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

Wyrd Daze Six: Worldbuilding with Ethnis

For the full Wyrd Daze experience, 
access the PDF zine

Wayhall, by Ademal (Fullsize)

Introductions

Ademal

I do better talking about Ethnis than about myself, but here goes: 

I am Ademal, owner and primary developer of Ethnis. By day I lead the exciting life of a middle manager and server database engineer, and the rest of the time I wear a dizzying variety of hats. For World Anvil I am part of the community admin and outreach, for
How to be a Great GM I am a community admin, content curator, and stream helper, and then of course there’s Ethnis, of which I am the owner and central developer.

I like to keep busy.

Ethnis is my life’s work. I have tried to work on other projects, but the moment that they start really growing they end up getting cannibalized by Ethnis.

I hope you have a fraction as much fun reading and playing it as we do creating it.

Barron

I’m the high-adventure loving half of Ethnis. I was introduced to Ethnis while getting my
Bachelor’s in Computer Science along with Ademal. Since the first game of Ethnis I played, a decade ago, I’ve been contributing ideas. Of course that role has gotten a lot more serious as time went on!

I’ve worked as an indie mobile game dev, and I’m currently a hardware engineer, and serving as community outreach for World Anvil.  With all that, Ethnis still remains the true passion, both the Universe and the RPG systems underlying it.

Ethnis is my life goal, and I hope to bring about my own skills and mindset and ideas to help make Ethnis as believable yet fun as possible. So far I like to think it’s going pretty good!

Questions

What is Ethnis?

Ethnis is on the other side of a vast divide of history. There is a war going on and everything is on the line. It’s a war between seven Banners, thousands of planets, and quadrillions of people. This war is The War, the sum of life and death; every reason to fight played out at once, a controlled burn of faith, pride, politics, money, bigotry, and necessity. 

Somewhere, in all of this, is you.

You live in Ethnis, among its people. You know of the Meta, and how it allows you to command the nature of the world around you. You know of the Wayhall—the path through the stars—and you know of the Banners, the Sophont, the Sovereigns, and most importantly: The Wheel.

You know this because Ethnis is home.

Ademal

Ethnis a massive science-fantasy setting which serves as a backdrop for stories in many types of media. It is a careful blend of absurdism, philosophy, adventure, horror, sensuality, and drama, and is equally apt to have you crying tears of joy as tears of sorrow. With multiple large narratives, piles of flashfic, and new content being released constantly, you’ll never find Ethnis lacking in rich stories, characters, and concepts.

Attached to Ethnis is a graveyard of video game implementations and two in-progress RPGs. The first RPG is Ethnis Core, an ambitious system which facilitates doing all of the insane things outlined in Ethnis lore such as creating life, piloting mechs, becoming gods, ruling a planet, and more. The other is Ethnis Lite, which is a stripped-down version of Ethnis Core which focuses on fast, fun mechanics and which is setting agnostic—
we already have 8 other settings by 8 other authors who are in the process of adding it to their own settings.

Fear becomes passé when it is constant.

It is our lot to rage against the dying of the light, to fight with primal furor and disarm that primordial dread of its scythe and hourglass with the wonders of science. We have slain the horsemen, stolen their steeds, and now use them to terrorize each other.

This era is not one belonging to Death, it belongs to unrepentant, unforgiving, unrelenting life.

Make it count.

Parisan Martial by Antti Hakosaari

Parisan Martial by Antti Hakosaari (Fullsize)

What were your inspirations for creating Ethnis?

Ademal

Summarizing the inspirations is a challenge. Ethnis began as childhood ramblings about 21 years ago. It has grown since, both in maturity and scope, but the seeds (and some of the characters) of those early editions remain. Add to that a lifetime intake of media, the 10-year involvement of Barron, and a whole crew of vocal fans, and you end up with many inspirations indeed!

To name a few big ones which come immediately to mind: Stephen King, the Marvel Cinematic Universe, David Cronenberg, Studio Ghibli, Warren Ellis, and Tom Parkinson-Morgan, though I’m sure if you asked us in a month we could get you an entirely different list. The only real constant is that it reflects the issues we face within ourselves and that we see in the world. It wouldn’t be a very good experience if it didn’t have that interpersonal relationship with the readers and authors, would it?

The fact that we have so many inspirations can be a problem unto itself sometimes! We have to be tactical and section our influences out into the different parts of lore, otherwise Ethnis would just  be an incomprehensible mud of ideas. 

Tell us about the Ethnis Novel. Is it a stand-alone or part of a series?

Ademal

Up front: don’t read it. That’s not reverse psychology—I wrote it 11 years ago, it no longer fits canon, it’s overpriced, I barely make anything from it, and I have been pestering the publisher to remove it from their listing. It’s not a terrible book, but there are better ways to support and enjoy Ethnis.

There, disclaimer done. 

It was a great experience. I grew a lot as a writer and an editor at that time. I still had a long way to go, but it made me respect how much I really had to do if I wanted to be an author.

It was meant to be a part of the series, but when I return to that series I’ll be taking it from scratch instead of trying to republish the same novel. I’ve learned a lot since then, and have built the entire rest of the Ethnis Universe in that time.

Vigor Mortis by Ademal (Fullsize

I gather you’re also planning some serial fiction—what kind of stories do you want to tell?

Since the dawn of Kyzan many millennia ago, the Ethnis has always had its major players. Over time, these groups have grown. Tribes merged and became nations, nations merged and became planets, planets merged and became Banners.

Each Banner holds a series of Values that they abide by. They also harbor dark secrets which protect them from their enemies. Most are headed by select individuals or an individual. All of them hold hundreds of planets, trillions of citizens, and enough military power to send all of Ethnis back to square one.  

Faeoverin by Antti Hakosaari (Fullsize)

Ademal

As many varieties as we can manage to, really. At this point I think we have more stories slated than we have life to make them. Some particular serial fiction we have at the moment is Barron’s Ethnis Eats, which is an exploration of food culture, backroom politics, psy-ops, and social media within Ethnis, but we also want to do a series about Euologists, which are essentially people who visit dead worlds and write it a Euology explaining how they failed–a bit like Speaker for the Dead but for a planet. 

Barron

Personally, I love telling stories of high adventure and the exploration of cultures, while I see Ademal telling darker and more suspenseful tales. The important thing I want to get across is that there are so many stories I think we can tell in Ethnis. We are building a massive world that in time will rival the size of community-driven works like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings. So if I want to explore something dark, I can. If I want to explore something bright, it’s all on the board. 

Tell us about the art of Ethnis.

Barron

The art of Ethnis until just recently was whatever Ademal and his previous S.O had time and passion to draw. We got some amazing work out of it, but as time went on, Ademal started picking up Photobashing. And now that we’ve become far more public, we’ve experimented with a couple of artists. A commision here and there just to see who we can work with and who fits the unique style of Ethnis.

Right now I’m absolutely in love with Antti’s work, and it’s been a fantastic experience working with him, so I personally hope our relationship keeps growing!

What were some of your experiences playtesting the TTRPG?

Barron

I remember playing the first versions of Ethnis in college, when Ademal was first getting the ideas. I played Johnny Durange, a human sniper-medic (Essentially my Call of Duty class). It was my first TTRPG experience, and it got me instantly hooked on it. I loved being in control of my character and his interactions, it was liberating! Heck I remember in the first versions of Ethnis you actually had to act out your spells by hand and Ademal would tell you what happened. Good times that.

But since then I’ve played a ton of memorable characters that always wind up teaching me more about myself. Most of them can be found on WA in some form. Every time we played, we would find more things to trim and polish though, so even though we were having amazing fun with the stories we were always balancing that and taking feedback and implementing new systems. I think that’s going to continue for a while, especially with Ethnis Core, which we really want to be our end all TTRPG system.

Will TTRPG players be able to influence canon events in Ethnis?

Ademal

My knee-jerk reaction is to say no, but in truth it’s already happened. If two minds are better than one, then a whole party of creative, invested players is going to push me to answer questions and add things I had never before considered.

The overarching narrative isn’t something that the players will be able to significantly change. In fact, I generally consider my campaigns to be non-canon because I have ideas for the books for the universe and I don’t want them or the campaigns to be beholden to each other.

Verin Kinds by Maple A (Fullsize)

Where is Ethnis at now?

Ademal

It’s in a state of constant and exciting growth! Ethnis Lite is well underway, both as its own system and as paving the way for the much larger and more ambitious Ethnis Core. We recently hit a half-million words on World Anvil, and have so much more story left to tell. This is all just the groundwork for other projects—serials, books, tabletop games, video games—whether you’re skimming Ethnis as a light read or with us for the long haul, we’re going to have something for everyone.

Support

How can people get involved with Ethnis?

Ethnis is very interactive. The best way to get involved is to jump into the Discord Community—a very active, inclusive, and friendly server full of welcoming folks. They’ll pull you into the world faster than anything else, and you’ll be around to get constant updates on the written world, the RPGs, and the games of Ethnis that we’ll be running.

Odds are pretty high that if you stick around enough you’ll end up talking us into writing the sort of content you’d like to see.

We would be humbled if you support us on Patreon. All income from the Patreon goes right back into Ethnis in the form of art and promotion.

