All The King’s Men is being written by an incredibly talented and diverse team of writers from around the world. The stories in the anthology are informed by their unique perspective on the world, and their own fascinating experiences.
We here at anthology HQ want to celebrate these writers and their experiences. We not only want to support their other creative endeavours, but we also want to give you some insight into them as people and as creators, and to give you a chance to follow these great writers beyond this anthology.
Today’s featured writer is James Cavanagh, a writer based in the UK.
Please, tell us about yourself.
As we’re all friends here, you can call me James. I was born in a city but I live in a coastal town where I write science fiction, romance and fantasy stories. When I’m not writing [or, obsessively reading] I work full-time in hospital administration. I enjoy art, history and nature. You can find me cooing over pictures of kittens or over thinking at my desk. One time, I cosplayed as Harley Quinn.
How long have you been writing?
I have always enjoyed being creative, particularly through writing. I’d say I started writing short stories when I was young, inside and outside of school. However I didn’t start writing with a professional intent until around five years ago, which was when I started planning my current comic series, Native Lands. I still have some of the first drafts, all are cringe worthy. It was about three years after when I published Native Lands, but I did continue working on other projects alongside. I’m trying to focus, more so now, on expanding my portfolio by undertaking different styles of writing.
Who is your favourite writer, and why?
I have always been terrible at picking one favourite – for anything really – so I’m going to have to cheat with this questions and pick more than one. I’ll also have to mention that this might end up as being books, rather than writers, as I find I don’t always like all of their work. I am absolutely obsessed with Madeline Miller, who wrote the novel Song of Achilles. The book is fantastic and I can’t count the number of times I have read it. She’s one of my favourites for that book and the style of her writing, which is somehow very descriptive but still doesn’t waffle on about describing an object or person for too long – yet you have the image painted perfectly in your mind. If I ever need inspiration this is the book I pick up, she inspires me to keep working on my skills and to find my voice in writing. I also adore her take on The Iliad and the relationship between the two major characters, Achilles and Patroclus. Another writer that inspires me is my friend, T C Harvey, writer of The Farthing and The Devil. I am so incredibly proud of her and she continues to inspire me every day, with her creativity and her beautiful descriptions. I need to give honourable mentions to Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and Diana Rowland’s My Life as a White Trash Zombie.
For comics, I have to say Brian K Vaughan is one of my favourites. His work introduced me to comic books and I have been hooked ever since [thank you Brian!]. Saga and Y: The Last Man are books I will never stop reading and re-reading. I love how he develops his characters and makes them so realistic and beautifully flawed. Of course, I also am thankful that he proves how easy it is to include groups that are under-represented in the medium and by the bigger companies [LGBTQA+ and non-white characters] as it is close to my heart to do the same and it is something I will always do. I hope someday I can meet him and thank him for all his work, and for how much he inspires me to write and to express myself. I also need to give an honourable mention to Evan Dorkin, who wrote Beasts of Burden – my favourite comic book, the art by Jill Thompson is outstanding. As well as mentioning Revival by Tim Seeley, Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Locke and Key by Joe Hill.
What can you tell us about your writing process? Do you approach each project in the same way?
I often do, yes! For me, I find I will either think of an idea instantaneously, or it’ll take some thought to narrow down the ideas I have. I’ll outline a basic plot and the themes, and then decide what I want to put across to the reader. After that I get to work on a more detailed plot and my ideas for characters. I usually come up with a character idea and their subplots following that, whilst also doing a little world building. I like to make sure I have at least a basic plot planned out for the entire story before I start working on it. For comics I tend to write basic notes for each volume, and go into more detail when planning out each issue. From there I’ll write up scripts when I know exactly what I want in an issue. I tend to plan out the basics on paper and type up the more detailed information, sometimes I also get together character profiles so I have their information on hand. I am quite forgetful so if I don’t write something down, it’s gone!
Your story in All The King’s Men is a comic entitled A Sunset In Spring, a story about a young girl and her mechanical companion eking out a rough survival in the desolate rubble of a destroyed city. Can you tell us where this story came from, and what it means to you?
When I read the theme for All The King’s Men [ed: that sometimes it’s impossible to mend what’s been broken], I was instantly drawn to taking the theme quite literally and this is prominent from the start of A Sunset in Spring. I know when I found the anthology submissions that I had been working on Native Lands, where the theme of loss and how children deal and understand loss cropped up. This, in part, inspired where I wanted to go with my short story. I’d also had a conversation with a younger cousin who wanted to understand why a character in a movie died and what that meant. Seeing them try to process and understand this, and where her thoughts took her was something I wanted to explore in a piece of writing. This story is close to my heart, as unfortunately, as with most people, my family has experienced loss. I remember being told about my Nan’s passing and never quite grasping what it meant, and that I wouldn’t see her again. I do also explore the idea that family does not always come down to whose blood you share, which is something I strongly believe in. Family can be whatever you make it. I’m hoping that this story is something that a reader can connect with and will feel, and I hope the themes – even those less prominent – are picked up and understood.
