The second volume in Helen Lowe’s Wall of Night series, The Gathering of the Lost, has recently been released worldwide. To celebrate the book’s release, and learn a little bit more about it, I decided to get in touch with Helen, and see if she’d be interested in talking about her novels, writing process, and more. In addition, if you read right until the end, there are also details of a giveaway…
The Gathering of the Lost, the second novel in The Wall of Night series, is released this year (Harper Voyager USA; Orbit UK). How would you introduce the series to a new reader?
Firstly, Stefan, I’d like to thank you very much for interviewing me for Civilian Reader. I enjoy the blog and it’s a great pleasure to be here.
The Wall of Night series (a quartet) is what I would call classically conceived epic or high fantasy. The Wall of Night itself exists on the world of Haarth and is an environment of shadow and conflict that the Derai Alliance garrisons against an aeons-old enemy, the Swarm of Dark (or Darkswarm). If I stopped there you might say “just another epic fantasy” and leave it at that – although I love the traditional form so it’s never a “just” for me. But another reason I chose to write within the classical model is because I wanted to explore how the Derai, who believe themselves to be champions of good, are in fact divided by prejudice, suspicion and fear: the ‘fatal flaw’ that imbues myth and is the basis for most tragedies. Another important element is that the Derai are alien to Haarth: they have brought their war and their enemy with them – and not surprisingly the indigenous inhabitants have their own views on the situation. The Derai vs. Darkswarm conflict is still important and has its own twists and turns to play out, but the focus of the story is as much on the Derai’s internal conflicts and their relationships with other societies.
The first-in-series, The Heir of Night, introduces the world and sets up most if not all of the fundamental conflicts within the story (I see The Wall of Night series as one story told in four parts), as well as introducing the main characters. Chiefly, these are Malian, the Heir of Night herself, who find herself at the centre of both outside attack and plot and counterplot within her home Keep of Winds, and Kalan, a young man whose magic powers mean that he must bear the full brunt of the Derai’s prejudice and discrimination. I won’t describe all the other central characters, only say that many of them resurface in The Gathering of the Lost. Several new and important characters are also introduced.
US / UK
So what else can we expect from the second novel?
Plenty of adventure – battles and tournaments and flights by night, mystery and magic, friendship and romance, as well as a deepening knowledge of both the world and the characters. In terms of the plot… Well, The Gathering of the Lost takes the reader out into the wider world of Haarth, picking up five years after Malian and Kalan went missing in Jaransor. But the Darkswarm is on the hunt and the story shifts from murder amidst the alleys and islands of Ij, on the Great River, to forays along the remote marches patrolled by the Emerian knights.
A central question in The Gathering of the Lost is whether Malian and Kalan’s interests – after five years’ separation – remain as closely aligned as in The Heir of Night. Kalan escaped a life of discrimination and prejudice on the Wall of Night, and is now able to live a life he wants, while Malian feels bound by her pledge, given at the end of the first book, to try and save Haarth from the growing power of the Swarm. But she still lacks allies, and the weapons of the Derai’s greatest legendary hero, which she needs to return safely to the Wall, remain lost. She must also try and discern who, in a world of conflicting ambitions, she can truly trust – as well as just how far she is prepared to go in terms of sacrificing others and their interests, including Kalan, to fulfil her duty to the Derai Alliance.
Where did the inspiration for the story and series come from? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?
