Wyrd Daze Lvl.4 * : Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen – an interview with Helen Mullane.

Best experienced in the PDF zine

Cover art by Jock

Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is a contemporary folk horror tale rich in atmosphere and feeling.

“Something strange has been unleashed in the north of England. A modern-day druid commits a series of ghastly murders in an attempt to unleash the awesome power of the ancient gods of Great Britain. But all hell really breaks loose when his latest would-be victim, Nicnevin “NISSY” Oswald, turns out to be more than she seems…”

Wyrd Daze presents a preview of the comic and an interview with the author, Helen Mullane.

WRITER – HELEN MULLANE
ARTIST – DOM REARDON
LAYOUTS ARTIST (PGS 69–123) & TITLE PAGE ILLUSTRATION
MATTHEW DOW SMITH
COVER & PAGE 3 ILLUSTRATION – JOCK
COLOR ARTIST – LEE LOUGHRIDGE
LETTERS – ROBIN JONES
PUBLISHED BY – HUMANOIDS

What drew you to the myths of Nicnevin?

Funnily enough Nicnevin was one of the later elements of the story to fall into place. 

Inspired by Jenny Agutter’s character in I Start Counting, and the more modern Fish Tank I started out with the main character, Nissy. I love this idea of a young girl with a crush, who gets drawn into something beyond her ken because of it but who’s not actually particularly interested in the mystery at hand until it hits too close to home. That felt quite real to me. 

Then I knew I wanted to set the story in a place that had its own myths and legends to draw from, I was obsessed with Alan Garner as a child and the sense of place in his books is something I really wanted to emulate. So I researched ancient myths from all around the UK until I found these hillforts of Northumberland – Yeavering Bell, Eildon Hill and Traprain Law. There are loads of fascinating theories about what they meant to the ancient Votadini tribes who inhabited that area of the borderlands before the Romans came. From there I researched other local legends and discovered that stories of Nicnevin were extremely potent round that region. I’m very interested in goddesses and creatures who were either demonised or beatified by the early Christians and she has wonderful iconography and unusual powers. So then eventually I settled on that myth!

What were the themes you wanted to explore in this story?

Thematically what I am most interested in this story is isolation, romantic obsession and exploring a young girl coming into her own. A lot of the comic is quite kitchen sinky, I wanted to explore this very real and raw family drama as a mother and daughter continuously misunderstand each other, and are having trouble cementing their relationship or showing love. 

The comic has an impressive creative team which includes Dom Reardon, Jock, Matthew Dow Smith and Lee Loughridge – what was it like for you to see your words brought to life by these veteran artists?

It was surreal and beautiful! Jock’s cover is so stunning, he’s truly managed to boil down the essence of the story. 

I originally conceived of this story as a kids TV show in the vein of The Owl Service, and it was Dom who suggested I write it as a comic instead. He also loves folk horror and has wanted to draw something like this for a long time. It was wonderful working with someone who gets my references, and with whom I can shorthand Children of the Stones or Hammer’s The Witches. It’s so inspiring seeing your ideas and words reborn through the prism of Dom’s incredible artistic brain. His work enriches the story at every frame and even in the gutters!

Then the story was so deeply enriched by Matthew’s artistry, Lee’s colours, Robin’s letters and Jock’s astounding cover, each new contribution leaving the book better than they found it.

Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen is being released by the legendary publisher Humanoids as part of their H1 shared universe – can you tell us how you became involved in this project?

Dom and I pitched Nicnevin to Humanoids before H1 had been announced. I had chatted to Alex (Humanoids COO) previously through Pat Mills about something totally unrelated and that happily put us high on the slush pile. Alex read my scripts (I had the whole thing written before we ever pitched) and loved Dom’s spec pages and we took it from there!

Will you be returning to the world of Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen?

I would love to! I guess a lot depends on how this book sells. I have a concept which is already baked into the narrative and seeming ephemera of The Bloody Queen which I’d love the chance to explore. My idea is for a series of generational sequels that move through the maternal line. A book about Nissy’s mum at 15 in 1990, then her own mum at the same age. I’m fascinated by how the experiences and traumas of our parents are passed down through the generations, and how Nissy’s experiences as a black woman especially differ from those that came before her.

