1. Where and when did the idea strike to write this series?
It was 2012 and I had just come back from France where I had been visiting the trenches with my father and brother in law on the trail of two great uncles who fought out there, one who came back and one who did not. It was an incredible trip, really moving and inspirational and I just felt I had to write about the experience.
So, when I got home from France I started planning this grand epic of World War One, sort of like Game of Thrones meets Band of Brothers. Which no one really wants. And pretty soon I had got myself tied into knots and wasn't making much progress. Then one night I was sitting down and reading a book to my youngest son and he stopped me and said that it was 'boring'. "Boring?" I exclaimed. "This is one of the greatest books ever written for kids!" But he wasn't having any of it. So I asked him what he would write a book about and he immediately replied, "World War One and werewolves" and a light came on in my head and after that I was off and running!
2. Your lead character, Poldek Tacit, is a complex character. Where do you draw inspiration from to write him?
I see Tacit as very much a construct of the modern person living, or trying to live, in the western world. Okay, most people don't go around killing people, but a lot of people are dissatisfied with their lot in life, their job, their surroundings, troubled with their place in the world, where they see the world going, their role within it and lack of control they have over their destinies. A lot of people use drink and drugs to give them that sparkle and the energy to face challenges and get them through difficult periods in their lives; to block out the pain.
3. We love that THE FALLEN is set in an alternative 1915, where demonic possessions are sweeping across Rome as war rages on the Austro-Hungarian border. Why did you choose that point in history?
It had always been the plan to set the second book on the Italian front. Firstly, it was a natural progression from western front geographically but also to expand the reach of the series across the different theatres of World War One. Secondly, THE FALLEN is set in 1915 which was when Italy entered the war, a growing conflict consuming more and more nations, so that suited the story plot very well. But also I wanted to help draw attention to this dreadful front of the war, a theatre very few people know about. There's lots written about the western and eastern fronts, but so little, too little, written about the Italian front.
4. You have been described as having superb attention to historic detail by Fantastic Literature. Do you do a lot of research?
Yes, you have to, if you want to be able to bring the full experience of whatever it is you're writing about to life. Confidence in your subject breeds confidence in your writing, which provides a far more fulfilling and rewarding experience for your reader. But, as long as I'm writing (and so researching) about a topic I enjoy, I don't see the research as a chore or a necessary evil. I love the subject, so research is a pleasure, not a bind. Which I suppose supports the notion that you should also write about what you know (and love).
5. If you could sum THE FALLEN up in 3 words, what would they be?
Thrilling bloody terror.
6. Which writers to you read, and which are your inspirations?
Well, Tolkien is top of the pile. Without question. He was the one who first inspired me to become a writer when I heard him for the first time when I was eight. A light went on and I thought, 'Ooh, I want to write stories myself'. But there are so many other writers I draw upon from a wide range of genres, people who are touchstones, if you like, to my writing. Dave Eddings, Edgar Allan Poe, Daphne Du Maurier, Stephen King are fiction writers I greatly admire. Max Hastings, Andrew Salmon, Fergal Keane, they're historians I read with passion and relish. I'm also a big fan of comics. Alan Moore, Pat Mills, John Wagner, Frank Miller, they play a big part in the literary education. I'm always in awe and wonder at great writers and how far I still have to go to get within touching distance of them. I sit with a copy of Hilary Mantel's 'Wolf Hall' on my desk to remind me just how long the journey is.
7. What are your writing habits? Do you have a routine or do you go with the flow?
At the moment I'm writing fairly loosely, plotting more than decisively writing. But when I do settle down to a sustained period of writing, I have a very fixed routine, always one hour before the 'boring day job', one hour at lunchtime and then two hours on an evening. Sunday mornings, regardless of what I've been up to the night before, is a valuable time to write. And then, if work allows, I will fill hours writing, often in coffee shops which I have found to be the most conducive for getting down words, ideally good words. When writing THE FALLEN, I took myself off for a long weekend in a caravan in Weymouth to try and move the novel on but failed miserably to even write a single word. I need the buzz and hustle of things around me, not the utter silence of solitary incarceration.
8. How do you handle the topic of religion in your books? Is it as clear cut as good versus evil?
No, it's not clear cut. In fact, it's very complex, as complex as the question as to who we are and why we're here.
To me, the fundamental basis of religion is control, to control its followers by giving them the moral code, the manual by which to lead their lives. Now this control comes, of course, in a very broad sweep of grey, the control at the white end of the monochrome spectrum being very gentle, benign and beneficial, intended to encourage an individual to be a good person, a good neighbour and spouse, and to live with tolerance, acceptance and love. At the opposite darker end of this scale, the rhetoric is the snarled cry of death and damnation to all enemies, to take up weapons and kill others who don't follow the same faith. Somewhere along this scale, many of the characters within the novels sit. They might follow the same faith, but their acknowledgement and interpretation of their religious teachings is often very different, and with that their actions and thinking.
What I've tried to do within the books is use this spectrum to both present a range of scenarios and also ask fundamental questions about how does a force for good become a force for evil, and why. Of course, no one simply takes their place on this grey scale without reason. This might be decided by happenings in their past, people around whom they associate, global events. These are the fascinating elements which I love to think about and investigate with my writing; what makes us what we are and behave like we do? So, for example, Tacit sits towards the darker end of the scale, tied in with violence and a direct association with conflict and war. But how did this come to be, and how easily can people change their position on the scale?
Of course, religion has always been tied to, or had some affiliation with, war, whether it being one faith against another, or faith being used as a beacon by which to encourage the troops or justify their actions. What's interesting is that there is a direct correlation between the decline of western religions, particularly christianity, and the end of World War One, and this chiefly is because religion was used as a rallying cry for troops on all sides to do one's duty and kill one's fellow man. It was what God wanted, apparently. The problem was that the different soldiers who were all fighting each others were fighting on behalf of the same God, so something was clearly awry. And, of course, people also came home from those killing fields and pondered just how a benevolent God could have allowed such horrors to have ever happened.
9. If your books were adapted for the silver screen, who would play Poldek Tacit?
When I first started writing the series, I had a board onto which I had stuck photos of actors who I imagined could play, or might look a little like, the characters in my head. Tacit started off as Hugh Jackman, but he's changed become bigger, gruffer, more monstrous as the series has gone on. Probably for that reason, I won't mention names!
10. This is your second book in THE DARKEST HAND TRILOGY. What is the final book called and when can we get our hands on it?!
It's called THE RISEN, and should very neatly conclude the trilogy, hopefully answering all reader's questions and queries, as well as deal with all the main characters, favourably, or otherwise! At the moment we're aiming for a May 2017 release. Things are progressing well at the moment. So far, so good, but we're still got a long way still to go and I'm looking forward to making my editor sweat a little as I sail through deadline after deadline to eventually deliver the book months' late as is my style!