Justin Lee Anderson
Justin was a professional writer and editor for 15 years before his debut novel, Carpet Diem, was published in 2015. He wrote restaurant and theatre reviews, edited magazines about football and trucks, published books about fishing and golf, wrote business articles and animation scripts, and spent four years as the writer, editor and photographer for an Edinburgh guide book.
Justin now writes full-time and is a partner in his own publishing company. He also writes scripts with his wife Juliet, who he met through the BBC Last Laugh scriptwriting competition.
1.- When did you start writing?
I suppose seriously at university. The first thing I remember writing with the intent of trying to get it published was a comic script I wanted to produce with my friend, Martin, who is a fabulous artist. We had played a one-off vampire LARP and he had an idea to write a story based on his character. I suggested we work together on plotting it out, and I would write it and he would draw it. We put together a sample and submitted it to Vertigo, the then fairly new adult imprint at DC. We never got a reply, and that was the end of that. Except that I later turned that comic script into a TV script that nearly got picked up by BBC Scotland, but for the fact they already had Being Human in development. And there’s a decent chance I will turn it into a novel eventually… I still really believe in that story and those characters. It would be great to finally see it in one medium or another.
2.- Your debut novel was Carpet Diem, could you tell us a little bit about it?
Carpet Diem is a very silly, sweary, bawdy little urban fantasy comedy about an Edinburgh hermit whose living room carpet turns out to be the deciding factor in a bet between God and Satan. It’s inspired by the likes of Good Omens, Tom Holt, and Jasper Fforde. I sometimes describe it as ‘Tom Holt with dick jokes’. It was a lot of fun to write and is mostly me exploring the absurdity of humanity with a liberal sprinkling of my sense of humour. I’m still very proud of that wee book - it has sold over 25,000 copies and won the 2018 Audie Award for humour.
3.- Going more over The Lost War, what inspired the world of Eidyn?
Eidyn is wholly based on my hometown of Edinburgh. I wanted to create a country that was inspired by Edinburgh’s history, mythology and the etymology of its place names, so I did a lot of research into those things. And not only the world, but some characters and plot elements are directly inspired by them.
4.- Continuing with the previous question, some people have said that The Lost War feels like a D&D campaign, could you tell us if or how D&D influenced this book?
It absolutely did. Eight of the main characters are inspired by characters that friends and I roleplayed for about a decade. Aranok, Allandria, Nirea, Glorbad, Meristan, Samily, Vastin, and Morienne were all RPG characters that, when the campaign ended, I wanted to do something else with, and give them another life. And the world is also loosely based on a D&D/RPG model, though without any of the non-human races. I suppose it ‘feels’ like an RPG world.
5.- Originally The Lost War was self-published, entering into the SPFBO6, and winning it against a really strong selection of books (from a first thought, some of the other finalists were Zack Argyle and Alexander Darwin). How did you live that moment? Did you expect this kind of success?
I was blown away by it. The whole SPFBO experience was incredible. For context, I entered Carpet Diem into SPFBO4 and, if anything, I had higher hopes for that. It had been selling well and reviews were great, and I hoped it might get some attention. It bombed out in one of the first culls. So when I entered The Lost War in SPFBO6 it was very much on the basis of ‘it can’t hurt’, and with no expectations at all. I hoped it would make the semi-finals and the idea of making the final 10 was like a pipe dream. But even from really early on, there was another author in the competition telling me they thought I would win it. And of course, I was flattered but also reining that idea in hard, because I’d already learned that lesson with Carpet Diem. When I got to the semi-finals I was delighted. I think, If I remember rightly, Olivia Atwater, who won this year’s SPFBO8, was also a semifinalist in my group. Before he announced the finalist, Petros from Booknest messaged me to say that he had loved the book but was sorry to say it wouldn’t be his finalist. So I was disappointed, but still pleased I’d gotten that far. Then he made the public announcement that I was his finalist and it turns out he was just winding me up! 😀 So that was a rollercoaster. And then I got to spend six months with all the other finalists and we became good mates. There was no competition and no jealousy, we were all really supporting each other. I’ve since met Patrick Samphire and Rachel Emma Shaw in person, and I’m meeting up with Alex Darwin next week - who also had The Combat Codes picked up by Orbit! It was an incredible experience and SPFBO is just a wonderful thing that Mark Lawrence and all the book bloggers do for the Fantasy writing community.
6.- Two years later, we are close to the re-release of The Lost War, now as traditionally published by Orbit (despite the ebook being released in November). Could you tell us a bit about the period between the acquisition and this release? Did the self-published version change much to this new one?
It’s been a lot of waiting! It actually feels weird that the wait is almost over. It’s 2 years since I won SPFBO, and the new edition of The Lost War is finally coming out! There are some changes in the new edition. There are several new scenes, including a deleted scene from my first draft, as well as some new material written into other scenes. We’ve tweaked a few details, expanded some character backgrounds, and delved a little more into the history of the rebellion and the draoidh war, as well as set up a few things for book 2, The Bitter Crown. My intention was to reward people who chose to read the new edition, but also to make sure people who read the first edition wouldn’t be confused in The Bitter Crown, and I think we’ve done that.
7.- Are you nervous about the reception of this book in this new release?
Always! I’m buoyed by the reaction to the first edition, but releasing anything always comes with nerves about how people will like it. I’m probably more nervous - and excited - about The Bitter Crown coming out at the end of the year. Only about six people have read that, so there’s a lot more uncertainty!
8.- What can we expect from Justin Lee Anderson in the future?
The Eidyn Saga is a four-book series, so that’s my focus for the next few years. After that, I hope to go back and finish the sequel to Carpet Diem, and there are three or four other things I’m thinking about writing next, including that vampire idea. I don’t know which idea will win, yet!