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

To a huge extent! Atmosphere and location are the starting point for my writing, especially on a book like this where I am trying to evoke something so specific. Preparing to write this comic I immersed myself in music, TV and movies that had the tone I wanted to convey, when I was doing my day job I was listening to Hacker Farm and other atmospheric music, I spent hours looking at and reading about the places I was setting the story – although in the end I took some artistic license to make the story work.

I love to see locations as characters within the story. In this story the countryside is such an important element. It is slowly encroaching on the characters all the time. The bastle and the country pile that key characters live in are full of detail that can tell the reader a lot about their inhabitants.

In what ways can myth and folklore inform our understanding of the world?

Myth and folklore are our most primal ways of understanding the world. I feel like we understand them on the deepest levels, they express something of our collective id. It’s fascinating how folklore changes and how it stays the same from nation to nation, culture to culture. I’m especially fascinated by the ways in which the Christianisation of the western world involved co-opting, criminalising or demonising the myths and religions of the peoples they converted. 

You spent some time as a film producer and produced the excellent documentary Future Shock! The story of 2000AD alongside Sean Hogan. Can you tell us about some of your experiences while working on the film?

Yes making that film was a wild ride at times! There were too many memorable moments to count but certainly one of the most stellar was our interview with Pat Mills. The 2000AD founder and storytelling legend was unbelievably generous with his time. The uncut interview was almost 9 hours long! He had so many incredible stories and is such a force of nature – we were all totally hero struck! It was during that interview that not only did we all have a rollicking good time, but we knew that we really had something, this was going to be a fascinating film. 

On a personal level I have a couple more standout moments, one was totally bonding with Grant Morrison over a shared love of Alan Garner, Children of the Stones and other classic weird kids horror and fantasy. Then, when the director Paul and I did a roadtrip to interview various legends around the UK, we stayed the night in Jock’s home town and went to the pub (of course). That night I had what turned out to be a fateful conversation with Dom Reardon, in which I outlined my idea for The Bloody Queen and he told me that if I wrote it as a comic instead of a TV series he would draw it.
And the rest, as they say, is history!

What are some of your favourite/most memorable 2000AD stories? 

(for me, as well as the classic Dredd and Slaine stories, I have fond memories of John Smith’s Revere with art by Simon Harrison, Dan Abnet’s Durham Red: Scarlet Cantos with art by Mark Harrison, and Alan Grants Anderson: Psi Division – Childhood’s End in Judge Dredd Megazine with art by Kev Walker being a particular highlight). 

My absolute favourite 2000AD story is probably The Ballad of Halo Jones, the story touches me deeply and it is a tragedy that it will never be finished. Like you, I also love both Grant and Wagner’s work on various Judge Anderson Psi: Division stories. I’m drawn to stories with female protagonists. Whether they are just living their lives, or trying to comes to terms with trauma, I like to see women’s journeys in sci-fi spaces.

Other favourites are Slaine (of course, so relevant to my interests!), the ultimate Judge Dredd story, America and Nemesis.  

I understand that you’re working on your next comic – what is it about and when can we expect it?

I’m pitching out a few stories and the moment, hoping one sticks – I guess that’s the name of the game this early in my comic writing career! I am particularly passionate about an acid-drenched erotic adventure story inspired by Manson, Filmore Posters and The Moody Blues, and a pro-choice bit of southern gothic horror steeped in old school Catholic Mary worship. Both stories are pretty wild and I’m really hoping someone bites! 

Are there any current comics that you are particularly enjoying?

Oh hell yeah. We are living through a comics golden age right now, there is so much interesting work out there! Recent favourites include Infidel, The Savage Shores, Pretty Deadly, Friendo, Auteur and My Favourite Thing is Monsters. Some of the many current monthlies I’m loving are Snotgirl, Black Stars Above and Gideon Falls

Even in the superhero space – a former obsession of mine that I have totally fallen off in recent years, there’s some fascinating work out there. The Martian Manhunter series has been a wonderfully weird and rewarding read, The Vision had such deep pathos, Mister Miracle really pushed the limits of what a superhero comic can be and Ms. Marvel has been quite remarkable for years now. 

You currently live in Sweden, training and racing sled dogs with one of Europe’s top mushers Petter Karlsson and his wife Angela. How did you come to embark upon this adventure, and what is it like? 

