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Saturday, January 4, 2020

Interview with Gareth Hanrahan (interviewed by Łukasz Przywóski)

Official Author Website
Order The Gutter Prayer over HERE

Preorder The Shadow Saint HERE

Read Gareth Hanrahan's Top of 2019 list

OFFICIAL AUTHOR INFORMATION: Gareth Hanrahan is a writer & game designer. Everything else, by induction. On twitter (and everywhere else) as @mytholder.

Thank you for agreeing to this interview. Before we start, tell us a little bit about yourself. Feel free to brag. 

Feel free to brag? You clearly don’t know me at all. Ego does not come naturally to me. 

Let’s see. I’m in my 40s. No, that can’t be right. Stupid linear time. I’m primarily a writer for tabletop roleplaying games, with the occasional dabble in computer games and other fiction. 

When and why have you decided to become an author? 

I always had a vague plan of writing as a hobby – I was always good at writing, and thought I’d do a little freelance game design on the side while having a real grown-up job in IT. However, the IT company I was working for downsized in 2003, and I decided to see how long I could survive on freelancing money before I had to be sensible and get another real job. 

That experiment is still ongoing. 

How old were you when you first sat down to write a fantasy story or novel? And how old were you when you made your first professional sale? 

Specifically fantasy fiction? I’m not sure. 2005, maybe? Or maybe some fan fiction, around 2000 or a little earlier. I didn’t make any serious attempts at a novel until 2010 or so. 

My first freelancing sale would have been in 2001, I think, but that was gaming material, not fiction. 

Serious writing takes not only a story to tell, but the craft of writing to tell it well—can you comment on your journey as a writer? 

I learned on the job – my earliest lesson were primarily about being a good freelancer, which meant hitting word count, hitting deadlines, communicating with editors and the like. And if you want to make a career of writing, all those qualities count for more than prose style. An editor can only fix and give feedback if there’s an actual document on their desk. 

Tell us a little bit about your writing process. When and where do you write? Do you start with a character, an image, or an idea? Talk a little bit about how a novel “grows” for you. 

My current system seems to be „write a chunk, write a rough outline, write the next chunk, revise outline as foreseen from the current situation”. I tend to start more with situations or premises than character, which is a legacy of my approach to game design where you can’t start with character. But every novel’s different and disturbingly unconstrained. 

Do you give yourself mini-deadlines (e.g. must have chapters x-y written by January 1st) or do you progress with an ultimate deadline in mind? 

I use Scrivener, which lets you set a deadline and calculates daily word count based on that. I then set my deadline well before the actual deadline, to allow room for editing and general life-slippage. 

What was your initial inspiration for The Black Iron Legacy series?

There really wasn’t one single inspiration – it was more of a collision of half-a-dozen concepts. I had a few images of a fantatical steampunk-ish city; some left-over Lovecraftiana; the idea of talking to bells. And the irritating desire to write a novel. 

Please, tell our readers what do your characters have to overcome in the series? What challenges did you set before them? 

The end of the rational world as the gods go mad and tear reality apart from the inside. Malign eldritch horrors that feast on death. Corrupt governments and corporations grubbing for coin. Thieves and tyrants. Y’know, everyday life stuff. 

If I boil the series down, it’s about the interaction of power and history – about how different powers rise and fall, and about individuals either seize control of those powers, or rise and fall with them, or adapt to the vicissitudes of an unpredictable and unfriendly world. Different characters get challenged by those concepts in different ways. In the first book, for example, Carillon tries to define herself as someone without a past, without a history, by presenting herself as a runaway orphan, but she has unwanted power thrust upon her by the machinations of her grandfather, who wants her to fulfill her purpose as part of a sorcerous ritual. In The Shadow Saint, Cari’s cousin Eladora starts off believing herself to be someone who stands aside and just observes the course of history, but eventually realises that she’s the smartest person in the room and her role is to take the reins of power and start directing events… 

What unique challenges did the first book pose for you, if any? 

It was easily the longest piece of fiction I’d written – and it was all done without any plan for publication. As I’m a freelance writer by trade, I’m used to having a contract in hand before I write anything. It felt immensely selfish to take extra time to work on a novel. 

The world you’ve created is unique and unlike any setting I know from fantasy books. Is it based / inspired by your game designer or did you imagine it from scratch? How did you create it? 

