Christopher G. Nuttall, author of The Schooled in Magic series, The Empire’s Corps series and The Royal Sorceress books, to name just a few of the dozens of titles he’s published, was kind enough to answer some questions about his books and his writing life.
What do you like most about the writing process and which parts do you like the least?
What do I like? I like creating worlds and stories and watching them slowly come into existence. It’s fun to shape a world, then outline how it changes as the world changes too; it’s fun, too, to craft a character and watch him/her grow up.
What don’t I like? The editing. Oh God, the editing. Editing is vitally important – a writer who edits himself has a fool for an editor – but it can also be painful. And yet, it just has to be done.
Which books have had the greatest impact on your writing?
It’s hard to say. I read a lot of history and military books, ranging from stories of kings and queens – and military campaigns – to the nuts and bolts that give the universe its realism (insofar as a universe that has magic is realistic.)
There have been quite a few books that outline limitations faced by historical figures, including something as simple as the time delay between something happening and the guys in charge hearing about it. It’s odd to realise that the distance between London and Oxford would have been quite long, to our ancestors. Britain was big in those days. Now, it’s barely a matter of hours and Britain is a tiny island.
And I’ve read a lot of fiction books that taught me what I liked – and what I wanted to see – and what I didn’t like. Books that indulge in too much technobabble annoy me, books that focus too much on one particular subset of the reading community only appeal to me when I’m the target. I try to spread a wider net than just one particular group.
Which of your characters is the easiest for you to write, and which is the most challenging? Why?
That’s a tough question to answer. Emily of Schooled in Magic draws a lot from my own experience, which makes her both easy and complicated to write. Cat of The Zero Blessing also draws a little from my experiences, but she’s younger and she had a very different upbringing from myself. This is true of Emily too, but at least Emily grew up in a society I understood.
I’ve had people tell me that I write great female characters and others tell me that I’ve clearly never met a woman. My wife laughed her head off when that review was posted, as we’d been married for about a year at that time.
Cat is perhaps the most complicated because she’s twelve. On one hand, she has to be a little immature, even though she does come from a society that doesn’t really have a ‘teenage’ phase. On the other hand, she cannot be too immature or she’ll alienate older readers, who’ll see her as an idiot child. I did think about making her older, but if her story had started four years later she would probably have been a lot sourer, a lot more set in her ways. Besides, I did someone like that years ago.
I also had some problems with writing John Naiser, as he’s the first viewpoint character I wrote who happened to be gay. It wasn’t the be-all and end-all of his character – and I was careful not to make it too explicit at first, just to see if anyone picked up on the subtext (they did) – but it was tricky. A book written too strongly in the homosexual gaze (or the female gaze) will be off-putting to many readers, just as a book written too strongly in the male gaze would be off-putting to others. I wasn’t writing erotica, after all! I’ve been told I did well and I did badly, so … .
It’s the social attitudes that can be a problem. I’m currently planning a novella focused on Alassa, something that would fill in the gap between Schooled in Magic 14 and Schooled in Magic 15. Alassa is a very different person to Emily, one with social attitudes that Emily dislikes; Alassa is a princess, she sees herself as occupying the top of the food chain, she thinks of (most) commoners as somewhat less than human … and she doesn’t see anything wrong with any of this. It’s hard to keep her what she is – a person who grew up in a different world – without making her dreadfully unsympathetic.
And clashes between Emily’s view of decent behaviour and everyone else’s have always been part of the series.
Do you plot your books in detail, or develop the story as you are writing it?
A little of both, I think.
I generally write out a two-three page outline of the story, depending on how complex the story actually is, then change it as I go along if something else seems a better idea. There are quite a few scenes in various books that bear little resemblance to the original plot. Having at least some idea of how the book is meant to go is important, particularly if you need to leave clues scattered throughout the text. You can’t just decide that the butler did it when you reach the last page.
There are times when I have plotted out two or three novels in advance, just to ensure everything fits into place. And times when I have discarded those plots because I had a better idea midway through.
What do readers most enjoy about your Schooled in Magic series?
I’ve had a lot of different answers, really. Some people enjoy the stories themselves, some people comment on how Emily is changing her new world, some people like seeing a female character who isn’t a Mary Sue or a man in a woman’s body … I’ve had the series called a worthy successor to Harry Potter and The Worst Witch, as well as Lest Darkness Fall and other time travel books.
Which fantasy books written in the last few years would you recommend to fantasy readers?
Pretty much anything by Brandon Sanderson, although some are harder going than others. I would advise starting with his stand-alone books (although they are all part of a greater universe) and then moving on to the longer sets.
Where do you do most of your writing?
I have an office in my house, where I work. That’s pretty much a must for any serious writer – when we stay in Malaysia (my wife’s Malay) I work hard to find a place with an office – or at least a private room – where I can work. I’ve been told that there are people who can write on trains or the plane, but I can’t do that.
If you could have written any book in history, which would it be and why?
One of the books that have been really influential, perhaps. Starship Troopers, Harry Potter, Jonathon Strange and Mr. Norrell. Or the books that impressed me, when I read them: Mistborn, The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, The Commonwealth and Void books …
Check out The Chrishanger (Christopher’s website).
** This interview was conducted in late 2017, and it was originally published on The Book Base website **