You can also @ us on twitter with any questions you might have.

Read: https://www.worldanvil.com/ethnis

Twitch: https://www.twitch.tv/ethnisstudio 

Twitter: https://twitter.com/EthnisUniverse

Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/EthnisStudio

Discord Community: https://discord.gg/2Vz9gfp 

Mirror: https://www.worldanvil.com/w/ethnis/a/discord

It’s a Cycle.

Life and Death. Ecstasy and Agony. Love and Void. These are the elements of the Great Drama, this is the motion of The Wheel.

A stalwart crew explores distant, vivid planets, dancing with those poor folk rich of spirit and fighting against rich lords poor of morals. Their arrival staunches tyranny, their charity balms plight, and their presence brings peace. Are you with them?

There’s a party in a golden palace where every guest is more distinguished than the next.

They partake in writhing meals that morph through many properties as they cross your tongue. Chrome-plated pleasureslaves with laughs like crystal bells weep amphetamine tears while they give their all to a swan-song performance before becoming dessert. Do you attend?

In a ramshackle church on a fringe planet a girl clings to a Somnolent cross. She is whispering the Somme of Hope into its eye. Infernos full of cackling figures consume the horizon.

Angels descend from heaven like a meteor shower in the night. Do you save her?

A band of marauders plate their ship with the carcasses of raided vessels. Their tech and crew is cobbled together from every Banner. Despite a cutthroat nature brotherhoods form amongst them. Can you claim the same?

Four minuscule notches on an infinite Wheel.

Empires are forged, rise, burn, and are devoured in the blink of an eye. The divide between mortal and god is minute and the two constantly wrestle with the fact. Those who place their chips play a high stakes game, all who don’t have their chips torn from them and played anyways.

Who are you?
What are you?
Why are you?

It’s a Cycle.

There’s a Wheel and it’s spinning.

Wyrd Daze Six: Zenith’s Edge

For the full Wyrd Daze experience, 
access the PDF zine

Zenith’s Edge: Tempest
Chapter One

In the dark loam of this universe, sources of light are few and far between.

Through this loam a Great Lumbricus wriggles ponderously. Ne feels nir way: skin reacting to electromagnetic fluctuation. Sensing something, ne pushes in that direction. Invigorated by chemical reactions occurring within nir clitellum (where six cocoons are forming), the worm’s consciousness narrows to the present. Ne reaches out to the life-source ahead with metaphysical precision, an awareness forming in nir mind of a slowly spolling discworld with four dense orbiting sun-moons emitting intense waves of light and radiation: one white, one red, one yellow, one black.

The Great Lumbricus drifts, observing the world indifferently until the cocoons mature and are discharged, then on ne goes about nir inevitable business, leaving nir offspring behind.

The cocoons ride radiation waves toward the discworld, exuviating as they enter the atmosphere. The previously impervious cocoon casings crumble to release ethereal clusters of softly luminous protomatter. Four of the six clusters are drawn toward one side of the discworld, scattering wide across the craggy landscape. The remaining two drift circuitously to fall upon the other side, one descending into a vast forest, the other straying further inward. Trees give way to wild hills; still the cluster drifts on the wind, translucent fibers pulsing. A wide river snakes across the landscape and beyond lies a vast cultivated area of colourful and diverse flora: Garden of the Lyal.   

The cluster slips along a breeze into the garden, past the vegetative opulence along the shore of the river, over a verdure lawn, past a grove and on to sculpted pathways where a floricultural variety of Lyal stroll, socialising and showing off blooms. One of them spots the soft pulse of light in the sky and points with cupped hand, its petals trembling as it exclaims, “There’s something,” in a shrill voice. “There’s something!” Heads flourishing a variety of corollas turn to stare, and soon there’s a murmur of assent. There is something. Several voices shout, “Cati!” calling out for the Garden’s guardians.

One of the thick-skinned giants strides over to see what the commotion is about, at eight and a half feet, more than double the height of the average Lyal. Nir bulky body is a waxy green scattered with dark areoles, each sprouting vicious glochidia and a thick spine. The Cati, nir name is Tek, spots the cluster as it drifts over a hedge and dips toward a circular patch of rich soil inhabited by six Lyal younglings, little more than short stipes with incipient fronds at this early stage of their development. Tek runs, agile enough despite nir bulky legs. Heedless of usual Garden etiquette, ne leaps over the hedge, but is too late to stop the cluster landing in the patch like an insubstantial sheet, covering one of the younglings. The protomatter begins to resolve immediately, fluxing into the soil and the life sprouting from it.

