Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Angus Macallan Interview - Gates of Stone

Photo Credit: James Clarke

Angus Macallan is a pseudonym for Angus Donald, a British fiction writer and former journalist who is now based just outside London. He was born in China and lived, worked, and studied in Asia for much of his early adult life. He was awarded a masters degree with honors in social anthropology by the University of Edinburgh, partly based on his fieldwork in Indonesia, which led to a dissertation: “Magic, Sorcery and Society.” He also worked as a journalist in Hong Kong, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan.


When/how did you realize you had a creative dream or calling to fulfill?
I was sitting all alone in a small room above a ramshackle chicken house in a remote village in Bali in 1989, writing a journal about my studies – I was an anthropologist, investigating the spiritual beliefs of the local society – and I realised how much fun I was having just sitting there writing. It totally absorbed and satisfied me, I felt euphoric. I realised then that this, this act of writing, was what I wanted to do with my life.

What was the single worst distraction that kept you from writing this book?
It has been a pretty bad year for me. My father died in the summer; then someone very close to me was diagnosed with cancer. But the single most distracting thing when I was trying to write was turning the garden outside my office into a construction site. I’m paying someone to convert my double garage into small guest house in the garden. The noise was incredibly distracting. Still, it’s over now. My dad is still dead, obviously, but he had a very long, happy and successful life; the cancer has been successfully operated on and treated with radiation therapy and now seems to be dealt with (fingers crossed!). And I have a lovely new guest house for when friends come to stay. So, it’s all good.

Has reading a book ever changed your life? Which one and why, if yes?
Reading The Honourable Schoolboy by John Le CarrĂ© was a profound experience for me in the 1980s. I was so moved by the tragic ending, and I have since reread the book four or five times. I saw how incredibly powerful good writing could be – and desperately wanted to emulate it.

Tell us your most rewarding experience since being published.
That’s difficult to say. I enjoyed the glamour of being asked to go on TV to talk about Robin Hood last year (I have written a successful series of books about the English folk hero under my real name AngusDonald). And if you take “rewarding” to mean in material terms – I love getting royalty payments. If feels like free money. More than a decade after writing my first novel Outlaw, I still get a few thousand pounds twice a year from its continued sales. But I suppose the most rewarding experience is that my last-but-one novel was shortlisted for a literary award (The Historical Writers’ Association Gold Crown). I didn’t win but the book made the final six out of a starting field of several hundred and I felt that my work was finally being taken seriously.

Can you tell my Book Nerd community a little about GATES OF STONE?
Gates of Stone is an epic fantasy novel set in an imaginary Indonesia about two hundred years ago. It depicts a dog-eat-dog pirate society in the warm tropical ocean of the Laut Besar. The chief cut-throat is called the Lord of the Islands and he loosely controls the trade in obat – an opium-like drug, that can only be cultivated in this region. Two great world powers – the Celestial Republic to the north (a sort-of China) and the Indujah Federation (a sort-of India) to the west are vying for control of this extremely lucrative yet deadly drug trade in the Laut Besar. Into this arena sails Princess Katerina, a 16-year-old exile of the vast snowy northern wastes – she has been denied her birthright and is determined to gain huge wealth and great power so she can win back the Ice-Bear Throne of her forefathers. And she’s not at all fussy about how she achieves her ends. She is prepared to murder, maim and manipulate to get what she wants – even marry, if necessary. There is a pampered princeling of a tiny Laut Besar island called Prince Arjun who sets off on a quest to try and get back his ancestral sword; a mysterious old priest on a spiritual mission; a weird fisher-girl with extraordinary secret powers; and a sorcerer fighting for the rights of his people but who also wants to destroy the world.

What was the most surprising thing you learned in creating Princess Katerina?
I discovered that I can write women – or at least I think I can. The readers will have to tell me whether she works as a character or not. I often have trouble with female characters – I think it’s really hard for authors to write other genders. I have yet to read a woman writer who has created a convincing male character; they all come across as feminine to me. I’m sure some must have done, I just can’t think of any.

If you could introduce Prince Arjun to any character from another book, who would it be and why?
I would like to introduce Prince Arjun to my hero from the Robin Hood books Sir Alan Dale. I think they would initially be very suspicious of each other – like two cats meeting in a neutral space, fur up. But I’m sure they’d eventually be friends. They are both open-hearted, generous and friendly people at bottom, fond of drink and pleasure. A little bit lazy too. But staunch comrades, brave as lions when danger looms.

What are some of your current and future projects that you can share with us?
I’m writing the third book in a series about the (real) 17th-century English artillery officer Holcroft Blood. He fought under the Duke of Marlborough at the battle of Blenheim and his father Colonel Blood attempted to steal the Crown Jewels from the Tower of London in 1671. The book I’m just finishing off is called Blood’s Campaign and is about Holcroft’s part in the Irish war between James II and William of Orange.

