’ve been a professional author for three decades now (which makes me feel verrrry old). I wrote my first novel, The Hope, when I was fresh out of university, and since then I have published nearly sixty books. I also review fiction on a regular basis for the Financial Times and am a trained Pilates instructor. I live on the south coast of England with my wife, two teenaged sons and tiny dog. When I’m not writing, mostly I sleep.
DJ: What is Age of Legends and the Pantheon series about?
James: Age of Legends is set in a more or less present-day United Kingdom which is toiling under a quasi-fascist government whose main policy is Make England Great Again. Large numbers of foreign nationals have been deported, minorities are oppressed, and generally the country is in chaos. But a revolution is starting, and it involves people becoming the living incarnations – I call them “eidolons” – of figures from British folklore such as Puck, Wayland the Smith, Jack Frost, the Green Man, Robin Hood and so on.
DJ: What were some of your influences for this specific novel, Age of Legends, and then the entire Pantheon series?
James: The series as a whole hinges on the relationship between humans and their gods or, in the case of Age of Legends, the creations they have invented in past ages to account for natural and unnatural phenomena – which is, I would suggest, another way of describing gods. Do these things have a life of their own, independent of us, their creators, or do they rely on us to make sense of their existences just as we have relied on them to make sense of ours? It’s a question I’ve been exploring throughout the series in various different ways, and it’s been something I’ve long wondered about as a creator myself. These fictional worlds and characters that I wrench out of my head onto the page – where do they come from? And, more to the point, why have people told one another stories about strange, superhumanly powerful entities for centuries? It’s a tradition I feel part of, and I suppose that’s how and why the Pantheon books originally came about. You might say they were, ahem, divinely inspired!
DJ: To quickly ease any potential reader who is unfamiliar with the Pantheon series, and just read that it was the latest of many, are these books that have to be read in order, or can they be read as separate, individual novels on their own?
James: Each book is completely standalone and there is no specific reading order. I would suggest new readers sample any which features a pantheon they’re most drawn to personally. For instance, if you’re into the Greek myths, there’s Age of Zeus or Age of Heroes. If you like the Norse myths, Age of Odin. If Hindu mythology is your thing, and to a lesser extent superheroes, Age of Shiva. Hopefully, once you’ve tried one, you’ll get addicted and want the lot. Age of Godpunk collects the three novellas I spoke of under an umbrella title which we came up with to describe the series as a whole, godpunk. Which is like cyberpunk or steampunk, but with gods. Duh.
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?
James: In Age of Legends the protagonist is Ajia Snell, a young mixed-race woman who defies the government through street art, while earning a living as a bicycle courier. She’s smart, fast and sharp, and she’s the reader’s introduction to the world of the eidolons, which she’s unwittingly inducted into when she becomes the eidolon of Puck (best known for his significant supporting role in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream). The antagonist is Derek Drake, the British Prime Minister, who’s a nightmarish fusion of Donald Trump and Brexit foghorn Nigel Farage. He believes he has a mandate from God to rule the country, largely because he owns the actual Holy Grail and holds conversations with it. Hopefully he’s an utterly hissable villain, yet weirdly sympathetic at the same time.
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?
James: I quite like Benny-Boy, who runs the courier company Ajia works for. He’s a blink-and-you’ll-miss-him presence in the book but he’s funny and kind. Smith, a homeless man who has become the eidolon of mythical blacksmith Wayland, is also kind but very conflicted, and Reed Fletcher, the Robin Hood figure, is an ex-soldier with a dark past who is cool under pressure and in other respects just cool.
DJ: What is the world and setting of Age of Legends like?
James: It’s Britain in decline, not unlike the country as I remember it from my childhood in the 1970s when a toxic perfect storm of national debt, union unrest and government mismanagement had brought us to our knees. It also revisits the kind of decrepit near-future Britain I wrote about in my 2001 novel Untied Kingdom, not quite collapsed but certainly struggling and staggering. In Age of Legends the police are out of control, the government protects itself with an armed militia, dissent is stamped on, and ordinary citizens try to go about their lives as best they can. If that sounds depressing, well, it is, but it’s a condition into which practically any nation could slip if its population doesn’t keep a close eye on its rulers and fails to oppose any assault on democracy.
