An Interview With John Gwynne on MALICE
Winner of the 2013 David Gemmell Morningstar Award, read the prologue from John Gwynne's debut epic fantasy.
Your book has several viewpoint characters. How did you structure your writing process to tie their stories together?
Writing MALICE was one big learning curve – it began as a hobby and grew slowly into something bigger. Initially I had no thoughts of being published, I was just writing for my own entertainment, with the only likely readership being my wife and children, and perhaps the odd overly-polite friend. I wrote multiple POV because that is my favourite type of read – most of my decisions were made that way – I like seeing a story from different angles, and enjoy it when diverse characters come together.
As far as how I wrote the multiple points of view, I mapped out the big picture first – the general brush-strokes of the overall plot, breaking it down into the major strands and plot arcs. Then I put some thought into the characters that I would like to view the tale through. After that I started writing. It was a bit like letting a bunch of hounds off of the leash, watching them sprint off, paths diverging and intertwining, some going off in very unexpected directions, but I knew there were key events at certain points down the line that would bring them together, some of them quite explosively.
Do you have a favorite character from MALICE?
Good grief, that’s quite a tough one. I enjoy writing all of my characters, the good, the bad and the undecided. One of my favourite characters is probably Camlin, a member of a band of outlaws. Life is simple for him – steal, follow orders, survive. But events conspire to reveal a hidden conscience, buried deep but still there. Tough choices and dangerous conspiracies force him to re-evaluate his loyalties.
The descriptions of the battle scenes are really detailed. Did you do a lot of research for MALICE?
I did loads of research for MALICE. The only way I knew how to write was how I’d learnt at university – to read, read, and then read some more, so that’s what I did. Lots of world mythologies – celtic and norse and greco-roman and slavic and eastern – then truck loads of ancient history, about weapons and warfare and armour and politics and wolves and bears and Komodo dragons. Also a lot of the classics – Beowulf, Milton’s Paradise Lost and C. S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters were early inspirations. Added to that some Blake and Dante and Machiavelli. Really anything that sparked a bit of passion went into the pot.
As far as the battles are concerned, ‘Caesar’s Gallic War’ was a big inspiration, as well as Boudicca’s revolt. There is a strong celtic inspiration to the western realms of the Banished Lands, with an emerging Empire encroaching from the south-east. I spent a lot of time looking at how various ancient systems and strategies of war emerged – the Greek phalanx, Roman testudo, the Norse and Saxon shieldwall, Celtic warrior codes, dueling.
The history of this world seems to be fraught with a lot of war and bloodshed. Where does the name the Banished Lands come from?
The short version is that the Banished Lands is a name given by a host of exiles to a land that they are washed up upon.
Here’s the slightly longer version. All of the action in MALICE takes place on one continent, the Banished Lands. Originally it was inhabited by two human-like races – men and giants (where giants are concerned think the biblical Goliath or Beowulf’s Grendel rather than the Greek Titans). There was a great war and the result was that both races came close to extinction – the survivors of mankind fled, sailing away to discover another uninhabited continent. They flourished here, multiplying over many generations. Various Houses emerged and eventually a power conflict resulted in civil war. The victors banished the losers, putting them on ships and exiling them forever. These exiles sailed away, eventually washing up on the shores of their ancient home. As they had come to call themselves The Banished, they named this new world the Banished Lands, claiming it as their home. Not a decision the giant clans were impressed with.
Between the giants, wyrms, wolven, and a whole host of other creatures that sound quite lethal, the Banished Lands seem like a harsh place to live. Which of those badboys are the deadliest?
You’re right, the Banished Lands is not a safe place to live, and humans are definitely not at the top of the food chain!
As far as who or what is the deadliest – that’s a tough question. One-on-one the giants have to rank pretty high, especially with a battle-axe or war-hammer. The wolven are tough, even more so as they are intelligent pack hunters. There are also nests of army ants – bigger and nastier than our versions – get in their way and even a giant or wolven will end up as lunch.
But going back to one-on-one, I think the deadliest has to be a draig. When I was researching Malice one of the things that struck me is that pretty much every world mythology features two key creatures – giants and dragons.
Draigs are my version of dragons. My whole approach was for Malice and the Banished Lands to feel historical, an alternative Dark-Ages, so I steered away from the fantastical dragons, and based my draigs on Komodo dragons, bigger and meaner, of course, but with that realistic frame of reference. Teeth, claws, tail, a few tons of aggressive muscle. I really wouldn’t want to get in the way of one of them.