I think ideas spark in a great many ways, and there is probably never just one influence on a story. I do feel that the origin of The Wall of Night series lies with the Wall of Night itself, which I first envisaged as a kid, although the wider world of Haarth evolved a lot later. In terms of that initial concept of a dark, wind-blasted environment, I can point to influences in myth, because I had just discovered the Norse cycles. (I mean, the “twilight of the gods” – how could that not influence an imaginative eight year old?) Other stories, such as Alan Garner’s Elidor, with its juxtaposition of a war-damaged UK city with a dark magical realm, also seized my imagination at that same time. But nature was an influence as well. We were living in Singapore when I was reading all these stories, and of course its location on the equator means night falls very quickly. The idea of the Golden Fire sparked from observing the way the lights of our house would spring into life against the backdrop of the swiftly falling dark. The rest, of course, was totally what my imagination did with all these inputs. J
This is probably a good example of the influences that work on my creative process. I am something of a creative magpie, gleaning the “shiny” from an argosy of myth and legend, the natural environment, art and music – and very much from history and to a lesser extent science, as well as from observation of human nature and behaviour. It can be anything, really – I never know which piece of “shiny” will grab my imaginative attention next.
US / UK
How were you introduced to genre fiction?
I always loved fairytales as a very young kid, but I began consuming myths and legends avidly, again from around age eight, when I was entranced by a poster of the twelve Olympians that my teacher put up on the classroom wall. I wanted to know more and began the process of reading first the Greek and then the Norse, Egyptian and Celtic myths, as well as folklore and legend: King Arthur and Oliver and Parsifal. The stories absorbed my imagination and I also loved the epic sweep of tales like the Iliad and the Odyssey, as well as their emotional power. My first “genre” reads as a kid were books like C.S. Lewis’s Narnia series, Alan Garner, and Diana Wynne Jones with books like Eight Days of Luke. As a teen, I both read and loved all the classics, such as The Lord of the Rings, Dune, and Fahrenheit 451, but pretty much sought out anything I could find in the FSF genre. (As well as quite a few others – I pretty much “read everything.”) Early favourites included Ursula Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, Patricia McKillip’s The Riddlemaster of Hed trilogy, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Mists of Avalon.
How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?
I wonder who first said that “writing is 10% inspiration and 90% perspiration?” Like most “truisms” it has attained that status because it is true. I feel an aura of glamour exists around the writing life – but the “reality” is little different from most small businesses, where one does the book writing (and/or doughnut selling, whiteware repairs, et al) by day and everything else “after hours.” So to get you through, you have to be passionate about, or at least very strongly motivated by, the actual writing. And when I am writing, I do really enjoy that, and I enjoy interacting with readers as well.
In terms of writing practice, I try and write – as opposed to doing any other writing-related activities, however important – a minimum of four hours a day, five days a week. If at all possible, in amongst all the other business of writing and life, I strive to do more. And I have to be at my writing desk for either the four hours per day, or complete two hundred words – whichever takes longer. Two hundred words is not much, but I find that if I can get through that first 200 words then I will probably write 2,000, or even 10,000. (Although that doesn’t happen often.) I don’t want to beat myself up though, if it’s only 1,200, but they’re all ‘quality’ words.
When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?
[Laughs out loud.] I think I was around 8 or 9 – about the same age I was discovering myths and legends and accompanying Lucy Pevensie though the back of a wardrobe and into Narnia! I was obviously discovering poetry as well, because I penned my first effort at that time – a hugely derivative riff on Wordsworth’s “Daffodils.” From there I quickly went on to write plays to act out with my brothers and friends and recall these stories as being far more my own. But I knew I wanted to write from that period, and I continued to do so throughout my teens.
What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?
I feel that the genre is much as it has always been from where I’m looking, which is that there is a diversity of fiction being created. Probably I can point to the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomena bringing FSF far more into the mainstream, and although paranormal fantasy set in a contemporary urban milieu is not new, the huge upsurge in paranormal urban fantasy/romance definitely is. I also have this perception that far fewer science fiction novels, and certainly hard Sci-Fi stories, are being published and the current trend favours Fantasy subgenres. (I do not know whether hard data supports my perception or not.)
In terms of where my current work fits in, I think the Wall series is definitely in the epic and/or high fantasy quadrant of the genre ’verse – but I do have story ideas in other subgenres as well.
What projects are you working on, and what do you have currently in the pipeline?
