10 Questions with J.F.R. Coates
J.F.R. Coates is a speculative fiction author living in Australia, though originally from the picturesque West Country of England. His stories tend to focus away from human characters, instead giving life to the creatures that dwell alongside the familiar. He has been the Furry Writers’ Guild president since 2021.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Where do you call home and what do you write?
Though I originally grew up in the UK, specifically in the picturesque West Country, I have been living in SE Queensland for the past 18 years. I have been an avid reader since I was a small child, with my love of fantasy stemming from my first reading of The Hobbit.
As a writer, I gravitate towards science fiction and fantasy, having written extensively in both genres. Non-human characters are a particular favourite of mine and feature extensively throughout my stories.
What drew you to that particular genre and/or age group?
I have always gravitated towards the fantastical, which helped to shape my reading choices at a young age. A love for science fiction followed not long afterwards, helped by my fascination for all things spacey. It was only natural that my writing preferences follow the same pattern.
What’s your best known work?
My science fiction tetralogy, starting with Reborn, is probably my biggest selling and best-reviewed series. I thoroughly enjoyed working on those novels, but it isn’t where my future plans lie. In that regard, I hope I am eventually better known for my fantasy world of Farenar, in which my Destiny of Dragons series is set. I have at least a dozen more books planned within that world, so I certainly hope it develops a strong following in the future!
What inspired you to write?
This is actually a more complicated journey that it first appears. Unlike most writers, I wasn’t writing from a young age. In fact, I was the exact opposite. More than one English teacher said that, while I had all the technical skills of writing, I was utterly lacking in imagination.
I was, however, a brilliant reader.
It was sometime in my mid-teens when this finally began to change. I started to imagine new worlds and new stories, though I never wrote any of them down. The first was imagining new adventures for the Animorphs characters. These were probably all pretty awful, and I can’t actually remember any of them now, but it was the first step.
My first attempt to write down a story came after finishing a well-received fantasy novel that I was a bit disappointed in. I believed it was flawed and was sure I could do better. The naivety of youth meant I still had a blank page several hours later, but the wheels had begun to turn. It was actually a few weeks later when I had the spark of an idea and I began to write my first original story down.
Again, it was pretty rubbish, now that I look back on it. But it was a beginning.
Tell us about your writing process? Are you a plotter, pantser, or somewhere in between? How do you research?
I used to be a full on pantser, writing through discovery. While I found this was probably the most freeing way to write, it also resulted in some convoluted plots or arcs that went nowhere. It was a lot of fixing up in editing.
I gradually began to add more and more planning in, until I’ve found a happy medium ground now. I plan out a skeleton for the plot, jotting down key events and some overarching details for scenes without going into too much detail. This light plan gives me enough of a target to aim for with the conclusion, without being too restricting in allowing me to pants through some unexpected scenes here and there.
Researching can vary a lot depending on the story. I generally try not to get too bogged down in research, and I certainly don’t expect myself to become an expert on anything, but getting a decent surface level knowledge can be useful.
Wikipedia can be a really useful — if distracting — tool. Not just for giving a broad overview of a topic, but also being a good list of more in-depth sources to follow for the more detailed information needed.
What’s the strangest or most interesting thing you’ve researched for your writing?
Research is often a lot of fun — sometimes a bit too much fun! It can be so easy to get lost in massive holes of research, especially when browsing through Wikipedia, clicking anything that seems interesting. Some of the most interesting subjects I’ve explored has been various real-world cultures that I have used as inspiration for some of my fictional ones. I always do my best to be respectful when borrowing ideas from other cultures, but I find it is a fantastic way to flesh out my fictional worlds. One of my favourites involved blending elements from Inca and Ancient Egyptian cultures to create a group of people living in the mountains – these are in a fantasy WiP I am very excited about continuing work on.
At the other end of the genre and research spectrum, I put in a lot of research into the orbits and positioning of the planets for my Reborn series. It was very fascinating to learn, and my research actually fed into ways to create more conflict within the story, as the alignment of the planets didn’t always work out how the characters would have liked.
What’s the most personal story/scene you’ve written and why?
One of my WiP novel series I’m working on at the moment is an urban fantasy largely set in the town I grew up in, featuring many of the locations that fascinated me as a child. The exploration of my home town and county through fiction has been a delightful adventure through nostalgia and memory, and it has been a delight to write.
There was also a scene I included in Destiny of Dragons that feeds directly from some great memories I had of my grandparents. It ended up being a small scene that showcases the innocence and wonder of two unnamed children — based on my sister and me — and helps the PoV character to understand a few important lessons about those he considers his enemy.
Who are your literary influences? In what way?
As a fantasy writer it feels like a cheap score to mention that Tolkien is one of my influences, but he is. Not only was he a favourite of mine as a reader, but he is also an inspiration in the worldbuilding area. I have a massive fantasy world I’ve been filling out, and Tolkien remains one of the pinnacles of world creation.
Other influences in my writing style and interests include Robin Hobb, Neil Gaiman, and Garth Nix. Robin Hobb’s work is of particular interest to me because she has crafted an incredible world and fleshed it out with interconnected series, much in the same way I am attempting to do in Farenar. Neil Gaiman and Garth Nix are both inspirations in how they use fairy tales and mythology to weave incredible narratives, blending fantasy and reality in interesting ways.
What books are on your bedside table right now?
At the moment I’m reading Don’t Ask If I’m Okay by Jessica Kara — a really emotional and fantastic read by a good friend of mine.
I’m also working through the Beastars manga series, the Housepets webcomic, as well as the Daevabad Trilogy by S.A. Chakraborty. I’ve also just picked up Legends & Lattes by Travis Baldree.
I’m a lot better at limiting myself to writing one story at a time as I am at reading one book at a time.
Last and most important, where can we find your books/stories?
All my novels can be found through this Books2Read link: https://books2read.com/rl/jfrcoates - click through for a variety of online retailers, not just the usual Amazon.
Additional details for the stories can also be found on my website: https://www.jfrcoates.com/
And finally, you can follow me on social media — links below!