Bizarre though it sounds this is an adventure I kind of fell into. After Futureshock completed, I had a series of things all come together at once that were very exciting but that ultimately left me totally drained. I felt like I needed a bit of a sabbatical before I could move on to the next thing. A year earlier my friend and I had gone on holiday to Norway and had tried dog sledding. I remembered it being just the most fun. So on a total whim I emailed the company I’d toured with if they needed any workers for the remainder of the winter, I had an idea that to toil in the earth was the thing that would bring me back to myself, and to my surprise they said yes! So 2 hours later I got the job offer and 2 weeks later I was in Tromso!

I had no intention of making a career of dog sledding, it was just supposed to be a little adventure to bring the excitement into my life again and shake off the cobwebs. But I soon discovered that I really thrive through physical labour, it’s so good for my spirit and my mind. I love the peace and tranquillity, as well as the toughness of the work. So 3 months turned into 10, then another season and another. Once I discovered the world of competitive dog mushing it was game over! In 2016 I moved to Sweden to work for Petter Karlsson and things really started to get serious. Now I am deeply invested in the world of long distance and my dream is to get to a place where I can have my own competitive team and write comics in a little cabin in the woods and that’s it, I’m done.

You completed the Femundlöpet 400km in 2018 and the 650km in 2019… did you compete this year as well?

That 650 was one of the toughest things I’ve ever done. The physical exertion, the sleeplessness… it was savage. But at the same time it was beautiful. Watching the sun rise over the mountains, miles from anyone when you’ve just been teetering on the edge of exhaustion is the type of transcendent experience that lifts the soul. And the dogs! The mutual respect, pride and closeness you share with your team at the end of a race like that truly brings a tear to the eye. That race was recorded by RTE radio for their Documentary on One show, and will hopefully be released in the next couple of months – people can check my twitter if they’re interested in listening when it comes out. 

This year I might compete in the Beaver Trap Trail in Sweden in March. A relatively short 250km race. I didn’t want to take on a truly long race with NTBQ coming out in the middle of the season because a race like that really takes over your life. 

Is there anything else on the horizon you’d like to tell us about?

Not really! At the moment I’m trying to do whatever I can to make The Bloody Queen a success, and am working hard to get the next thing underway. I’m working on a short film with a good friend of mine, which I am super excited about but can’t really say any more about just now.


Helen Mullane began her career in film distribution, managing the release of major films for the likes of Studio Canal and EOne. Later she produced the feature documentary FUTURESHOCK! THE STORY OF 2000AD and various shorts such as the multi-award-winning NASTY. Helen currently resides in northern Sweden where she lives with 80 huskies, balancing her time between writing and dog mushing. In NICNEVIN AND THE BLOODY QUEEN, Mullane, acclaimed artists Dom Reardon and Matthew Dow Smith, and celebrated colorist Lee Loughridge have created a haunting and unsettling coming-of-age horror story for our times. 

Helen on Twitter

Humanoids: more info / purchase Nicnevin and the Bloody Queen

Wyrd Daze Seven : Armageddon Gospels – an interview with John Harrigan

incidental art by Eph

Best experienced in the PDF zine

John Harrigan is a writer, director and performer. He is a founder of FoolishPeople and is one of the earliest pioneers of immersive theatre. Harrigan’s work centres on the creation of film, ritual theatre, and installation art. Its aim is to raise a numinous experience within the witness. He has performed at the ICA, the Horse Hospital, Arcola Theatre, and throughout London and the UK. His work has been presented internationally in the United States and Netherlands.

The award-winning film Armageddon Chronicles has recently been released on Apple TV.

Refugee gods, transposed to flesh and blood, wash ashore to rouse the myths of ancient England, half-drowned in a forgotten past. They disperse through shifting realities to awaken the giant Albion and find the holy grail in a ritual to save England from the rot of darkness and hatred that’s strangling its soul.

An uncanny harmony of visceral and noetic experience, Armageddon Gospels is an extraordinary work of re-enchantment.

What inspired Armageddon Gospels, and what does it hope to inspire?

Death was the inspiration for Armageddon Gospels. Death in all its guises, as a potent form of transformation. 

My mother’s death was ground-zero for the film. Joyce Rose Harrigan passed away after a long battle with dementia, I was her sole carer for six years, while trying to continue to work and raise a family.

In 2016 my mum declined, she refused to eat and was eventually hospitalised.

