Black Hallows: Cradle of darkness

An interview with the authors

Hail to all peoples of the free lands. My name is Magister Reganum, Keeper of the Royal Library, Lore-Master and advisor to Tayem, Queen of Dragonia. I have gathered you here to gain insight from two travellers who visit the city of Wyverneth from far off lands. They claim to have recorded a great work entitled ‘Cradle of Darkness,’ and as a lover of literature myself, I granted them an audience to explain what their book is about. If the history they have recorded is indeed worthy and accurate, it may act as a fitting tribute to the trials and victories that we have experienced since Sol-Ar precipitated the Black Hallows to blight the Imperious Crescent.

I have agreed to act as interviewer in this exchange, and am going to start by asking Andrew Naisbitt a number of questions.

Magister Reganum: The origin of the Black Hallows idea is quite novel. How did it originally come about?

Andy: The concept came from a ‘Kickstarter’ project a friend of mine was working on producing 30mm metal characters for role playing games. The initial plan was to ultimately produce a dark fantasy style table top game. Without digressing further I was asked to name and write the pen pictures of the characters and the synopsis of the game…

It had always been intended to get an experienced author to write a spin off novel but as the project developed the background story emerged prior to Tom being involved… Ultimately Tom was introduced to the project, liked the concept and it just evolved that we started working together.

Magister Reganum: Your knowledge of model building, rpg and table-top gaming must have been an influence. Tell us a bit about that. Cradle of darkness has a cast of well over one hundred characters. Which one proved most interesting to write about and why?

Andy: I like to think it helps me see ideas / concepts in my mind’s eye before committing ideas to paper. When model building and painting I can ‘picture’ what I want the finished item to look like and I applied the same mental process to the scripting characters and plots. A good example is the Kaldoran Cave Crawler which features in the story and a model of which has been used as prop from some of the promotional pictures…

The number of characters wasn’t planned, it evolved. Perhaps I should say at this point that Tom and I didn’t expect to write such a hefty tome…. I think we thought it would be about 100k words but it flowed and we let the story take its course but it meant more minor characters had to play a part. For me Zodarin was the most interesting of the main characters, and certainly his part develops more depth as the story unfolds and he succumbs to the nefarious dragon blight infection…

Magister Reganum: Creating a whole new world and plotting a novel that is over 650 pages long is a colossal task. How did you and Tom go about it? Who or what are your influences when it comes to fantasy fiction?

Andy: I already had the embryo of an idea before I met Tom as I mentioned before. I’d been interested in a number of works regarding the Corsican tradition of the mazzeri or dream hunters and was applying the concept into a gaming scenar. That ultimately evolved as Tom and I worked through plot ideas. We produced a basic yet flexible ‘storyboard’ to guide the writing process which allowed us a freedom to express new ideas as they came along. I think that is how Tom and I differ. I work an idea around in my head and then commit to paper whereas Tom likes to explore ideas as he writes. I also think it was a little strange for Tom at first working with a co-author but I think our different styles and approaches have complemented each other…My influences are more science and crime fiction-base. In addition,  my writing style is more precise than classic fantasy literature which was a key reason why we agreed Tom would adapt my scripts to his style.  This ensured we had a consistency of voice that ran through the whole book.

Magister Reganum: Now the first book is written. What does the future hold for the peoples of Varchal?

Andy: Publication of “Cradle of Darkness” is 30th November 2019 in the UK so we are working on the final edit at this moment in time. Tom is also recording the audio version while I prepare new character sheets and plot ideas for the follow up story… we plan to start writing again towards the end of January 2020. We might start the final part of the trilogy next year but that is subject to our other individual commitments… There will also be a series of free short stories for those who subscribe to our work…

Magister Reganum: That was most illuminating, Andrew. Thank you for expanding on your writing process. I would now address Tom.

Magister Reganum: You are renowned for writing horror, and what you term ‘abyssal black fantasy.’ How did the writing of ‘Cradle of Darkness’ differ from your usual fare?