Tek shouts and more Cati come: two wearing digging tools shaped from hardwood branches, and another carrying a net weaved from thick grass. The rounded end of Cati arms sprout one or more sharp spines, so nirs tools are built to fit. Under Tek’s instruction the two Cati begin to dig a trench around the affected youngling, whose tiny fronds are already beginning to wither and brown. Where nir stipe meets the soil, a clutch of small translucent eggs spontaneously evolves from the protomatter, unseen. What Tek does see is thin tendrils spreading across the soil toward the edge of the trench. Ne gestures to the Cati with the net, and together they hold it taut while the two diggers deposit the contaminated soil and youngling. Instructing the diggers to remain behind to watch for any signs of taint left in the soil, Tek leads the net away from the centre of the garden. Ne’s never seen anything like it; hopes he can get it quarantined before it spreads. The Lyal keep well away as they pass, though the chattering never stops.

Tek cannot be faulted: almost all of the protomatter is quickly removed to a remote part of the garden, out of bounds to most Lyal. But one tiny translucent worm escapes: freshly hatched from an egg, squirming onto the net and through a gap in the weave as it is being lifted out of the youngling patch. The thing plops onto the soil and slithers toward the nearest shelter, burrowing to nestle amongst the roots of one of the younglings. There, it dissolves, and at that moment a great confluence occurs: the merging of Lyal, Lumbricus… and something else.

* * *

Far away on the craggy coast of the discworld, an Eerise sits on an outcrop, wings tucked close to her back, legs crossed beneath her. The space before her is dominated by streaks of pink aurorae, with the white and red sun-moons in prominence. When a thought enters her mind, she pushes it away. Still, she cannot suppress the burgeoning feeling inside that something important is going to happen. When eventually the vision comes, she feels relief, though the experience is often distressing.

Some time later the Eerise comes back to herself, raising her ridged head to a sky now glowing orange as the yellow sun-moon takes ascendancy. She rises gracefully, stretching delicate limbs, and turns away from the edge of the world with a look of profound sorrow on her face. Soon she runs, spreads her wings, and flies.

* * *

Deep in the forest, Aauru sits in his sanctum, dark eyes reflecting the flames dancing from the firepit before him. At the centre of the glade, what must once have been magnificent tree now stands dead: trunk twisted and bent, eight large branches stretching out with a plethora of offshoots like cracks in the ochre sky. Despite its condition the tree is far from lifeless, home as it is to a glorious array of fungi, insects and bacteria. A copse within the glade serves as Aauru’s sleeping area; a river runs by; the whole area marked by his scent. He is master and mystic to others of his kind, the Bestials.

Aauru barely registers the usual howl and growl of his tribe beyond the boundaries of his sanctum. In the palm of his clawed hand lies a small piece of Kernel, harvested from a Lyal of refined pedigree. He considers splitting the smooth green matter in two to make it last, but dismisses the idea quickly. He feels… no, not reckless… a sense of purpose. He carefully pushes the Kernel into a nutshell, squeezes it shut, then places it in the edge of the fire. Soon his snout wrinkles at the fragrant aroma, his heart quickening in anticipation. The Kernel bakes, and finally Aauru takes his wooden scoop and retrieves the shell, standing to take it away from the fire to cool.

He walks over to the tree, his shrine, and sits on a large protruding root, tipping the shell onto the ground and rolling it about gingerly with his claws. Then he picks up the shell and pulls it open, salivating. Still he must wait, or the Kernel will burn his tongue, and he wants no distraction from communion. Finally, he takes the soft Kernel with nimble claws and flicks it into his maw. Piquant juices tingle his taste buds; one soft bite and the Kernel disintegrates, is swallowed. Already he feels waves of intoxication rushing through him, his perceptions widening. He howls excitedly and runs to the river, wading in. He drinks of the waters and immerses himself, auburn fur darkened when wet.

Aauru raises his head above the water, the yellow sun-moon a vivid pulsing presence in the sky. He howls in worship and is rewarded suddenly with fresh vision and instinct. Something ruinous has come to the world, and though he does not fully comprehend what that means, he knows what he must do. There is an other. A Lyal, yet not. He must gather his kind: his tribe and any others that will follow, and attack the Lyal. This will not be their usual savage raid, but a prepared strike. Aauru will find this other and harvest the Kernel, consume it. If he does this, he will be rewarded. If he does this, he just might survive what is to come.

* * *

Leigh Wright is the curator of Wyrd Daze

He is writing speculative fiction in his Zenith’s Edge multiverse:

There are six of them: Normal, Tempest, Wyrd, Nadir, Faust and Zenith. 
They have existed, in one form or another, since the beginning of time. 
If they die, they are reborn again unto a new world…

Leigh’s alter ego The Ephemeral Man makes sonic paintings and strange art.

Leigh on Twitter

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