Zoe Kramer catches up with Jodie Bond to hear her reflections on her debut fantasy novel, The Vagabond King, three years on from its release, the process of writing the sequel in 2020 lockdown, and a gearshift from fantasy to memoir writing.
Zoe Kramer: The Vagabond King has been out for three years now. Has your outlook on the series or the characters changed since then?
Jodie Bond: It’s probably an awful lot more positive. The Vagabond King is my first novel, and before you set anything out into the world you have this huge sense of trepidation about how it will be received, you know, it all exists in your own head, and I shared it with a few friends but it’s very nerve wracking, that idea of releasing yourself, exposing yourself to the world. And so it was actually a very pleasant surprise then to get the book out, and it had such a warm reception, and to be able to talk about it as well, to be able to do book launches and interviews and things like this. So, yeah, I think it’s definitely changed for the better because of that, and it’s lovely to be able to talk to people about characters who have only ever existed inside your own head. When I write my characters I’m often talking to them inside my head as well, having a bit of a one-sided conversation… so it’s lovely when other people get to have them inside their own heads, too. You can talk about your ideas and it sometimes sparks new ones too.
Zoe Kramer: The ending of the first book left Threon in a very dark place. Both Savanta and Lleu are offered glimpses of a happier life at the end of the first book, but with certain caveats. Without giving away too much, might our adventurers find some respite or is there nothing but more trouble ahead?
Jodie Bond: Well, I always like to follow the rule that your central character should be the person who hurts the most, which tends to make me quite a cruel writer. So that’s why they all have such a hard time in the first book, and why they will have more in the second one. I have written the second book, so the whole plotline is there, it’s sitting at its second draft, so it’s still got a bit of polishing up, but I do not give Threon an easy time. It’s set 15 years down the line, so we get to see what’s happened to Threon after he’s ended up in Thelonia and he’s been ruling there for a while. The gods don’t give him an easy time at all. At the moment Lleu isn’t in it very much, I’d like to bring him into it more. Savanta’s there quite a fair bit, and the story actually really follows her daughter, she becomes quite a central character. Savanta is, as she is in the first one, a bit of a hero and she’s always there to prop Threon up in a way. So yeah, most of the book is there, it just needs a bit of tidying up. I actually find the editing process tends to take longer than the first draft usually. The first draft is really just getting your ideas down, isn’t it, and working out where the problems are with the plot and the characters.
Zoe Kramer: I’m looking forward to reading it, I want to know what happens to them! But yeah, and I never heard that before about the character with the most pain being the central one, but that makes a lot of sense.
Jodie Bond: I pinched that from another writer, but if you think about it all books do that, it’s always the central character that hurts the most, and they have to learn how to sort it out.
Zoe Kramer: And speaking about that darkness, this world is subject to the whims of petty, vindictive and sometimes almost childish gods, who are as much characters as their human counterparts. Humans also can attain immortality through vish. What inspired this blurring of the lines between human and divine, and can we expect to see more?
Jodie Bond: I love writing the gods, they’re so much fun. The inspiration really came from Greek and Norse mythology, where you’ve got this idea of gods that actually walk in the real world and there are heroes, demigods, particularly in Norse mythology where they are quite flawed, you know, so you’ve got these quite troublesome gods who are actually making mistakes, interfering where they shouldn’t be. That was where the inspiration came from in terms of them meddling in the human world. And then with the immortality thing, I think that came around because I was really interested in exploring human greed, and I think life is the most valuable thing that we have as human beings, so what price do we put on immortality? I mean in the first book that’s why they end up tearing the land apart to try to mine more and more of this vish – I also play around with that very ancient tradition of gods meddling with human affairs.
Zoe Kramer: There has been a great deal of transformation not just in the characters but in the world itself. In what ways will readers be experiencing a new world in Book 2? You mentioned already that there’s a time skip.
Jodie Bond: So I haven’t got a thorough plan for the third book yet, but there should be a gap between each one. So it will follow a bit of a longer time arc. So it’s fifteen years down the line, and Threon’s trying to rebuild the empire and trying to do good, but unfortunately the gods still have their claws in him somewhat. He has the earth god and the sky god fighting over him and it drives him mad, so he’s doing his very best to be a good man, but there are a lot of stumbling blocks in his way to be able to achieve what he set out to. So the world has changed, it’s mostly set on the island of Thelonia. There’s a little bit where they travel back to the mainland, but Thelonia, it had a rough old time in the first book. In the second one he officially outlaws vish but again, obviously exploring the thing of human greed, you can’t outlaw a thing that is that valuable, so a smuggling trade emerges and there’s all these dark underground towns that poor Savanta’s daughter ends up getting dragged into, without giving too much away.
