MARK STAY is one of those people who’s always up to something interesting. He’s the chap responsible for co-writing THE ROBOT OVERLORDS screenplay, he co-presented THE BEST SELLER EXPERIMENT podcast, and even has a bestselling book to his name. When he’s not writing scripts or working on a forthcoming TV drama, he’s writing novels. We caught up with him to find out more about his latest project, fantasy novel THE END OF MAGIC.
Starburst: What is The End of Magic?
Mark Stay: I realised that what the world needs now is yet another fantasy novel by a white, middle-aged bloke! Seriously though, I really did wonder what I could bring to the genre, and it got me thinking about my own life. And even though I have it very cushy, why do I still have all these anxieties? So I created Sander Bree, a powerful mage, living a very privileged life, who still has the gall to complain and moan, and I proceed to torture the bugger in fun and exciting ways for 372 pages. Like most writing, it’s a form of therapy, I guess.
How would you pitch it to an elderly relative?
It’s like that Game of Thrones off the telly, but with no boobs. Yes, there are dragons and magic and big battles and stuff, but no boobs. Granddad, will you stop going on about the boobs?!
If you could take one of the characters out for a drink, who would it be?
Rosheen Katell is a freelance mage, one who has travelled the world with her griffin Anzu and seen and done some incredible things. I would ask her about her adventures and then ask for a ride on the griffin. The End of Magic is a one-and-done novel, but if I were ever to consider a spin-off, it would be with her. She’s got more stories to tell.
And if could sit one of them down and have a quiet word, what advice would you give?
I would tell Sander to get over himself and appreciate what he’s got, but the obstinate bugger would insist that he knows better and would only ignore me. You see why I had to make his life so miserable now, don’t you?
What is it about Griffins? How do you develop a character like that?
I’m allergic to anything with four legs and fur, so I’ve always been a little envious of people’s relationships with cats and dogs, and I wanted to explore that a bit. In my story, Griffins are your most loyal and lethal best friend, and Anzu the griffin is a sane voice in a world going to hell in a handcart. She has a perspective on humanity and its hubris that our main characters lack, so it’s a real shame what happens to her…
How does producing a book like this compare to project like Robot Overlords?
Robot Overlords was a wonderful collaboration and an amazing experience. I had so many pinch-me moments making that film, and I learned so much through the making of it. With The End of Magic the creative stakes are different in that I have much more freedom to do whatever the hell I want without the constraints of a budget, but it’s also all on me: if you hate it, I can only blame myself!
Will we ever see more Robot Overlords?
I hope so. There’s so much more of that world that Jon [Wright, co-writer and director] and I have written, and we are bursting with ideas. There’s some talk of a TV series, but I’ve learned not to get too excited until I’m actually standing on the set with actors and cameras and all that stuff.
Could The End of Magic end up in another format? TV for example?
It would be a bold producer who would pony up the dough for the epic battles, dragons, wyverns, killer mer-people, trolls, floating mountains crashing from the sky, heavily-populated citadels and exploding moons that I’ve stuffed into the book, but why the hell not? It would be a feast for the eyes!
Authors such as Joe Abercrombie, Den Patrick and Jen Williams have heralded a very British shift toward world building and ‘consequences based’ character arcs. How does your series compare?
Those are all big influences on me, though I’m less interested in the world building and more in the characters. Jen, in particular, was a joy to read in that I really clicked with her conflicted characters and their crackling dialogue and her imagination is extraordinary. It was after reading her work that I thought I could try something similar. I’m not a fan of never-ending series, or books with massive appendices, or extensive backstory. I just want a great story, well-told, and Jen is great at that.
How did your podcast, The Bestseller Experiment, influence your creative process?
Hugely! It’s like a weekly tutorial. Each week we speak to the most amazing authors - we’ve had Joe Abercrombie, Joe Hill, Joanne Harris, Tad Williams, Brandon Sanderson, Ben Aaronovitch, Jen Williams and many more on the show - and I learn something new every time. It’s improved my writing more than anything else I’ve ever done. There’s no magic secret, just lots of hard work, but it’s also taught me that a writer’s style is always evolving and with each book, you will change and, hopefully, improve.
What would you do differently now that the book is on its way to shelves?
Nothing! I’ve been blessed with an incredible agent, editor, copy editor and cover art. It’s all going suspiciously well so far… I’m sure that’s when the ground falls from under your feet, so ask me again in a year.
Why Unbound? Is Unbound’s approach the future of publishing?
The main reason I went with Unbound was the opportunity to work with the editor Simon Spanton. I knew him from Gollancz, and it was a real privilege to have him edit my book. We don’t talk about editors enough. They can make such a difference to how a book evolves, and they are so crucial to the creative process. If you want to make an author even more anxious than usual, tell them their editor is leaving for another publisher! Unbound’s crowdfunding approach has proven to be really successful and is giving voice to authors who might otherwise be overlooked by the bigger publishing houses. It’s an exhausting process, though. Pimping yourself and begging for money for a year or so will test your self-belief to its limits, but as the bigger publishers become more risk-averse I think we’re going to see more mid-list and debut authors having to adapt to new ways of publishing in order to get their books out there. Crowdfunding is maturing and becoming more accepted by the industry and readers, and it has already led to some extraordinary books making it to publication and winning awards.
I’ve just sent a draft of a kids’ science fiction novel to my agent. Tonally, it’s much more like Robot Overlords and I’m really happy with it. Hopefully, we can find a home for that soon. I’ve had a top-secret TV show optioned and we think we’ve found a showrunner, which is very exciting, and Jon Wright and I are working on a few TV things that we hope will get off the ground soon. Oh, and on the podcast we’ve challenged ourselves to sell ten thousand copies of our time travel novel Back to Reality by the end of Glastonbury… which is borderline insane, so wish us luck.
Simpsons or Futurama?
Disenchantment! All my favourite fantasy tropes rolled into one show. I love it.
Dragons or Death Stars?
Dragons have less vulnerable exhaust ports, so let’s go with them.
Truth or Beauty?
Beauty fades, but truth is eternal… Ooh, that’s almost profound!
THE END OF MAGIC by Mark Stay is available from all good dealers of fantasy fiction from Feb 7th. We also strongly advise you to catch ROBOT OVERLORDS, which is currently streaming for members of Prime Video.