Tag Archives: Illuminata

The Devil at Home

Our chapter-by-chapter review of Raven’s Wand continues with chapter four – The Devil at Home

Of all my characters, Samuel Krast has travelled furthest from his roots. To begin with he and his Illuminata kind were far more mystical; they wore robes and their headquarters was a palace-fortress as grand as The Vatican; they went by the name of ‘logicians’ and observed strict codes and rituals. But consequently the Illuminata grew too remote and overblown, which is why I reworked them and stationed them at Hobbs Ash; a dirty, unused railway station in the heart of London. Now here was a base of operations that the reader could picture and get a sense of, and Krast went from a hooded, quasi-priest, to a severed-suited, cold-hearted but believable man with some major skeletons in his closet. At this point I felt I knew him and could write him convincingly. All it took was a change of clothes and a railway station. Likewise the Illuminata infantry are mostly just ‘men doing their jobs’ which is always a terrible excuse for doing terrible things, but people only require excuses when they know deep down that they’re doing something wrong – minuscule but compelling proof of conscience. Most of Krast’s staff, such as the devisers and Knights, are more entrenched in their bigotry, and those that aren’t (such as Hathwell) keep tight lipped about it. Krast was originally called Karg, by the way, (which sounds much meaner) until I found out that Dr. Karg’s is a popular brand of wholemeal crackers – ah well.

In the same way I deflated Krast and his kind, bringing them a little further down to ground level, I also made sure not to paint Valonia’s witches as too spiritual to be true. When Esta Salt leads a magical ceremony on the beach, note how it doesn’t go according to plan and all the witches can do is try to see the funny side. I wanted witches to seem humble and credible characters; sometimes they’re tired and don’t want to say prayers, and sometimes they’re fearful and wonder if the dreaming gods they honour give a damn about them or even know they’re there? It’s in this chapter that one of the witches reveals, to my mind, the most profound lesson about witchcraft in the entire book. It comes from seasoned gardener Ada Crabbe as she’s telling Rowan why magic is so powerful and therefore so corrosive to government control. She rightly tells Rowan that humble gardening is the key to freedom, and with a little magic, Ada and other such witches can keep a coven fed and self-sufficient all year round – they have no need to work in mills or factories, and poverty and hunger are unknown to them. ‘Fed ‘n free’, says Ada, ‘they’ll never make slaves of us, and THAT’S why they hate witches so much.’ And she rightly knows that if magic gained widespread acceptance, then none of Britain’s working class would be wasting their lives down mines and in factories to keep the ruling classes afloat. There’s as much politics as magic in Raven’s Wand.

Chapter four is also the first time we see the term ‘first-dawn’ in a context other than Valonia’s personal life. The folders Krast takes to his ministerial meeting are all marked ‘first-dawn’, and the mystery begins to deepen and grow more sinister, after all, Valonia believes ‘first-dawn’ is an omen signalling the end of her life. . .

Way-beware

 

The chapter-by-chapter insight into Raven’s Wand continues. This week, chapter three ‘Way-beware’, and we take a look at names. . .

‘Kolfinnia’. This is a rare variant of a little-known Scandinavian girl’s name that I found in a book of baby names from a bargain bookshop. I chose it because I liked the sound of it and also because I liked the shape the word made on the page. As to its meaning, one source said it meant ‘white’, while another claimed it referred to coal and therefore black. Either way Kolfinnia has a lot of light and dark in her life.

Kolfinnia’s the glue that holds the story together and so she had to be an every(wo)man character that the reader can relate to. She’s almost eighteen and worried about her future. I remember leaving full-time education and having to find work in the ‘real world’ at last, and I think Kolfinnia faces something similar but more extreme; she isn’t job-hunting but avoiding capture and execution, but both feel just as stressful sometimes. Originally Kolfinnia was the grand, old coven matriarch (which became Valonia) and she was recounting her youth and adventures with Raven’s Wand from the vantage point of old age. . . but the split time periods (young Kolfinnia in early Victorian Britain, old Kolfinnia in the late 1800s) seemed too cumbersome and ultimately pointless. So I split the character in two, keeping Kolfinnia as the young woman we know and creating Valonia to take the role of the coven’s chief – but they began life as the same woman!

That Valonia originally came from Iceland is due to my numerous trips there, meaning I could write about the place with conviction. Valonia, by the way, is an Anglo-Saxon name meaning ‘from the valley’, and if anyone out there knows of a different meaning please keep it to yourself! I also owe thanks here to the Museum of Witchcraft and Sorcery in Holmavik, Iceland. It was in this charming museum that I learned of Iceland’s own brand of witch trials in the middle ages, and that oddly, most witches were men; there was no mention of wizards or warlocks etc, and this in turn gave me the idea to call anyone who holds faith in magic ‘a witch’, with no gender distinctions. (Check out the museum’s revolting ‘Necropants’, you won’t be disappointed).

I like to have real places in mind when I write, just to anchor them. Wildwood-coven’s Appelier Bay is based upon Morecambe Bay where Lancashire meets the Lake District, and I think Flora’s adventures on the Bay’s treacherous quicksands will have tipped off a few sharp-eyed readers. Most of the place names are made up; Chertfield, Rothwaite, Leadchester and Thornlee were all plucked from the air and if these towns do exist then I hope their inhabitants don’t mind ending up in my book by accident. Other place names are real, of course, and sprinkling the real next to the assumed helps create an air of credibility. To this end I compiled long lists of names, both personal and places, and draughted a short profile for every one of the fifty-two witches at Wildwood, whether we meet them or not, and that includes the name of their thunder-sprite, and I also drew all fifty-two of them, so I could ‘see’ who they were. Actually, I drew them twice – as my drawings went from the children’s style I’d practised previously and became more realistic, I discarded the earlier drawings and re-drew them, learning along the way. This is the depth of commitment and complexity I invested in Raven’s Wand and subsequent novels because I wanted it to be ‘right’, and I hope readers find this dedications adds to their enjoyment of the story.

Just a big fairy!

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One of the great joys of writing is the freedom to reinvent traditional themes. In Raven’s Wand we meet witches for the first time, and instead of the ugly crones of propaganda we find that witchcraft is a peaceful faith, and its followers include men, women and children alike. Also, out go flying broomsticks and in come lightning-staffs and thunder-sprites. For me, reinvention is a cornerstone of fantasy art and writing. Why should every dragon look the same? Fairies get the same treatment. Out go fairies as mischievous magical folk, and in come animalistic nature spirits who escort the dead to Evermore.
Fairies take a lead role in the final novel of the series, Lion of Evermore (published this autumn). This test-sketch shows a scene from the book’s climactic battle – when entire fairy nations have to fight for survival against a vast plague of their infected kin. Morgus is not just a magma-fairy, but the leader of his nation, and he battles valiantly against a horde of infected iron-fairies.

He’s certainly more than just a big fairy, but is even Morgus strong enough to stop the iron infection . . ?

Destroying Angel

destroying-angel

Spring 2018 sees Raven’s Wand published as a deck of oracle cards, lavishly illustrated with characters from the book and with exclusively written meanings. Week by week, I’ll post my thoughts and comments on the forthcoming cards. This week – ‘Destroying Angel’

Destroying Angel is the first novel in the successor series to Raven’s Wand, and tells the story of Freya Albright’s boat-full of witches that fled Wildwood-coven, but subsequently vanished . . .

I wanted Freya’s story to remain part of the Raven’s Wand world and its Victorian setting, but still to have its own unique feel. Freya and her crew of nine are a tight-knit bunch, and their camaraderie is as often touching as it is earthy and amusing – and it needs to be considering what they face. Paying homage to a favourite of mine, Beowulf, the first story sees a remote northern outpost under siege from a powerful and destructive entity. This creature came not from a dark cave or the depths of an icy lake however, but from the blackness between the stars – in fact it is the blackness between the stars. A tale of isolation, suspense and deception unfolds, as the tiny mining town of Lokk bars the gates, and looks to a rabble of unknown soldiers to protect them from they believe is the Devil himself, but they find other allies too. It’s here that Freya and her crew prove their worth when they’re forced to fight alongside Illuminata mercenaries in an attempt to defeat an entity as old as the universe and as desolate as the vacuum of space.

I had a lot of fun with Destroying Angel, despite its dark tone and (gosh!) a sex scene or two (I told you it was different to Raven’s Wand!) and whereas characters take their turn in the spotlight in Raven’s Wand and its sequels, the focus remains on Freya and her crew throughout this new series. In doing so, I’ve been surprised by just how protective I’ve become of Freya & Co, as if they’re family. When they laugh I laugh with them, and when they’re in danger I’m anxious for them, but they do have a mysterious (and often stern) guide and protector . . . he’s dead, but that doesn’t cramp his style, and while he’s not known for his sense of humour, it’s thanks to him that a certain ‘Clovis’ found a certain door marked ‘Rowan’, and if he hadn’t, well, Raven’s Wand might have had a totally different ending. You’ll have to wait and see . . .

Beauty and Duty

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Reworking the cover for Raven’s Wand, the first of the Wildwood books, I brought Kolfinnia to the fore. Book covers demand an eye-catching and appealing image for obvious reasons, but I didn’t want Kolfinnia (the story’s young hero) reduced simply to cover decoration. She’s a young woman with a serious duty, she’s been through a lot and has a lot more to get through before the book’s over.

I hope she’s beautiful (and beauty’s a wildly subjective topic!) and if she is, then I hope it’s because of what’s inside her. Look into her eyes – there’s focus and resolve there. She’s strong, but not in a macho-aggressive way that some writers portray female leads, but rather it’s her sense of compassion and justice that enable her to face the challenges ahead. I wanted to keep the focus on her face and what she’s feeling. Look long enough, and the surrounding details begin to melt away and only Kolfinnia’s steady gaze remains. Before you know it you’re looking at a real person, not just a pleasing face to brighten a book cover, and it’s her conviction that helps make a fantasy story seem more like a story rooted in fact. Neither did I want any trace of voyeurism. Sorry – but nobody goes into action in high heels and a bikini outside of the realm of Hollywood.

So here is Kolfinnia, holding Raven’s Wand itself. Around her are witches’ deities Hethra and Halla, the dragons of oak and holly that she’s prepared to defend to the death, as well as Skald, her loyal thunder-sprite. She is as real as you or I, as are the dangers and joys she faces. The fact that she happens to have a pretty face is immaterial . . . but it makes for a nice cover (-: