Wyrd Question Daze: Gareth Hanrahan

I’m Gareth Hanrahan, a writer and game designer. My latest major bit of writing is the third novel in my Black Iron Legacy fantasy series, The Broken God. With my roleplaying game designer hat on, I do a lot of work for Pelgrane Press; my next major release for them will probably be The Borellus Connection, a 1970s spies-vs-mythos-vs-the drug trade. Track what I’m doing at garhanrahan.com, or follow me on twitter for interesting retweets and the occasional amusing typo.

Where did you come from and where are you going?

Right now, I feel like I’m trying to get back to where I came from – we’re rebuilding the family house that I inherited from my mother, and the construction got shut down due to covid, so I’ve spent most of the last year just waiting to find a foothold again. Everything’s loops these days. It’s hard to feel like I’m going anywhere.

What preoccupies your mind these days?

A two-year-old chaos muppet means most of my days are spent thinking “why is that wall sticky? Where are there books all over the floor? What’s she climbing on now?” It’s hard to think deep meaningful thoughts when you’re on the floor saying “which one is the green block? Which one is the red block?” And then any other available thoughtspace is taken up with work stuff – there are bits of half a dozen projects running around my head.

Name a favourite taste, touch, sound, sight and smell.

Taste. Chai latte. Horribly indulgent.

Touch. Tapping the end of my newish umbrella off a stone, or using it to steady myself in the mud when walking in the woods. I got a big umbrella a few months ago – nothing special, but it’s the sort of thing a grown-up would carry. I’m aware that I’m 43 and have three kids and a mortgage and am much too old to be saying things like ‘grown-up’, but I don’t feel at all comfortable with being an adult, or at faking adulthood. I suspect it’s because my career is profoundly unserious, coupled with being a rather serious and (literally) sober teenager/twenty-something. I don’t feel like I’ve changed especially in the last twenty-five years; I’m sure I must have, but it’s not inwardly apparent. Anyway, having an umbrella that I can poke into the mud feels, on some level, like a thing that a forty-something person would possess, and that’s satisfying and solid to touch. It’d like I’m grounding myself in middle age in the hopes my mind catches up.

Sound. The gap between the “I’ve been here” and “silent all these years” in Tori Amos’ Silent All These Years. There’s a little intake of breath there, a little moment of silence, that still gets me.

Sight. During lockdown, I’ve been walking around the local area a lot. We’re right on the edge of Cork harbour here, and there are lots of little islands and peninsulas. It’d oddly satisfying to line up landmarks, or to be able to look across the water and see the spot where you were yesterday. It’s like doing a giant crossword puzzle. So, I like looking from the south edge of Haulbowline park, and seeing all at once the national marine school, the Martello tower on the hilltop, the green hump of Currabinny, the edge of Crosshaven, the old Fort at the harbour mouth, and the opening to the Atlantic beyond.

Smell. The smell of the stairwell in the science building at University College Cork. It’s hooked directly to a memory of the summer before I went to college there – the feeling of stepping into an undiscovered future and growing up, of possibility and discovery.

Describe one of your most vivid dreams or nightmares

I rarely remember my dreams, and they’re never especially vivid.

I do remember a dream my mother had, shortly after my great-uncle MIchael passed away. She dreamed that Michael called in for a visit, as he often did. In the dream, she knew he was dead, while he did not – he was a ghost or revenant, and she was terrified of what would happen if she told him. At the same time, she didn’t know how to bring it up in conversation.

Something about that combination of existential dread and mild social awkwardness – I’m sorry to interrupt, but do you know you’re dead – sticks with me.

Have you ever had an uncanny experience?

No. I wish I had.

How does your sense of place affect the way you express yourself?

I don’t know. I can talk about how a sense of place affects the way I express a character in fiction, or how my sense of a particular place is connected to some aspect of myself, but I don’t know how to address the question as applied to myself in general.

What has particularly touched or inspired you recently?

A few weeks ago, a parcel got misdelivered to a neighbour, and I went down and collected it. We ended up having a lovely conversation about mythology, and writing, and farming, and families, and coronavirus, and travel, and our backgrounds, and the local area – clearly, both of us had been cooped up with the same few people for months due to lockdown, and welcomed the opportunity to make a new connection. It was a thoroughly nice experience, made all the better because I wasn’t expecting it.

The Broken God – the third book of the Black Iron Legacy Series (a Wyrd Daze favourite) is out now.

Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 *** Early Haunts

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Early Haunts: an interview with T.W. Burgess

Four early and inspirational ghost stories, mostly forgotten in the depths of literary history, are brought together for the first time in one graphic novel adaptation. These stories include:

The Death Bride – An Italian Gothic Horror and a primary literary influence to Mary Shelley, writer of FRANKENSTEIN.

The Wild Huntsman – A German poem which acted as a major inspiration to Washington Irving, writer of SLEEPY HOLLOW.

The Tale from Dish Mansion – a Japanese ghost tale which inspired Sadako in Koji Suzuki’s THE RING

The House in Athens – The first appearance of a ‘chained apparition’, an inspiration to Charles Dickens for Marley’s Ghost from A CHRISTMAS CAROL.

Early Haunts Kickstarter

T.W. Burgess is a writer based in Canterbury, Kent. Specialising in horror, ghost stories and folklore. Burgess’s work has been featured in publications such as Rue Morgue, Starburst Magazine and the Fortean Times. He is also the winner of Rue Morgue’s best limited comic series graphic novel award. He currently resides in a 16th century house haunted by an eternally hungry black cat. 

Twitter          Instagram

What inspired you to unearth the forgotten tales featured in Early Haunts?

So, I’ve been fascinated by ghost stories ever since I was small. From gorging M.R. James’s TV adaptations to spending hours in bookshops looking for books with supernatural photos. In particular I’d always been fascinated with the first haunted house story The House in Athens and the influence that ghost had over so many of our archetypal spectres in film, books and TV. From just some initial research I’d been amazed at how far reaching these influences were and it made me want to delve deeper with some of my other favourite supernatural tales. The four tales in the book vary widely both in location and length. For that reason alone it seemed an interesting concept to bring them together and reveal how they came to be.

What challenges did you face in adapting these stories to a graphic medium?

Each of these ghost stories have come from very unwieldy texts – from pre-1700s Japanese to ancient Greek – so it was a real challenge to correctly translate and ensure that the stories matched up to the original source material.

I’ve been exceptionally fortunate to work with some incredible translators. Anne Doering who helpe translate The Wild Huntsman did a great job at dissecting the story, uncovering old German words and the colour schemes used for the characters. Elements like that were left out of Walter Scott’s adaptation of Gottfried August Bürger’s original poem of The Wild Huntsman and I felt it was important to bring them back.

Also, it was important to break down these stories into a legible format. The Death Bride is the longest of the tales but still a fraction of the huge original story. That narrative is almost ‘Inception-like’ with a ‘tale within a tale’ setting which can be quite confusing to read. It was important to keep it as simple as possible so the reader could keep a handle on what was going on.

Tell us about the book’s artists and what their vision brought to each story.

The artists I’ve worked with have all done an incredible job at visualising these stories and creating a specific atmosphere and tone relevant to each location. Mike O’Brien is an amazing talent whose work has been featured in exhibitions and magazines and his style has really added a raw, creepy feel to Pliny’s tale.

Readers might well know Brian Coldrick from his astounding work in his Behind You animated gifs and book out on IDW. We’ve worked together previously and his detailed style was absolutely spot on for The Wild Huntsman. There’s a depth and autumnal tone to his piece which gives it a real sense of the uncanny. 

David Romero I’ve also worked with previously on my Ghoster project. As an artist who specialises in horror he has a great eye for unsettling imagery. But he’s really held back with the Death Bride, allowing the horror to slowly grow within some truly beautiful panel work. Which makes those reveals all the more impactful.

Lastly, Bri Neumann is an artist who I’ve long admired and I was lucky enough to work with her with my book Nyctophobias. Her style has a real manga feel to it and it absolutely perfectly fitted The Tale of Dish Mansion, alongside that of colourist Bryan Valenza, whose tones and colour palette perfectly set the tone to the piece.

Early Haunts: The House in Athens — illustrated by Mike O’Brien

Were there any other influential tales you considered for this collection?

Absolutely, there’s definitely potential for an Early Haunts 2 or even possibly further. I don’t want to reveal any in particular but there’s a host of tales from England, Europe and even further afield which have helped pave the way for our modern horror.

What draws you to telling tales of the eerie and horrific?

I’m a keen advocate of M.R. James’s line that the true aim of a ghost story is to inspire “a pleasing terror in the reader”. I truly believe that’s the case. Pure schlock horror where gore and blood is thrown around without rhyme or reason never interests me. I think a good ghost story where the scares are skilfully built and the terror really hits, truly allow us to explore what pushes our buttons and what sends chills up our spines, taking us back to some of our most primal and earliest fears. We can allow ourselves to be scared but with the distance of a page between us and the horror, leaving us with a renewed sense of safety and comfort. Equally, I think stories such as that are especially important right now where these scares are so fantastical and removed from the daily horrors we’re all enduring.

What frightened you as a child?

I remember being equally terrified and fascinated by classic supposed ‘ghost photographs’ in a range of books as a child. All the stereotypical ones which now seem so iconic such as the boy with the glowing eyes in the Amityville house or the Spectre of Newby Church with it’s tattered cloth face. I’d spend hours poring over them and supernatural programs which had chilling clips of ‘supposed’ encounters with ghosts. They always fascinated but haunted my sleep.

But undoubtedly Mr Pipes in Ghostwatch utterly traumatised me. The directing by Lesley Manning was completely before its time and you can see how that directing style later inspired supernatural films such as Blair Witch. I remember not being able to sleep for weeks afterwards.

Can you remember the first horror film you watched?

I’m pretty sure Jaws must have been one of the earliest I watched, probably down to me hounding my Dad to rent it from the video shop. I remember being surprised the shark wasn’t as big as the one on the cover, but it left me with such a feeling of dread (especially the Kinter attack).

That whole premise of showing very little and then building up to a scare is something I’ve always tried to emulate in all my graphic novels ever since. I think it’s a good rule of thumb for horror. If you’ve got a good horror character then allow the tension to build before showing everything.

Have you ever seen a ghost or experienced any other kind of supernatural phenomenon?

Nothing very exciting. The only incident that’s remotely ghostly was when I used to work for a nightclub as head of design and print. I later found out the nightclub had been built on the site of a large medieval church. There was always building work going on and I remember they’d knocked through the flats upstairs to allow it to be turned into a cocktail bar.

One evening I’d stayed late to print off posters for upcoming events and whilst I was doing some designing the handle of the interconnecting door between my office and the old flat clearly shook as if someone was trying it. I’d waited a moment expecting a builder to come in or knock as it was often locked. But when no one did I got up to have a look. Low and behold there was just a dark empty flat beyond the door, and a very empty flat. I walked round the building but there was no one else there. Evidently I got my stuff and left sharpish.

There were loads of rumours about the place but I’m told there was an old part of a crypt somewhere underneath the dancefloor.

Early Haunts: The Wild Huntsman — illustrated by Brian Coldrick 

Will you share with us one of your most interesting nightmares?

I had one last year actually after watching Inside No.9 which really stayed with me. I’d been watching a load of weird, retro kids TV on youtube – especially ‘Jigsaw’ with ‘Mr Noseybonk’ an absolute horror from my childhood I’ve long been fascinated by. I had an insane dream about an episode of Inside No.9 in which a character watches episodes of Jigsaw and somehow starts transforming into a ‘Bonk’ and being lured to the sewers where a cult of other viewers have transformed into hideous pale faced ‘Bonks’. It was pretty horrific. Tweeted the whole thing – I’m glad it doesn’t exist.

What would you say are your most influential books, comics, and films?

For me graphic novels and comics such as Alan Moore’s From Hell and James O’Barr’s The Crow really show how effective horror can be within the comic medium. I’m a huge fan especially of Horror manga artist and writer Junji Ito and his seminal books Uzumaki and Gyo remain for me some of the most terrifying work to date. Also I love supernatural folklore within graphic novels such as Becky Cloonan’s By chance or Providence and Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods both of which do a wonderful job at crafting an unsettling read matched with gorgeous artwork.

In terms of novels I love the work of Philip Pullman and the His Dark Materials trilogy, which for me are at the forefront of my favourite books. His world building and lore is unparalleled.  For traditional ghost stories I adore Sheridan Le Fanu and E F Benson but above everyone else it has to be M.R. James. His ghost stories have an unidentifiable element of pure malevolence wrapped up in truly believable supernatural lore and academia which set them apart. He was born just a few villages away from where I live and with local landmarks such as Rochester Cathedral appearing in his work I always felt a special resonance with his stories.

For films, I love the work of Guillermo Del Toro, in particular Pan’s Labrynth and The Devils Backbone, there’s always such a high level of detail in his work. But for supernatural horror it’s so hard to pinpoint it to just a few. I love Japanese horror films such as Ring and The Grudge but closer to home it has to be the original Woman in Black and the Christmas adaptations of M.R. James, in particular A Warning to the Curious. It’s utter nightmare fuel.

Much of your writing is rooted in obscure history and folklore – why do you think it is that we are seeing such a resurgence of interest in these areas?

I think in an era of digital platforms where so many people seem to live their lives online, people are looking for respite. Folklore often offers a comfort and a move back to ancient traditions which arguably come with a sense of comfort and community. It’s also something that worldwide we can share with each other, with folklore weaving its way through every culture, often with so many similarities between stories. I think to modern audiences they offer a welcome insight into how our ancestors may have lived their lives and offer a fascinating taste of what came before us.

To what extent does a sense of place affect your writing?

A huge amount. I think it’s really important as a writer to get out and experience as many locations as possible. Admittedly, this year  has been harder than usual for that, given the current situation with Covid. But I find usually just getting out to a different location can really aid inspiration.

We’re lucky in the UK as there’s layers upon layers of history around us and the ground is saturated in folklore and tradition (usually a bloody one). For me it might just be visiting a town for the first time and hearing word of a local ghost story or tradition which can start off a whole new ghost story concept.

Early Haunts: The Death Bride — illustrated by David Romero

Tell us about your Ghoster world…

Ghoster is a huge project that’s long been in development. The story follows five families who have defended the UK from Malevolents (evil ghosts) since Elizabethan times through the use of dark alchemy loosely inspired by the tale of Lord Lyttleton and Berkeley Square. I’d been working on Ghoster on and off for years until releasing Malevolents, which acts as a prequel to the first book. Myself and filmmaker Toby Meakins have both been working on the project for several years now, initially releasing a proof of concept short back in 2016 and then last Halloween we released an entire graphic novel for free online.

Since then, Ghoster has picked up a huge amount of attention and we’re currently in the process of working on the follow up story with an incredibly talented artist. There’s a phenomenal amount of work we’ve put into the project (for instance we’ve a 100 page history book of how the factions have evolved, going all the way back to the Iron Age!).

It’s a huge world and we’re really looking forward to telling the next story. I can reveal though we’ll have something Ghoster related coming out just in time for Christmas.

The first book can still be purchased
online at Amazon or downloaded for free on Kindle direct

Early Haunts: The Tale from Dish Mansion —
illustrated by Bri Neumann, coloured by Bryan Valenza

From the archive: an interview with Mark Lawrence

This interview was first published in
Wyrd Daze Lvl.2 issue 2, May 2015.

The second book of the Red Queen’s War trilogy was about to be released, and Mark had already begun writing Red Sister, the first of The Book of the Ancestor trilogy.

Mark Lawrence was born in Champagne-Urbanan, Illinois, to British parents but moved to the UK at the age of one. He went back to the US after taking a PhD in mathematics at Imperial College to work on a variety of research projects including the ‘Star Wars’ missile defence programme. Returning to the UK, he has worked mainly on image processing and decision/reasoning theory. He says he never had any ambition to be a writer so was very surprised when a half-hearted attempt to find an agent turned into a global publishing deal overnight. His first trilogy, The Broken Empire, has been universally acclaimed as a ground-breaking work of fantasy. Following The Broken Empire came the bestselling Red Queen’s War trilogy.

The Book of the Ancestor trilogy has an entirely new world and setting, with the third book Holy Sister released in April this year.

Also released in its entirety in 2019 from Mark is a sci-fi trilogy Impossible Times, which has been described as “Ready Player One meets Stranger Things.”

One Word Kill was released in May, with Limited Wish coming in June, and Dispel Illusion to follow. (Great titles, great covers!)
Here’s a little bit about the story:

In January 1986, fifteen-year-old boy-genius Nick Hayes discovers he’s dying. And it isn’t even the strangest thing to happen to him that week.

Nick and his Dungeons & Dragons-playing friends are used to living in their imaginations. But when a new girl, Mia, joins the group and reality becomes weirder than the fantasy world they visit in their weekly games, none of them are prepared for what comes next. A strange–yet curiously familiar–man is following Nick, with abilities that just shouldn’t exist. And this man bears a cryptic message: Mia’s in grave danger, though she doesn’t know it yet. She needs Nick’s help–now.

He finds himself in a race against time to unravel an impossible mystery and save the girl. And all that stands in his way is a probably terminal disease, a knife-wielding maniac and the laws of physics.

Challenge accepted.

Mark is married, with four children, and lives in Bristol.

An interview with Mark Lawrence

You’ve said that when writing you don’t need much more than a first draft before you have a finished manuscript, and also that you don’t really plan your books but let the story unfold as it will. Did you manage to sustain these methods throughout the whole of The Broken Empire and The Red Queen’s War trilogies?

I did through the first five books. For the last book of The Red Queen’s War I sketched out a rough plan and largely stuck to it. It was less nerve-wracking knowing the book was heading toward an ending – even if the ending was the part that veered away from the plan to the greatest degree.

Cover art for Prince of Thorns by Jason Chan

I understand you wrote the entirety of The Broken Empire before the first book was released? Did your subsequent interaction with readers and the way The Broken Empire was received in any way affect your telling of the story in The Red Queen’s War?

I don’t think so. I was writing a very different story, so there wasn’t anything of relevance to pay attention to, even if I had been minded to.

You are a welcome and genuine presence on social media (By this I mean that you’re not just there to sell your wares, but seem to genuinely enjoy interacting with people). To what extent do you think this has aided the popularity of your books, and do you have any advice for other creators who might want to use their social media accounts to mix business and pleasure?

I really don’t know. How does one measure such things? Many authors have been far more successful than me with minimal use of social media. Others have a far bigger footprint on social media than I do, and sell considerably fewer books than I do.

It can’t hurt to have a presence on social media, but it’s also easy to over-estimate its impact. The really important thing is that you write a book that gets each reader, on average, to get more than one of their friends/acquaintances to read it. Do that and you have a hit.

What comes first for you: plot, character or setting?

A character comes first. After that plot and setting materialise while I write, along with other characters.

Do you have any tips for creating believable characters?

Not really. I’m not even sure what ‘believable’ means in this context. The important thing seems to be to create a character that’s so interesting people don’t want to stop reading about them. It helps if that character is charismatic, and that often involves having a sense of humour… If by ‘believable’ you mean ‘real’ … well, even that’s hard to pin down in a fantasy setting. In literary fiction you often have to capture an attitude and poise and set of habits to convincingly depict a person of a certain age in a society with which the reader is very familiar. That requires a particular skill set. In fantasy the task is somewhat different – there’s overlap, but also new freedoms, and also new constraints.

The core of real in both cases though is that the character be consistent. Not consistent in their behaviour necessarily, because real people are often inconsistent – but consistently the same person.

Although you’re known principally as a fantasy writer, your short stories seem to delve into the realms of wider speculative fiction. Have you had any thoughts towards writing a novel somewhere within this broader category?

Maybe. I never thought I would, or could, be a published fantasy author. I feel confident I could write all sorts of speculative fiction in alternative world settings – my strengths are prose and imagination and those will take you a long way in SFF. I don’t know if I could write a real world novel, or at least a subtle, literary one. I’m not sure I’m a sufficiently keen observer of the people and world around me to do a good job of that.

Cover art for The Liar’s Key by Jason Chan

For anyone who hasn’t read your books yet, would you recommend they start with The Broken Empire or The Red Queen’s War?

Yes. Which one? Depends on your tastes. The Red Queen’s War has a thicker vein of humour and less darkness in it. The Broken Empire perhaps has stronger themes and more emotion.

Has there been anything in your books that you found difficult or uncomfortable to write, or that gave you pause whether or not to include it at all?

Certainly there have been sections that were difficult and uncomfortable to write, but no, nothing that gave me pause about whether or not to include it.

Did you read Steven Erikson’s two-part essay about ‘Authorial Intent’ on /r/fantasy, and have you any thoughts/comments about it?

I didn’t. I did start it but I have to admit that my eyes glazed over and I … stopped.

Do you have a set schedule for writing, and a word count target?

No. Many days I write nothing. Some days I write a lot.

What’s your writing environment like? Do you allow yourself the internet/music/a window?

I write in short bursts normally, allowing myself to be constantly distracted by the internet. I’ll only play music to drown out other noise, usually a piece I’m so familiar with that I don’t hear it. I’ll sit in any one of four rooms to write, on a sofa in three of them, or a bed in the other.

Do you immerse yourself in fantasy fiction or avoid it when working on a novel?

Neither. I read almost exclusively fantasy at the moment (that hasn’t always been the case) and I read it slowly and patchily. Since I’m always working on a novel if I avoided reading while writing … I wouldn’t read.

Can you tell us more about your Gunlaw project?

I wrote a book called Gunlaw. The end.

It’s a weird science-fiction / fantasy mix … with gunslingers and minotaurs and such. It may be additionally unusual in that one of the point-of-view characters is very severely disabled. In any case it proved to be a bit too much of a left turn for my publisher, so I wrote The Red Queen’s War instead.

How good a book it is I’m not sure. I hope to get back to it one day, possibly to re-write it, possibly to drum up interest in it.

Would you consider writing for a different medium, for example comics or a screenplay?

I wouldn’t mind writing for comics (specifically 2000AD) or graphic novels as an adventure. I was asked by the head of a Hollywood studio to write the screenplay for Prince of Thorns, but I didn’t want to. Basically books are where it’s at for me.

Is there anything about your world, characters, or story: a perspective that someone has pointed out or commented upon, that has surprised you?

I guess I’ve been surprised that some people are so politicised about fiction and project their politics onto books and attempted to reverse the process too. I have certainly been surprised by the rather naïve assumptions that some people have made in thinking they can somehow deduce (and then criticise) my personal politics from the actions or attitudes of characters in my books. Or their demographics, come to that. In all such cases, and with a remarkable level of vehement surety, they have been laughably wide of the mark (pun intended).

Now the Red Queen’s War is done, have you any inkling of what your next book might be?

I do. I’ve written 40,000 words of it. It’s fantasy again – the protagonist is a young girl when we first meet her and she spends much of the book in a convent! It’s called Red Sister.

If you could live in any literary fantasy world, which would it be, and why?

I would want to live in a comfortable and enlightened one in which beer is free and doesn’t make you fat… sadly such utopias are boring to write about and I don’t know of any books featuring one. I honestly can’t think of any I would want to live in.

You’ve written a number of Broken Empire short stories. Do you hope for these to be eventually be published as a collection?

I not only hope it, I know it for fact. I will publish them myself in due course. I just need to wait for some of them to appear in various anthologies and for the rights to return to me. Hopefully this time next year!

You can find Mark:
Twitter / Blog / Wattpad