Tom: First of all, the genesis of the story was unusual. Andy already had the basic concept of the Black Hallows, together with the four factions that live in this area of land called The Imperious Crescent. He had also come up with a whole dynamic called the Dreamworld and written a couple of opening scenes and character sketches. So the basic premise was already established.

Very early on, we had to figure out how we would approach the writing. As Andy has already explained, we produced some definite ‘signposts’ to guide the actual first draft. However, I wanted the freedom to ‘wander’ a bit in my discovery-writer mode between these signposts. Sometimes this was a direct route – especially in the closing chapters, but more often than not, I established plot elements that arose out of the characters interactions. For example, the whole relationship between Tayem and Cistre, her bodyguard, was not planned. It just seemed that there was more to it than loyalty and devotion to duty. There were undercurrents of emotion evident from the get-go – which added a real energy to the story dynamic. Another element – this time from a more ‘world-building’ point of view – was how Zodarin’s contraction of dragon blight affected his off-worlder’s nature.

Another big difference in this book, compared to my previous books, was the ‘darkness’ of the story. It had to be moderated to a certain extent as the minimum age we were aiming the novel at was thirteen years old. Normally I operate on a completely blank canvas and allow my imagination to explore all kinds of avenues. Often these are transgressive and plummet the depths of human experience – hence the term ‘abyssal black fantasy.’ In Cradle of Darkness, there is less explicitness. That said, there is conflict, tension, intrigue and epic battles i.e. all the things you’d want to see in a fantasy novel of this calibre!

Magister Reganum: Your publishing entity is ‘Writing in Starlight.’ Where did the name come from?

Tom: Writing in Starlight comes from a line in a Ronnie James Dio song: ‘Don’t write in starlight or the words may come out real.’ Dio is a major influence of mine, whether it be his lyrics, his stage persona, his awesome roar of a voice or simply the inspirational qualities of his life. His songs are all about believing in yourself and never giving up, despite the odds. Of course, it all helps that he sings about dragons, knights, demons and angels which is very much up my street. When I’m really in my element writing, it’s like a muse overtakes me and I feel like a hand guides my quill (well – ahem – keyboard fingers.) There’s that sense that the words have gravity and convey truth on some level. It sounds like grand pretension, but ask any writer and they’ll share a similar experience.

Magister Reganum: Tell us something about your writing process, and how you navigated your way through writing a first draft.

Tom: Following on from what I said above, it starts with an idea and a semi-fleshed-out plot. Thereafter I’m entering the garden of mystery. I may have a notion of where I hope to end up, but who knows if I’ll actually reach there. I write in a program called ‘Scrivener’ which draws together the plot elements, chapters and world-building under one roof. My drafts bounce between ipad, PC and the cloud so wherever I am I can pick up where I left off.

I like to write in coffee shops, and have a number of favourite haunts, most notably,‘Off the Wall’ and ‘Mr Brown’s in Brampton, and Dunelm in Carlisle. It gives me a feeling that I’m going to the office and generally find the atmosphere conducive. I start by reading through what I wrote the previous day and make one or two corrections. I may have left a few xxx lines where I couldn’t think of the right word or phrase at the time. If I can, I fill these in. Sometimes I know I need a more poetic or descriptive paragraph, and if I’m in the mood, I work on that too. It usually takes me thirty minutes or so to settle in, but once I’m going you can’t stop me. I’m happy if I produce 2,000 or more words in a morning.

With Cradle of Darkness, I compiled what I produced during the week and sent it off to Andy for his scrutiny. This was a new experience for me and at first a little uncomfortable as I tended to go by Stephen King’s maxim: ‘write the first draft with the door closed, and the second with the door open.’ But with Andy being the co-author I could hardly shut him out, could I? Once he’d had a read through, he might suggest things to change, especially if it came to major plot points that developed. Then we would plan what to do for the next week, including chapters he was going to write. I would take these and then adapt them to my style while trying to remain true to Andy’s direction and storytelling. That way we had a consistency of voice that ran through the whole three acts of the tale.

Magister Reganum: They say all writers are readers. Who are your major influences?

