by Sandy Auden
Tom Lloyd gets devious talking about his latest Twilight Reign novel,
The Ragged Man; and David Wellington updates some traditional myths in his new
werewolf novel, Cursed.
Tom Lloyd's The Twilight Reign series has been a huge and complex story so far and the latest volume adds even more twists and nuances to an already convoluted plot. The two main threads in this book revolve around the child Ruhen and the grief stricken Lord Styrax.
Ruhen is really the daemon Azaer in human form and he's consolidating his existing power-base and extending his influence into new areas throughout volume four. Not only is he meddling in the politics surrounding his adopted mother, Duchess Escral ruler of Byora, but he's also manipulating the Harlequin sect, the keepers of history who send their people to tell their stories across all the lands. Ruhen's spies have infiltrated the Harlequin sect and altered some of their stories to include the coming of a powerful boy-child, a child to be worshipped.
Meanwhile, Lord Styrax grieves for his son (who was murdered at the end of book three) and focuses all his resources on obtaining the twelve crystal skulls, artefacts infused with a powerful magic and a dark purpose. Styrax's armies invade the neighbouring country and beat a bloody trail to King Emin's palace at Moorview, where Styrax hopes to retrieve another crystal skull. But support for Emin comes from a most unexpected quarter and might just defeat Styrax's hordes.
But this is a huge and complex story, which means that there's also a cast of hundreds, up to seven shades of skulduggery all over the place as well... way too much to go into detail about here but it's certainly fun watching the impact of everyone's actions. So it's perhaps a little surprising that Tom Lloyd didn't have all these twists and turns planned out from the very start.
"When I started I knew absolutely bugger all," said Lloyd. "I didn't have a plot then, I was just using the book to teach myself how to write. Once I'd got towards what was pretty much the final incarnation of [volume one] Stormcaller, I knew what would happen at the end of [volume four] Ragged Man as I'd written a short story in which the battle of Moorview had taken place. The only other part that I'd planned was a very different version of the wedding scene in which Isak was present, so events took a rather different direction for the book and a half before that!"
Lloyd's writing style also contributed to other changes occurring between book two and book four. "I'd purposely let the plot follow the consequences of what went before it, and I didn't want to keep too close to a specific agenda. Starting each novel, I've pretty much only had the start and the end, and as scary as it's been at times half the fun is in finding out how you get there. There have been lots of surprises along the way, Zhia's relationship with Doranei was never planned (despite now being obviously important) and it was only while planning Ragged Man that I worked out what Legana's end role was -- I knew she had one, but I hadn't been able to uncover it until then."
Lloyd may mention planning book four but it wasn't the tight or restrictive kind. "With the best part of 600,000 words before it, you're bound to follow a certain direction. The shape of things weren't clear to me at the start, but the basic structure was in the shadows as I knew where I had to get to. Aspects like the Menin invasion, the Farlan infighting or Ruhen's machinations were left to be detailed as I got to them -- with it of course becoming more apparent the more of the book I wrote and contained in my head. I have dozens of pages in my notebooks from the start of the last few books where I'm just working things through in my head -- following logical conclusions that I've tried not to focus on when writing the last, else I get distracted."
One person, the white-eye Isak, features more in the plan than expected -- given that he was sent to Hell by Lord Styrax at the end of volume three, The Grave Thief. In Ragged Man we learn Isak's fate and how his experiences have changed him, but what about the author? How has he changed since book one in terms of writing and more generally? "Well I've certainly done a lot of growing up in the years I've been writing this, and in the same way as Isak, I think I'm much more comfortable now with my place in the world!
"It's hard to gauge how my writing has changed other than I'm sure it contains much more confidence in what I'm doing. Identifying developments in style is harder though, especially when the requirements of a later-series book are subtly different to the starting volume where the world's introduced."
Like Isak, many (but not all) of Lloyd's other characters have survived to the fourth volume too. Have they become any easier to write? "I'd say the ones that have become most natural to me are the rather rootless, classless ones; King's Men and the like who have more education that most but aren't part of the ruling class, or men like Amber who've had their refined edges roughened by life. I think that's just because I've seen a bit more of the world since I started, ten years or more ago -- seen a bit more of the bullshit people come out with, worked out the bullies and liars as well the people you can really trust."
There certainly seems to be several very devious characters. "I think they probably seem more devious, the closer it gets to the bone, but that's probably more revealed intentions for most, rather than a mental shift.
"The star among those is certainly Zhia Vukotic, no one can touch her on that subject and you'll only find out in book five where her true loyalties lie. There are references in several directions throughout books three and four, but you've not seen every step of her workings yet."
Lloyd's characters walk through a vividly built world and in book four the landscape of the afterlife is one the most memorable constructions. "Once I knew I had a scene in the afterlife it occurred to me that I hadn't seen many books go into much detail there. I wasn't sure whether I would be getting over-excited about playing with daemons and put off readers, but discussing it with Lou Anders, my US editor, we came to the conclusion that it would add to the series -- it's a part of world building you don't often get but should be crucial to the religion and mythology of a world like mine. He told me to read A History of Hell which proved hugely useful; a detailed view from various cultures which I cherry-picked for elements that suited the style of my gods and past references."
