He’s an author of books, smoker of pipes, keeper of beasts. His books include numerous trilogies; Savage Dominion, Deepest Dungeon and Witch of Empire. Each of them with very different settings and tones. On social media, this is someone who is guaranteed to make you smile with snarky and weird memes. GD Penman is a creative force. Beyond that, he lives in Dundee.
1. For those unaware of the GD Penman brand, tell us how you’d define it.
Dear god, when did I become a brand? I was under the impression up until now that I was a person. When did the transformation occur? Do I get a PR department? Can they handle this interview for me?
2. You mention on your website how you’ve worked as an editor, tabletop game designer and other ‘awful, demeaning’ jobs. How did you end up becoming a writer?
Writer was of course the dream job from when I was a child, but like most people I was told that it was simply impossible to make a living as one. You might get a job at a newspaper or magazine (as those industries died) but beyond that; books would have to be a hobby you indulged in rather than a profession you excelled at. I am pleased to say that this is not in fact the case. It is still quite possible to make a living as an author, provided you’re willing to give up on frivolous things like eating and sleep.
As for the glorious story of how I discovered my destiny as a scribbler of goblin tales; I got laid off from my last job and had the choice of either becoming a successful author or becoming homeless. Nothing quite like a trapeze act with no safety net.
3. Who are the authors who have inspired you? Can their influences be spotted in any of your stories?
I try to read widely rather than sticking to ‘my genre’ so that I don’t get stuck in the recursive loop of only being inspired by, and responding to, the same things as all the other authors working in this space. Michael Moorcock, Shirley Jackson, H. P. Lovecraft and Terry Pratchett were all formative influences, leading me to write speculative fiction, but in terms of style I’m probably more influenced by Poppy Z Brite, Junji Ito, Agatha Christie, R. L. Stine, Anne Rice, Herman Mieville, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, Rick Riordan, Gaston Leroux, Joe Lansdale, Diana Wynne Jones, Thomas Ligotti, Ursula LeGuin, Harlan Ellison, Madeline Miller and Guy Gavriel Kay. You might see little glimpses of their influence if you’re familiar enough with them. I drop in the odd reference here and there.
4. How did you get “discovered”?
Another less than inspiring story I’m afraid. I sold my first book through the traditional publishing slush pile, then I sold my second book through another slush pile. I only started getting invitations to submit things somewhere between Witch of Empire and Deepest Dungeon.
5. How do you explain the diversity of settings for your stories. Savage Dominion is classic high fantasy with swords and demons. Deepest Dungeon references gameplay using avatars, with deeper and darker levels to explore. Different again, Witch of Empire has an alternate history setting where the British Empire still controls American colonies. They suggest a very creative mind.
I don’t like repeating myself. If I’m going back to the same subgenre twice, it is because I feel like I’ve got something new to discuss. Otherwise, I tend to keep moving forward to new things.
6. Your Amazon page tells people about your work as a ghostwriter. Tell us about your experiences in this line of work. Does it, for instance, help make you a better writer?
All writing makes you a better writer, but being a ghost writer removes the pressure to be perfect, letting you make all of the mistakes that are absolutely necessary. As for my experiences as a ghostwriter, they have typically been quite relaxing. I get a subject, I do some research, I write a book.
The only particularly interesting story I have about ghost writing was probably when a retired gangster contacted me directly on my house phone to ask me to ghost his biography. As we couldn’t make it through a phone-call without him making me an accessory after the fact to a murder, I declined the job.
7. Tell us about your menagerie and why you have one. Do you have favourites?
Some people collect stamps. I collect exotic animals. Or at least, I wish that were the case. I become terribly attached to every single creature I bring into the house so I end up blubbering when an insect that would happily have murdered me drops dead unexpectedly.
As for favourites: Beignet (P. adspersus) is my favourite frog, Clarice (H. nasicus) is my favourite snake, Blossom (L. Parahybana) is my favourite spider, Maven (L. Australasi) is my favourite scorpion, and Bela (H. Coronatus) is my favourite mantis. This is all subject to change depending on their behaviour, of course.
8. Are you a disciplined writer? You must be to have such an extensive back catalogue.
I do not have the luxury of being undisciplined. I have tight deadlines and a heavy workload. If I wait for the muses to descend rather than dragging them out of their cave by the hair, nothing will get finished.
9. When you’ve written so many stories, you must have one character that remains your favourite. Who? Why?
I must admit that I profoundly enjoyed writing the character of Maulkin in the Savage Dominion series, simply because it is very rare to have a character who is so startlingly stupid as the main character. He is, as the reviewers said, a Himbo.
10. Your humour, in my humble opinion, is a defining quality of GD Penman. How does it manifest itself? For our readers, allow me to quote you. “New Amsterdam was a city the way decapitation was a paper cut.”
I am actually lucky enough to be working on a purely comedic book now, so hopefully my sense of humour will get to come through as a full body apparition instead of just manifestations this time around.
11. If Hollywood came knocking, with a GD Penman biopic, who would play you?
Ron Jeremy. He’s the only one with the correct ratio of sleaze, gut and tragic balding.
12. If you had a time machine, (perhaps you have?), and you could go back in time to meet your younger self, what advice would you impart?
How far do I get to go back? I feel like this is a great opportunity to avoid a lot of the aches and pains of old injuries. Young me broke far too many bones. Failing those specifics, I’d tell young me that everyone is lying to me about making a living as an author; also if you write a book called Harry Potter about a wizarding school and bang it out sometime pretty soon, you’ll be able to undercut a burgeoning hate movement and make a small fortune.
13. Tell us what is on the horizon for GD Penman fans.
I’m working on a comedic fantasy trilogy with Luke Chmilenko which is getting a lot of pleased sounding noises from everyone that reads it. After that… I have a couple more fantasy comedy series lined up, but it remains to be seen just how well this one does.
14. Let’s have some links to your work as well.
GDPenman.com has all the good stuff.
It’s been good to talk with you. Thanks for taking part. Now can you get the snakes off me before I scream!
Oh, those aren’t yours? I didn’t bring any of mine with me.