It’s not directly based on anything from games. Some elements did crop up in games before – I’ve worked on a lot of Lovecraftian stuff, so things like the ghouls and Crawling Ones crossed over from there. And there are very early versions of the gullheads and tallowmen in an obscure d20 bestiary. I did, however, draw a lot on my experience in running games and building game setting when writing the novel – I knew I could throw wild ideas and concepts up into the air, and that I’d be able to catch them and work them into a coherent story. A lot of it, honestly, is just a cross-section of interests of mine – I like industrial archaeology and weird gods and monsters and alchemy and backroom politics and secret histories. Put it all in a big pot and stir! 

One of the things that distinguishes The Gutter Prayer from most modern fantasy is the narration. Why did you pick the present tense for the story, instead of the more usual past tense? 

Two answers. First, the story is very concerned with its own fictional past. There’s a lot of digging through archives, uncovering secret histories, characters musing about their own pasts and the history of the city. So, putting the narration in the present tense meant I could draw a clear contrast between those explorations of the past and the immediate action of the present. 

The other reason is that present tense is what I’m used to writing in for roleplaying games (in fact, the common mode of a tabletop game is the second person present tense – you enter the dungeon, you hit the dragon – which is exactly what I used for the opening of the novel…) 

Your vocabulary is incredibly rich. Are you in love with Thesaurus? How important is the prose (its rhythm, structure, richness) for you? 

I do love obscure yet apt words. There’s a sort of psychic weight to real words that made-up terms can’t match, and there’s a precision that comes with the exact right word to convey a concept or appearance. 

Prose is a tool for me. I really envy writers who are capable of being more poetic and impressionistic – I try to do that, but I always feel the urge to explain, to elaborate or clarify. I’m always worried about leaving the reader behind, which is a disservice on my part that I’m trying to correct. 

Writing the sequel to a well-received book can be stressful :) How was writing The Shadow Saint different from The Gutter Prayer? Did the final version of this book differ from how you envisioned it as you were completing The Gutter Prayer and looking ahead to the Black Iron Legacy series as a whole? 

Well, The Gutter Prayer was written as a stand-alone, and didn’t change much after I signed a two-book deal. I knew there were places the world could go, though, and The Shadow Saint is the first step. It went very smoothly (the third book, which I’m writing now, feels like it’s being much more troublesome, but I don’t know if that’s just because I’m in the throes of writing the damn’d thing.) The biggest change, really, was that I could now allocate daytime hours to working on fiction, as opposed to stealing time from sleep! 

The Gutter Prayer is a fascinating and deliciously dark and weird book with plenty of twists, reveals and unique ideas. Tell us if we’ll learn more about it in the sequel? 

Yes. :P 

Two of three major plot threads in The Shadow Saint expand the world, as they’re outsiders to the city of Guerdon, but the third point of view – Eladora – was a character in The Gutter Prayer, and her story loops back to explore more of her backstory and give a different perspective on the events of the first novel. 

The godswar’s drawing closer, and various factions are looking for ways to tip the conflict in their favour. What challenges await your POV characters? Can we expect you’ll tie the story in The Shadow Saint? 

It’s tricky to address this without spoilers – the three point-of-view characters are all on different sides of the conflict, and all of them have different objectives and challenges as they try to manipulate events to their own ends. None of them come out unscathed (I don’t know if I’ve a higher body count in Shadow Saint than Gutter Prayer, but going into more detail on that is a spoiler too!). 

The story does tie up – I’m trying to avoid cliffhangers or unsatisfying endings in each book, instead of going to new states of equilibrium with a few lingering questions… 

Who is your favorite character to write, and why? And least favorite? 

Oh man, it depends on the situation. For example, Carillon is a highly propulsive character – she can’t sit still. Her reaction to any situation is to stab someone, explode something, steal something, insult someone – or, if she’s on her very, very best behaviour, lie through her teeth. Sometimes, that’s great – I barely need to plot her chapters, as she charges off and does stuff of her own accord. At other times, she’s immensely frustrating to work with, as she refuses to engage with the plot or consider the bigger picture. Every character has their own moments when they’re fun to write, or frustrating. 

Would you say that The Black Iron Legacy series follows tropes or kicks them?

