This month I caught up with author J.A. Ironside, author and podcaster, to chat about mixing science with magic, and cryptids. Intrigued? Read on to find out more.
Lovely to chat with you, for readers who don’t know who you are, can you tell us a bit about yourself?
Hi, I’m J.A. Ironside (call me Jules) and I write a variety of genres, which includes – on occasion – the donning of a suspicious looking long, white beard so my ‘alter ego’ can pen some humorous and twisty political historical fiction. [GC: sounds intriguing, maybe that’s a subject for another interview!] But let’s stick to urban fantasy for now. I’m currently writing book twelve of my Harker & Blackthorn series, where I have cast caution to the wind and shoved in a wide and disparate variety of my interests – including history, languages, mythology, folklore, science and martial arts. Somehow, I emerge blinking in the sunlight at the end of each book with a coherent story. [GC: How do you do that? I need the secret!] Don’t ask me how, it’s a mystery.
I’m drawn to writing stories that have intricate and folklore heavy plots, with plenty of action but equal attention spent on the character interactions. How people form friendships and overcome – or fail to overcome – their flaws is endlessly fascinating to me. Also humour, because life is serious enough.
It’s so easy for authors to get caught up in their stories, what do you get up to when you’re not writing?
When I’m not writing, I’m probably reading (would you expect anything else?) but I also collect dead and little used languages, which I pronounce horribly, and monkey around with linguistics. I’ve practised a variety of martial arts for the last thirty years and actually can use a sword.
And I co-host a writing and speculative fiction podcast called Dissecting Dragons, where I and my co-dragon (M.E. Vaughan) get to be huge nerds about SFF and folklore. Would you enjoy listening to it? Absolutely if you want writing tips or you like very random conversations.
I love that podcast, it’s so much fun to hear people talk about topics they are clearly interested in. And you often talk about your own writing experiences on the show. Harker & Blackthorn comes up a few times, can you tell us more about that series?
Harker & Blackthorn is my second urban fantasy series. It follows a team of three
disaster magnets cryptozoology investigators as they hunt for mysterious beasts, avoid the nefarious machinations of a corrupt Mega-corp and basically try to survive the week. All this would be so much easier if one of them could stop accidently frying circuits and setting things on fire with her unruly telekinesis. Expect hilarious catastrophe, found family, more cryptids/ monsters than you can shake a stick at, psychic shenanigans and a sprinkle of romance.
Sounds fun! And your series blends magic with science so well. What made you decide to write that angle?
I wanted to write a series that didn’t choose between science and magic, which is why Amy, the main character and usual pov for Harker & Blackthorn, was the perfect choice. Amy is a genius. She fast tracked her way to a doctorate in particle physics by her early twenties. But she also has psychic ability, which in her case manifests a telekinesis and causes her all sorts of problems. It’s natural for Amy, who has one foot in the supernatural and one in the scientific, to try and explain things scientifically whilst also accepting that right now science can’t explain everything. As you read further into the series, there’s the occult and witchcraft as well as psychic powers. And of course cryptids – many of which are no less impressive or terrifying for having a potential scientific explanation.
As a complete aside from magic systems, Amy is one of those ‘ray of sunshine’ characters. I knew how long the series was going to need be to tell the full story before I started, and spending all that time with someone who is curious, funny, positive, and intelligent is a big plus.
The roots of the story go back to my childhood fascination for cryptids. Everything from the Loch Ness Monster to Werewolves to Lindwyrms to Selkies fascinated me. Even natural animals living in places where they are not supposed to be or were previously thought to be extinct captured my imagination. The whole series is a love letter to both science and magic without setting them against each other.
That’s amazing and you’ve got to love a cryptid! I know you love reading from your Dissecting Dragons podcast, but who are your favourite authors? Who’s inspired your writing?
You’re going to have to stop me before I become too tedious because I could go on for weeks once I get started, but here goes, in no particular order: Seanan McGuire, Anne Rice, Robin Jarvis, Richard Adams, Frank Herbert, the Brontes, Jane Austen, Brogan Thomas Samantha Shannon, Stephen King, Laura Deluca, Heather G Harris, C. N. Rowan, Victor Hugo, Peter S. Beagle, T. Kingfisher, Rebecca Ross, Caitlin Starling, Brom, Grady Hendrix, Mark Lawrence, Rachel Harrison, Naomi Novak, Marie Brennan… I could go on!
It’s been lovely chatting with you. Where can readers find out more about you and your books?
And if you want a free Harker & Blackthorn prequel novella, you can get a copy of Dead Man’s Hand here.