DJ: How have the reviews been from readers, bloggers, and reviewers for the previous books of the Pantheon series? Is there anything that your audience seems to be particularly enjoying or is eager to find out more about?
James: By and large the reviewers have been positive, and the readers definitely have. These books have lots of fans; they’ve sold about a quarter of a millions copies so far. Several times I’ve had correspondence from people asking for a sequel to this or that book in the series, or wanting to know if I’m ever going to try to tie all of the Pantheon novels together somehow (that would be an impossible task, I feel, so the answer’s no!). The thing is, I never meant to write a series. The first book, Age of Ra, was conceived as a one-off, and only when it sold well did I entertain the notion of writing others. I’m glad I did. I’ve had a huge amount of fun telling these tales. Equally, I know that the run has now reached an end. There’s no point extending it further than its natural lifespan, and I’m happy to be bowing out with Age of Legends.
DJ: What was your favorite part about writing Age of Legends?
James: I started out as an SF satirist. My second novel, Days, which was shortlisted for the Arthur C. Clarke Award, was a wry, sidelong attack on rampant consumerism, and my third, the aforementioned Untied Kingdom, tackled the idea that it doesn’t take much to dismantle the architecture and infrastructure of civilised society. There are some people who think the latter prophesied Brexit, but I can’t pretend I saw that colossal clusterfuck coming. It was nice to return to this mode of writing after a long stretch during which I’ve been concentrating on other genres, such as Sherlock Holmes pastiches and Firefly tie-ins, as well as the Pantheon books.
DJ: What do you think readers will be talking about most once they finish it?
James: The idea is to give readers a rollicking fantasy adventure tale, with plenty of violence and action and the odd unpredictable plot twist, but at the same time give them something thought-provoking. The book’s about underdogs – misfits and the marginalised – taking on the powers-that-be, who are abusing the trust bestowed on them by the people they govern. First and foremost my goal is telling a good story, but if I can score a few political points along the way too, and just get some stuff off my chest, so much the better.
DJ: Did you have a goal when you began writing the Pantheon series? The series is complete now, but is there a particular message or meaning you are hoping to get across? Or is there perhaps a certain unifying theme?
James: The series is done and dusted, and as I said earlier, it’s about humans and gods — us and our creations, which in some cases we choose to call our creators. It’s about storytelling and the role of belief in our lives.
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 from Age of Legends that you can share with us?
James: I like to think that every single sentence in the book is scintillatingly brilliant.
DJ: Now that Age of Legends is released, what is next for you?
James: Currently I’m working on my fourth Firefly novel, Life Signs, and after that I have plans for an epic, apocalyptic super-spy yarn that spans three generations of one family. My next scheduled releases are two Sherlock Holmes titles coming out in 2020. One is a collection of twelve short stories, including a tale set in my Conan Doyle/Lovecraft mashup universe the Cthulhu Casebooks, and the other is a sequel to The Hound of the Baskervilles, called The Beast of the Stapletons. I have a number of other projects bubbling under, but none that I can talk about right now.
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 Age of Legends and the Pantheon series that we haven’t talked about yet?
James: I haven’t been as incensed about the state of the world for a long time as I am now, and all that has come spewing out in this book like lava from a volcano.
DJ: Is there anything else you would like to add?
James: I think I’ve rabbited on far too long already.
DJ: Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer my questions!
James: I loved it. Had fun. Thank you.
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***Age of Legends is published by Solaris and is available TODAY!!!***
Buy the Book:
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About the Book:
The shattering conclusion to the Pantheon series!
In a post-Brexit world, the Myths and Legends of the British Isles are alive, and ready for war!
As Great Britain struggles to face its new reality in a post-Brexit world, the government’s affable-seeming Prime Minister Colin Dubois plays a man of the people, while simultaneously purging the country of what he thinks of as “undesirables”.
