Grinding to Valhalla

Interviewing the gamer with a thousand faces

Reading the text: Mark Chadbourn

Posted by Randolph Carter on August 7, 2009

world's end

Author website:

Could you take a minute and explain what your Age of Misrule trilogy is about?

The gods of the ancient Celts return, along with many creatures of myth. How does our modern world cope? That’s the basic premise, but it touches on a great many other things, from stone circles and other prehistoric sites to Arthurian myth and mystical history. I wanted to tell a story that could be read on several levels – a fantasy quest set in our world, a secret history, a mystical guide – depending how deep the reader wanted to go.

As someone who has extensively studied British folklore, how has this helped you in writing these books?

Vastly. I draw on lots of disparate British folklore and myth and weave it into one tapestry. The aim was to show how it’s all related and all still relevant on one level. Most of these stories are deep-programmed into our unconscious and tap into our very identities. My own knowledge gave me the basic structure of the stories, as well as a springboard to carry out further research. I then spent six months travelling around the UK, mapping out the characters’ quest, visiting Stonehenge, Avebury, Tintagel Castle and a hundred more places, talking to experts, reading through old texts, digging up the detail that would make the story come alive.

Would you mind describing what the process was like for you in getting your first novel published?

I was extremely fortunate. The first short story I ever wrote was accepted in a nationally-distributed UK magazine, Fear. A few months later, at its annual awards, the readers voted me Best New Author. On the back of that, I got the first agent I approached and the first publisher. For a long time, I thought getting published was that phenomenally easy for everyone. But it was really a matter of right person, right time, right place.

Are you or have you ever been a gamer? What has your gaming experience been like (board games, pen & paper RPGs, console & computer games, etc.)?

Over the years I’ve played a lot of games. I started out with Steve Jackson’s books, published in the UK, the ones where you choose a path, flip to a different page, and so on. I never did Dungons and Dragons or RPGs, but I did a lot of computer gaming. I always preferred first person shooters – it was a way to blast off my frustrations after a day writing. Doom was always a favourite, followed by Quake – the first one, much better than the ones that came after, imo. I went through all the Tomb Raiders, some Resident Evil, various others like Azrael’s Tear and Realms of the Haunting. My favourite has to be the Silent Hill series, mainly for the depth of the world that has been created. I did one or two RPG videogames – Baldur’s Gate – but it sapped too much time.

Have you ever ventured into online worlds? If so, please explain what that experience has been like.

I dabbled with WoW, but when you write for a living, you can’t immerse yourself in those worlds – it sucks all the time out of your life, and in a way I think it’s not wholly conducive to the creative process. You need a lot of downtime to imagine.

Would you say your gaming experience has had any effect on you as a writer? Please explain.

I find some games help trigger the imagination, in the way that music, film and some TV does. For me, Silent Hill does that. There’s something in the mood, the music and the gameplay that releases the imagination. As any creative person will tell you, the imagination is like a car. It isn’t running all the time, and sometimes it’s damnedly difficult to switch on – you need to find the right key. It might be as simple as a song, or, in this case, brief immersion in another world.

Would you say there is grind in the writing process? Please explain.

darkest hour (cover art by John Picacio)Lots of grind. Some people have a romantic view of the writing process, but it is very hard work – the vast majority of it is digging ditches, shovelling those words out, shaping and forming. The fun part is the thought-creation of the story, and the feeling at the end when you look back at what you have achieved. But in the middle of it, when you’re doing one sentence at a time, it’s easy to get distracted, and you have to force yourself to sit there and graft. That’s the same for every writer I’ve spoken to. In the middle of the book, you have to come up with lots of ways to keep yourself creative and fired up (ie games) or it’s easy to slip into the grind state of mind.

By contrast, what would you say is one of the most rewarding things about being a writer?

There is so much that’s rewarding, I don’t know where to start. Creating characters, a story, a world, and seeing them come to life. Immersing yourself in another place/time. Shaping an artefact, like a sculptor watching something meaningful emerge from a block of stone. No commute. No office politics. No boss apart from yourself. Setting your own time so you work when you’re most creative, and you get to see other stuff that people in the nine-to-five never get to see. Right through to the responses from the readers where you realise your selfish act of creation has affected someone else. It’s hard to choose just one because they all have real power at different times.

When do you find time to write?

I write for a living so there’s no luxury to choosing. I put in the hours necessary to deliver a book to deadline, which may well be a fourteen hour day near the end, or random hours during the day and at night when I’m getting started.

How do you tend to escape these days?

I read – books and comics, watch movies, play the odd game, though I have less time to give to that these days. I run. I get out and about with friends. The downtime is as important as the writing time, because that’s when the imagination gets itself back in shape.

Your website mentions you have a passion for magic. Would you be able to elaborate on that a bit?

I’ve been interested in magic for a long time, the long history of it and how it dovetails with the world around us. Its something a lot of writers are conscious of. When you have a thought – a concept which is still too slippery for science – which becomes reality, in the form of a story, which then influences some complete stranger’s life, there are clear parallels with magic. The will shaping the world around us. Many of the fantasy and horror authors of the Victorian era were in magical orders, because they understood this link between imagination and magic. In philosophical terms, the world of the imagination is as real as the world around us. Thoughts can change our bodies, our ways of acting, the world itself, and it’s something science can’t quite get a handle on. It’s endlessly fascinating.

Have you ever been shot at?

I also work as a screenwriter – for BBC TV drama particularly at the moment. A few years ago, I was researching a movie script in the US with a tabloid journalist as a guide. We were investigating a story and the security guards at one particular location chased us into the desert firing their weapons. Very scary. I’ve also been locked up by gangsters when I worked as a journalist, but was freed when a colleague called the cops.

Would you have any words of advice for the would-be-writers out there?always forever (cover art by John Picacio)

The best advice is to write a novel – go right to the end without stopping to revise, then sit back and look at what you’ve done. Turning out 70,000+ words in and of itself is an achievement, but the simple act of finishing a book is an act that teaches you a lot about yourself, about your writing and about the craft. Once you’ve done one, you can do as many as you need to get published. I know so many would-be writers who never get past the first few chapters because they’re continually going back to make them better.

Which of your books would you most like to see turned into a role playing game? And in this game what race and class would you pick to play and why?

Age of Misrule would make a great RPG. It has three world – our world, the Celtic Otherworld, and the Land of the Dead, different kinds of gods – the golden skinned Tuatha de Danann and the demonic Fomorii, plus humans and numerous fantastical beasts. I’d probably go for the basic human, warrior because I will enjoy clouting stronger, smarter beings with a big sword.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with this gamer/reader audience?

I love the increasing cross-pollination among books, games, movies, TV, the whole range of imaginative endeavour. Writers used to be gamers. Games influence books influence games and movies and so on. It’s an exciting time to be involved in all this, and I’m loving every minute of it.

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