Whether he's journeying to Hell or arranging assassinations Lloyd is, overall, pleased with his world and how story has evolved so far. "It's certainly not perfect, there are a few inconsistencies or omissions I've come across that I would tweak for perfect internal logic, but overall I'm very happy with how it's worked out and have repeatedly found the structure I've built providing the answer to plot questions. It's rounded enough that the characters really do play within it and feed off the history and folklore, ultimately proving more alive than I'd ever expected it to!"
Those characters still have one more volume to play in so what kind of experience has writing book five been so far, compared to book one? "Massively different. For book one I could take my time and was actively adding background material and expanding the world, now I find myself with a closing deadline and the need to boil all these elements down to a resolution.
"The trickiest thing is working out how to end all the threads in a satisfying way, having heard opinions of fans on how they view the series and characters. Blending the character threads and ultimate plot in a way that's going to be fun to read in book form is I think the biggest challenge, and a long way from the specific, limited ending I needed for Stormcaller.
David Wellington's Latest Book With Bite – Cursed
Cheyenne Clark is on a hiking trip when she's caught in a flash flood that leaves her bruised and battered, without food or equipment. To top it all off, as night falls she realises she is being stalked by wolves. When one of the wolves attacks, she manages to survive but the wolf rips her ankle open in the encounter. Discovering that she is now firmly under the influence of a werewolf curse, she seeks help from the man who created her problem. Only problem is: he wants her dead.
Cursed is an easy-flowing story of two worlds -- human and wolf. But why did the author want to write about werewolves? "I had already done vampires and zombies so I figured I should cover all the bases," says Wellington. "Seriously, that was the first impetus -- but once I started doing the research, learning about actual wolves, I realised there was something deep and universal there: our fear of our animalistic side, the desperate, wild part of our psyche that we can never seem to shed."
The starting point for the story was its atmospheric location. "I usually start with the ending of a book and work backwards but this time it was all about the setting. During my research I was looking for a truly desolate place -- an uninhabited wilderness. The Canadian Arctic jumped out at me. It was a place where wolves can thrive, but humans are almost unknown. A forest, a place full of life, but a place where humans could barely survive. I knew I wanted to write about a place like that.
"I didn't travel to the wilds of Canada, sadly -- I couldn't afford to do so -- but I did go to Maine, which has similar regions, and spent a lot of time in the woods. I tried to get a sense of what it would be like to be trapped there, to be lost in those trees with no way home. That scared the hell out of me, and I took that feeling back with me when I went to write the book."
Wellington's directionless and endearing main character Cheyenne was the first person to experience that fear when she first appeared to Wellington. "Chey I found stuck up a tree. It was a comical place for her, but I knew she'd never been more frightened in her life. Lost, alone, with no supplies, and now something was hunting her, watching her with glowing eyes from the dark. Anybody in that situation would be terrified -- no matter how tough they really were."
Those glowing eyes belonged to the werewolf of course but Wellington's lupine creations are slightly different to the traditional creatures of legend. "I did a lot of research. I studied the old werewolf stories, and learned to my surprise that more people were burned at the stake for being werewolves than were ever executed for witchcraft -- maybe ten times as many. That was an eye-opener. I also did an enormous amount of research about real wolves. That started by watching my own dog!"
From there his own 'rules' evolved. "I always like to start with the traditional myth and then twist it a little to update it. The things that seem nonsensical to me I change -- the idea that the wolves would only change under a full moon was always problematic. And most stories have the transformation be unbearably painful and bloody. But from the wolf's point of view, I knew it would feel great to get to be themselves again, after being trapped in a human body all day."
Cursed existed in a short rough form for some years before blossoming into a full novel. It was first released to the public via a serialisation on Wellington's website but he didn't have any plans to publish it. "It was a pet project, something I intended to keep on the website and tinker with when I felt like it. Then my agent read it and he loved it. He said I needed to publish it. My publisher agreed!
"So, I went over the book myself, line by line, cleaning up the prose, and also expanding it considerably -- a lot of the story in the serial wasn't as clear as it could be, and some of the ideas intrigued me so much I wanted to build on them. Then I went through it with my editor, who found dozens of things I'd completely missed: points where the story contradicted itself, or was still confusing. Together we really made it shine."
Then Wellington realised that Cursed wasn't the end of the story. "I actually planned on it being completely self-contained. But life doesn't work that way -- real life has no discreet ending -- and the characters were so real to me by the end that I couldn't help but imagine what happened next, and how they would continue to relate to each other."
The result is a second volume, Ravaged, but this one won't be available as a web serialisation. "Serialising a book is actually far more work than just publishing one the traditional way. It requires a lot of time and patience and though the benefits are enormous -- instant feedback from the readers, the fun of designing the site from scratch -- but it's just not feasible on my publishing schedule now. It's sad, but it's one of the realities I face making a living out of this.
"I'm not sure when I'll have time to do another one, but I know I'd love to! Meanwhile, I'm working on my fifth vampire novel, 32 Fangs. Fans of that series are definitely in for a treat."
Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.
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