An Interview With Francis Knight on FADE TO BLACK
Have you always known that you wanted to be a writer?
No, I can’t say that I have, probably because it never occurred to me to write down all the stories in my head. I’ve always read, and always made up little stories but it was only when I was struck down with ME that I started to write—I was housebound, and it was almost a defence against day- time TV. So I wrote one of my little stories and found I was addicted to writing.
Did the idea for the Rojan Dizon books come to you fully realised or did you have one particular starting point from which it grew?
As with most of my ideas, it came a piece at a time, each piece from a different direction. The idea really takes hold when they gang up on me. The theme came from one direction, Jake from another, whereas Rojan came as I was writing. He was kind of an experiment—I’d never writ- ten in first before, and he is polar opposite to me in many areas (though we do share a trait or two), so he was almost a challenge I set myself, to see if I could do it. I splurged out fifty thousand words in a month—at this stage it was a future dystopia world, but then my writers’ group pointed out, quite fairly, that I am horrible at making up future tech. One member suggested, “Why not make it a dark fantasy?” which kind of fed into a separate idea I’d had for a world where magic lived with technology. I dabbled a bit then left it on my hard drive for a few years, tinkering with it every now and again in between other projects. It was only when I decided to actually knuckle down and do something with it, when I started with the idea of pain magic in fact, that it really came to life. It was waiting for me to have the right idea to make it work, I think.
What inspired you in your creation of the city of Mahala?
Again, not just one thing though I suspect that Bladerunner and Sin City had their influence! The city hives from some of Dan Abnett’s Warhammer books were always interesting to me as well. Mostly it was something that happened as I was writing the story. It grew with the telling.
Which level of the city could you imagine yourself living on?
Well, I’d like to live in Clouds, because it’s nice there and there’s sun, but like Rojan, I suspect I’d end up somewhere less salubrious. To me, the underbelly is more interesting. If not as pleasant.
How extensively do you plot your novels before you start writing them? Do you plot the entire trilogy/series before you start writing or do you prefer to let the story roam where it will?
Hardly at all. Generally I start with a character, in a situ- ation. I have an idea of the tone or atmosphere I want to create, and the type of emotional response I’m aiming to invoke—happy, dark, bittersweet, nostalgic, etc. I have a vague idea of what might be the ending (which usually changes a lot). Other than that, it could go anywhere!
Where did the idea for pain magic come from?
I can trace that back directly—to Thomas Convenant. At one point he broke his ankle and a healer fixed it, but to do so she had to take the pain and injury on herself. I’ve always been drawn by the idea of consequences to magic (as there are consequences to everything), especially what might make it a less than desirable thing to have. If it’s all reading and waggling fingers and cool fireballs, well that’s fine but a magic that you really don’t want to use unless you have to . . . that became very interesting.
Who could you imagine playing Rojan in a film adaptation of the book? And how about Jake?
Oh, now that’s tricky. I use photos of real people, sometimes actors, sometimes not, on my wall as I write for inspiration. I kind of had Christian Bale in mind for a while (because of a photo of him with one brow raised, as though question- ing everything, very Rojan) but I’d have to go with Adam Beach. Jake, well Jake was based on several very varied influ- ences, but I recall having a photo of Deadly Little Miho from Sin City up on my wall as I wrote the scenes where Jake fights, so Devon Aoki would suit very well.
Do you have any particular favourite authors who have influenced your work?
Too many to mention! C. J. Cherryh really kick-started my desire to write; such complicated and very real characters. Terry Pratchett is phenomenal, but I wouldn’t even attempt to go there…he’s done it so well. Jim Butcher’s the Dresden Files for sure, Phillip K. Dick, Ursula Le Guin, Lois McMaster Bujold, the list goes on. There’s plenty outside the genre that I think have influenced me too—as a kid I devoured Dick Francis and Ruth Rendell novels, and lately Robert Low’s Oathsworn series left me slack-jawed in admiration. Probably every book I’ve loved has influenced me in some way.
Do you have a set writing routine and if so, what is it?
Not as such. I work odd shifts, so it’s a matter of writing when I can. When I started, I also had two small children, so that was an extra challenge. Now I just write when I get the opportunity of an hour or two free! I have been known to tell the husband to “just go to the pub, dammit” in order to get some writing time in. He rarely complains.
If you had a superpower, what would it be?
I’d love to be able to fly—I have a secret hankering to be Storm. Lightning bolts an added bonus!