Witnessing someone who defined the landscape of your childhood slowly starve themselves to death leaves a lasting imprint, it’s a terrible form of hell.

The final stages were a period of late night hospital visits, listening to Bowies ‘Black Star’ on the journey to and from seeing my mum. After one night when I thought we would lose her and I expected to wake to bad news, my phone was filled with the news that David Bowie had died, it was one of the strangest experiences. In this moment, the loss of Bowie became a powerful augury and omen for the following events.

My mother slowly faded away, and then the Brexit referendum occurred a couple of months after.

These three monumental events. Bowie’s death, the death of my mother and the referendum result were the three key experiences that in turn inspired the screenplay.

The basis of my work is in ritual, it’s how I engage with the world. One of the most difficult aspects of this period was not having the full ability to express my experiences through ritual. Strength and time had been drained from me.

I knew that a ritual was how I would survive what I had experienced over those months and that ritual was ‘Armageddon Gospels’. 

Even a personal Armageddon can eventually offer faith and hope. This is what I hope the film inspires. The strength of hope in the face of Armageddon. 

Six refugee gods wash ashore the south coast of England to awaken the giant Albion and find the Holy Grail. Who are these gods? (Is Pearl a manifestation of “Grail Bearer” Elaine of Corbenic?)

The quick answer is yes. If Pearl appeared as Elaine of Corbenic, then that is indeed who she is. Pearl is a formulation of many different stories and Gods. When you invite others into a Ritual their experience is critical to how the story is shared and grows.

Percy is inspired by Percival from the earliest grail rituals, Dianna is based upon the moon archetype, Aradia the witch within us all and Robin is the child who never grew up.

In what ways did the alchemy of vision, writing, acting, music, location, cinematography and production synchronise toward the making of this film?

These are the types of questions you dream of as a practitioner of ritual.

Alchemy is the key to ritual. You’re right that all these elements comprise an alchemical event, that produces an experience; a film.

One of the important things I’ve learnt in ritual is that each element of the ritual is of equal importance. The key aspect is that they must combine to create a landscape where the sacred can exist. A landscape and space for the miraculous. 

Still from Armageddon Gospels

What is the importance of harnessing archetypes, myth and folklore in the telling and understanding of story? 

It’s very hard to give this question the honour it deserves, it’s critical, I’ve been creating stories for most of my life and I think I’ve internalised these tools. They’re part of how I think and see the world, they’re organs in my body. They’ve created calluses on my soul.

They’re the fundamental tools of storytelling and they were used to build all forms of communication. 

Now, having said all that, all good craftsmen know that you need to be willing to adapt the use of your tools, to the task and challenge at hand. So myths and archetypes are only as important as the ability and freedom to interpret them in your own way. 

Why is nostalgia the most peculiar of emotions?

The experience of nostalgia can often feel like it’s based outside of our bodies.

Personally, nostalgia feels like it’s a form of emotional time travel. Back to memories and events that have informed our personal stories. And we then relive them at a distance, inside our narratives. At different moments, throughout our passage through life. 

The landscapes we exist within change with us and when we return to a place or space that has been important to us, they overlap or overlay our experience and this can be painful and illuminating. 

Just feeling nostalgia at a biological level feels really odd, and I think nostalgia can be as dangerous when used as a form of emotional propaganda.

  

Armageddon Gospels manages to be both a visceral and noetic experience, affecting instinctive feeling whilst stimulating the intellect and spirit. Why do you think this is? 

Thank you. We all experience loss, we’re all haunted by what exists beyond the realm of life. Death is a visceral and noetic experience that affects both the spirit and intellect.

The film deals in myth and ritual and magic, and as humans we all have a relationship with how these inform the story of our humanity. 

Armageddon Gospels attempts to explore the particular time we’re all experiencing through the lens of myth, ritual and folk-tales.

My central partner in making the film was a landscape. The South Downs National Park and the long man of Wilmington. A sacred landscape, that operated as a portal to a particular set of ideas on how the gods and goddesses might view this moment in the history of Albion.

It’s also about the sacred nature of our audience, the role they play as witness to the ritual. Unique individuals such as yourself, taking the baton and being willing to enter and play their part in the ritual.

The team who came together to make Armageddon Gospels was a brilliant and unique group of artists and individuals that offered their spirit and soul to realise this story and film.

Still from Armageddon Gospels

To what extent did a sense of place affect the making of Armageddon Gospels?

It was the key to the ritual. The leading performer in the film is landscape. Landscape and weather shaped everything we shot, to the extent I adapted aspects of the story as our relationship with the landscape developed over the course of the ritual.

A Genius Loci was my co-director.

Can you tell us of any personal transformative processes that occurred during the making of this film?

There was a form of communion between grief and creation. I died and was reborn. I grieved the loss of the portal through which I entered this world. My mother. The landscape grieved with me, offering me solace and a mirror for the story I was telling.

Landscape is reactive to ritual, so many times we can state it’s coincidence or luck. A psychological trick of the mind and imagination. I choose to believe that the landscape and weather appeared sentient and played an active role in our ritual. The communication I had with Albion changed me as an artist and human.

What does the Bone King represent?

Nostalgia and the parasitic nature of negative space. How negative thoughts breed further negative thoughts. The aspects of culture and society that would like us to believe our dreams and hopes of love and communion are meaningless. 

The endless chatter of the mind, informing of us how we will never be good enough. 

The Bone King is built of grief and decay. Hate and facism. It is the tyranny of time.

One of my favourite quotes from Armageddon Gospels is my next question: “How can you save a landscape that exists only in your imagination?”

Quite possibly we shouldn’t even try.

Especially if it’s haunted by nostalgia and constructed of lies. The idea of what a country can be is dangerous. When we’re told a place must represent a certain ideal. To whom? Everyone? For what purpose? Because we all have different memories of the land we live within. If a landscape has been sacred to our ancestors, then we enliven it through art and ritual that offers the possibility of evolution into new forms. Ultimately, we can only save these landscapes by witnessing their wildness and sharing how important they are to us, through art and song and storytelling. 

Still from Armageddon Gospels

What is the significance of Robin not returning to the waters with the other five refugees at the end of the film? 

Well spotted. It’s very significant. He can’t leave. How would he help the Arcadians ashore next time….

As the ritual of Armageddon Gospels continues to play out as people experience it, what are some of the transformative effects you have noticed in the world at large? 

That’s very difficult to answer. I do see transformative effects in my own existence. I see a return of wonderment. I now teach a weekly class outside in the landscape I live in. This is directly linked to the relationship I developed with Albion whilst making the film. 

Are there any other stories about the making of this film that we should know?

So many.

Meeting the composer for the film, while shooting the final scene is one of the stories I’m most proud of. Jo (Burke) heard the ritual taking place at the foot of the Long Man and was called forth like a spirit. She’s the only person who had the knowledge and skill to do the job right, the landscape called to her. 

There is no one else who could create such a perfect score.

Armageddon Gospel on iTunes

FoolishPeople website

Twitter

John Harrigan      FoolishPeople

Wyrd Daze Seven: A Year In The Country

~ incidental art by Eph ~

Best experienced in the PDF zine

A Year In The Country is a set of year long explorations of an otherly pastoralism, the undercurrents and flipside of bucolic dreams. It is a wandering amongst work that takes inspiration from the hidden and underlying tales of the land, the further reaches of folk music and culture and where such things meet and intertwine with the lost futures, spectral histories and parallel worlds of what has come to be known as hauntology. Those explorations take the form of a website hosting essays, discussion and artworks, as well as music and book releases.

In the recently released second book from A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways, Stephen Prince explores the wider realm of “otherly pastoralism” and its intertwining with the lost futures and parallel worlds of hauntology. It examines such varied and curiously interconnected topics as the faded modernity and “future ruins” of British road travel; apocalyptic “empty city” films; dark fairy tales; the political undercurrents of the 1980s; idyllic villages gone rogue; photographic countercultural festival archives and experiments in “temporary autonomous zones”
(introduction from the A Year In The Country website).

What is “otherly pastoralism”?

I tend to use the phrase “otherly pastoralism” to refer to an atmosphere, work etc that explores the undercurrents or flipside of more conventional views of rural and pastoral areas, folk culture etc. It refers in part to a sense of alternatives to bucolic views of the countryside, although related work can sit alongside and at points intertwine with such more idyllic work.

There isn’t really one overarching name for the loosely interconnected subculture that has flourished since around 2010 which explores such things. “Otherly pastoral” is a phrase that I have used to try and convey a particular related atmosphere – a sense of the hidden or underlying tales of the landscape. In some ways I use it in a similar manner that the word “wyrd” is sometimes used.