I am currently working on Daughter of Blood, The Wall of Night Book Three and then it will be straight onto the fourth and final book in the series. After that I have no specific plans although there are a number of story ideas I would enjoy pursuing. But obviously a great deal will depend on the success of The Wall of Night series.
What are you reading at the moment (fiction and/or non-fiction)?
Right now, I’m reading Robin Hobb’s City of Dragons and waiting on the TBR table are Hannu Rajaniemi’s The Quantum Thief, Kate Elliott’s Cold Fire, and Green’s translation of The Argonautika.
What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?
Surprised to know about me, hmmm [thinks] … which implies that it would have to be something surprising to know … And I really can’t think of anything that surprising!
What are you most looking forward to in 2012?
Until 27 March, I would have said publication of The Gathering of the Lost, The Wall of Night Book Two, because that was release day in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. And it has been quite a journey, through nearly 18 months of earthquakes now in my home city of Christchurch, to get the book completed and out there to readers. But I still have next Thursday, April 5, to look forward to, which is release day in the UK – and later in the year, in August, The Heir of Night (Book One), will be published in Germany. (It was published in The Netherlands last year and is recently out in France as well.) I am also looking forward to finishing Book Three, Daughter of Blood and with luck starting Book Four (no working title yet!). And in the not too distant future I am looking forward to reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Drowned City. I loved both The Windup Girl and Shipbreaker, so the new one is definitely a “look forward to” read.
Although it is not a “looking forward to” – because I have no way of knowing whether it will happen or not – I am definitely hoping for an “end to earthquakes” and most particularly “no more major events.” I would also add: “and to getting my house repaired” – but given the scale of the damage done citywide and the classification given to my place, I don’t think that’s going to happen for a number of years yet!
You’ve dedicated The Gathering of the Lost to those affected by the earthquakes last year. How much of an impact has that had on the novel, and how has it been working and living through the aftermath and reconstruction?"
The past eighteen months of earthquakes has been, quite simply, a terrible time. But February 22nd was undoubtedly the worst of it – not just because it destroyed Christchurch’s city centre, a large part of which is still a no-go zone, but because of the number of people killed and injured. At the time I wrote the dedication, it was 181 dead, but that has since been revised upward to 185. The dedication is also to the rescue workers on that day, the police, fire and medical services, as well as to the many different groups that made a difference in the aftermath: urban search and rescue teams from all over the world, and the student and farmer volunteers who also made a huge contribution. And because the quakes have not been a single event, but gone on (there have been almost 10,000 so far since September 2010, with four separate major events) we still can’t say for sure whether the worst is over, or not. (Welcome to “Groundhog Day”, earthquake style.) Two thirds of the city’s infrastructure was taken out in 30 seconds on February 22nd as well – i.e. water, power, and sewerage, as well as major damage to roads and bridges – so I expect readers can well imagine what I mean by saying I live in a “broken city,” one that is going to take many years of fixing.
In terms of my writing, it was certainly challenging times completing The Gathering of the Lost in that environment, something I discuss in the Acknowledgments as well, but in a way it was good to have it to do – an internal imperative that kept me focused outside the “everyday”. I suspect that completing Book Three and Four in the series will provide a similar focus and motivation to “keep going” through the reconstruction period.
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To celebrate the worldwide release of The Gathering of the Lost, Helen is offering a copy of the novel to one lucky CR reader. What do you have to do to win the book? Simple: state your interest in the comments below, and your name will be put into the hopper.
If you could include some way of getting in touch, that would be very handy (Twitter handle, for example). If you don’t want to leave any contact details in the public comments, feel free to email your interest to civilian.reader [at] hotmail.co.uk. Otherwise, you’ll just have to check back on Monday 9th April to find out if you’ve won. Oh, and the giveaway is open to EVERYONE, regardless of geographic location. No restrictions.
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Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and interviewer. She has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for achievement in SFF, for Thornspell (Knopf) in 2009 and The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night Book One) in 2011 and is currently the writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury. Helen posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog on the 1st of every month on the Supernatural Underground and occasionally on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter.