It is quite a feat to find your work published as a young author, and it's also quite a feat for an author of any age to construct an entirely new, intricate world using their own mind. We spoke with "Plagued" author J.L. Sugden regarding how he created the world in which he set his stunning new fantasy epic, his past writing work, being published at 21 years of age, and how he approaches writing as someone with dyslexia. 

You can get "Plagued"  here. 

1). Before the book itself begins, you have a fantastically detailed, thirteen-page lore segment, which is sure to have any fantasy-fan salivating. How did you first start to put together the Draden universe? What inspired you?

JS: I think like most things of this scale, you could probably fill a book on its own just telling the story behind the story, so I will attempt to answer the question as best I can in a limited amount of space. To tell the truth, the Dradenic universe (of which "Plagued" is a part) is not an overnight conjuring, nor is it the first fantasy universe that I have attempted to create, instead it is an evolution of the fantasy that predates it.

The Dradenic universe, as it is today, was born in Greece. I have always loved mythology, in particular the blurred line where fantasy and fact meet, and it is almost impossible to separate them out. I remember reading Stephen Fry’s "Mythos" while on holiday in Rhodes and deciding that I wanted to create my own mythology. As I said above, I already had a much smaller fantasy that I was not entirely content with, which, like many fantasies, was set on one single world in a medieval context with a few wizards, mythical and prehistoric beasts and immortals thrown in for good measure. From this it was very much a job of building from the ground up. I remember I ripped up all early lore and started again, creating for the world a race of ‘Titans’ who were the guardians and stewards of the world. From here I kept building upwards and created the race of divine beings called the ‘Draden’ which was interestingly the last name of the main character of the precursing fantasy. These would be my equivalent of ‘gods’ with the original eight (known as the Octull) in the fantasy universe also the first Draden that I imagined, being inspired by the four horsemen of the apocalypse. You see, while Greek myth was a starting point, I tried not to limit myself and took inspiration from the stories of as many cultures as I could, because I find then all equally as fascinating.

Putting the law of the Dradenic universe together, I found, very much a process of asking why. Similar, I guess, to how mythology might first have begun with questions like, why did lightning strike there and not some other place? or, why does the sun move across the sky? I asked myself questions about how my own universe works. For example, and referring to the lore segment at the beginning of "Plagued", if the other worlds in the universe are mostly set in a medieval period or earlier, why is earth so advanced? And if mythical creatures exist on earth, like cyclops and satyrs, why does no one know about them? the story of Luna and Wisdom told in the lore segment then answers that.

To summarise my ramblings, I was greatly inspired to create my fantasy universe through mythology, Greek was the first, but it is certainly not the only mythology and folklore that has had an influence. Putting the universe together is very much a process of continues building, questioning how and why things work and, using the lore of the universe, to tell stories that answer those questions, which is how I think any good myth or fantasy should be. 


2). To point out the obvious, you’re a young author indeed! It’s quite a feat to have a book published at 21 years of age. How long have you been writing, and how did you form an interest in writing?


JS: I have been ‘writing’ for probably as long as I can remember, as I said in my answer to the first question, the Dradenic universe is not my first attempt at a fantasy. As an only child I spent a good part of my early childhood entertaining myself, imagining myself going off on adventures in the garden, which naturally progressed to the written word.

However there was an event that I can safely say changed my mind set and that led to me becoming ‘serious’ about writing. It was during my mock GCSE English exam, and as part of the exam, there was always a question where you get to write a short story. Before the exam took place, as part of the revision, the teacher was asking us to brainstorm ideas for short stories. The idea I came up with was of two gladiators, from different places, who would be locked up together under the Colosseum, where through a discussion about their lives, would become friends. Then, at the end, they would be taken up into the colosseum and made to fight each other. My English teacher was not very impressed and discarded the idea.

That must have got my back up so to speak, as when the mock exam came around, and I reached the short story question, I knew exactly what I was going to write, the story about the two gladiators. I remember filling all the available space within the answer booklet and several pages of extra paper on top, where the two gladiators became friends, and the whole short story ended with one killing the other in a final dule in the colosseum.

A little after the exam, my English teacher came up to me and said (and I paraphrase) “that was one of the best pieces of creative writing I’ve marked in an exam.” And that is when I become confident in writing and became serios about it.

I should say one last thing though, as I feel in telling that story I did do that teacher an injustice, because she was, and still is, the best and most influential teacher I’ve ever had.


3). In the past, you’ve published poetry online, largely through your Instagram account. Is this something you would consider doing more of, and are there any particular poets who inspired you to write?

