Celebrating “The Gathering of the Lost” & The Power of Environment

Having a new book come out is a hugely exciting time and the moment, with a continuing series, where I really have a sense of standing poised between the past and future of the story. Part of that process involves reflecting on the influences that shaped the just-finished book, and whether they will hold the same sway over the next-in-series.

One of the strongest influences on my writing has always been environment – my appreciation of the natural, technological and cultural elements of the surrounding world, with a flow-on to the creation of milieus within my works. This is particularly true of The Gathering of the Lost, where readers will encounter new lands within THE WALL OF NIGHT world, such as the River, Emer, and Aralorn. Imagination certainly counts in fantastic world building, but when writing a great river, for example, it helps to have experienced big river systems, whether the Waikato and Clutha, in my own New Zealand, the Murray in Australia, or the Mississippi in the US. The River in The Gathering of the Lost is not any of those waterways, but I suspect that growing up with the Waikato and the Clutha has helped give it authenticity. I lived close to the Waikato for a considerable period, but did not get to know the Clutha until I was an adult. Yet by then it was already entrenched in the landscape of my imagination—because of family stories and its place in New Zealand’s colonial history of gold mining, as well as its prevalence in photographic and painting art. My own view is that it is not possible to live with a landscape that resonates so powerfully in culture and history and not be influenced by it. After all, even a conscious decision to fight against its sway is still an influence.

But the “elephant in the room” when discussing the environment of this book has to be that The Gathering of the Lost was completed during the period of major earthquakes that devastated my home city of Christchurch between September 4, 2010 and December 23, 2011. The February 22nd 2011 event in particular resulted in both loss of life and widespread destruction. The Gathering of the Lost is dedicated to those who died, and to the police and emergency services that played so vital a role on February 22nd and during its aftermath. Working to complete this book during that time, with the June 13 earthquake coming just as I was on final deadline, was something of a challenge. I now live in a city where “the broken”—from fissured roads, to slumped river banks, to compromised houses—as well as large scale demolition, is everyday reality. While I cannot know how these events will finally work themselves through, I suspect that it is not possible to experience such sustained trauma in the physical environment without it influencing my cultural imagination, and through that my writing, to some extent.

But that is for the future. Because despite what happened in the recent past I did finish The Gathering of the Lost—and hope you will find it a story where the influence of both natural and cultural environments come through in the world building. Having the new book out in Australia and New Zealand today (it’s April 5 for the UK) and being able to mark the occasion with you feels like considerable cause for celebration. And I am celebrating, not just here with Orbit but also on my Helen Lowe On Anything, Really blog —with lots of giveaways and a competition to give your name to a character in THE WALL OF NIGHT, Book Three. So when you’re done celebrating here, rock on over and party some more with me there!

Credit: PJ Fitzpatrick

Helen Lowe is a novelist, poet, and interviewer. She has twice won the Sir Julius Vogel Award for achievement in SFF, for Thornspell (Knopf) in 2009 and The Heir of Night (The Wall of Night Book One) in 2011—and The Heir of Night is currently nominated for the Gemmell Awards, in both the Legend and Morningstar categories. Helen is the 2012 Ursula Bethell writer-in-residence at the University of Canterbury and posts every day on her Helen Lowe on Anything, Really blog, on the 1st of every month on the Supernatural Underground, and occasionally on SF Signal. You can also follow her on Twitter: @helenl0we