A Gemmell Award Essay: “Why I Chose To Write Fantasy & Writing Influences”
As you may know, The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night Book One) recently won the international Gemmell Morningstar Award.
As one of the authors on the original Morningstar longlist, I was asked if I would submit an article on why I chose to write in the Fantasy genre and also the influences on my writing style, that might be posted on the Gemmell Awards site.
Although the article did not in fact post, I thought it might be of sufficient interest, given the award win, to post here—although I will admit to having cribbed a little for the Awards acceptance speech, posted here.
“Why I Chose To Write In The Fantasy Genre And Influences On My Fantasy Writing
I have been asked to share the reasons why I chose Fantasy as a genre, but I think the truth is more the other way about—from a very early age Fantasy chose me. I always loved fairytales and I still remember that first moment of wonder and delight when, together with Lucy Pevensie, I stepped through the back of a wardrobe and discovered Narnia. I quickly went on to read many other Fantasy authors, such as Alan Garner and Diana Wynne Jones, and recall how the prevailing darkness of Garner’s “Elidor” stayed with me, inspiring my own first imagining of a gloom-shot, twilight world—a world that has finally taken form in “The Heir of Night.”
Around the same time that I was discovering Narnia, Elidor and Dalemark, a teacher displayed a poster of the twelve Olympian gods on my classroom wall. I was utterly absorbed by the brief bios that went with each deity and instantly began reading everything I could find on Greek mythology, quickly progressing to Norse, Egyptian and any other available material—an enthusiasm that has endured and undoubtedly shaped my work.
Given this background, it is not surprising that as a teen I went on to read works such as “The Lord of the Rings”, with its strong mythological influence, and the epic-in-scale “Dune”. It would be fair to say that I left no book in the library—suitable or unsuitable—unread, but formative influences that still stand out include Robert Heinlein’s “The Door into Summer”, for sparking an interest in Science Fiction in its own right, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s “The Mists of Avalon.” I loved the way Bradley blended Celtic myth and real history—and told the entire story from the perspective of the women in the Arthurian cycle, opening up the notion that women’s history and women’s voices in and through storytelling had something to say: something that mattered.
Although I have always been drawn to Fantasy-Science Fiction (FSF), history has been an equally strong storytelling influence. I read non-fiction history as well, but would cite novelists such as Rosemary Sutcliff, Mary Renault and Robert Graves as strong influences on my style of Fantasy writing. And of course influences are never restricted to books—I can also point to my work in environmental management and with indigenous land rights, as well as many years practising martial arts, as influences on my storytelling.
But given that “The Heir of Night” has been nominated for the Gemmell Awards I do want to talk about David Gemmell and his particular influence on my writing. The first novel I read was “Waylander”, and from the moment I began reading I was a Gemmell fan. I love the epic sweep of his stories and the sense of contending light and dark—but also the many shades of human fallibility between those extremes. And I have always been strongly drawn to his writing of heroism, sacrifice and duty—and the ability of friendship and love, in rare circumstances, to transcend ambition and self-interest. The standout example for me has always been the friendship between Tenaka Khan and Ananais in “The King Beyond the Gate.” But from that very first reading of “Waylander” I thought: “Yes! Yes, these are the kind of stories I want to tell, too.”
So to return to why I write Fantasy—at one level the answer remains that I have no choice, because my ideas for novels have always come in the guise of Fantasy. But a second, equally true answer is that I write Fantasy because I love reading Fantasy—that sense of wonder and delight I encountered with “The Lion, the Witch & the Wardrobe”, the mystery and terror of “Elidor”, and the power and epic sweep of “The Lord of the Rings” and “Legend.” As a writer, Fantasy allows me possibility: to explore otherness and play with “what if”—to take that wild ride beyond the real and the ordinary, to the farthest reaches of the imagination. And to aspire to create the very best Fantasy, stories whose only borders are discovery, a realm shared between writer and reader.”