Recently, The Gathering Of The Lost was shortlisted for the David Gemmell Legend Award, and as a finalist I was interviewed on a number of fora around the traps.
I was asked a number of great questions so thought I’d share a few of them—plus my answers, of course!—here on the blog over a number of weeks.
Tim Jones, in his interview with me on SF Signal, asked a very interesting question on the epic continuum—and generated an indepth answer!
“Tim: High or epic fantasy can range from the deeply heroic – such as The Lord Of The Rings – to the deeply anti-heroic – such as the A Song Of Ice And Fire series. If you’re willing to admit the existence of such a continuum, where along it would you place The Gathering Of The Lost – and would you place the predecessor volume, The Heir Of Night, at the same place on the continuum?
Helen: That’s a very interesting question, Tim. I do think there is a continuum, and I tend to think of THE WALL OF NIGHT quartet (of which The Heir Of Night and The Gathering Of The Lost comprise Books One and Two respectively) as “epic-heroic” fantasy. What I mean by “epic-heroic” is that it is primarily a story of adventure and heroism and magic, where there is a lot at stake and what’s at stake matters. In that sense it draws on the High Fantasy tradition of the Morte D’Arthur, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and Parsifal, with their notions of quest and doomed stands, the trumpet blast at dawn, the banners of noon day, and the twilight of both heroes and gods.
Squarely, you may therefore assume, at the Tolkien end of the epic fantasy spectrum – except that another major influence on my writing is history, and that means I try to temper the heroism with realism, particularly when it comes to dealing with war and conflict. One way I do this is through a focus on characters, so as I said in a recent post: “although The Gathering Of The Lost is heroic fantasy … people who matter, people those in the story love and care about, are going to get injured and killed in the armed conflicts-because that is what happens in war … So as part of achieving realism, I try and make sure that those caught up in the conflict are real people for the reader, not just “redshirts” who can be killed off with zero emotional cost.”
I believe this aspect of the storytelling is not incompatible with what is happening in the A Song of Ice And Fire series – but I would argue that it’s not incompatible with Tolkien either. The Lord Of The Rings is probably higher and more heroic storytelling, but it is also all about the emotional cost of war, so perhaps that is a thread that binds the continuum together.
Emotional depth is also the respect in which I feel the WALL series is very much its own story. For me, a good film or a good book is always about the emotional power in the storytelling, and the depth and subtlety of the characters. Do they feel real and believable, do I lose myself in what is happening in their lives – because those are the characters I want to meet in my reading and bring to life through my writing. Much as I love heroism (and I really do), I believe both The Heir Of Night and The Gathering Of The Lost are primarily about human characters. So although Heir may be a more magic-driven story and focused on the “unrelentingly dark, haunting atmosphere” (Specusphere) of the Wall of Night, while Gathering is more adventurous and opens up into a wider world, I believe they do sit together on any continuum.”