Author Interview with Justin Lee Anderson

I am absolutely delighted to be interviewing Justin Lee Anderson on the blog this week. Justin has just been awarded the SPFBO prize for 2020-2021, for his book The Lost War. If you've not yet checked it out, do so. It's fabulous! Having read it and loved it, I contacted Justin and asked if I could interview him, and to my delight, he said yes!

First of all, congratulations on winning SPFBO6! You must be delighted. The winning book, The Lost War, is the first in your Eidyn series. Tell me more about it?
Thank you! I like the description of Lost War as a ‘twisted fantasy road trip’. It’s essentially a mystery set in a traditional fantasy world, with murder, conspiracy and monsters. I suppose it’s a bit like what would happen if Stieg Larsson played D&D. Fantasy and mystery are my two favourite genres so I sort of mashed them together.

What prompted you to write it?
Three things: I wanted to write a book about RPG characters that friends and I had played for years; I wanted to write a story set in a world based on Edinburgh’s history and mythology; and I wanted to write a political allegory. It was when I realised they were all one book that it came together.

What are you working on at the moment? Are there already plans for the next book after this one? Please tell me there are and it will be out soon, as I absolutely loved The Lost War.
Well… yes. I have written the first draft of Eidyn Book 2. It was going to be a trilogy until I realised there was far too much to tell in the second book, so it became 4 books instead. However, with the recent fact that I’ve signed up with an agent, everything’s a little up in the air as to what will happen when. For now, I’m just going to get on with editing Book 2 and we’ll see what happens!

For those of us who know Scotland, Edinburgh, and a smattering of Scots Gaelic, there are lots of Easter Eggs in The Lost War. What made you put them all in? Do you speak Gaelic?
I love Edinburgh and it has such a rich history and culture. I think because I grew up in the US, away from it, it always felt even more magical to me and ripe for a fantasy setting. As for the Gaelic, I was reading an article by someone who was bemoaning the fact that all magic in books uses Latin and I thought “That’s a good point!”. And with it being such a Scottish book already, it seemed obvious to use Gaelic as my magic language. I don’t speak it. I have a few friends who do. I had to do fair bit of research to get it right (I hope). I had a couple of Gaelic speakers approach me at a con and tell me it was pretty good, and I was delighted (and relieved) to hear that!

When did you first start writing? And what made you start?
God, there are several answers to this, I suppose. I wrote some assignments at school that kind of started the bug. I wrote a comic script with an artist friend at university, but it got nowhere (but got converted into a screenplay that almost got picked up by BBC Scotland, and might end up a novel at some point). I also started writing a deeply pretentious novel while I was at uni, that I showed to one of my English professors and he didn’t really know what to say beyond “keep writing”. I started Carpet Diem, my first proper novel, in my 20s, but was almost 40 before I finished it, due to life and other things getting in the way. It’s always been there in the background, I suppose, but it took me a long time to believe I could actually do it. As for what made me start? I remember being asked as part of a creative writing course I once tried (and abandoned) why I wanted to write, and my slightly drunk answer was something like “because writing feels like breathing clearly again after being trapped too long underwater”. I don’t think I have a better answer to this day. I just like telling stories.

What was the first full-length novel you ever wrote? (I realise this may not be the same as the first book you have had published!)
The first one I actually finished was Carpet Diem, which was the first one published too. I may, somewhere, have the remaining files for that thing I started at university, but if I ever find it I worry about throwing out my back with the severity of the cringe.

Which is your favourite secondary character in your book, and why is it your favourite?
Probably Samily, I think, because she’s so unusual. I enjoy writing her, because it requires me to get into a headspace where I question things like social norms in the way she does. Her story arc in book 2 is interesting. Well, I hope so, anyway!

Where is your ideal writing space?
I have a small office at home which I recently painted a lovely rich blue, where I’m surrounded by books and art. It’s ideal.

What’s the best bit of advice you’ve ever been given? (not necessarily writing-related!)
Question any thought beginning with “I should…”. According to whom? Does anyone actually expect this of you, or is it an unrealistic expectation you’ve put on yourself? That was life changing for me, and I still have to work on it every day.

And now for some more random questions...

What’s your radio tuned to most often?
Either Absolute or Radio X, depending on my mood and what they’re playing.

You’re stranded on an island. You can choose one of the following three things. Which do you choose and why?
1. Limitless supply of paper and pens.
2. A computer which will never run out of battery and which can access the internet, but you can’t post anything/get help via it, only read what others have put up.
3. An endless supply of loo roll.

Has to be the computer. I can use that to write, so no need for the paper and pens, and presumably I can wash in the water around the island. I’d go mad with boredom with either of the other two choices, I suspect. Plus, Netflix.

You can only wear one of the following colours for the rest of your life. Which colour do you choose?
Yellow. Orange. Green. White. Pink.

White. I’m Scottish. We need the contrast.

Cats or dogs?
I love both, but I’m allergic to both. If I have to choose one, probably cats. They’re more independent and lower maintenance.

City or country?
City. I am 100% a city boy. I like to visit the country, but I would go mad living there. I like cafes and restaurants and cinemas and pubs, and the cultural mix of a city. It’s why I love Edinburgh so much. It feels like a place where you can be at the heart of things *happening*.

Real book or e-book?
Personally, I prefer paperbacks, but I have gotten more and more into reading on my phone in recent years. I think whatever format works for you is the right one. The story’s the thing.

Fountain pen or biro?
Gel pen, ideally. They’re lovely and smooth to write with.

Thanks very much for letting me bombard you with questions! 

You can catch up with Justin at all the following places.