Ajia Ryker is a young mixed-race woman who in her spare time, when she is not working as a bike courier, runs around London daubing Banksy-esque subversive graffiti on walls. When she runs afoul of the authorities, Ajia finds herself in the world of eidolon, mythical beings who are living incarnations of an idea, from Oberon, King of the Faeries to Robin Hood.
As Dubois seeks to crown himself as the new King Arthur with his own round table of knights, using ancient powers to achieve his agenda, only Ajia and her new allies can stop him.
About the Author:
ames Lovegrove is the author of over 50 acclaimed novels and books for children.
Having dabbled in writing at school, James first took to it seriously while at university. A short story of his won a college competition. The prize was £15, and it had cost £18 to get the story professionally typed. This taught him a hard but necessary lesson in the harsh economic realities of a literary career.
Straight after graduating from Oxford with a degree in English Literature, James set himself the goal of getting a novel written and sold within two years. In the event, it took two months. The Hope was completed in six weeks and accepted by Macmillan a fortnight later. The seed for the idea for the novel — a world in microcosm on an ocean liner — was planted during a cross-Channel ferry journey.
James blew his modest advance for The Hope on a round-the-world trip which took him to, among other places, Thailand. His experiences there, particularly what he witnessed of the sex industry in Bangkok, provided much of the inspiration for The Foreigners.
Escardy Gap was co-written with Pete Crowther over a period of a year and a half, the two authors playing a game of creative tag, each completing a section in turn and leaving the other to carry the story on. The result has proved a cult favourite, and was voted by readers of SFX one of the top fifty SF/Fantasy novels of all time.
Days, a satire on consumerism, was shortlisted for the 1998 Arthur C. Clarke Award (losing to Mary Doria Russell’s The Sparrow). The book’s genesis most probably lies in the many visits James used to make as a child to the Oxford Street department store owned by his grandfather. It was written over a period of nine months while James was living in the north-west suburbs of Chicago.
Subsequent works have all been published to great acclaim. These include Untied Kingdom, Worldstorm, Provender Gleed and the back-to-back double-novella Gig. Many of his early books are being reissued by Solaris Books in a series of compendium volumes entitled The James Lovegrove Collection, beginning in late 2014. United Kingdom was shortlisted for the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, while “Carry The Moon In My Pocket”, a short story, won Japan’s Seiun Award in 2011 for Best Foreign Short Story. It and other stories by James, more than 40 in total, have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies over the years, and most have been gathered in two collections, Imagined Slights and Diversifications.
James has also written for children. Wings, a short novel for reluctant readers, was short-listed for several awards, while his fantasy series for teens, The Clouded World, written under the pseudonym Jay Amory, has been translated into 7 other languages so far. A five-book series for reluctant readers, The 5 Lords Of Pain, appeared at two-monthly intervals throughout 2010.
More recently James has produced the Pantheon series, a set of standalone military-SF adventures combining high-tech weaponry and ancient gods. The third of these, The Age Of Odin, made it onto the New York Times bestseller list, and it and all the others have been huge sales successes. He has also written the first two volumes in a trilogy of novels about a policeman who tackles vampires and vampire-related crimes — Redlaw and Redlaw: Red Eye.
He has also dipped a toe in the waters of pastiche, having produced a series of Sherlock Holmes novels for Titan Books. These include The Stuff Of Nightmares, Gods Of War, The Thinking Engine and The Labyrinth of Death, along with the Cthulhu Casebooks, a trilogy mashing up the fictional worlds of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and H.P. Lovecraft. As of 2014 he has begun a new action-adventure series set on different planets in outer space, the Dev Harmer Missions. So far there have been two of these, World Of Fire and World Of Water.
More recently, James has moved into the Firefly ‘Verse, writing tie-in fiction based on the much-missed TV series (and its follow-up movie). His first Firefly novel is Big Damn Hero (based on a story outline by Nancy Holder). His second is The Magnificent Nine.
In addition, James reviews fiction for the Financial Times, specialising in the children’s, science fiction, fantasy, horror and graphic novel genres, and was a regular and prolific contributor to Comic Heroes, a glossy magazine devoted to all things comics-related, until its regrettable demise in 2014.