1. Hi Helen, thank you so much for dropping by and visiting Burn Bright. The second book in the Wall of Night series, “The Gathering of the Lost” has recently been released. Can you tell us a bit about the series for those of us who haven’t yet experienced life with Malian?
Helen: Hi Cels, it’s lovely to be here with you today on Burn Bright. Now, for a bit about the series…
The Wall of Night is a quartet and what I call epic or high fantasy. It’s about a world of shadow and conflict where the alien Derai people are locked into aeons-old conflict with an ancient enemy, the Swarm of Dark (or Darkswarm)—but have been divided by civil war with its legacy of prejudice, suspicion and fear. I wanted to explore that ‘fatal flaw’—so although the Derai vs Darkswarm conflict is still important and has its own twists and turns to play out, the focus of the story is as much on the Derai’s internal conflicts and their relationships with other societies. It’s also very much a story of alarms and battles, adventure and mystery, friendship and love, as well as what Robin Hobb has called “strange magic, dark treachery, and conflicting loyalties.”
The first book, THE HEIR OF NIGHT, centres on Malian, the Heir to the warrior House of Night, who discovers both the full bitterness of that legacy and realizes that she has to resolve it. The second protagonist is Kalan, a young man thrust into a hateful life who is fighting to break free. The reader’s knowledge of both the wider world of Haarth and the main characters should deepen in THE GATHERING OF THE LOST although a central question is whether Malian and Kalan’s interests, after five years’ separation, remain as aligned as they were in THE HEIR OF NIGHT. Kalan, for example, hated the life forced on him by Derai society, so why would he want to return? While Malian, at the end of the first book, pledged her word that she would try and save their world – but she still lacks allies, as well as the hero’s weapons of power. Other fears revolve around whom, in a world of conflicting ambitions, she can truly trust – and even whether, given her great power, she can trust herself? As well as just how much she is prepared to sacrifice, including others and their aspirations, to fulfil her duty to the Derai Alliance and save Haarth.
Don’t get me wrong though, this is still a story of tournaments and flights by night, plots and magic, duty and honor—as well as romance. The characters are five years older you see…
2. I was instantly enraptured with “The Heir of Night” and for me it certainly hit all the high notes of an epic fantasy. You describe yourself on your website as “a lover of story” and it certainly shows in your own writing. Most avid readers have that one book that changed their life and started their love affair, which book was it for you?
Helen: Cels, I am so glad that you enjoyed HEIR—with it recently making the shortlist for the Gemmell Morningstar Award, which as you know is reader voted, I am discovering that quite a few other people have as well, which is always nice for an author to know!
But in terms of a book that changed my life—you know, I don’t think I can point to just one: there are so many books that I love and in many cases have loved for a long time. I am, I fear, a pluralist!
But one of those special books is Roger Lancelyn Green’s Tales of Troy and Greece, which I was given at around age 10. I was already an enthusiast for both Greek and Norse myths and legends, but there was something particularly real and compelling in Green’s retelling of several of the major stories. I have read many versions of those same stories, and many other classical works and reworkings since then. But I still feel that Tales of Troy and Greece was the route marker that set me firmly on the path to short stories such as The Brother King and Ithaca, and to poems like my Ithaca Conversations sequence, as well as establishing the strong mytho-heroic influences on my novels, Thornspell and The Wall of Night series.
Another special book is Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon, which was the very first retelling of the Arthurian legends I encountered—and I loved it! I was enthralled by its interweaving of Celtic myth and real history, and the combination of politics and battles and magic, romantic and sexual relationships—but most of all that the entire story was told from the perspective of the women in the Arthurian cycle. That was definitely a first for me in my Fantasy reading and one I liked, opening up the notion that women’s history and women’s voices in storytelling had something to say: something that mattered.
Helen: I suppose it’s possible, but I do think of my novels and my poetry writing as diverse forms that may arise from the same creative impulse but evolve in very different ways. I tend to write poems in response to a specific moment of seeing or feeling. Prose works may spark in the same way, and usually there is an initial image or idea, but taking that flashpoint to a novel length work requires long hours of committed discipline. So I think the main connection between the two is a love of story and language arising out of the same creative well. This may lead to a project drawing on both forms “one day;” I certainly don’t rule it out but I can’t see it happening in the immediate future.
4. Which of your fictional characters “burns brightest” in your mind and why?
Helen: Well, I really don’t have any one favourite character because I find that whichever character I am working on at a particular time is the one I am most interested in. Some characters are definitely easier to work with than others, but often you appreciate what you have achieved with the difficult characters more. The Earl, for example, was a difficult character to write, because I wanted to convey the shadings in a personality who is not necessarily that likeable at face value. So he was hard work—but at the same time I appreciate the character because of the hard yards required to get him right. Conversely, I have a fondness for Asantir because she stepped into the book more or less fully formed and told me that she was important to the story, so I had better pay attention. Needless to say, I have been paying attention ever since!
Cels and Marianne—thank you so much for having me to spend time with you here on Burn Bright.