What motivated you to begin A Year in the Country?

For quite a number of years I had lived and/or worked in often quite central, busy urban places and worked in subculture and left-of-centre pop culture. A lot of urban orientated subculture etc had started to feel as though it had been very thoroughly explored and harvested and I found myself being drawn to more rural/folk orientated culture and accidentally came across (or sometimes revisited) its more subcultural aspects. At that time there seemed to be more space within such work, more overlooked nooks and crannies.

Also there wasn’t so much work that explored such areas and I found myself essentially thinking about and planning a website, project, music releases etc that I would want to find and explore myself.

You explore a strange confluence of interests that may initially seem disparate to a curious observer. Even within a single explored medium there is a diversity of style. Have you come close to a divining and defining a common spark that binds and guides this confluence?

I think one of the underlying things that connects say the initially disparate seeming areas of otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture and that of a hauntological nature is a sense of loss; in hauntological culture that is often a sense of post-war lost progressive futures, within otherly pastoral/wyrd folkloric culture that may be a sense of a form of lost Arcadian utopias or idylls.

The two areas may have quite different surface aesthetics but they appear to be connected by a similar exploratory, visionary or utopian spirit and, as I say in the A Year In The Country: Straying From The Pathways book, they have come to “shadow and inform one another’s journey’s within an alternative cultural landscape”.

There is also a sense in both of allowing space for the hidden, semi-hidden or not fully explained – which I think can be appealing in contemporary times when that is often not the case.

What are some of your favourite discourses and discoveries from Straying from the Pathways?

I don’t know if I strictly speaking I have favourites, although there are certain things that have particularly stuck with me.

One of those is Andy Beckett and Roger Luckhurst’s observations in The Disturbance (a booklet published by Texte und Toné in which they discuss The Changes television series) in which they draw comparisons between the mid-1970s and the state of flux that British society was in at that time and contemporary unsettled times in Britain. They suggest that because of these similarities the worries, catastrophes etc in the likes of television dramas such as The Changes, The Survivors and the final Quatermass series, the spectral supernatural occurrences of The Stone Tape and films which have been retrospectively labelled as folk horror such as The Wicker Man fit our times much better than they might have done previously.

To be honest, the majority of the things I write about in Straying from the Pathways could be considered favourites; that’s why I wanted to put them in the book (!)

From the phantasmagoric tales of Prince of Darkness and Halloween III to the beautifully produced Texte und Toné releases, via considerations of the faded modernity of British road travel in the book In the Company of Ghosts: The Poetics of the Motorway, the hidden subterfuges of Edge of Darkness and the spectral audio of The Ghost in the MP3 and much more – I find it all intriguing and inspiring work.

The first year of A Year in the Country in particular felt like a ritualistic experience, with a new blog post every day, and regular physical releases in the form of prints, badges, stickers and CD’s. How much of the first year was planned, and how did this ritual effect you?

I had a loose plan in place before I started the first year, although I left space within it so that, for example, if I came across something that I found particularly interesting I could write about it.

How did it effect me? I think by the end of that year I was physically and mentally somewhat tired (! again).

At the same time, I was glad to have completed it, to have been able to see it through. I had written about most of the subjects I wanted to at that time and much of what I thought of back then as my core areas of interest and inspiration in this loosely connected culture, which had been one of the aims of that year.

The A Year in the Country musical releases are often collaborative concept albums. Tell us about the idea and evolution of these wonders.

Sometimes with the themes/concepts of the albums they will come to me very quickly and largely fully formed. Sometimes it’s just an inkling of an idea and they will slowly develop over time.

It’s similar with the artwork and packaging design. At times it will all fall into place quickly, other times it will slowly evolve and be honed down over quite a period of time, with the atmospheres of the music by the different people often influencing the artwork that I create for them.

The themes of the concepts draw from quite a wide area but at their core they are generally inspired by the intertwining of otherly pastoral and spectral hauntological ideas.

In terms of the other people music which featured on the albums, their previous work is often something that I have discovered and found myself returning to over time, people who’s work I appreciate and would like to hear more of – which is one of the things the albums do, they help to put such work out into the world.

A Year in the Country is now approaching the end of its fifth year. Did you expect to be still wandering spectral paths at this stage?

Ah, good question. I think initially I just thought about the first year of A Year In The Country but then once that was done I realised that there was much more in this “otherly” cultural landscape that I wanted to explore – the ongoing years of A Year In The Country give me space to do that.

A Year In The Country: Straying from the Pathways
more about the book and where it is available

A Year In The Country
Artifacts Shop        Bandcamp

The new album by A Year In The Country
Released December 6th—more details here

Wyrd Daze Seven: an interview with Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan

Cover art by Richard Anderson

Best experienced in the PDF zine

The Gutter Prayer is quite possibly the most exciting and extraordinary fantasy novel of 2019, and is certainly a favourite for us here at Wyrd Daze.

The city has always been. The city must finally end.

When three thieves – an orphan, a ghoul, and a cursed man –
are betrayed by the master of the thieves guild, their quest for revenge uncovers dark truths about their city and exposes a dangerous conspiracy, the seeds of which were sown long before they were born.


Cari is a drifter whose past and future are darker than she can know. Rat is a Ghoul, whose people haunt the city’s
underworld. Spar is a Stone Man, subject to a terrible
disease that is slowly petrifying his flesh.


Chance has brought them together, but their friendship could be all that stands in the way of total armageddon.

As a game designer you’ve worked within many fiction universes, including Traveller, Paranoia, Babylon 5, The Laundry RPG, 13th Age, and various Lovecraft-themed systems. Can you tell us about some of your favourite pieces of writing and game mechanics that you’ve produced throughout your career?

Career highlights? Hmm. The Dracula Dossier (with Kenneth Hite) is probably the best thing I’ve done, and certainly the most ambitious. We took Bram Stoker’s Dracula and turned it into an alarmingly plausible spy story spanning more than a century of intrigue and horror, a campaign that’s both entirely player-driven and leads towards a single climatic confrontation with the man himself…

Getting to write in Middle-earth on Cubicle 7’s The One Ring was also a joy, telling tales of Mirkwood and the Lonely Mountain, of Moria and Minas Tirith. I’ve been a Tolkien fan since my mother introduced me to it at age eight.

PARANOIA was a chance to work on a much-loved property, one that’s terrifying relevant to the present day. I’m very proud of some of the missions I wrote for that line. Really, though, you have to find love in what you’re doing when you’re a freelancer, to find that spark of excitement and nurture it.

How did you start your career as a game designer?

Accidentally.

I’d done a little freelancing as a hobby, while working in a Real Grown-Up Job as a programmer. Then the company I was working for downsized, and I thought I’d try freelancing until my savings ran out. They haven’t, yet. I didn’t plan this as a career, certainly.

How has your experience in game design shaped you as a writer?

Some skills cross over perfectly. World-building works the same way in both fields; ditto descriptive prose. Supporting characters, too. The big differences are in plotting and characterisation. In a game or adventure, you want to have multiple paths through the story, lots of options for the players to take, places for the players to add to the story. In a piece of fiction, you want the most compelling, dramatic path, which isn’t the same route at all. And in a game, the players provide the protagonists and you build the story around those constraints. In a novel, it’s all up to you.

What advice concerning story structure/plot and character design would you give to aspiring writers or game designers?

You know, I suspect open-ended questions like that always end up being prompts for the interviewee to write about what’s currently pre-occupying them. For example. my current answer is “don’t be afraid of simplicity – a compelling story doesn’t need tons of twists and revelations to be compelling”. I offer that as general advice, but I think I’m really subconsciously telling myself something about my current work-in-progress…

Are there any other fictional universes that you’d particularly like to write for?

I’d love to do something with Robert Holdstock’s Mythago Wood series.

Will there be a Black Iron Legacy RPG?

I think so, in some form. I don’t know if it’ll warrant a full-scale sourcebook, or a short supplement for D&D5E or some other open system, or just a free guide on my website. I’ll do something with it, certainly. It’s an obvious step!

The majority of The Gutter Prayer is told in the present tense. What drew you to tell the story from this perspective?

Partly, because I knew that a lot of the book would be about stuff that happened in the past of the city, and I wanted to contrast those deep dives into Guerdon’s history and archaeology with what was happening now. Partly because it felt comfortable. The prologue is second person present, which is the vernacular of a roleplaying gamesmaster – “you descend into the dungeon, and you see the dragon…”

What were your inspirations for the city of Guerdon?

