Cameron Johnston lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He is a swordsman, a gamer, an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO, and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire. The Traitor God, an epic fantasy (Angry Robot, June 2018) is Cameron Johnston’s debut novel, though Cameron Johnston has published a fair amount of short fiction. Cameron (known on AW as CameronJohnston) agreed to set some time aside for an Absolute Write interview.
What’s your elevator pitch for The Traitor God?
The Traitor God is part blood-soaked murder mystery and part grimdark swords and sorcery apocalypse.
Did you have a playlist for The Traitor God?
When writing I tend to find songs with lyrics distracting, so it was mostly a mix of instrumental soundtracks: Lord of The Rings, Conan The Barbarian, Two Steps From Hell, Celtic and relaxing folk music etc. On the other hand, when I’m editing I want something higher energy: Paint It Black by the Rolling Stones, Stay by Shakespear’s Sister, and basically a mix of 80s songs from Queen, The Cure, New Order, Blondie, Europe, Eurythmics, Bonnie Tyler, Tina Turner and a whole host of others.
Were there any surprises for you as you wrote The Traitor God? Character developments or plot twists that you didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect Charra to be such a strong character and play such a large part, or quite how much fun it was to write the interactions of two old friends who are a both outspoken and very black of humour.
I notice some nods in the direction of things Scottish, in terms of the Clans people, and in the way you used an occasional bit of Scots or Gaelic. Where you thinking of particular places in your locations, particularly the catacombs?
In some ways the Setharii Empire is loosely based on the British Empire of the colonial era, being a somewhat unscrupulous trading empire (one reinforced with magical might) that is on the wane. The northern Clanholds and its people are heavily influenced by all things Scottish and the great city of Setharis itself is a fantastical version of the castles at Stirling and Edinburgh, sitting on their high volcanic rocks. For the catacombs below the city I had in mind the sepulchral majesty of the catacombs of the Monastery of San Francisco in Lima, Peru, and also the subterranean catacombs below Paris.
You’ve got some pretty complicated world-building in The Traitor God, what with a world with multiple cultures, multiple deities, a sect of mages and unique magical beasts; how do you keep track of it as you’re writing?
You definitely do need a “world bible” of sorts to keep track of character names, positions, and descriptions (Eye colour! Which side scars are on etc) as well as what various monsters look like and what they can do. It’s always good to have a list of place names and cultural terms, swear words and the like that you can refer back to when needed. In my case it’s all compiled in a simple text file.
What’s your writing process like?
I don’t do big and detailed outlines but I usually start writing already knowing the beginning, the ending, and a few important points I want to hit along the way. Writing regularly does help, however little and however often you can manage it. I like to write a full rough draft before going back to edit and polish it up, but I don’t always write in a linear fashion. Sometimes I get stuck on a particular scene and leapfrog it to write the endings, or an easier/more fun scene that appears later on in the story before going back to it.
What’s your writing environment like (your work area and tools of choice)?
I have a small study with book cases at my back, a PC at a desk facing the wall, a globe and a variety of board games and interesting items close to hand. I have a few inexpensive antiquities close to hand, and when I get stuck writing I find holding medieval arrowheads, an ancient Egyptian scarab, a roman coin or a chunk of meteorite will help to stimulate my imagination.
You mention H.P. Lovecraft as an influence. What works by Lovecraft would you recommend for readers who are unfamiliar with his writing read first?
As most of his writing was in the form of short stories, you can’t go wrong with a good collection, and most of it is freely available online as well. I would recommend trying “The Whisperer In Darkness,” “The Colour Out of Space,” and “At the Mountains of Madness” first. I always did have a soft spot for “The Nameless City” as well.
What have you read lately (in the last year or so) that you really liked?
Way too many things actually! For me the last few years have really strained my book shelves with goodness. Some of my highlights would be: Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames, The Ninth Rain by Jen Williams, Blackwing by Ed McDonald, Age of Assassins by RJ Barker and Children of Time by Adrian Tchaikovsky. I’ve also been reading my way through the Hellboy and B.P.R.D comics.
Do you have any particular favorite books about writing?
Stephen King’s On Writing is excellent for an insight into a very successful writer’s mind and career with all its ups and downs. I also found Wonderbook by Jeff VanderMeer and others great for getting the creative juices going.
Is there a question that you’ve never been asked that you’d really like to answer?
“Hi, I’m a big Hollywood producer with a truck full of cash. Would you like a film deal?” Wouldn’t we all like to be in that situation! Or more seriously:
“How did it feel to see your book on the shelves of a book store?” Absolutely mind-blowing to see my book rubbing shoulders with those by writers like Robin Hobb and Robert Jordan.
What’s your favorite charity?
There are many, but I’ll go for Water Aid on this occasion. Access to clean water and toilets is something we take for granted and should be part of daily life for everyone, everywhere.