|A Conversation With James Barclay|
|An interview with Wayne MacLaurin|
| August 2000 |
I've wanted to be an author for as long as I can remember but my employed career was one I fell into completely by accident.
I enjoy it as much as I can enjoy any office job and investments (the industry in which I work) is very unpretentious, which I do appreciate. Before starting work, I had no definite ideas what I wanted to do, barring two ultra-precarious options, one being a novelist and the other an actor. The latter hasn't amounted to much yet and, though I was disillusioned with some of the people I met during training (some are my friends to this day but none of them act still), I'd love to act again -- though my job and writing make that difficult right now.
I've latterly moved away from the level of copywriting I was doing and concentrate more on adverts than brochures and letters. That's a good thing since writing all day and then facing the same task (though more entertaining) all evening was starting to get to me a little.
I've been in the workplace for 13 years now and never gave up on the dream of being published. Underneath it all, I always believed I was good enough and, despite the knock-backs, got encouragement too and kept going. Eventually it's paid off and it's become a point of interest around the office, which is handy, not just for a few sales, but because it's inevitable that I have to do some author work in office hours -- not much, they pay my wages after all, but they are very understanding.
I ask myself, 'do you really want to be a full time writer?' If so, sit down and do it. After all, a writer writes -- it's a cliché but also a truism.
I also look around at what dedication can achieve and I find that inspiring. Particularly athletes -- the regime of a top athlete is extraordinary but they give up what they have to in order to achieve their dreams. I used to be one of the many that said 'I'd love to write a book,' and now, having been fortunate enough to have been published, I give the same response I was given: 'Well, sit down and write one, then.'
In terms of filling the pages, inspiration is hard to pin down. I wouldn't say I had a great imagination but what I can do is see how things will work and I have the confidence as I write to let that develop. You'll never find me meticulously planning a book before I start to write. So, I draw inspiration from anything during the process -- the way the light plays on a lake; a snatch of conversation; people's expressions; the shape of clouds; the scent in the air. Anything can give you the nudge to find an answer to the next question your writing poses and I never go anywhere without a pen and a notebook. Things will happen to help and inspire you; you just have to have confidence they'll happen at the right time.
In terms of things like dialogue and pace, I'm not sure -- I think my love of dialogue comes from reading endless play scripts. If you're careful with words you can avoid endless descriptive paragraphs and I think that aids the pace of my writing in the Raven series.
You can see I'm struggling here and that's because I don't really like to liken myself to others in terms of style. I suppose in building uncompromising characters who are heroes but not in the classic mould, I'd look to David Gemmell. Waylander, Regnak and John Shannow are all examples of that. For me, though, a single hero isn't enough, hence The Raven because I enjoy the endlessly changing interaction of the characters.
I'll leave any other drawing of parallels to readers and reviewers, I think.
I always retained belief, as I mentioned earlier, but making the pieces into a publishable whole was a long process and undoubtedly the biggest challenge. Imagine -- you send it off to publishers, agents and readers and you think it's great. Most of the time it comes back with a short rejection note. That's hard to take but it's part of the game. What I heard from my eventual publisher who agreed to read the whole thing having read the first three chapters and synopsis, was that the original Dawnthief was a 'good spine of a novel but too linear.' He estimated it needed 30,000 plus more words of atmosphere, back story, world definition and character placement.
As you can imagine, getting back in the saddle time after time is tough. Looking at your 'perfection' and then tearing it apart to make it better requires spirit and that old chestnut of belief, but what I can say is, all the effort is worth it. Never give up if you believe you've got something. Being published is humbling and wonderful.
When I was developing the relationship between Denser and Ilkar in Dawnthief I always wanted to make college ethics and morals central to Ilkar's animosity towards Denser. But it quickly became clear there was much more potential to it than that and as the novel evolved, and I thought more about the books to come, I decided I needed to formalize the college structure.
That led to a consideration on the basic level of spell sets each college had developed, how they went about replenishing their mana for casting. On a more macro level, I wanted to understand for myself how each college was structured -- taking in council organization, whether they built towers or not, why and how each college had developed away from the other three and what particular alliances or conflicts rumbled on. In historical terms, there used to be a single magic college and so there were bound to be similarities in organization despite the moral reasons for the split.
Having established the structure, it made the conflict/co-operation angles more coherent and, going forward, offers all sorts of opportunities for themes as the series goes on.
Balaia is a magical land, so the college structure and place in the psyche of the land and its peoples is crucial. By the way, I'm developing a website (slowly!) and I'll go in to all this in much more detail there for any people who are interested. I'll let you know when it's up and running, probably around November time.
But it isn't just a race to find a lost child. It's a power struggle between colleges on either side of the ethics divide, with control of Balaia as the potential prize. And as for The Raven, it's a very personal chase because the child is Denser and Erienne's daughter.
Having said that, I don't plan books chapter by chapter and event by event before I write. I like to have a broad outline and let it develop as I write and that means elements I hadn't considered at the outset becoming major factors in the final draft. In Noonshade, the 'Demon Shroud' around Julatsa is an example of that, as is the Protector defence of the Septern Manse.
All I definitely know, as I start a book, is who is alive at the beginning and end, who will be involved as the plot unfolds and what exactly has to be achieved by the time it finishes. Everything else (well, almost everything) is up for grabs.
I've got another fantasy idea brewing away, though how many books it will run to, I'm not sure yet. I'm quite excited about it, but it's one of those concepts that's going to need careful development -- something that's at odds with the way I've been writing the Raven series.
Also hanging around is a series of children's books. They won't be fantasy, though there'll be fantasy elements in them. I'm working on an ecological theme.
Aside from that, I'm working on a non-fantasy TV series with a friend of mine and I've got a couple of screen and stage play ideas in embryonic form.
In a way it's frustrating because until I can move away from full-time work, I haven't really got enough time to devote to development of other ideas while I'm writing Raven novels. Still, alleviating that frustration is certainly an incentive so I may as well use it positively.
What eventually runs in terms of future novels is never certain, of course. The publishing world is ever-changing so I'll be working closely with my agent and publishers to try to ensure any future projects don't miss the market.
Wayne MacLaurin is a regular SF Site reviewer. More of his opinions are available on our Book Reviews pages.
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