If you crack open a copy of my new book A Conspiracy of Princes (and, of course, I’d be very happy if you did), the first page you’ll come to features choice quotes from reviews of the first book in the Allies & Assassins sequence. Of the five flattering quotes selected for inclusion here, three reference the hugely successful book and TV series Game of Thrones. One, for instance, says “a clever blend of Game of Thrones.-style fantasy with a classic murder mystery”, whilst another asserts, “the period atmosphere and adventure… provide Game of Thrones.-inspired drama”. Another early reviewer, not quoted here, called Allies & Assassins simply “Game of Thrones. for teenagers”.
This is all very flattering and it’s surely no bad thing to be compared to one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the moment. That said, the comparison is not always a favourable one. There was one excruciating review in SFX magazine, asserting “this is not GoT!”. Fair point. I agree.
I haven’t read any of George R R Martin’s books, though their covers greet me most days when I step on a London bus or tube carriage. Nor have I watched even a scene from the TV show.
As you may have read elsewhere, the inspiration for Allies & Assassins came from a visit to Wales and a series of conversations with the most inspirational librarian I have ever met (and that’s saying something). The man in question – Hedd ap Emlyn – introduced me to the world of pre-medieval Welsh courts with their poets and grooms and falconers and princes. This was the seed from which this book project was born.
It was when the manuscript was being shared with publishers, that someone first made a connection to GAME OF THRONES. From that point on, I served myself with a self-imposed ban NOT to read or wach GoT. This is not something that has been accomplished easily. I like a box-set as much as the next man and, with many of my close friends extolling the virtues – and indeed vices – of GoT, it took intense willpower to stick to my plan.
Others provided considerable help. My dutiful partner watched several episodes of the show alone, in order to confirm that the world of ALLIES was sufficiently different and that I didn’t have to worry about coincidental similarities in character or plot. My wonderful editor, Sam Smith – an expert in the fantasy genre – pointed out that I had a character called Elliot Snow and that as the Snow family is an important one in GoT, that surname probably ought to change. That was a shame – I’d found that name, as I sometimes do for characters, on a gravestone. But Elliot Snow had to become Elliot Nash. I implemented a global “find and replace” on the manuscript, which resulted in one character having “Nash-white teeth”. Thankfully an eagle-eyed copy editor picked that clanger up.
It’s not simply that I don’t want other people to think that I’m influenced by another author’s work or world-vision. As a writer, the creative part of your brain receives inspiration in all kinds of ways. It takes what it needs from all manner of stimuli. Sometimes I find it hard reading anyone else’s fiction when I’m writing my own, but I’ve had to work on that as I’m writing so much of the time and it would be intolerable to deny myself the huge pleasure of reading altogether.
Trust me, I do want to watch GoT. And one day, I will. I comfort myself that, by that point, I’ll have a tower of box-sets waiting for me to devour. Of course, I went through a similar period of abstinence with Pirates of the Caribbean while I was writing the Vampirates books. I remember doing an event at Liberty Theatre in Dublin and hearing rather stirring music pumping out into the auditorium before I came out onstage. I asked my hosts what that rousing music was. They gave me a curious look. “It’s the theme from Pirates of the Caribbean. Surely everyone knows that?”