Zoe Kramer: The first book works well as a self-contained story, I’m curious which threads you will be pulling at in the sequel?
Jodie Bond: The first book was actually meant to be a stand alone novel. It was only after Parthian sent me their cover design and it said on the cover “part one of a trilogy”, I was like, “ooh!” So that got me thinking. The first book, it does end with a little bit of a — not a cliffhanger – but you’re not quite sure what directions things are going to go. Meaning it’s a really nice place to springboard off into a second book. So it’s been really good to explore and to try and work out. For the second one I’ve got the story there and I’ve got a vague idea of what I plan to do. Really the trilogy follows the arc of the gods, so rather than sticking to Threon and a short time space, I’ve gone with this slightly grander thread that follows the progression of the gods and how humans interact with them.
Zoe Kramer: Especially writing in that larger timescale, I’m curious how your process for Book 2 has been different from your process for Book 1.
Jodie Bond: So Book 2, I had left it for a while. I had a few other projects on, so I wrote it very quickly at the start of the first lockdown in March/April 2020. We were all sat at home going “Oh God, what are we going to do now?” So I thought I’d write something! That made it a very different process, and a different situation to be in in terms of writing. When I wrote the first book, I’d be coming home from work, and then spending a couple of hours after work every day just getting words down and being quite disciplined. Whereas actually at the start of lockdown, I was basically cancelling all my work and then I thought oh, I’ll sit down and write.
The first draft was a complete mess because it was just written so quickly, whereas I think I planned more with the first one, so there’s probably a lot more editing to do than there was last time, given the lack of planning. But some bits are a lot easier, so you’ve already got all that backstory worked out, I’ve already got a map of the world, I’ve already got a lot of the rules of how the gods work, and the characters were already mapped out. There was still a little bit of backstory to fill in, you know, I needed to work out what was happening in that fifteen year gap, but that’s part of the fun of it is just sitting there and imagining and creating a whole new world. So yeah, in some ways it was easier but also just different. I jumped straight in, in a way I didn’t do with the first one. I couldn’t tell you which I prefer, actually. You’ve just got to get the words down somehow.
Zoe Kramer: What has been the hardest part about writing the sequel and what has been the most fun?
Jodie Bond: Well, I’m quite horrible to my core beloved characters. That’s the hardest bit – torturing the poor buggers. But that’s also part of the fun, isn’t it? The other hard bit is the editing after writing it so quickly. I love writing dialogue, I particularly like writing dialogue for the gods. Zenith is really fun because he’s really, you know, a bit snide and a bit full of himself, so that’s quite enjoyable to write. And I tend to write quite fast. I find what I do as well is jump from fun bits, so go from an action scene to a really intense dialogue scene. And then when I’m editing, I’ll fill in the gaps, so my first draft is always all the really meaty fun bits and then it’s trying to weave the bits in between afterwards.
Zoe Kramer: Who are you writing the series for?
Jodie Bond: Me! I think maybe if I had kids or something I’d be writing for them but no, I’m writing for myself. I’m selfish that way.
Zoe Kramer: Do you have an ending in mind for the trilogy yet or is it up in the air?
Jodie Bond: Yes, I do. I don’t want to give too much away, but like I said the trilogy will follow this arc of all of the gods and all the challenges they pose. The second book starts to explore what happens when the humans have enough of that. The second book will just about introduce the theory that there is a greater challenge than the gods. So there’s something else that sort of fits above the gods, but that’s as far as I’ve gotten with the third book. I know that’s the challenge, I don’t know how it will be tackled or how it will manifest but that’s where it’s going. You’ve got to build on the action, every book has got to – things need to get tougher and tougher.
Zoe Kramer: Are there any other projects you’re working on?
Jodie Bond: I’m currently working on a memoir about my childhood. When I was growing up, my dad used to hold the biggest raves in the UK, so he’d have 8000 people come out to these big parties out on our farm, police helicopters circling above us. So it’s a bit of nature writing, but it’s also that party scene from the perspective of a child, so that should be quite fun to write.
It’s very different as well, to write something very real after coming from fantasy. I’m also working on an audio project for King Arthur’s Labyrinth, which is a tourist destination in mid-Wales, so I’m rewriting some of the stories from the Mabinogion, Welsh folk stories, so that should be really fun. Oh and I’m also doing a little bit of work with Unboxed Festival. There’s some events called green space dark skies where they’re putting on events across all the national parks in the UK, so I’ll be doing some writing work for them as part of the fair events series which is great.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.