Tom: When it comes to storytelling, there are many factors which feed in, not just the fiction I have read. Most notable of these is music, but there’s also philosophy, religion and life experiences. But seeing as you asked about books, I’ll mention one or two writers. I defy any fantasy writer not to have been influenced by Tolkien – and I am no exception. I read the Hobbit at six years old, and the Lord of the Rings at thirteen. Surprisingly, I read the Silmarillion before LOTR!

Tolkien really opened up the universe for me, and it was the first time I had a sense that one could be transported to and immersed in new worlds. I am in awe of the man in terms of his research and preparation, as well as his actual story telling ability. He spent decades preparing the languages and peoples of his books long before he actually started to write the stories, and his sense of lore and history runs through all of his work. For example, did you know that he based Gandalf on the figure of Odin who, it is told, wandered the mortal lands to converse with his followers in cognito?  The man was a true genius and the progenitor of a whole genre. I quickly moved on to read Stephen Donaldson’s ‘Thomas Covenant’ books and David Eddings’ ‘Tales of the Belgariad, not to mention Ursula Le Guinn’s ‘Wizard of Earthsea’ trilogy.

Then, at the age of eighteen, I discovered Stephen King, and have been a life-long fan. His work, along with James Herbert and Clive Barker turned me on to the worlds of horror and Dark Fantasy. These days, I read very widely and am trying to get more into the classics. An incredible author to read is John Fowles, and his ‘Magus’ novel is a true masterpiece of characterisation and plot.

Magister Reganum: As well as producing Cradle of Darkness in paperback and ebook form, you are also recording an audio book. How does narrating a novel add to the creative experience?

Tom: Narrating stories is as old as human existence. Before the written word existed, our ancestors related their stories by word of mouth round their campfires. So, reading aloud is an integral part to what I do. As a youngster, my brother and I were always making up characters with back stories and their own peculiar voices. It was all a bit comedic but helped fertilise our imaginations. Apart from the obvious dimension of audio books operating on a different sensory level to print or e-books, I find narrating my own books acts as another editing level. It’s not until you have heard your prose read aloud that you appreciate the rhythm of sentences or even whether the narrative actually makes sense. I often rewrite parts because they sound a bit clunky – particularly dialogue.

On top of all this, I love making up the voices for the characters. In ‘Cradle of Darkness’ you’ll find all sorts of peculiar accents and qualities of voice; from guttural Kaldorans to the lyrical Dragonians, to the more vulgar Cuscosian dialects. You’ll probably recognise the odd scouser, Geordie and cockney inflections in there too!

Magister Reganum: You and Andy have written a short story prequel entitled ‘Conclave of Cannibals.’ What was the thinking behind this?

Tom: Pure marketing clickbait! No, seriously, we wanted to give readers something to get in to while they waited for publication of the full-length novel, while at the same time offering something free that we could use to attract people to our mailing list. Rather than just rattle something off willy-nilly, Andy and I took a chapter from Tayem’s past and dipped into it to explain how she came to prominence as Queen of the Donnephon. The short story also gave a further flavour of the world Tayem inhabits and the foes she has to face. We were very pleased with the result, and anyone can download the story by visiting https://dl.bookfunnel.com/olj11dg3iy

Magister Reganum: I fear the Fyreclave calls now and I will have to draw this conversation to a close. I would like to thank you both for your time, and assure you that your insights will be transcribed into my journal and find their place in the Royal Library. However, before I go, I understand that on your world you have something called ‘cyberspace?’ What is this strange magical realm?

Tom: Quite simply, it’s a communication system where you can find out about lots of things. If you want to discover more about the Black Hallows, you can sign up to our mailing list at https://dl.bookfunnel.com/olj11dg3iy and like our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/Black-Hallows-Cradle-of-Darkness-112211593524934/

Black Hallows: Cradle of Darkness can be purchased via this link: https://books2read.com/u/3kp5RW

 Magister Reganum: Your words are in some arcane tongue, but I assume it is all benign?

Tom: Absolutely. It was great to hang with you, Magister. Thank you for having us, and —Distrax Semlessin.

Magister Reganum: Distrax Semlessin indeed!

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