One of the major themes in A Sunset in Spring is the idea that people often imbue non-sentient objects with meaning, and that a disagreement about the nature of this meaning can cause significant dissonance between people. I’d be very interested to get your thoughts on this matter.
I have to say that whilst I was writing A Sunset in Spring, I always thought of Haru as being sentient and very much his own individual. He makes choices, he cares and I believe he loves Lowenna. With this matter, as with any matter, there will always be disagreement. I think that it would have to depend upon the situation. If we are talking about Haru, a robotic being that is able to interact and give comfort to someone in the way he goes with Lowenna, I’d be very much in support of him. I’d support giving him rights and the ability to make his own decisions. He has meaning already and to me he is an individual. I would like to think that if robotics developed to the point where we have beings that are able to be sentient, we’d allow that and that those beings would be accepted into our society – much easier than minority groups are now.
You’ve got a comic series called Native Lands out at the moment. So far two issues have been launched to solid reviews. I’ve read the first issue so far, and one thing that struck me about it was that you’re teasing out a whole bunch of narrative threads right from the start. My question is to do with the extent of preparation and planning you’ve done for this story. How much of the rest of the series have you got mapped out in your head? Do you have an endgame in mind?
I’m glad to hear that you enjoyed our first issue! I am so thankful for the feedback we’ve received and I can’t wait to release issue three – hopefully it’ll be out this month. With Native Lands, I’ve been working on the series for a number of years, so I do have the major plots of the story mapped out in my mind [and also on paper]. I also have the directions of the main and recurring characters, as well as their endings within the story, planned out too. I often find that I can’t start writing a story without [at the very least] having a basic plot for the entire story, beginning to end, mapped out. This helps give me a direction, but I will at times deviate from this plot if I find it doesn’t fit with a main character’s development or if I come up with something better whilst writing. For Native Lands, I currently have detailed plans up to Volume 3, and basic outlines following this. However, neither are set in stone, and could change slightly or majorly as I continue. For the characters, I don’t introduce them unless they are going to have a role or storyline at the time, even if this storyline may only be a subplot that doesn’t affect the major plotline.
What is the most rewarding part of writing Native Lands?
I would have to say every stage. Of course I love planning and writing it, but I also love working with the incredible team and seeing the pages come to life. I bounce around when I get an email telling me another page has been completed, I can never download them quick enough! I love to get feedback and see reader’s or reviewer’s reactions, and to listen to questions or ideas that they have over what might be happening. All of it is so rewarding and I so thankful that I’m able to produce Native Lands and get all of these experiences. I wish I could thank every single person that has ever supported or bought my comic, it all means so much to me.
What are some of the biggest challenges you face while writing Native Lands?
Unfortunately, I would have to say that getting the art completed is the biggest challenge. Because the comic is self funded, I have to rely on having enough from my income to get the pages for each issue completed. That does mean some issues take longer than others. But luckily I have an amazing team who are not only understanding and helpful, but create beautiful artwork. Seeing the artwork [pencils and inks by Cecilia Latella, colours by Michael Woods] is an incredible feeling and makes it all worth it. I love how they get everything spot on and bring the ideas in my crazy little mind to life. Cecilia has been an amazing partner in this project and she continues to inspire me to not only make Native Lands better, but to write what I want to write and have more faith in myself.
Are you working on or planning anything else at the moment?
I am indeed! At the moment I’m working on two novels that are still in the early stages, as well as two short comic stories. I’m a little weird in the way that I have to be working on a number of projects at a time, and then I can work on whichever I have inspiration for or suits my mood. It’s the same for books, I read way too many at a time. Somehow having lots of projects and books to read, I can concentrate more. It must be how my mind works, which sounds very odd when written down…
Where would you like to see yourself and your writing career in five or ten years’ time?
My dream would be to be earning a living from writing stories, and to have published a couple by that time. However, realistically, even if I’d only published a few stories I would be happy. I want to simply keep writing and developing my skills, and to be able to keep writing stories that I have a passion for or that mean something to me. As long as I’m writing, I’ll be overjoyed. A little wish of mine would be to have completed a television script for Native Lands and be passing that around, that’s a goal to aim for isn’t it? It would only be impossible if I never tried.
We here at ATKM HQ think James is a writer worth following.