-What is your name?
-What genre do you write in?
All of my novels so far have been historical – but with a bit of horror… I’m also a screenwriter, and horror features quite prominently there too. I co-wrote a horror movie called His House which is due out in November. My first commissioned screenplay was a heist movie, though – and my most recent completed feature script was an 80s style sword and sorcery fantasy, so it’s a bit all over the place…
-What drew you to this genre?
I’ve always been into horror, from reading Alfred Hitchcock’s Monster Museum (a classic 1970s collection of genuinely scary stories for kids) to watching Universal horror movie double bills late at night with the sound turned down so my parents wouldn’t hear. I think it all started – as a conscious thing, at least – with a teacher reading the story of Beowulf in class. The part with Grendel eating Handscio alive and then having his arm wrenched off left quite an impression. That also sparked a lifelong interest in that period of history, and led directly to my first novel, which combined Vikings and horror and was really only possible because of a mass of research I had (coincidentally) done into Beowulf. I really have a great deal to thank that tale for, and have a tendency to obsess about it – one I don’t resist in the slightest.
-What book(s) have you written?
First was The Viking Dead, published by Abaddon, which took zombies and dropped them into a Viking context. I thought they were pretty well equipped to deal with that issue and that it would make an interesting mix. It ended up somewhere I hadn’t expected at all, which sharply divided audiences. Some readers REALLY hated that ending… But there was an absolute logic to it. After that, a suggestion for a potential book series came from the publishers, which involved making Guy of Gisburne (one of the key villains of the Robin Hood stories) into an action hero – kind of a 12th century James Bond. By complete coincidence I’d been thinking about a ‘Dark Knight’ version of Robin Hood – of the kind that Ridley Scott seemed to be promising but never actually delivered – and jumped at the chance. The first book of what became known as the Hunter of Sherwood series was Knight of Shadows, followed by The Red Hand, and finally Hood. In the end, to allow for a proper story arc that had a beginning, middle and end, we agreed on it being a trilogy. In it, Gisburne is a real (albeit occasionally reluctant) hero who fights against forces of chaos in the kingdom, and Hood as a charismatic psychopath who people nonetheless flock to as their saviour. He pretty much just wants to watch the world burn. He’s a looming presence throughout Gisburne’s adventures (which don’t necessarily involve Hood that directly) but the two have past history, and a final confrontation between them becomes inevitable.
-What is your current release?
Although not exactly current – I’ve been focused on screenwriting for a couple of years – Hood is the most recent. This tells of the final showdown between these two characters, and unfolds against a backdrop of some big, dramatic events – including the siege of Nottingham castle by Richard the Lionheart, fresh back from captivity following the Third Crusade. My Richard is a long way from the saintly, heroic king of the popular Robin Hood stories. He is, in fact, far closer to the historical character, who was undoubtedly brilliant at winning battles and cracking castles, but a horrible man. His actions strongly suggest psychopathy; I don’t think there’s anything in his life that really hints at any genuine empathy for anyone. This helped greatly in shaping Hood as a villain, because Hood idolises him – and who would idolise a man like that?
-How much research went into that book?
Oof! A lot. And it obviously grew as the series progressed. As with The Viking Dead, I wanted to establish a world that felt real and physical; get that right, and draw people in, and you can get away with all manner of liberties later on. It’s a grim and often horrific world, and while there is some knowingly outlandish stuff in there, the sights, sounds and smells are as real as I could make them, and the fights are tough and often chaotic. There are still things I wince about when I read them now (as well as a few anachronisms that I allowed because I was fine with them). Mostly these are to do with the use of weapons or horse-related stuff. I actually took up the longbow mid-way through writing the books – partly to understand it better, but also because I’d always fancied doing it – and in doing so realised where I was glossing over or falling back on the (usually wrong) depictions of movies and TV shows. The horse stuff became increasingly important as I began to understand it better. For a knight, the relationship with his horse and the teamwork between them was incredibly significant. The horse was, essentially, what made a knight a knight – an essential part of his status, his source of power as a warrior on the battlefield and the thing upon which his life frequently depended – but I realised that often in fiction the horse is just treated like a vehicle that you get on and off. I’ve never ridden and so had no direct experience to draw on – but fortunately the head of Rebellion (the video games developer and owner of 2000AD and Abaddon) was Jason Kingsley, who jousts competitively and has been riding almost his whole life. It turned out that having Gisburne as a hero was also originally his idea, so he took a personal interest in the project and was more than happy to be pestered about both equine and medieval matters. That was fantastic – basically I had an expert on call who had actually done many of the things I was describing. I could ask: ‘Jason – when you’re riding to battle with a lance, how do you carry it when it’s not lowered?’ and he’d have the answer. He’s also the figure of Gisburne on the book covers – he just put on some gear he had and got his partner to take the photographs. I asked him if we could have Gisburne on a horse rearing up for the cover of Hood, and he duly obliged! I was very happy about that, as Gisburne’s horse, Nyght, had become a character in his own right.
While I’m sure medievalists could pick it apart, I was very happy with the world I’d created (it’s always the author’s creation, even when historical) and adored spending time there. It was a real wrench when it was all over, grim though it was at the end.
-What was the hardest part of writing that book?
Writing it! That sounds like a flippant answer, but it’s really true. All the research, the plotting, the building of the world and characters are a joy. Actually hammering all the words into place is hard work, and it gets harder the closer you get to the deadline. My background is in journalism, so I’m fine with deadlines – in fact, I probably need them – but when you get close and there still seems an impossible amount to do, and the hours get longer and your brain starts to fizz… Well, it’s not working down a mine, but sometimes I think people forget that it’s the product of work as well as inspiration – that you have to physically nail every one of those 130,000 words to the page.
-Is this work part of a series?
– Where can your book(s) be found?
Amazon. Bookshops, if you’re lucky. Bargain bins if you’re even luckier. Under my bed in a box.
-Reading time is valuable. Sell me on your book.
This book has been BANNED by order of the King. YOU MUST NOT READ IT!