Please welcome Tim Akers to the blog! He kindly answered my questions about his new book, The Pagan Night, and courtesy of the publisher, we’ve got a copy to give away to one lucky US winner! Enter to win using the Rafflecopter widget below the post. Good luck!
Will you tell us a bit about The Pagan Night and what inspired you to write it?
The Pagan Night is an epic fantasy novel with some New Weird undertones. The basic premise is that after a series of crusades, the Celestial Church has managed to banish the worship of the old gods and their followers. Unfortunately, the old gods still exist and have gone feral, manifesting in the primeval forests of the north to cause havoc. It’s the role of the inquisition and their companion paladin-like Knights of the Winter Vow to hunt and kill these mad gods. This is all set against a world of complicated politics, as the tribes of the north cling to their ways while the southern nobility sees pagan insurrection in every shadow. There’s an incident that leads to a war of holy vengeance. The main characters are trapped in the middle of this, with Malcolm Blakley struggling to keep the peace, while his son Ian seeks only glory and freedom from the south. Add in Gwendolyn Adair, tasked with keep the forests around her family’s keep free from the feral gods, but also hiding a generations-long heresy, as her family has maintained the worship of the old gods that stalk the night.
I drew inspiration for this book from a number of sources. First was my lifelong love of fantasy and the pure joy I get from swordfights and noble charges and ancient evils lurking in the forests beyond the castle walls. I’m also a guy who thinks about religion a lot, and how it impacts culture, war, history… it’s a fascinating topic. The two historical events that fed this book are the integration of the Angles and the Saxons following the Conquest, as well as the slow integration of pagan ritual and belief into early Catholicism, especially in Ireland.
Why do you think readers will root for Malcolm Blakley? What makes him a compelling character?
Malcolm’s in a difficult place. People in both Suhdra and Tener view him as a hero, due to his actions in the last war against the marauding Reavers. He was able to unify both countries under a single banner to repel the invasion, which led to a period of peace. But that peace is now falling apart, and he’ll do anything he can to prevent that. But he’s a hero past his prime, an old hero in a young man’s war. His church is betraying him, his country is rushing to a war that he doesn’t want, and his son is chafing under the burden of being the son of a hero. He seeks peace, but when war comes he’ll stand and fight.
What secondary characters did you particularly enjoy writing about?
The book has five main characters, including Malcolm, so there wasn’t a lot of room for secondary characters. That said, I do find a lot of joy in fleshing out the brief lives of the people who pass through the narrative. If I can take a paragraph or two and make the reader care about the church guard who dies in the first chapter, I’m going to do that every time. At one point there’s an ambush during a formal dinner, and one of the Duchess’s maids cuts off her dress and throws a chain shirt over her shift, then fights barefoot, leaving bloody footprints all over the field. I find moments like that very compelling, and think it really adds to a book. I’d love to write a book about each of these people. Especially that maid.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
I did a lot of reading about the period, everything from books about castle life to manuals on sword fighting and battlefield tactics from the era. But I didn’t want to be tied to that. There’s a danger when you do that much research to waste space in the narrative showing off how much you know about the subject. I never want to do that, so I didn’t get hung up about how many horses this column of archers should have in support, or whether they drank coffee. It’s a fantasy world. I made things up whenever it was convenient.
As far as my writing process, that depends entirely on what stage of the book I’m on. Early on I spend a lot of time on the synopsis, and the outline, and planning plot points and structure. But once I start writing I quickly throw all of that out and follow the story. Without the road map I wouldn’t be able to get anywhere, but I refuse to be a servant to the outline. I guess that makes me a discovery architect.
What do you enjoy most about writing, and reading, SFF?
The freedom of the fantastic imagination. I think it’s easier to approach deep subjects in that kind of space without distracting from the quality of the story itself. I don’t write in metaphor, but I do use what I call metaphors of the third degree – fantastic elements that represent something in the real world without drawing a direct line to it. Aslan is a metaphor of the first degree. I find that kind of thing clumsy, bumbling around the narrative trying to teach a lesson to the harm of the story. For me story is always first, but as long as I’m telling a story I might as well have it mean something. A good friend once described my stories as idea machines hyper tuned and drilled for weight. I like that.
What do you like to see in a good story? Is there anything that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
I actually have a low tolerance for bad storytelling. I put a lot of books down. Sometimes I’ll put a book down and come back to it a year later, once the initial irritation has died down. I once put a book down because the family was chopping wood with the intention of burning it that winter, without even planning to let it season for a year. A stupid thing to put a book down over, and I came back to it the next year and really enjoyed it, but that was a very basic thing that someone along the editing process should have caught. I also abandon books when the writer’s intentions are too clear, or if the characters are only making bad decisions in order to advance the plot. Beyond that, I need to like the characters. I even need to like the villains. Pay attention to pacing, pay attention to plot structure, pay attention to character motivation and I’ll enjoy your book. But I’m merciless when it comes to craft.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
I’m torn between Neuromancer by William Gibson, and The Lord of the Rings. Reading both of those books were life changing events for me. But I wouldn’t want to change their impact on my life in any way, so I’m not sure I’d actually want to read them again for the first time. I like where they are in my history.
What are you currently reading? Are there any books you’re looking forward to diving into this year?
I’m at the stage in writing book two of this series when I can’t really read other fiction. There are about half a dozen novels that I’ve started and stalled on, mostly because they weren’t right for me at this moment. I have to watch what I consume as I’m ramping up to write, so some of those are books that are either too similar to what I’m doing, or so different that they might skew my voice. So right now I’m sticking to nonfiction. I recently finished a book about the history of the Kremlin, and just started Thomas Cahill’s Heretics and Heroes. It’s about artists in the renaissance, and the priests most responsible for the reformation. I have this story set in the world of The Pagan Night that’s basically the reformation as knightly adventure. It doesn’t fit into the Hallowed War trilogy, but it’s something I want to explore in the future.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Well, The Hallowed War has me contracted through 2018. I write something like two books a year, but only one of those comes out due to contract stuff, so I have something of a backlog of ideas. It’s hard to say what’s next, simply because I don’t know which of these ideas will filter into the real world first, or if it will be one of the dozen new ideas I have notes on that I haven’t really started writing. So the next thing I know you’ll see from me is The Iron Hound, book two of the Hallowed War, in 2017, followed by The Winter Vow in 2018. I’m so incredibly happy with The Pagan Night that I can’t wait for folks to see the conclusion of the story! 2018 feels like such a long time away. I guess we’ll all have to learn to be patient.
About The Pagan Night:
The Celestial Church has all but eliminated the old pagan ways, ruling the people with an iron hand. Demonic gheists terrorize the land, hunted by the warriors of the Inquisition, yet it’s the battling factions within the Church and age-old hatreds between north and south that tear the land apart.
Malcolm Blakley, hero of the Reaver War, seeks to end the conflict between men, yet it will fall to his son, Ian, and the huntress Gwen Adair to stop the killing before it tears the land apart. The Pagan Night is an epic of mad gods, inquisitor priests, holy knights bound to hunt and kill, and noble houses fighting battles of politics, prejudice, and power.