The novel features knights, dragons, climate change, and a talking squirrel.
There is a legend that in Britain’s hour of need, King Arthur will return to fight the enemies of the realm. But what if that foe is political instability or a rapidly warming planet? Would the Knights of the Round Table be able to defeat the existential threats of the 21st century? That’s where author Thomas D. Lee’s debut novel, Perilous Times, picks up the centuries-long tale of King Arthur. What follows is a rollicking adventure that blends social commentary and satire with contemporary fantasy.
Thomas D. Lee is a fantasy author in Manchester, England, where he’s currently pursuing a Ph.D. in creative writing. We’ve known each other for nearly 20 years, so when I heard he had a novel coming out, I invited him to be a guest on Dispatches with Jonny Eberle, my podcast about writing, travel, and the creative process. You can listen to our full conversation below (and anywhere you find podcasts), or read on for highlights from our conversation.
Listen to My Interview with Author Thomas D. Lee
Thomas has always had an interest in stories about King Arthur and his legendary knights, but it wasn’t until 2016, in the midst of the Brexit debate, that he started to think he might have his own story to contribute to the Arthurian canon.
“People were joking on Twitter that now might be the time for King Arthur to come back and fulfill the ancient prophecy of returning in times of peril. And I thought that was very funny,” he says. “I myself had the thought that it would be great if there was some kind of magical solution to this problem because that would stop us from having to actually do any hard work in the present. I also instantly had this very strong sense that it wouldn’t help and that they wouldn’t be very good at it…and the novel sort of grew from there.”
He knew he wanted to write a book about immortal knights returning to vanquish the foes of the realm, but what was the enemy exactly?
“It was several years later, when I was reading the IPCC report on climate change, that I realized that the climate was at the heart of the book,” Thomas says. “More and more authors feel like they have some cultural responsibility to address climate change. And if they don’t mention climate change in their books, they’re writing fantasy almost more than I am.”
Perilous Times was born, but it would still take several years of writing and rewriting before it was ready for the masses. Thomas knew very little about medieval literature when he started that first draft, but he slowly developed a passion for the subject while conducting research for the book—so much so that he’s now writing a dissertation on queer interpretations of Arthurian myth.
While the book could have been a dreary affair about how humanity has mistreated our planet, Thomas took a different tack, channeling Monty Python and Terry Pratchett to pen a book that dealt with serious themes while also remembering to have fun. He sees humor as an essential element not only in the novel, but in the broader climate fight.
“Humor is very important, especially if we’re dealing with a dying world. Because that’s part of what defines us as humans is the ability to laugh at our misfortunes,” he says. “But I think it’s important to blend that with the more serious themes that you’re trying to present. My writing mentor has this sense that my writing is funny, but wearing a serious backpack. I’ve always quite enjoyed that way of thinking about it. That helps me to remember to keep that balance right.”
Before embarking on a career as a novelist, Thomas worked in a high school in Greater Manchester. It was there that he found the inspiration for one of the book’s 21st century protagonists, Mariam. He was working in the school library when a student lamented that there weren’t any Muslim girls in the fantasy books she was reading, and he decided he would try to correct that if he got the chance. Throughout the writing of Perilous Times, Thomas was keen to incorporate a diverse cast of characters, including a Black knight, a gay couple, and a Muslim woman in a heroic role traditionally occupied by white, straight men.
“I think there’s such a very long, long history of books about white men,” Thomas says. “And we have enough of those books. People can go to the library and get them out if they want to read books like that. I enjoyed writing a book that was a bit more diverse and representative.”
After spending five years on the manuscript, Thomas’ work paid off and he landed a two-book deal with a publisher in the U.K. Now that his book is finally in print, I asked him if he had any advice for aspiring writers who hope to follow in his footsteps. Here’s what he said:
“Write as much as you can and practice as much as you can with the hours that are available to you. But also look after yourself, because it’s a really punishing job. It takes a lot of heart and a lot of effort and determination to even finish a book, let alone dealing with everything that comes afterwards,” Thomas says. “There’s this myth of the starving artist who lives off absinthe and cigarettes and is constantly crouched over the typewriter, kind of wild-eyed, writing something. And you don’t want to live like that, because you won’t be happy, and you also won’t produce any good work.”
Perilous Times is available everywhere May 23, 2023. It’s a fantastic novel full of humor, humanity, and heart (but also knights and dragons and magic). If that sounds like your cup of tea, I highly encourage you to pick up a copy. You’ll be glad you did.
Where to Buy Perilous Times
In these perilous times, one need only visit their local, independent bookstore to pick up a copy of Thomas D. Lee’s debut novel. But, if you absolutely must purchase it online, head over to my store on Bookshop.org.* Have you read Perilous Times? Let me know what you thought about it in the comments!
Other Recommended Reads
After you’ve finished devouring Perilous Times, check out these other historical novels and Arthurian reimaginings recommended by Thomas D. Lee:
- The Winter Knight by Jes Battis
- Gwen & Art Are Not in Love by Lex Croucher
- Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
What to learn more about Thomas? You can find more of his writing and musings on his website and on social media where he can be found on Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok.
Thanks for reading!
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Jonny Eberle is a writer, podcaster, and storyteller. He lives in Tacoma, WA with his family, a dog, and three adorable typewriters. His writing has been published in Creative Colloquy, Grit City Magazine, and All Worlds Wayfarer. You can listen to his audio drama, The Adventures of Captain Radio, and his writing podcast, Dispatches with Jonny Eberle, wherever you enjoy podcasts.
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*Disclaimer: I’m a Bookshop.org affiliate, which means I may earn a small commission on purchases made using links from my website, podcast, or newsletter.
You can find a complete transcript of the podcast episode here.