Gutter Prayer is one of my most favoritest books ever written. It was unique, it was fresh, it was beautiful, it had great characters, it was imaginative and just…. just the best. I was so stoked to see that Gareth was interested in an interview and panicked a bit about what I was going to ask him. I defaulted to a lot of DnD/Game questions, so if that’s up your alley this interview will be too 😀
You wrote for table-top games before you wrote Gutter Prayer, I assume you’re a DnD fan?
Oh yes. Well, I haven’t actually played D&D itself in years, but lots of D&D-adjacent games. I still write professionally for tabletop games, in fact – a day job that’s even sillier than writing novels.
Given your age and disposition for table top games, you’re the targeted demographic for Stranger Things. What are your feelings on that show if you’ve watched it.
Oh, I loved it. It’s absolute nerd candy, an idealised childhood mulched up and fed back to us, but it’s great stuff. It got me on multiple levels – there’s the gaming angle, of course, and the 80s references (Ghostbusters! ET!), and the X-Files-ish stuff, and the Lovecraftian horrors. Oh, and I’m fascinated by the Montauk mythology, which was the original inspiration for the series – I love abandoned cryptic underground military facilities conducting bizarre dimension-warping experiments. I mean, who doesn’t?
I wouldn’t call it high art or anything, but I absolutely am the targeted demographic, and well, direct hit. Good shooting, Netflix marketeers. Now bring back Knightmare.
Of all the games you worked on, which, if any, would you recommend to someone getting into it as a beginner?
The best answer is probably “whichever one catches your interest”. Fear Itself is written for beginners (and works as a Stranger Things game, to loop back), but if you’re super into vampires and espionage, jump in at the deeper end with Night’s Black Agents. Or if you’re a Tolkien fan, check out one of the One Ring games. If you love classic fantasy, then 13th Age.
That’s enough shameless plugs. Wait, one more – I did a free one-shot game for beginners based on the Black Iron Legacy books. Download it here, and marvel at my marketing synergy or something.
There’s never been a better time to get into tabletop roleplaying. The advent of Critical Role and similar shows overcomes one of the biggest hurdles – it lets people actually see how it works at the table. Previously, gaming was almost an oral tradition, where you’d need to find an experienced player to get started.
If you have a gaming room with a collection of all the games you’ve worked on, would you like to share a picture of it?
Things are in flux – we’re in a rented place while we rebuild our house, which means a large chunk of my collection is in storage. Here’s a chunk of stuff that I’ve worked on in some fashion.
Do you play video games at all? If so, which ones have you sunk the most time into?
I used to, then I had kids. ☺
That’s unfair, but my gaming in the last few years has been much more “quick round of something casual on the ipad” as opposed to “playing Mass Effect 2 for thirty hours straight”. I suspect I sunk the most time, hour for hour, into World of Warcraft (Forsaken Rogue & Priest) – and I’m honestly relieved the computer I had back then exploded and I could stop.
The game I always rhapsodise about, when I want to be pretentious and art, is Azrael’s Tear, which is this wonderfully obscure puzzle game from the last days of MS-DOS, where you’re a far-future thief (well, the far future of 2012, for a game released in 1996) – exploring a labyrinthine dungeon under Scotland built by immortal Knights Templar to guard the holy grail. It has a vibe similar to, say, the Assassin’s Creed series, but it was wonderfully inaccessible and mysterious. I loved it.
Your ideas are incredibly fresh and different. The opening to your book by itself makes it stand apart from everyone else. What made you go with a second person perspective?
Ah, but second person present is the vernacular of roleplaying games. “You walk down the corridor, and you see an orc! Roll for initiative!” It seemed a perfectly natural way to ease myself into writing, and I had no idea what I was babbling about or where the story was going for the first few thousand words – I just wrote to see what came out. And after that – well, I’m much better at improvising around constraints instead of working with a blank page, so I kept what I had and went from there.
No grand plan, just a combination of nervousness and blind luck.
To quote a part of your bio from your blog, “Gareth lives in Cork, Ireland with more dogs, children and fish than he ever anticipated.” So, exactly how big is your hoard?
Somewhat diminished at the moment, actually – we moved house, as I mentioned, so one of the two dogs is with my in-laws for logistical reasons, and the fish didn’t make it at all. (They were but goldfish – we bought some in a pet shop in a cheap tank, and then found we had to spend another few hundred on a proper tank and filters and the like.)
Do you want to share pictures of your dogs? What are their names?
The dogs are Salome and Dawn. The latter was part of a litter of puppies, all named for the place or time they were born – hence her siblings were Bluebell, Willow and, er, Cushion.
If you were going to recommend a restaurant in Cork what would it be? And what’s your favorite item on the menu?
There’s a Japanese takeaway called Miyazaki’s. It’s a tiny little hole-in-the-wall place opened by a chef who’s gone on to open a Michelin-star restaurant nearby, but the takeaway is still running and it’s still great. I’d go for the katsu don, but always check out the specials list first.
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
I don’t know. Consciousness, maybe. Partly because I can never spell it right first go.
Can you describe your life in 7 words?
(GSV) Just Another Victim Of The Ambient Morality.
Some authors report having debates with their characters and losing, hearing their voices, and carrying them around in the backs of their minds. Do you relate to this, or do you have a different experience?
Not in terms of speech, but sometimes I’ll find myself writing a character doing something unexpected, and just go with it. I find that if my subconscious has thrown up an idea, it’s probably a good one, or at least worth running with for a bit to see where it goes.
According to wiki, “The series is a gothic/steampunk adventure, set in the city of Guerdon, which has been described as being inspired by Hanrahan’s native city of Cork.” Which aspects specifically did you draw inspiration?
The physical layout, to a degree. Like Guerdon, Cork’s got a large harbour with a few islands, and a strong maritime tradition. The hills – one of the loveliest messages I got was from a native of the city, who wrote to me and said the book felt oddly familiar because of the amount of time the characters spend going up and down hills, and then he saw my bio in the back and realised where the resonance came from. Some of the districts and landmarks in Guerdon are also inspired by Cork – if you really wanted, you could start drawing parallels between, say, the Seamarket and the English Market, or Hark Island and Spike Island, or Guerdon’s university and University College Cork.
Cork used to be a major supplier of the British navy; some weird combo of 18th century butter merchants mixed with the current pharmaceutical industry produced the alchemist’s guild.
That said – Guerdon’s also got elements of other cities – it’s got Edinburgh’s architecture, London’s size and importance, and a chunk of New York attitude.
I see you rated Kings of the Wyld 5 stars on Goodreads. If you could be quarantined with one of the group, which would it be?
Quarantined? I mean, Clay’s probably the easiest and most practical to live with. Moog in a pinch. After that, it’s Ganelon the statue guy before being locked up with Gabe or Matrick.
I see you rated Hod King five stars on Goodreads – just how badly are you in need of the last installment, The Fall of Babel <— adorable twitter trailer included!
Selfishly – I can wait as long as Joshua can endure. I really admire his prose, so I feel a lot better about my own writing if I know he suffered over every word. It would be really galling if he just idly scribbled out something that good. So, the more time he spends grinding and polishing, the better I’ll feel.
You’ve described yourself as an introvert, do you find you’ve held up okay during quarantine or are you stir crazy?
Define “okay”. I don’t miss, say, pubs or parties that much, but I do miss seeing small groups of friends. And game nights. And being able to take the kids to playgrounds and friends’ houses.
At the same time, having spent many years contemplating various flavours of apocalypse and massive upheaval does give a sense of perspective. So I can hold on as long as necessary.
Thanks so much for taking the time!
Thank you so much!