JS: I uses my Instagram account: @jlsugden.official and more recently have set up a twitter (now X) account @jlsugden to express different aspects of my writing. This involves a mix of Poetry and Lore, for example, through my Instagram account I have in the past told the story (in short form over several posts) of the God Life and the Goddess Fertility, which is a romantic affair that takes place very early on in the timeline of the Dradenic universe, finding its climax during the first Fay war. I guess my vision for these pages is to, hopefully, create a “community” centered around the Dradenic Universe, where ideas can be discussed, and any questions answered in a very interactive way. Furthermore, I am interested in using media channels such as YouTube to further sell my work, after all, Mythology was traditionally shared via word of mouth, and this should be a homage to this. My page is jlsugden.official, however this is currently in its infancy. Looking ahead, I plan to set up a blog and website to further be able to share lore around the Dradenic universe, through these channels in a more in depth and comprehensive way.

Going back to the question, as I realise I got a little sidetracked, poetry for me is more of a ‘quick escape’ than anything else. To be honest, I am not a skilful or artistic poet by any stretch of the imagination, nor do I really want to be. My writing is not about being technical but sharing what I have imagined. To this end, when I write poetry, it is more like ‘doodling’ ideas than anything else. Chucking words together in a short piece of writing and seeing what comes. And that is how I like to write my ‘poetry.’


4). If we may ask, what- if anything- is next for the Draden universe? Do you have anything planned after “Plagued”?

JS: The simple answer is yes. Without giving too much away, "Plagued" ends on a bit of a cliff hanger and so I do have a desire to publish the sequel, hopefully in the not too distant future. While the second book will see an ending of a sort, there is definitely a ‘bigger picture’ that cannot be concluded in two books, and as such I do have a mind to publish more books after that. I guess the truly great thing about any large-scale fantasy, as seen with the star wars franchise over recent years, is there is really no limit on where and by how much you can expand different subjects.

For example, just looking at the Draden themselves, it is mentioned in the Lore segment at the beginning of the book that there are two political factions within the Darden universe, Gods, who are led by the Quadrel, and Demons who are led by the Quadrats. Well, this was not always the case, and the two political fractions did not split until the first Dradenic war. Going back further, near the beginning of the recorded history of the Draden there was three ‘Fay wars’ which haven’t been touched on in "Plagued" or any of the attached published lore. In that sense there is plenty of possibilities for the future. So, to answer the question, in the nearer future I do plans for a sequel to "Plagued", and after that, I’m sure time will tell.


5). You are quite vocal about being dyslexic. What advice would you offer to other aspiring dyslexic authors?

JS: The first thing I would say, which is true for anyone, not just people with dyslexia, is something I said when I was fortunate enough to be invited back to my former secondary school to give a talk to some year seven pupils. An achievement is only an achievement because of the challenges you overcome to achieve it.

For me, the hardest part of dyslexia isn’t the reading but actually the writing, and getting down what is in my head onto paper. I think this is quite visible in the notes I make, which, quite simply put, don’t really exist. I’ve said it before and I’m sure I’ll say it again, spellcheck is a great tool, but if you can’t spell a word in the first place it becomes next to useless.

I guess therefore if I was to give some advice to an aspiring dyslexic author it would be persevere. You will have strengths that match your “obstacles” (and yes the quotation marks are intentional), you’ve just got to find them! Writing as someone with dyslexia, I learned not to get too fussy about being stylish in my writing, or getting everything correct, instead I focused on the content of my work, in understanding my characters, my universe, the situation that my characters are in, and how all this comes together. The perseverance came in after the writing was finished, and I am not too proud to admit that I did look to others for support, wading through my work to make sure everything was correct, and I thank them for their support in doing so. I think to achieve most things in life you need a degree of obsessiveness and perseverance, so I see no reason why anyone can’t achieve their goals, whether that be someone with dyslexia wanting to write a book, or success in a career, all you need is a little obsessiveness and some perseverance.



6). You have talked a lot about what has inspired your book, and where it has come from, so can you tell us a little bit about ‘Plagued’ itself?

JS: Of course, so "Plagued" takes place around sixty-five cosmic years after the end of the First Dradenic war, just before the outbreak of the second Dradenic war. At the time, the leading political fraction of Draden (The divine beings) are the gods, led by the Quadrel (the ruling four Draden). However, "Plagued" primarily looks at things from a Mortal perspective. The book opens in Sherwood forest on Earth, just over a year after humanity has been brought to its knees as a result of a deadly plague. In this post-Apocalyptic, dystopian, setting, the main character, a Yorkshire lad called Alex, meets a stranger, the daughter of the goddess of Health, Atia. Alex is taken to the second realm, the land of the Gods, where he meets a cunning character, the goddess Destiny. Initially, all of Alex’s problems seem solved in the land of the Gods, but all is not as it seems, and chaotropic problems are unfolding within every shadow. And Alex is always one step away from them, thanks to the actions of Destiny. All the while, through flashbacks, Alex is trying desperately to figure out what his father knew, and what he had to do with the Plague? And how any of that has anything to do with either the Draden? Or himself?