Ballymena-born fantasy author Paul Kearney's Spartan inspired military fantasy keeps marching on
Publishing is not immune to the recession and last year all signs pointed to Northern Irish fantasy novelist Paul Kearney being dropped by his publisher. Kearney, author of The Monarchies of God, The Sea Beggars and Primeval: The Lost Island, tying in with the ITV series Primeval, had signed a three book deal with Solaris Publishing for his Macht series. When Solaris was put up for a sale it looked like Kearney's novels would never see the light of day, until a last minute save from cult comic publisher Rebellion, who also publish 2000AD.
Until recently there was some doubt whether the final two instalments in your current series, the Macht trilogy, would be printed at all? That must have been a tense time.
Yes, for a while there I really did think the gods were conspiring against me. I had a verbal assurance from Christian Dunn that they would take on the contracts, and then wham, Solaris was put up for sale and I was left in limbo for months. I had another shot or two in my locker, but it was still very welcome when the new owners decided they would honour Christian’s agreement and go ahead with the rest of the trilogy.
When did you get the news that the Macht series would go ahead?
Back last autumn (2009). The contracts came through in October time, so it made for a pretty merry Christmas.
The new owner of Solaris is Rebellion, who publishes 2000 AD as well. Did you read 2000 AD growing up and if so who was your favourite character? (Interviewer’s interjection: Halo Jones!)
I read the very first copy of 2000AD, and kept the first hundred issues or so until my parents threw them out while I was college. For me, it was always good old Dan Dare, especially the lost worlds storyline – I loved that space-fort.
Would you ever write for 2000AD if they asked you? And what story/universe would you pick?
Well, to be frank, I haven’t really kept up with 2000AD for decades now, but I’d dearly love to write some really black-humoured Judge Dredd story.
You did write a novel about Primeval the TV series. Did you enjoy that and what was the process? Did you get any insider tips about what was going to happen in the series?
The thing with writing tie-ins is that the people who invented the characters and the world get a lot of input into what you’re doing. That was a first for me – it felt a little weird to be discussing character and storylines with other people – but having said that, Adrian Hodges and Tim Haines could not have been more helpful. The book was an absolute blast to write – dinosaurs and automatic weapons – what could go wrong? And yes, I was sent all the forthcoming scripts for the series before it was screened so I wouldn’t duplicate any plotlines and so on. That was quite fun also, knowing what was going to happen in the series before it aired.
If you could write one of the tie-in novels for any current TV series – UK or USA – what would it be and why?
I would love to have written something for the new Battlestar Galactica. The dark feel of it, the integrity of the characterization – they were simply superb, and defied the restrictions of genre. If I could have, I also would have loved to be involved in Joss Whedon’s abandoned little masterpiece, Firefly, which for my money is still the most purely entertaining sci-fi series ever made.
The Macht series was partially inspired by Xenophon’s Anabasis and certain Spartan elements went into the creation of the Macht themselves. Are you a big history buff?
I’m a massive history buff – I’ve always loved it, and for years now I’ve read much more history than fiction. I think that if you have a background in history, it makes creating a new world so much easier – you have a whole series of allusions and resonances in your mind which you can throw into the stew and see if the reader gets it. Even if he doesn’t, some half remembered echo out of your narrative may still crack a synapse here or there and make the whole deal click along a little more smoothly. It’s what made Tolkien great – the feeling that he was writing a forgotten history, the flavours of which seemed hauntingly familiar.
What elements in the Anabasis appealed to you?
What’s not to like? You have ten thousand hard core infantrymen who basically kick the hell out of their enemies, who are then abandoned three thousand miles from home and have to march back, fighting their way to the sea. And they actually did it. It’s an incredible story, one of the great templates of military history – and you even have the heart-lifting cry of ‘The Sea! The Sea!’ at the end. The amazing thing is, that having made it home, most of them signed up for another Asian expedition under a Spartan King straight after.
Reading The Ten Thousand I was impressed with your descriptive ability, particularly in relation to the fight scenes. You managed to convey both the tides of battle and the struggle of the individual soldiers in the blood and mud of the trenches. But what would you say your greatest strength as a writer is?
I would say that I like to face the truth without flinching – which is to say that I do not sanitise anything. War is an awful thing. As Nathan Bedford Forrest said: ‘War means fighting, and fighting means killing.’ If there is any glory in it, then it’s fleeting. In all my books, which it has to be admitted are primarily about war or conflict of some kind, I try to be honest about what exactly that means. Hence some of the more brutal scenes I’ve been castigated for in the past.
Do you still get a thrill seeing your name on a bookshelf in the shops?
Of course. Who wouldn’t, if they were being absolutely honest? It’s one of the perks of the job.
Which of your books do you enjoy writing the most?
I enjoyed writing Hawkwood’s Voyage, because it was a new, rich world which fascinated me, and which I knew I could do a lot with. And I enjoyed Mark of Ran, because I simply loved the characters I was working with. The Ten Thousand I enjoyed because of the flavour of the world that came out of the narrative – it was different, and really made me sit up and think while I was inventing it.
What’s it like being a Northern Irish fantasy author? Are there any benefits or drawbacks?
To tell the truth I imagine it’s pretty much the same as being a writer from anywhere else. A lot of my books were written in Denmark or America or England, so the setting doesn’t really make a difference, and with the internet, it’s all become so much easier. When I started I had to print out 500 page manuscripts and physically post them to the publisher. Now it’s just an electronic file sent with the click of a mouse. Now that’s progress.
Both Ian Sansom and Garbhan Downey have books coming out that echo certain recent political scandals. Is there anything in Corvus that might seem to be inspired by Iris Robinson’s peccadilloes?
Hmmm. A powerful man’s wife cuckolds him with a young lover… I suppose that may have happened once or twice before in history...
What should your fans be watching out for from you in 2010?
The omnibus editions of the Monarchies of God will be published in the UK and US this autumn, after interminable delays – it’ll be great to see those big fat editions on the shelf. And Corvus will be out before the end of the year too, barring fire, flood and other disasters.
And finally, what's the worst typo you've ever made in a manuscript? (I once had a horse shot through the arse - I don't know why.) Did you catch it before you gave it to your editor? (Tutor at Queens for me. And no.)
I usually hand in pretty clean typescripts (he says haughtily), but when the US edition of Second Empire came out, the copy-editor, for reasons known only to himself, had decided to spell the word ‘tired’ as ‘tyred'. And he did it right through the entire book. That really made me grind my teeth!