Cameron Johnston lives in Glasgow, Scotland, with his wife and an extremely fluffy cat. He's the author of the fantasy novel The Traitor God and its recent sequel God of Broken Things. He is an enthusiast of archaeology, history and mythology, a builder of LEGO and owns far too many books to fit on his shelves. He loves exploring ancient sites and camping out under the stars by a roaring fire.
Interview with Cameron Johnston
What cool and exciting things have been happening in your life recently?
It’s been less than a year since my debut novel, The Traitor God, came out so that’s still a fresh, exciting and only mildly terrifying ongoing adventure. The sequel, God of Broken Things, is done and dusted and came out in June, so I’m very excited and nervous about the reception for that.
On less writer-related things, I’ve been taking some blacksmithing lessons recently and so far I have forged a coat hook, a toasting fork, a bottle opener and a letter opener – it’s hard work but oh so much fun, and it turns out that hammering hot and sparking metal into shape really helps to relieve stress. As a history and archaeology fan, I’m also excited to be taking part in my second archaeological dig, this time helping out at an old churchyard filled with Viking graves. Luckily old bones don’t bother me in the slightest.
How the hell is your ordinary life more exciting than your fantasy books? That's cheating. You're cheating.
Is your recent book part of a series? If so, can you tell us a bit about where the story is heading?
My first book, The Traitor God, came out last year and I was over the moon about the reception. God of Broken Things will finish off that duology by continuing on a few months after the devastating events of the first book with the discovery of why the ancient city of Setharis was attacked in the first place, and the secret of what really lies buried beneath the city. The threat is far from over, as that poor bastard Edrin Walker will discover...
Have you ever written characters that you truly despise? Why or why not?
I’m not sure I could ever despise one of my characters. Evil and twisted characters are some of the most fun to write, their malice positively oozing out over the page like a black inky stain. It’s even more fun if they get their comeuppance in some way later on. I can vividly imagine JK Rowling cackling away madly as she wrote Dolores Umbridge, knowing that the readers would utterly despise her in every way. That said, there are some awful acts that I would really not relish writing about, but fortunately I’ve never had to venture there with a character thus far, and probably never will.
What is your biggest pet peeve in storytelling?
I’ve read a few novels where the author does not give their readers enough credit. They are not stupid and don’t need to be constantly hand-fed long detailed descriptions of everything from belt buckles to weave of a dress - we do have imagination! Readers will remember things said previously, they will see through any deus ex machina plot device that appears from nowhere to save the day and they will not be impressed by the convoluted logic leaps used to justify it.
Were you “born to write” or did you discover your passion for writing later in life?
I was always creating my own stories and epic narratives when playing with toys (Transformers and LEGO were my big things), and I was always a library kid coming home with armfuls of books, so I suppose it came as no great surprise when I started to write things myself in and out of school. Despite many false starts and short stories and isolated scenes, I never really got past the beginning of a novel until my mid-twenties at which point I decided to do it properly and worked hard to finish my first full length novel. You will never see that novel, thankfully, but I did learn a lot and it stoked my creative fires that burn high today.
What did you edit out of your book?
Hah, mostly bad jokes, many of which amused me greatly but were far too obscure for readers. I did keep a whole bunch in though. I also had a lovely chapter featuring a tavern scene with some old drunkard locals that was packed full of flavour as they imparted some relevant information to the main character – alas my editor pointed out I could replace that entire chapter with a single paragraph in the previous chapter so I couldn’t really justify keeping it to myself when I really thought about it. Goodbye Jack and Bernard and the story of the pirate pickled in his own rum...
Where did the idea of your story come from?
I wanted to mix things up and write a short story that borrowed heavily from film noir: a swords and sorcery detective yarn featuring a magic user protagonist. That story, Head Games, just flowed out and the world and character came right along with it. That world was still a little rough around the edges but the idea seized me and demanded a full novel. The concept, world and character evolved with the novel of course, and it became something quite different to the origins in that short story.
A lot of authors are frustrated by readers who don’t understand how important reviews are. What would you say to a reader who doesn’t think his or her review matters?
