Some Thoughts with ... Stephen Deas

27 Apr 2023

The Author/s

Stephen Deas

Stephen Deas

Stephen Deas was born in Southeast England, in 1968, and mostly brought up in a town full of retired colonels. His early memories largely consist of running around building sites and being able to spell ‘colonel’ at an unusually early age. Like most people of that age, he took to making up imaginary friends to supplement my real ones. Unlike most people, he never quite stopped, and has been writing about them in one form or another ever since.

Aside from writing books, he has, at various times, been obsessed with mathematics, classical piano music, kung-fu, particle physics and Sid Meier’s Civilisation (the original). Anything that explodes is fascinating, rockets are irresistible, but those are genetic things and thus Not His Fault. There were some years when life was quite unlikely, took him to some interesting places and offered unusual things. The first time he went on holiday abroad, a war broke out. Also, he would like you to not tell the bomb-squad where he lives. Once was enough.

Deas is the author of more than twenty novels covering fantasy (which he writes under his own name and as Nathan Hawke), crime (as SK Sharp), science fiction (as Sam Peters, or as Gavin Deas when co-authoring with that notorious bad boy of SF, Gavin Smith) and historical fiction (as SJ Deas). As well as his novel works, Deas is collaborating on bringing  a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood to the small screen, and desperately trying to convince Netflix that what it really needs is a show centred on Irene Adler.

Deas now lives in a different part of South-east England with his wife and two boys where he continues to pretend to be other people, most frequently A Responsible Parent(TM).

The Interview

With Herald of the Black Moon, you put to an end the Dominion series. How do you feel about it?
Pretty mixed. This story has been in my head in some form or another for a very long time. I wrote a shonky first draft about twenty years ago. A lot of things have changed since that draft (Tasahre didn’t exist, for example), but the essence remains the same even now. The same central trio of characters, the same fundamental dynamics between them, and the same general arc leading, broadly, to a similar ending.
To finally get a chance to write it properly, later in life when I can do it justice… it feels like coming home, or possibly having finally written the story I set out to write all those years ago. I’d like to say I love all my stories and all my characters equally, but that’s simply not true. Dominion is fighting for top spot with Dragon Queen, which has been my favourite until now.
The flip side of this, I’m finding, is that I’m unexpectedly stuck as to what to write next. Nothing feels like it’s going to be as significant as this series. I don’t mean to suggest Dominion will be particularly special to anyone else (I hope it will, but no more so than anything else I’ve written), but it’s special to me in a way that almost anything I turn to next won’t be. Which is a nuisance. It’s a type of writer’s block I haven’t met before. A sort of ennui.
So yeah. Delighted, proud, and frustrated, all at once. Writers are weird, huh?

With the full trilogy in mind, which book would you say was the more challenging to write?
Herald of the Black Moon, without a doubt, because it was the last. The Moonsteel Crown and The House of Cats and Gulls both had some freedom to them, a certain latitude with how events turned out, what the characters did, and how they evolved. In Herald, the challenge was to allow the characters to continue to be themselves yet reach the end of their arcs in the same place at the same time and doing a very specific sequence of things. Herald of the Black Moon is, in part, a prequel to Dragon Queen, so it had to stick the ending in a very particular way. That took a lot of thought, setting up wider-world events that would trigger each character naturally into acting in a particular way, yet at the same time sticking within certain lines as to what the wider world was allowed to do because there are already stories set in the aftermath.
To some extent, I think this is true of all trilogies, but I felt it keenly this time. Yet challenging as it was, Herald is also my favourite of the three. Your mileage may vary, but I think I succeeded.

As an author, during your career, you have touched several genres. Which one is the favourite one to write for you, and why?
Fantasy edges it. World-building blurs into research for historical fiction (which can be fun, but also occasionally limiting), and the SF I did as Sam Peters was this really complex layered thriller that had the spreadsheet from hell behind it with events having to happen in just the right order for the twists and turns to work (assuming they did…). Thrillers are a headache that way. Any genre requires its own internal consistency, but fantasy leaves me feeling the most freedom. Also dragons (although it’s been a while). I haven’t tried Space Opera, which I suspect might feel equally liberating.

How would you say your writing process has changed during your career?
Honestly, not all that much. A couple of things I have noticed is that I look forward to rewriting rather than doing a first draft these days; when I started, it was the other way around. I’ve come across a fair few seasoned writers who’ve had the same experience. I’m also a lot more aware of the work that happens during rewrites, and thus a lot more casual about just getting something – anything – down for the first draft, because I know I can and will come back and fix it up later. I’ve been through the experience of taking a wrong turn and not realizing until twenty thousand words later, and then going back and fixing it, and seeing that it can be done. Not that I recommend this at all – it’s tedious and irritating – but knowing it almost doesn’t matter how badly you mess up the first draft because you’re going to rewrite it anyway… That helps.

From all the characters you created for this trilogy, do you have any favourite?
That’s like asking me to choose between my children. I sort of have to say Myla, for domestic reasons, but in truth, it might be Fings. Why? Because Fings was easy and fun. Myla and Seth have clear story arcs and are significantly different people by the end. Fings, perpetually caught between them, doesn’t really change. This gave me a certain freedom with writing him: he’ll do something stupid, or accidentally clever, or heroic, and I don’t have to think about the consequences quite so carefully because Fings never thinks about consequences at all. Or if I need him to trigger one of the other characters into doing something, he can just refuse to go outside for a day because it’s cloudy on a Sunday, which means it’s a bad day for doing… whatever, or else he absolutely has to go visit a shrine to some quasi-divine spirit no one else has ever heard of. Yeah, Fings was fun and easy to work with. I like Fings.
I am really proud of Myla, though.

Could you tell us a little about which authors have influenced your writing?
I always had a soft spot for KJ Parker. Not everyone’s cup of tea, perhaps, but I enjoyed the effort spent on describing how things work and also the wit and snark. Same with Neal Stephenson. The first few Song of Ice and Fire books. Elizabeth Moon’s Paksenarrion, as I think I’ve mentioned elsewhere, definitely came to haunt Myla in Herald. Noir in general, for its grubbiness.

What can we expect from Stephen Deas in the future?
I’m honestly not sure right now. I went away and wrote a movie script, not that anyone wants it. I kind of want to do Myla-and-Fings-go-on-adventures. I’m not sure anyone wants that, either.