Please welcome Mark Tompkins to the blog! His new book, The Last Days of Magic, just came out, and he answered a few of my questions about it, and more!
Will you tell us a bit about The Last Days of Magic and what inspired you to write it?
Faerie is in my blood, or Ireland is, which is the same thing. My ancestors are from the counties of Clare and Meath, so when I resolved to write a novel about magic it had to be set in the Emerald Isle. I discovered a character who insisted that I write about her, one who was inspired by the Celtic legend of Red Mary. This led me to base the book on the premise that all the old legends, myths, and faerie tales were true and the magical beings in them co-existed with humans during medieval times. In those tales, faeries were depicted as large and powerful, they even procreated with humans.
If those legends were true, then what happened to magic? Who needed to do away with it, and why? These are the questions that make up the underlying theme of The Last Days of Magic. Answers are played out through the eyes of the main protagonists. One is Aisling (Red Mary inspired), a fractured and besieged Celtic goddess in human form, who struggles to reign over magic’s last outpost on the Earth. The other is Jordan, a Vatican commander whose concealed desires run counter to his official mission. Both a threatened English invasion and a faerie insurrection drive the story line that includes a number of idiosyncratic historical characters the reader may recognize.
What kind of research did you do for the book, and what is your writing process like?
One of the great things about setting the book in Ireland, England, Italy, and France is that it gave me the perfect excuse to spend a lot of time there. Being on location helped me capture the atmosphere and the nuances of those incredible places. Hanging out with pagan groups in Ireland was also a lot of fun.
I was always seeking eclectic used bookshops to rummage through for books on mythology, faeries, exorcism, and the like. My bookshelves became so crammed with tomes on witchcraft and demonology that a friend once quipped that he expected to arrive one day and find a crater shrouded in green mist where my house used to be!
As for my writing process, I am in the camp that says that writing is a decision not a mood. When I began work on The Last Days of Magic, I committed to writing for several hours a day, at least five days a week. Sitting and working consistently, whether I felt like it or not, was a process that had a lot of magic in it. The first thing I did was create an outline, which made it feel safe for me to write; however, I was careful not to become attached to it. When my characters charged off in unexpected directions, I let them and updated the synopsis, which happened every few chapters. That first outline was diagramed on a giant piece of white paper, but the final story does not look much like it (much to the novel’s benefit).
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
From grade school through college, I was told that creative writing would be impossible for me due to my dyslexia. But writing was a compulsion. Once unfettered from academic restraint, I ventured into poetry, which felt approachable because it struck me as bad grammar raised to an art form. Photography was another creative outlet, as was writing nonfiction. However, writing a novel was always out there as the ultimate goal, yet out of reach. I took some workshops and even slogged through a two-year course on grammar for adult dyslexics. Eventually it came down to either abandoning my dream or sitting down and writing.
What’s one of the first things that you can remember writing?
When I was eight, the teacher assigned the ubiquitous what-you-did-over-your-summer-holiday writing exercise. I wrote a slasher horror story. My mother received a long note from the teacher for that one, complaining about more than terrible grammar and spelling for a change.
What authors have influenced you the most?
It is difficult to say, there are so many great authors and I have been a voracious reader. Top of mind on the fantasy side are C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkien, Neal Gaiman and Lev Grossman. As for as historical novels, I would say Geraldine Brooks and Ken Follett.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Without question it would be Gaiman’s American Gods. It is an exquisite blend of old and new mythology within a modern setting. Each sentence is so well crafted that I frequently take out my battered copy and study a few pages to remind myself how to write.
What are you currently reading?
When I am not writing, I usually have both a novel and a nonfiction book going. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders is one, and the other is The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt. I live in the mountains and have been snowshoeing while listening to A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab.
What’s next for you?
While working on The Last Days of Magic I discovered that I loved writing villains. Characters who at least tried to be honorable felt more constrained by the story arc, whereas the antiheroes freely wrought havoc across the page, stayed longer than I had planned, and generally did as they pleased. So I have been developing a frenzied witch hunter character and she is intent on going up against some of the survivors of the first book. The major plot lines of The Last Days of Magic were resolved; however, I am busy expanding the magical/historical hybrid world into additional countries, each with their own mythos. At this point it appears that the witch hunter will be chasing the first book’s characters out of Ireland and across Europe. Of course, the one thing I know about an outline this early in the process is that it is wrong, I just do not know how wrong.
About The Last Days of Magic:
What became of magic in the world? Who needed to do away with it, and for what reasons? Drawing on myth, legend, fairy tales, and Biblical mysteries, The Last Days of Magic brilliantly imagines answers to these questions, sweeping us back to a world where humans and magical beings co-exist as they had for centuries.
Aisling, a goddess in human form, was born to rule both domains and—with her twin, Anya—unite the Celts with the powerful faeries of the Middle Kingdom. But within medieval Ireland interests are divided, and far from its shores greater forces are mustering. Both England and Rome have a stake in driving magic from the Emerald Isle. Jordan, the Vatican commander tasked with vanquishing the remnants of otherworldly creatures from a disenchanted Europe, has built a career on such plots. But increasingly he finds himself torn between duty and his desire to understand the magic that has been forbidden.
As kings prepare, exorcists gather, and divisions widen between the warring clans of Ireland, Aisling and Jordan must come to terms with powers given and withheld, while a world that can still foster magic hangs in the balance. Loyalties are tested, betrayals sown, and the coming war will have repercussions that ripple centuries later, in today’s world—and in particular for a young graduate student named Sara Hill.
The Last Days of Magic introduces us to unforgettable characters who grapple with quests for power, human frailty, and the longing for knowledge that has been made taboo. Mark Tompkins has crafted a remarkable tale—a feat of world-building that poses astonishing and resonant answers to epic questions.