Kicking off our inaugural ‘High Five’ feature – one author, five questions, lots of fun (hopefully) – we’re very pleased to welcome British fantasy novelist Mark Charan Newton, author of the critically-acclaimed Legends of the Red Sun series and the upcoming fantasy/crime crossover novel Drakenfeld. So let’s get this party started . . .
Welcome Mark – let’s get the obligatory serious question out of the way first: your upcoming novel, Drakenfeld, is a total departure from the Legends of the Red Sun series. Bet you’re glad to be back in warmer climes after all that snow! Tell us a bit about this new series – what was the spark that started it all?
Well, it’s a profound change from my previous books. The fundamental spark came from something similar to what, curiously, is being discussed quite a bit at the moment: the reaction to ‘grimdark’ fantasy, fiction with heightened levels of violence to bedazzle the reader, things like rape being used as cheap plot points and so on.
Though I’m not sure I agree with much of the debate, it’s curious seeing all of that now because a couple of years ago I wondered if I was relying too much myself upon such pyrotechnics. Was I writing too much violence for kicks, too many point-of-view characters to deliberately explore shades of grey. That kind of shit. Was I a conjurer of cheap tricks, basically.
So I wanted to write something that didn’t rely upon all of those things to create emotional impact. I wanted to move or even entertain without having to resort to easy ways out. I also wondered if there was a sense of creating more morally rigorous characters and have them be cool. But I didn’t do it in reaction to any genre culture-shift; I was actually doing it as a challenge to myself.
All of that jazz clashed with my fascination with the ancient world. I’m a total Rome geek. A total history nut. Relatively speaking, not a huge amount has been done with ancient cultures, which is far more sophisticated than most other points in time. It’s intellectually stimulating, and littered with profound events. There’s a sense of both epic scale and inward reflection that lingers to this day. And, quite simply, I fell in love with it.
So. All of these things came together while I was still writing the Legends of the Red Sun books. Drakenfeld was born towards the end of the third novel in that series, I think, and I’d been quietly building him ever since.
Speaking of antiquity . . . someone’s got a gun to your head and is bundling you into a time machine, with the controls set to send you back to Ancient Rome. You just about have time to turn the dial before the machine kicks in, so which period of Rome’s ancient history do you go back to? And what the heck would you do when you get there? I can imagine you in a toga, unfortunately.
Blimey. There are probably two key points that are genuinely worth it. The first around the end of the Roman Republic and the beginning of the Empire, from Caesar’s return from Gaul, him hunting Pompey across Europe, Caesar’s death on the Senate floor, the Battle of Actium and the reign of Augustus. That’s a long old period, admittedly, but a heck of a lot happened that influences us in 2013.
Another period I’d like to see would be more to do with Byzantium than Rome. I’d love to visit a few centuries later, in the age of the Emperor Justinian and Empress Theodora, of Belisarius’ epic campaigns to recapture the glories of Rome. There’s some heady, heady history there. It’s all full of sex and war, naturally. I recommend people just spend a few minutes on Wikipedia looking up any of those figures to see what I mean.
Staying with the themes of sex and war (well, war anyway): you’re at a fantasy convention with fellow authors Adrian Tchaikovsky, China Mieville, Peter F. Hamilton and the Hot Young Turk himself, Sam Sykes. Without warning you’re sucked into a fantasy world where the only way out lies through the Dungeons of D’hoom. You must form an adventuring party and dungeon-crawl your way out. Who takes on what role in the party, and what do you think would happen?
Tchaikovsky: Now, this fella is used to LARPing. He’s an expert. Therefore, no matter what person he meets on the road, he’s dealt with before in a scenario or two. You want Tchaikovsky leading the party. You want him up front with the map and compass telling you were you want to go, negotiating with drunken dwarves, stomping on poison toads, that sort of thing. Plus he works in law, so he’s got you covered.
Miéville: Becomes the Dark Lord. He has to be one, right? It would explain everything.
Hamilton: He’d be the old wizard and part-time chef. (He cooks a mean Victoria sponge. True story.) What Hamilton doesn’t know with a spell book isn’t worth knowing. He’d spend most of the time sitting quietly, biding his time, before unleashing something either very ferocious or very tasty.
Sykes: Now Sykes is your typical loose-cannon. A whizz with an axe, I’m sure, but can he be trusted? Will he spend most of his time throwing sweet lines at passing female elves? Or will he simply annoy you with fart jokes?
Ultimately we’d all get killed within four days because we’re authors and therefore not useful in any practical situation.
Four days sounds highly optimistic to me. Anyway, I’m coming to Nottingham. What local drinking establishment do you take me to, what landmark do you show off, and what do you make sure I don’t see? Most importantly, what whisky do we drink before I jump back on the train (it’s a warm, summer night – you know, the type we get about twice a year in the UK).
Drinking establishments in Nottingham aren’t what they used to be. But, a warm night, there’s a great bar called Saltwater that serves a pretty decent selection of whisky, and it has a balcony that overlooks the city’s rooftops. There’s also a nifty little bar called the Kean’s Head, around the old Lace Market area, and that has a fantastic selection of whisky. If only it wasn’t so busy. For anyone visiting, though, you couldn’t miss the Old Trip to Jerusalem – one of the oldest pubs in the country.
Landmarks that you must see include the city’s caves, which date back hundreds of years and were even used for shelter during the bombing raids in the Second World War. That, and the Galleries of Justice, a history of crime and punishment, and one of the grimmest and most humbling tours you’ll ever go on…
Finally, we say “J for Jetpack”, you say “J for…?”
Because. It. Is. Awesome. Try anything from the Chichibu, Karuizawa or Yoichi distilleries. You can thank me later.