I’m very happy to have Joseph D’Lacey visiting the blog today. I recently read Book Two in his Black Dawn duology from Angry Robot, The Book of the Crowman (you can read my review here), and I had lots of questions after reading the book. Please help me welcome Joseph to Books, Bones & Buffy!
Welcome to Books, Bones & Buffy, Joseph! I appreciate you taking the time to answer some questions.
I understand Black Feathers and The Book of the Crowman were originally written as one book. What was your reaction when Angry Robot suggested breaking it into two volumes?
Initially, I was disappointed – I’d never envisioned the book as a series. On the plus side, it called for a two-book deal, which was more lucrative. Looking back, the level of editorial input required for splitting the story ended up having a very positive effect on the whole work. I’m glad it worked out this way.
The stories and journeys of Gordon and Megan are quite complex, as they weave in and out of each other though different time periods. From a practical standpoint, what sort of outlining or note-taking did you need to do in order to keep their stories straight?
I don’t usually write outlines but I do sometimes scribble a note if something important occurs to me. Predictably enough, therefore, the two timelines did present the odd problem in maintaining consistency and not messing up timelines. I was able to attend to those issues at the redrafting stage, of course, but there’s no denying that I create a lot of headaches for myself by not planning!
Including religious ideas in a novel can be a very tricky thing, and The Book of the Crowman is full of some very strong religious allegory. How do you think most readers will react to this, and was it your intention from the start to use Gordon and the Crowman in this way, or did it evolve as you were writing?
Ideas – religious or otherwise – are what fiction is all about. Novels are born from ideas, hence that age-old, clichéd question readers so often ask writers: “Where go you get your ideas from?”
The central idea in the Black Dawn is really simple – two children in two separate eras risk their lives in search of a mythical figure. It’s a quest, a fantasy. It’s not a religious work by any stretch – even of my imagination!
I’d hate for the series to be misunderstood in this way so let me state here, for the record, a few points that may not be clear:
- Gordon and Megan’s journeys are heroes’ journeys. In this case, reflecting the path of the self to wisdom through hardship, separation and self-sacrifice.
- Inasmuch as he is a liberator of a particular group of people – the Green Men – Gordon may perhaps be messianic. However, this does not make him a religious leader. Nor is Gordon himself religious in any way other than that he loves the land and senses something greater than himself at work in nature. At no time does he, or any of the characters, set out to find or disseminate religion in either of those relatively whimsical notions.
- The Ward are not an allegory for the Romans and the Green Men are not a representation of early Christians.
- Gordon is not a facsimile of Jesus Christ.
- Whilst the Crowman is supernatural and ambiguous, he is not a deity. He’s a nature spirit, an elemental force and an aspect of anyone’s character. He represents the balance of nature and the possibility of light from darkness. He is a figurehead who reminds the Green Men of their connection to the land. He is not God. Nor is he Satan – regardless of how he may be misunderstood in the book. The fact that he is misunderstood in the story, however, is central to the text.
- Gordon’s self-sacrifice does bear similarities to a crucifixion, but again, it has nothing to do with religion. It’s simply the origin of a myth and a fictional myth at that.
Are some of these notions spiritual in nature? Clearly, they are. Are they religious? Not in the slightest. The Black Dawn is a series that explores our relationship with nature using mythology as one of its vehicles.
Whilst religions fascinate me for many reasons, I’m not religious and don’t ever expect to be. At the same time, if a religion ever does strike me as something worth exploring in fiction, I’ll write about it gladly.
Gordon is such a fascinating character to me. I’m curious about his dual nature. On the one hand he is a messiah-like boy who is ready to sacrifice himself for the good of the land. But on the other hand, his extremely violent tendencies seem to contradict his peaceful side. What made you decide to write a character with such contradictory traits?
Like the Crowman, Gordon embodies much darkness and much light.
As his world descends into lawlessness, he learns to keep his own light shining by accessing his darker nature. Of course, he isn’t just a boy on the run. He’s been given an opportunity to help the land, its people and creatures by seeking out the Crowman. Embittered by what he sees as this mission progresses, he sometimes reacts with a fury that verges on the insane. All this is part of his development, a development that is necessary for him to achieve his purpose. I wanted a character who embodied both benevolence and rage and that’s what Gordon became.
I have to say I love your prose. You have a way of making even the most graphically violent scenes beautiful. Have you had any formal writing training, or has your style just evolved with each book you’ve written?
I started out writing poetry before tackling fiction. I’ve done everything I can to refine my work since then – attended courses, read books about the craft, used editors, tried distance learning, automatic writing, journal writing and all sorts of other exercises and instruction. At the end of the day, though, the most effective training there is the least formal of all – to write millions of words of every kind in every style and make a tankerload of mistakes.
In some circles you are known more for your horror novels, and you’ve even been blurbed by Stephen King—“John D’Lacey rocks!” was his reaction to your horror story Meat. Was writing a fantasy duology different from writing horror? (Although Black Feathers and The Book of the Crowman contain some very horrific scenes!)
Story is far more valuable to me than genre. This holds true as a writer and as a reader. If a story is good, I don’t mind what genre it is, I’ll read it and be entertained. When I have my author’s hat on, it’s the same. I’ve written Erotica, Humour, SciFi, Fantasy, Horror and Children’s Fiction. True, not all of it is published but the point is that I wrote it because the story demanded it. I hope that will always be my strongest reason for writing a first line and seeing it through to the end.
When you read for pleasure, what sorts of books and authors do you enjoy the most? Any recent favorites that you’d care to share with us?
I love everything, though I do still prefer H/SF/F and Humour to almost everything else.
Recently, The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter and Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z. Brite have been revelatory reads. For the last six months – and probably for the next six – I’m reading women in Horror exclusively. This is an attempt to educate myself following an article I wrote for the Guardian in October ’13.
All time faves:
Everything by Douglas Adams, Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood, all James Herriot’s vet stories, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant by Stephen R. Donaldson, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, Night Shift, The Mist, On Writing and The Long Walk by Stephen King, Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, Under the Skin by Michel Faber, Annie Proulx’s short fiction, My Uncle Oswald and all of Roald Dahl’s adult short fiction, The Amtrak Wars and Fade Out by Patrick Tilley, The Ritual by Adam Nevill, Let’s Go Play at the Adams’ by Mendal Johnson, Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh, Life of Pi by Yann Martel, Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry and The Great and Secret Show by Clive Barker. There are more, of course, but I can’t think of them off the top of my head!
You mentioned some of my faves as well! Please tell us three things about you that can’t be found on your website.
- I’m a gingernut.
- I once performed Tai Chi nonstop for eight hours and twenty-two minutes in order to raise funds for a local Parkinson’s Disease charity.
- When I was two years old, I swallowed a toothpick.
Ouch! Thank you so much for visiting, Joseph! Black Feathers and The Book of the Crowman are now available: