Friday, 9 August 2013

GUEST BLOG: Gallow, Grimdark and GoT - Nathan Hawke

Today we have a guest blog from Author, Nathan Hawke, we hope you enjoy it:

Apparently George RR Martin has a lot to answer for. Maybe he does. There are some dragon books I've written under a different name and he certainly had something to answer for when it comes to the first few of those. At the time that was allegedly a good thing. Now not so much, it seems.

I'm not sure how to take Gallow being compared to Game of Thrones. A bit like every single eighties high-fantasy series being compared to Tolkien, I suppose. As a point of reference, maybe it's a touch lazy but at the same time it's the thing everyone knows. I'd like to offer a different comparison, though. I can't claim that Game of Thrones has no influence whatsoever on Gallow: I've read the first three books and was awed by them. You could say the same about Joe Abercrombie's First Law series because I was awed by those too. Fair enough; and if Gallow has absorbed their grit, their willingness and ability to paint the sweat and the blood, to feel the bruises and taste the iron in the air after a battle, so much the better. Maybe Martin and Abercrombie brought something visceral to fantasy that simply wasn't there before and if they did then good: I like it that way.

My other name received a piece of fan mail once from a country where none of my books have ever been translated, asking when they would be and praising one in particular for showing “how war cripples the soul.” I know Joe is on record several times as saying (and I'm going to paraphrase here Joe, so sorry if I get you slightly wrong) that his books aren't about bloody violence, they're about the consequences of bloody violence. Ever since I got that mail, I've quietly reckoned that that's what the new fantasy is about; and if Grimdark is about crippled souls then George RR Martin is its Emperor, Joe is one of his Dark Lieutenants and my other name marches proudly somewhere in their army of foot-soldiers. Go read Dragon Queen when it comes out. I snuck some Nine Inch Nails lyrics on the back cover so we could all be really clear about the whole crippled soul thing.

But is it pedantic of me to claim there's a difference between a crippled soul and a conflicted one? The earliest “crippled soul” fantasy hero I can think of is Thomas Covenant but conflicted souls go back further. If it helps to define a difference then it's this: A crippled soul doesn't do what they know/believe to be “right” for some reason. Their story arc is primarily about suffering the consequences of their own fears. A conflicted soul does do what they know/believe to be right even if the results are deeply unpleasant and their story arc tends to be more about dealing with those consequences. There's clearly a vast grey area of overlap – where, for example, does Elric fit?

When I wrote Gallow, I didn't want a crippled soul. So I didn't sit down and read A Clash of Kings again, I read Legend and Waylander instead. You all can debate whether any fantasy writer has done conflicted-soul characters better than David Gemmell (excuse me if I just sit back and listen) but I struggle to think of anyone who's come close to hitting the same theme again and again and again of strongly principled hero or heroine who acts according to his or her code even when it's to their own great detriment. There may be some terrible act of moral cowardice in their past, but I can't think of a single Gemmell protagonist (go easy with me – I haven't read all his books) who doesn't make the tough decisions and knowingly take the consequences. Walking through the world of Grimdark are characters ruled and driven by their own fears. Walking through the books of David Gemmell are heroines and heroes who are fighting those fears tooth and nail. It doesn't always end well but one way or another they go down and they don't surrender.

The excellent James Barclay called Gallow a “splendidly conflicted double-hard bastard.” Thank you Mr Barclay, but I think we both know whose shoulders Gallow is sitting on and they go back further than Stark or Lannister.

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