Craig Farndale Welburn is an award-winning author for his series: The Ashen Levels.
He was born in the year of Star Wars, in the birth town of Charles Darwin, and caught the fantasy bug as a child at the top of a faraway tree, in a hole in the ground, and through a snowy wardrobe.
He left Shropshire to study literature, travel the lands, and seek his fortune.
(He’s still seeking…)
He currently lives in Madrid with his wife Jessica and son Otis.
M: Hello CF! Thank you for talking with me today!
CW: Hi Melissa, thanks for having me! Oh, and you can call me Craig if you'd prefer! M: Thank you, Craig. You have a new release coming out soon! I Shall Return With Winter. Is this a new series?
CW: It is indeed! It started off as an idea for a short standalone story, but it ended up being neither short nor standalone!
M: Does it have any affiliation with your other series The Ashen Levels?
CW: No, it's completely separate and set in a whole new world. The style and tone are slightly different, too. They were both epic and dark, but this new book leans slightly more towards the grimdark end of the scale.
M: The main character in I Shall Return With Winter is Oben, an intriguing name Can you tell my readers a bit about him without spoilers? CW: Yes, Oben is a farmer who sets out for revenge. He has no experience of fighting and is somewhat naive... he becomes a morally grey character who makes some dubious decisions. What he seeks and what he finds are entirely different things. M: When you choose character names to you research them for specific meanings to fit the character?
CW: It depends. Sometimes they just come to me and feel right, other times I have to brainstorm. I guess in this case, the answer would be yes. Oben sounded like the name of a simple farmer... The names of his enemies sound harsher, maybe more Norse inspired. M: What is your world-building process?
CW: It was actually quite organic, as I followed Oben from his homeland (Edale) into the uncharted north (Skaligar). This allowed me as a writer to almost discover the world at the same time as he did. Obviously, in the second and third drafts, I was able to tighten it all up and add extra layers, but the first time around I was along for the ride! M: Are you mostly a panster or a planner?
CW: I'm a combination of the two. A plantser...? At least in the way I have approached my last two books. I usually start with a simple idea and run with it. By the end of the first draft, the story is nothing whatsoever like I had imagined, and loads of ideas emerge along the way. Then in subsequent drafts, I'm able to go back and make it all make sense. I've tried doing it the other way around, making pages of notes beforehand, but it's normally when I'm in the flow of the story that my best and most surprising ideas materialise. M: What's the first thing you do when inspiration for something new sneaks up on you and smacks you in the back of the head?
CW: That happens way too often! I have a list of ideas on the back burner. I was actually starting another series when the idea for this story came. I thought, no problem, I'll do the short story/novella first then get back to the series. Now here I am, with an epic fantasy on my hands and a sequel taking form!
M: Which has been the most challenging, this new series or The Ashen Levels?
CW: The Ashen Levels was a challenge because it was quite a big story with lots of stuff going on, a magic system to nail down, and loads of loose ends and mysteries to tie up. This book has been more challenging in other respects, with the lockdowns and becoming a first-time dad! I think the biggest challenge with the new book was a theme that emerges later on, and how we begin to see everything is a matter of perspective. We begin to understand the enemies Oben has gone to kill and see that there is no good or evil, just humans doing what they think is right. M: Was there any scene in either series that was particularly hard to write?
CW: There was one scene, that I had to revise many many times before I was happy with it. I'd walk away and read it again the next day. It was important for me that the characters be believable, and react in certain ways because of their pasts... Oh, and another action scene I wrote, and my computer ate it. I had to write it again, but it actually ended up being better than the original! M: Well, at least it worked out! Maybe the computer did you a tiny favor, lol! Your series, The Ashen Levels has so far been delightful to read. I have begun the first book and I am in love with your writing style. Who were your author inspirations growing up?
CW: Oh Thanks Melissa, that's great to know! Yes, many people have said the Ashen Levels feel quite literary, and I guess that comes from studying literature at university. All those classics must have rubbed off on me! As I mentioned earlier, I think the new book is slightly different in tone, with the characters doing more of the heavy lifting than the narrator... With regards to my inspirations, well I've always been a fantasy geek. Tolkien was what really got me into the genre and I was also a big fan of Tad Williams, Feist. Recently though my favourite fantasy books have been by Jack Vance, Mervyn Peake, Guy Gavriel Kay, and Ursula K. Le Guin... I'm a sucker for good prose. M: You're very welcome! Other than your own work, what book would you recommend to someone who isn't an avid reader?
CW: Oh that's a tough one! A couple of years ago I read River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay, and I really want to reread it. That's a good sign. But my tbr list is so daunting that I can no longer afford rereads! Erm... I'd go with Lyonnesse trilogy by Jack Vance. I enjoyed it so much, I bought a special hardback version and it has pride of place on my shelf! M: Fantastic! I will add it to my ever-growing TBR list too! lol Any advice to aspiring writers out there?
CW: I've been asked this question a few times, and always try but fail to come up with something original! I suppose, have fun! Enjoy what you're doing and it will show through in the writing. Get a good editor. get a good chair. and don't give up.
M: Perfect! Thank you so much, Craig! I enjoyed getting to know you and look forward to reading more of your work!
CW: Thanks Melissa, it's been my pleasure!!
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