A couple of weeks back, Mr. Lachlan graciously accepted to answer a few questions on the blog.
M.D. Lachlan is a British writer, author of the excellent norse-fantasy novel Wolfsangel (my review here) which was released in May 2010. Wolfsangel is the start to an exciting new series that will span centuries. M.D. Lachlan is also the pen name for comedy writer Mark Barrowclife, under which name he has written, among others, The Elfish Gene and Mr. Wrong.
Below you will find the full Q&A. Enjoy.
LEC Book Reviews: You are not new to writing but you are new to the fantasy genre. How does it feel to be a “part” of this genre? How are the community and the fans different?
M.D. Lachlan: It feels very good. In mainstream fiction there is much less of a fan culture. I think people might identify themselves as fans of a particular author but not of, say satire, which is what I hope I was writing before. There are no satire conventions as far as I know, no satire societies.
The authors are much more supportive than in mainstream fiction. That’s not to say there aren’t mainstream authors who aren’t lovely but just that there’s much more of a feeling of ‘we’re all in this together’ in fantasy fiction. Also, I think fantasy authors tend to be fans of the genre. They chose to be in it. It’s not like that for all authors. I know when I was writing mainstream fiction I just wrote what I could, what seemed to come out. I didn’t opt to be a comedy writer, comedy was just what I wrote if you see what I mean.
People are also more passionately involved in the work in fantasy. I know someone who worked for George RR Martin’s publisher. They got a letter in from a chap who said he was terminally ill and was desperate for George to finish his next book because he didn’t want to die without finding out the fate of certain favourite characters. He asked that, if it came out after he was dead, could George read it out in a church so he could hear it in heaven. Now that’s a fan!
LBR: Before this you were an author of contemporary books. What sparked the change from that to Wolfsangel and fantasy writing?
MDL: I’d always been a fantasy fan – right from being very young. However, I never had the ambition to write a fantasy novel. I’ve always been obsessed with comedy and writing that came very naturally to me so I didn’t really see a reason to change what I wrote. It sounds odd but I sat down to begin a comedy and just started writing about an immortal werewolf. It seemed to be a good story so I kept going.
I think perhaps because I’ve written in a flippant, comic style for so long my subconscious wanted a rest and to try something else, even if I didn’t realise that myself. It was not a decision as such, though, more like waking up and finding a present on your kitchen table and opting to open it instead of leaving it unwrapped.
LBR: Fantasy and contemporary of very different genres. What changes did you having to go through, in terms of your writing, to go from one to the other?
MDL: Well the main one is the dialogue. In my comedy writing I go by the rule that my characters must say something funny virtually every time they open their mouths – within the constraints of scene setting and naturalism. The dialogue in a historical fantasy is pitched very differently and there are virtually no comic exchanges in Wolfsangel – I think three in the whole book. I went through cutting them out.
The second is the choice of style. I can pretty much speak as myself in contemporary work. In Wolfsangel I needed a balance between a style that was evocative of the period and one that appealed to modern readers. Go too far either way and you can lose readers or worse, end up with a ‘Hollywood Medieval’ pastiche.
The third is plot. Wolfsangel is much more tightly plotted than any of my contemporary work. It’s my fourth novel – my sixth book – and the books have been becoming much more plot driven ever since my first one. Wolfsangel takes that up a level.
The fourth is that Wolfsangel is in the third person whereas my contemporary work has been in the first. I felt it much more suited to the subject matter, not to mention handling so many different characters. The sagas were obviously in the third person so it seemed natural to write that way.
LBR: In Wolfsangel you created a tale reminiscent of the sagas of old, notably Norse ones. Where did the decision to do this stem from?
MDL: Again, decision is a big word. I just write and see what appears. I’d read a lot of sagas and maybe that came out in the writing. I believe some stories have almost a life of their own, that they demand a certain treatment. The book started set in WWII, flashing back to the Norse period. I decided to ditch the WWII stuff on my publisher’s advice and rewrite the whole thing in one period. I hope the series will go forward in history to WWII eventually because I was very pleased with the WWII story. It was just that when it combined with the Norse story, the book was very long and a bit confusing for the reader.
LBR: Let’s admit it: Vikings and Werewolves are awesome! How difficult was it not to indulge (too much) in these aspects of the books instead of keeping the story on track?
MDL: Not difficult. The problem with a werewolf as a main character is that he loses his personality when he transforms. Effectively your character disappears from the story and is replaced by a monster. This is why vampires are easier to handle – they retain their personality unless they’re in a real frenzy.
If you’re interested in the characters, as I am, then the werewolf gets in the way a bit. This is why the werewolf in Wolfsangel is so different to the Hollywood moonblind skinsplitter. I wanted us to see how becoming the wolf challenged the main character’s humanity. That involved a different approach to the werewolf, one much more in keeping with the Norse myth.
Also, if you’re going to keep your readers waiting for your werewolf to appear a little, when he does so he’s got to kick bottom. Hence the Wolfsangel werewolf is quite a handful when transformed, not just a furry bloke with fangs. It takes a lot more than a silver arrow to stop him.
Vikings are awesome too and they’re in it throughout. They’re not all maniacs with axes. Though, to be fair, most of them are.
LBR: Your novel weaves a number of storylines and themes, some tied up at the end of Wolfsangel, some not. How do these lead on into the other books of the series?
MDL: Can’t say too much. The mystical side of Wolfsangel provides the continuity into the next book. I think that’s as far as I want to go!
LBR: The Wolfsangel series is different in that it will span a large period in history. What can you tell us about what is to come?
MDL: The next novel is set about 100 years later than the first. I hope to stay in the Viking period for a few books and then go forward into the high medieval period and beyond through history to the modern day. As I said, the WWII story is written and I’m pleased with it.
Apart from Wolfsangel’s sequels, do you have any other projects in mind within the fantasy genre? Any other projects at all?
MDL: Yes, I have a children’s book that I’m very excited about. Again, it’s set around Norse myth and I can’t wait to get cracking on it. I have an idea for a mainstream book and I have volume III of the Wolfsangel series to start. So I’m busy.
LBR: Finally, you can now shamelessly self-publicize your book or, in other words, tell those that haven’t read it why they should…
MDL: Well, I shan’t blow my own trumpet but I’ll gladly allow others to do it for me. Interzone magazine, the SF&F bible, described Wolfsangel as ‘the most powerful and original fantasy I have read.’ They did, rather annoyingly, add the words ‘for some time’ to that statement but it’ll do me.
Mike Carey, author of the Lucifer graphic novels said it was ‘a unique take on the werewolf mythos, on the Norse pantheon and on magic itself. An enthralling, mesmeric book.’ Other authors have been particularly kind about it and it’s been recommended by, among others, Joe Abercrombie, Adam Roberts, Graham Joyce, Chris Wooding, Andy Remic, Stephen Deas and, from outside the fantasy genre, the detective writer RJ Ellory. It’s also been exceptionally well reviewed in the blogosphere.
I guarantee you won’t have read about a werewolf like this before, nor seen what Joe Abercrombie called ‘some of the strangest and most sinister magic I have encountered.’
The reviews have been excellent, the best I’ve ever had, and the word ‘classic’ has been mentioned more than once. Take a look at Amazon or my website www.mdlachlan.com to see all of them, and there are a few. I said I wasn’t going to blow my own trumpet but there I parp. Sorry.
LBR: Thank you for the time you took to answer these questions. Any parting words?
‘festr mun slitna, en freki renna;‘The fetters shall burst and the wolf run free
fjölð veit ek fræða, fram sé ek lengra’
Much do I know and more can see’
M.D. Lachlan's Website: http://www.mdlachlan.com/