The architecture of Edinburgh, the size and complexity of London, the ambition of turn-of-the-century New York, and – very roughly – the geography of Cork. New Crobuzon, Ambergris, Waterdeep. They’re all in there.

There are a variety of strange, wondrous and terrifying beings in The Gutter Prayer: Tallowmen, Gullheads, Ravellers, Singers, Saints, Crawling Ones, Kept Gods, and Fever Knights – were these all created from scratch for the novel, or have they been haunting you for longer?

Oh, it’s a mix. Tallowmen and Gullheads I originally wrote up for an obscure RPG supplement under different names. The Crawling Ones are straight out of Lovecraft. A lot of the others came name first, concept later. I threw the words Fever Knight down on a page, and he showed up a few chapters later.

The Gutter Prayer is set in the midst of armageddon, with the Godswar raging and the city of Guerdon teetering on the brink of a world gone mad. Who are these mad gods, and what happened to them?

There are lots of mad gods. The exact origin of the madness is obscure, but it’s sort of a viral idea or infection. In the world of The Gutter Prayer, gods cannot die – but they can be broken down to the point of almost non-existence. They’re not truly conscious, either – they’re more like magical patterns of thought and purpose that humans can tap into. The Godswar is another pattern, one that reminds the gods that there are other gods out there, and that their patterns are incompatible. The result is a lot of violent, paranoid, deities imperfectly channeling this pattern through human vessels.

Does the world have a name, and a map?

There’s a map, at least of the area around Guerdon. The world doesn’t have a name. I should probably get around to that…

As The Black Iron Legacy grows beyond the first novel, have you developed an overarching plot for the greater story, and do you have an idea of how many books there might be in the series?

If all goes according to plan, it’ll be five books. I’m trying to keep each book sort-of self-contained, although that’s proving trickier as I write books 3 and 4. The Black Iron Legacy keeps the focus on the Thay family, on Cari and Eladora. I could do more in the same setting, I suppose, if I went off and followed other strands of story.

What sparked your imagination when you were a youngling?

I don’t know if sparked is the right work. Often, for me anyway, imagination is more like a river. It’s always flowing – sometimes fast, sometimes slow. On a good day, you can just dip a waterwheel in and it’ll power whatever mechanism you attach. Sometimes, odd stuff falls into it and gets carried for a long long time until it finds its place. Some ideas have been lurking in the back of my head for many, many years, and are still waiting for the right place to rest.

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

I think I come at place through space and function – all things had a purpose, once, even if it’s now been lost. I’m enchanted by digressions into the past, and by spatial relationships – and especially by spots where they cross over. Spaces are static – places are given meaning by the people who live there, and have lived there.

It strikes me, as I write this, that I’m talking entirely about artificial places, about cities and buildings and settlements. I suppose I’ve always lived in cities and towns, so my instincts are urban.

How do you handle unruly characters that want to do their own things or change the course of the story in unexpected ways?

Run with it. It’s the advice I’d give in roleplaying games, and it applies equally well here. Inspiration is always worth chasing, at least for a little while.

As someone who harnesses imagination for a living, do you have any philosophical or spiritual views on the serendipity of ideas?

Inspiration is basically banging rocks together and looking for a spark, so you need plenty of rocks. Especially in fantasy books, you can add all sorts of weird asides and quirks to your story without knowing how they’ll fit in later on. Often, you’ll solve plot problems by taking something that you originally thought was a minor bit of background flavour and promoting it to a fuller plot element. But you need that background flavour to begin with. So, don’t be afraid to scatter rocks in first drafts.

Gareth Ryder-Hanrahan is a writer and game designer. Originally qualified as a computer programmer, he took a three month break to see how “this writing thing” would go. More than fifteen years later, he’s still on that break.

The writing thing seems to be going.

Gareth has published more role-playing games and supplements than he can even recall, including the award-winning The Laundry RPG, Adventures in Middle Earth and The Dracula Dossier.

He describes writing as “the process of transforming tea and guilt into words”. His debut novel, The Gutter Prayer was published by Orbit Books in 2019.

Its sequel, The Shadow Saint is due in January 2020.

Gareth lives in Cork, Ireland
with more dogs, children and fish than he ever anticipated.

Gareth’s excellent
A Guided Walking Tour of Guerdon
can be read on his blog

Gareth on Twitter