The Next Big Thing – ‘The Darkness Embraces’

Skyrim DungeonWe’re all about the writing this week, as our reviewer and sometime podcaster Kieran Mathers takes us on a whirlwind tour of his forthcoming fantasy novella.

What’s the working title of your book?

‘The Darkness Embraces’

Where did the idea for the book come from?

Bizarrely enough, the idea came from playing Skyrim. In that, you often explore great underground tombs and temples, either on your own with a companion. While I was thinking about this general fantasy trope, I found it interesting to imagine what would happen if, instead of a small group fighting another small group, you had entire armies underground who were trying to prosecute a military campaign. So it was a narrative leap into the darkness of the cave, and the very first title was actually Legion in the Dark. Plus, I was raised in Yorkshire, and we’ve got massive caverns and a great tradition of caving there, so I tried to bring some of what I know about that to the book as well.
The book was actually my attempt at NaNoWriMo, the National Write a Novel in a month contest, but it turned out so well that I thought I’d continue it towards publication.

What genre does the book fall under?

Alternative world gritty fantasy – definitely not for the kids.

Revolutionary War soldiers

Imagine these guys going to work…

What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

I like this question! Captain Lillian Frenda, the regiment’s commander, would have to be played by an older woman with steel and experience, so casting against type I’d choose someone like Kate Winslet or Rachel Weisz. The hardened mercenary, Olten, would have to be played by someone who realistically looked like he’d gone through life with his face, so James Purefoy would be ideal. Pip, the young drummer boy learning what war is like, would have to be played by a new, young actor, no more than 16 or 17.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of the book?

Four years after the war ended, the Silvermen have been pushed into the caves beneath the mountains, and now Frenda’s Regiment must go into the darkness and inflict a final defeat on their hated foe.

A really big, beautiful cave

…down here!

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m currently planning to self-publish this novel as it is quite short. I’m intending to use it as a cheap ‘starter’ product for a series of novels, all set in the same world as The Darkness Embraces. Hopefully, if people enjoy The Darkness Embraces they’ll choose to look at the rest of the series, which I’m beginning to write at the moment.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

Twenty-seven days! (Nothing like an arbitrary deadline to make you write quicker).

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

The big one, of course, is A Game of Thrones and the rest of the A Song of Ice and Fire series. You can’t really write fantasy without referring to this or The Lord of the Rings. Retrospectively, I realised that my chapter style is directly stolen from G.R.R Martin (‘great writers steal…’ etc.). What inspired me about the way Martin writes is the integration of hard politics into his fantasy world which is what he is best known for. I like to think that the major difference between A Game of Thrones and The Darkness Embraces is in the intentions of my characters. They are at least trying to do the right thing in this world, building a better place for those around them. Most of all, I wanted to have heroes as my protagonists.

“It’s a tale of war, politics, passion and death.”

The other influences are legion – some non-fiction about the way 16th Century armies operated, The Winter King and the novels of Robin Hobb.  Non-fiction actually inspires me as much as fiction, as I like to bring elements of what I learn together, because I believe it adds realism to a fantasy world. Fact is often stranger than fiction, and I like to integrate a little historical weirdness into my books.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

The aforementioned thinking from Skyrim, followed by a conversation with a friend of mine who used to be a soldier. He quite reasonably pointed out that no soldiers in their right minds choose to fight underground, and there would need to be a very good reason as to why you would try and prosecute an attack in such a hostile environment. The plot basically grew out of ‘why and how would anyone try to do this?’  The ‘why’, ironically enough, became just as interesting and as the ‘how’, which I’d imagined would have been the focus of the novel before I started.

What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s a tale of war, politics, passion and death in an alternative world. The characters are well drawn, the plot is unpredictable, and I really hope it will surprise you! If you like Robin Hobb, G.R.R Martin, Joe Abercrombie or the other ‘gritty fantasy’ writers, you’ll like The Darkness Embraces.

If this has piqued your interest, we’re very pleased to announce that Kieran will be writing a series of articles for us, charting his path towards self-publication. The first is coming soon, so look out for it!