That may be true of the big-name authors with hundreds of thousands or millions of readers, but for us little guys it can mean so much, especially for a newer novel. Hardly any people leave ratings or reviews, so when you don’t have huge numbers of readers to draw upon, that means our books can sometimes acquire a decent number of reviews very slowly. Even a little one-minute “I really enjoyed this” left can really help a book’s visibility with sites like Amazon’s algorithms and helps to persuade other readers to give it a shot.
What kind of impact do you want your book(s) to have on readers?
The most important thing for me is just to be entertaining, to take the reader into another world and show them things both wondrous and horrifying, to allow them to experience the sights and smells of another place that rears large in their imagination. And hopefully, to make them feel something: a character’s pain and anger, or perhaps a tender moment of loss and yearning, the lingering pang of a bittersweet victory...but mostly I just hope they have a good time reading it. Also, a nice reader who happens to be a movie exec looking to make a big-budget fantasy film would be very nice...well, I can dream!
What, in your opinion, is the worst mistake an author can make?
Writers are usually our own worst critics, and it’s easy to fall into doom and gloom and think everything you do is rubbish. I’ve read amazing things from some great writers who thought their work was awful, and I’m there shaking my head in bewilderment. Take some time out to recharge, or work on something else until you get back in the groove. Don’t succumb to that self-doubt and know it for what it is: something most of us feel at times.
Do you have any advice for new authors?
I would suggest you take all writing advice with a pinch of salt. There are so many ‘rules’ out there I’m happy to throw out the window. My general advice would be to just sit down and write, and to try and finish what you start – that’s how you learn how each of us writes and what works for you as an individual, since no two writers have the same method. Don’t worry if the story is coming out bad, wonky or clunky – the main thing is to keep the momentum going instead of getting bogged down in endless edits. So many first drafts are rough. Once you are done, revise, edit and polish it until it sparkles.
For me, I wrote two whole unpublishable novels, then worked on short stories to learn self-editing and more skills - it’s much easier to discard a poor short story than a whole novel. Only once I felt I’d improved did I start writing novels again. It’s a craft, and much of it can be learned by anybody if they work at it.
Beta readers or critique partners are invaluable with the learning process, and communities like AbsoluteWrite forums are an amazing resource I recommend to all writers at all levels of experience.
If you could go to any fictional world, where would you go? Why?
Middle Earth – I really want to find out how Mordor’s infrastructure can support so many orcs. I mean, it’s a barren land...where do they get their crops and food from? I really want to know...and also, I would love to find out what happened to the Entwives.
If you could have one (real life) skill that you don’t currently have, what would it be? Why? How would you use it?
It would be nice to be a skilled musician - the flute or harp perhaps. It's something that I think would give me a lot of joy, but it's a shame I'm about as musical as a brick. Well, not entirely true, I was at the heady heights of 'barely adequate' with the recorder back in school...
If you could have one magical ability/superpower, what would it be? How would you use it?
It's probably one of the more a common ones - the ability to fly. Not only does it have all the practical applications of avoiding traffic, getting from A to B with ease, avoiding stairs etc, but it would allow me to see the world from an entirely new perspective. There's many a time I've seen a picturesque hill and wished I could just pop up to enjoy the view without embarking on a whole expedition up on foot, and who wouldn’t like to trail their hands through clouds as they lazily drift through.
What is your Hogwarts House and why?
I'd like to say Slytherin, because they are always getting crapped on with last-minute bullshit points awards and could do with a hand - it's no wonder they are all so bitter about it. Realistically I would probably be in Ravenclaw since I love learning and knowledge and don’t care much for quidditch shenanigans.
What creature is better: dragons, zombies, or aliens?
Aliens. Because they would have the technology to create dragons if they wanted to, and that's just cool.
Check out Cameron's website, Facebook, and Twitter.
The first Dragons, Zombies and Aliens blog was started in 2015. Somewhere between college coursework, paying rent with door-to-door sales, and keeping up with my sorority sisters, I wrote reviews, rants and commentaries on books, TV shows, and movies. Now, this blog has moved, improved, and the sky's the limit!