I don’t know. I find it tricky to taxonomise my own story like that – I’m too close to it. I could certainly find tropes in there if I look, but I can’t tell how obvious they are to an external reader. I certainly don’t try to be fiercely original, but at the same time, one of my schticks is taking fantastical elements and extrapolating mundanity from them, which may lead in some interesting directions. 

Is that a non-answer? I don’t know. 

Which question about the series do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it! 

How many books are in the series, Gar? 

Five, I hope. At least, that’s my current plan, but it’s dependent on the whims of the market and the publishing industry. 

What’s your publishing Schedule for 2020/2021? 

THE SHADOW SAINT is out in January 2020. 

The currently unnamed third book in the series will be out January 2021. 

Putting my roleplaying hat on – my Fall of Delta Green 1960-spies-vs-the-Cthulhu-mythos campaign will be out sometime next year, along with the Book of the Underworld for 13th Age. I’ll have some Warhammer 40k short fiction coming out from Black Library. And up until last week, I’d have talked about having two Middle-earth books coming out next year (Moria and Errantries of the King), but those are on hold while issues with the publisher of the One Ring line get resolved. 

Do you have any other authorial goals that you are striving towards that you want to talk about? 

My big challenge for next year is going to be starting something new on spec. This whole idea of writing a book and then selling it runs against the grain for me. 

Can you name three books you adore as a reader, but that make you feel inadequate as a writer?

I always point at Mike Harrison’s Virconium books here – there’s one section of a short story of his that I reread every so often, because I know there’s no earthly way I’d be able to start a piece of fiction like that.

"THE HORSE OF IRON AND HOW WE CAN KNOW IT And be changed by it forever

Recently I switched on in the middle of a television arts programme. Two men were molding in brass something that looked at first sight like the stripped carcass of a turkey, that exact, sharp-edged cage of bone which reveals itself so thoroughly through all the strips and flaps of flesh after Christmas dinner. It turned out, though, to be something less interesting, a classical figurine, a Poseidon or Prometheus which systematically lost its magic as the layers of casing material were knocked away carefully with the back of an axe. This was so essentially disappointing - a striptease by which, by removing veils of strangeness and alien signification, the sculptor revealed a value ordinary and easily understood - that to replace it I turned off the TV and imagined this:

Another foundry, somewhere in the night, somewhere in history, in which something like a horse's skull (not a horse's head:a skull, which looks nothing like a horse at all, but an enormous curved shears, or a bone beak whose two halves meet only at the tip, a wicked intelligent-looking purposeless thing which cannot speak) came out of the mold, and all the founders were immediately executed to keep the secret. They had all known this would happen to them. These men were the great craftsmen and engineers of their day. They could have looked for more from life. Yet they crammed down their fear, and got on with the work, and afterwards made no attempt to escape.
This was how I learned the secret of the horse, which I now give here, after folding it across itself like a slip of paper, in a further indicating gesture:"

I mean, look at that. Just look at that. Even if we assume that it actually happened to him, that he did have those thoughts while randomly watching tv, and he had the presence of mind to think ‘hey, this is a interesting response I’m having’, then the writerly courage it takes to start a story with that passage staggers me – especially as the rest of the tale has next to nothing to do with that opening, except in mood. 

What else? I’m envious of Josiah Bancroft’s prose in his Books of Babel. I’m ok with, say, Douglas Adams or PG Wodehouse being able to do stuff like that, as they’re old and dead and come from different eras. Bancroft’s about the same age I am. It shouldn’t be allowed. 

I’m also humbled by Mark Z Danielowski’s House of Leaves, just the sheer artefact of it. „I’m going to spend years writing an insanely complex puzzlebook/typographical labyrinth/academic joke/horror novel, told mainly in footnotes” – who the hell thinks like that? 

Finally, can you tell us a couple of fun facts about yourself that are not already available on the internet? 

Um. Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m both somewhat quiet and extremely online. And I’ve got two six-year-olds and a zero-year-old, so it’s not like I have much free time to do exciting wacky stuff that would look good on a dust jacket. I listen to more podcasts than is healthy? I’ve technically won an award for my knees? I get extremely uncomfortable when asked to write about myself, and you can almost envision me squirming at the keyboard as I type this?

Thank you so much for agreeing to this conversation, Gareth! We greatly appreciate your time and thoughts. 



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