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: 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

Wyrd Daze : Four

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Wyrd Daze : Four

Featuring:

Temple ov Saturn

an audio visual project by

Joan Pope

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Wyrd Daze : Four 

includes two unreleased tracks 
 + a live recording from

Temple ov Saturn

1: La Mer
2: Venus Cathedral
3: Stellar Collision (live)

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Also featuring:

Buddleia on the Threshold

an essay about urban magic by Fortean journalist, ‘cunning man’
and former professional combat magician 

Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent

A horror short story

Melanie’s Choice

 Leigh Wright

and a triptych audio collage

 Samhain Séance Seven:
A Very Dark Place

The Ephemeral Man

Click here to access
Wyrd Daze : Four

 

 

Wyrd Daze : Two

WD Two Cover art

Click here to access
Wyrd Daze : Two

 

Featuring the marvellous art & conversation of Zeke Clough

ANDREW LILES MONSTER

An interview with ANTLER OVERLORD and author RJ Barker

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Lightning and the Onu ~ a Zenith’s Edge short story.
With an introduction by the author, Leigh Wright

Zenith's Edge

 

Click here to access
Wyrd Daze : Two

 

Bacchus Beltane 5 The Owl Service

Featuring music from the album Penny Slinger: Out of the Shadows by Psychological Strategy Board available now from Front & Follow

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Also featuring music from the album עשר by John 3:16available from Alrealon Musique.

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Music Has the Right to Teletubbies

Music has the right to Teletubbies

Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada released 20th April 1998
Teletubbies episode 1: Ned’s Bicycle 31 March 1997
+ episode 217: Colours – Orange 6 October 1998