|All Action Boy|
An Interview with James Barclay
|conducted by Sandy Auden|
There's always a high body count in a James Barclay Fantasy book.
Battles, action and realism sit at the heart of his stories, and the Chronicles of The Raven series
established both his small band of mercenaries, The Raven, and demonstrated his gleeful attitude to bumping off his characters.
A new series, called Legends of The Raven, begins with the release of Elfsorrow. It's a stand-alone tale, where The Raven's elven mage, Ilkar, returns home to the southern continent. He needs to find out why thousands of elves are being struck down by a terrifying affliction, and it's not long before the situation is caught up in intrigue, hatred and, ultimately, war.
In The Chronicles, The Raven were already feeling their age. Now they're even older. It's one of many realistic touches that Barclay has included in his stories.'Age is critical in mercenary fighting,' he says, 'because it doesn't take you very long before you start losing your edge. Even in the first volume, Dawnthief, The Raven had been going for ten years. They were just past their prime and already living on their wits, as much as their skill.'
'I want it so that they don't just beat their way out of everything -- they have to think about it, think about the best way to do it. If that involves fighting, that's fine, they're very good at it, but they can't just bulldoze their way out any more. They're getting on and they'll lose if they come up against a twenty-one-year-old who's quicker and just as strong. The reality of sword fighting and magic battles is that it's a horrible, violent business and people die very, very easily if they're not careful.'
Including the main characters?
'Oh yes!' he grins. 'I do that to keep the readers guessing, and stop them from getting comfortable. You don't know who's going to come out of any battle, and my characters die at the beginning of books, at the end, and in the middle. I want to make The Raven exceptional but not invincible. Invincibility is actually quite dull, because there's no real risk if they are all bound to survive it, bound to win. OK, with The Raven you would expect the group as a whole to succeed and win, and part of the fun is seeing how they get round their problems. But, what you don't know is how many of the individual members will still be alive. Fighting's a dangerous business, it can happen at random almost -- you could get hit by a stray arrow or a backfired spell, anything! Those sort of things just make it more exciting.'
To maintain this excitement and realism in all his scenes, Barclay employs a very specific technique. 'I tend to draw out diagrams, flow diagrams, like choreography,' he explains. 'I had to choreograph the scene when Sha-Khan, the dragon, blew fire out of his mouth at the mage, Stillian. I did it wrong originally and had one of The Raven, Hirad, standing in front of the dragon's mouth when he blows the fire, so I had to re-write it with Hirad jumping out of the way. Although,' he adds, 'it would have been fun to have Sha-Khan saying "Ooops! Sorry!" after frying Hirad!'
'The choreography is also important when the whole of The Raven are fighting at the same time,' he continues. 'I need to know where they are and who is going to attack them, just so I can make sure that they're all in the right place. Then again, these fighting diagrams often go out the window very quickly, because, as a famous general once said, "A battle plan doesn't survive first contact." You can have as much plan as you like, but as soon as you get into combat, it's chaos and the only things you can see are loads of steel and flesh.'
So the idealistic sword fighting in the old Errol Flynn movies wasn't an inspiration then? 'No, I didn't like the swashbuckling movies as a kid. In my books, they don't fight with little rapiers and go round nicking each other's shirts daintily. My characters fight with three inch wide, four foot long blades and that's why the battles are so quick, one good blow and you're dead.'
(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.
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