Which character have you enjoyed getting to know while writing GATES OF STONE?
I love Katerina and Prince Jun – but one of the most interesting guy has been the sorcerer Mangku. He is pretty evil but as the book progresses you get to understand why he is doing what he does. He is trying to fight for his downtrodden people, the “untouchable” caste of Dewa against the ruling class that he sees as their oppressors. If I get to write any more in the Lord of the Islands series, I think I’m going to make him more relatable, even make the reader have some real sympathy for him.

What are 4 things you never leave home without?
Mobile phone; keys; wallet and . . . trousers.

Tell me about a favorite event of your childhood.
When I was six I decided one day that I had had enough of my family (I have three rambunctious brothers) and that I was going off on a picnic all on my own. We lived at the time in Athens, Greece, and with my parents wary permission, I grabbed a bottle of water and a packet of fudge and went out alone into the city. I didn’t get far – only as far as the main road, a few hundred yards away, where I sat for a while on the kerb watching the cars go by and eating my fudge. Then I went home. What I only realised later was that my parents were watching me from an upper storey window the whole time. But I like to remember that story as it reminds me that I’ve always been a lover of solitude, contemplation and independent travel – even if I didn’t go very far physically on that picnic, in my childish mind I was light-years away. I haven’t changed.

What is the weirdest thing you have seen in someone else’s home?
I saw a duck foetus in a bottle of coconut oil in the house of a Balinese witchdoctor. This man, a friend and informant for my research into magic, sorcery and witchcraft in Bali – that anthropological research in the 1980s formed the basis of the magic in Gates of Stone, by the way – assured me that a Balinese god had given it to him. He was a rational man, working as a government administrator in the Balinese capital Denpasar by day, briefcase, formal clothes, office. A regular bureaucrat. We discussed international banking, the culture of Western Europe, car insurance. But despite appearing entirely normal, civilised, a bit dull, actually. He insisted that a god had appeared to him in a vision and given him this baby duck, which he was to use to cure people. He put the duckling in the coconut oil and anointed his patients with the oil when they came to him seeking cures for anything from skin complaints to depression, from grossly swollen limbs to lung cancer. He had magical powers, he said, from the use of this duckling oil. Then he asked if I would like to come and give a lecture on the UK at Denpasar University.

If you had to go back in time and change one thing, if you HAD to, even if you had “no regrets” what would it be?
I would have started writing novels earlier in my life. My first novel was published in 2009, when I was 44 years old. The first half of my working life was spent as a journalist knocking about in Hong Kong, Indian, Pakistan, Afghanistan and London. I enjoyed that period of my life, plenty of excitement, lots of travel, decent money, but it took me a long time to get to what I really wanted to do, to get round to doing what I knew I really should be doing with my life. Which is this.

In a world of blood and magic, a powerful epic fantasy begins...

Just before her sixteenth birthday, Princess Katerina is refused her rightful place as heir to the Empire of the Ice-Bear--solely because of her sex. Determined to regain her inheritance, she murders the foreign lord she's been ordered to marry and embarks on a perilous voyage to the lush, tropical islands of the Laut Besar in search of the vast wealth and power she needs to claim the Empire for herself.

On a small island kingdom, Prince Arjun's idyllic life is shattered when a malignant sorcerer invades, slaughters his people and steals the sacred sword of Jun's ancestors. With his royal father dead and his palace in ruins, Jun reluctantly tracks the sorcerer and the magical blade far across the pirate-infested waters of the Laut Besar.

Long ago the powerful relics known as the Seven Keys were used to safely lock away the terrifying evils of the Seven Hells. With Jun's ancient sword in his grasp, the sorcerer Mangku has claimed the first Key, and begun his mission to unleash catastrophe upon the land.

As the destinies of these three entwine in the lawless islands of the Laut Besar, the fate of humanity hangs in the balance. For if the sorcerer cannot be stopped, the world itself will be unmade...


“With tense political drama and rip-roaring action in a fresh and believable Asian-inspired setting, Gates of Stone reads like a collaboration between Joe Abercrombie and James Clavell. Add ancient feuding sorcerers and a queen who would eat Cersei Lannister for breakfast, and you have the makings of an excellent fantasy debut. Angus Macallan is a compelling new voice in epic fantasy.” —Peter McLean, author of Priest of Bones

“I meant to give Gates of Stone a quick look before I started reading it–and couldn’t put it down. Angus Macallan is a brilliant storyteller!” —Taylor Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of the Destroyermen series

“Macallan . . . has created a solid fantasy debut with a strong yet brutal princess who recalls George R. R. Martin’s Cersei Lannister. Epic worldbuilding with extensive Asian influences, especially Indonesian, meets bold characters and detailed battles across land and sea.” Library Journal

You can purchase Gates of Stone at the following Retailers:

And now, The Giveaways.
Thank you ANGUS MACALLAN for making this giveaway possible.
Winner will receive a Copy of Gates of Stone (Lord of the Islands #1) by Angus Macallan. 


  1. "What do you think is the most useless class in high school?" For most people, chemistry.

  2. Physical Education. I think this because the kids do not get enough exercise out of it for it to be useful. It needs to be every day.

  3. Phys. Ed and Music are the most useless subjects taught in school.