Enjoy . . . and be on the lookout for my reviews, coming soon!
In the course of what I somewhat ambitiously refer to as my career, I have become known as the guy who writes about wars. Armies, navies, struggling nations, geopolitical shenanigans and a cast of thousands. In film terms I am Spartacus.
‘Twas not always thus. In the beginning I wanted to be (again in film terms), Jeremiah Johnson. Or perhaps The Searchers. (Both westerns of course – as an aside, I grew up watching westerns with my father on Sunday afternoons, and they became a lifelong passion with me. I could happily spend hours arguing whether the Duke’s best performance was in The Searchers or Red River. It certainly wasn’t in True Grit.)
Monarchies and the Macht under my belt. And it turns out now I am that guy who does epic fantasy. But my first three books (all republished this year, Ahem), were altogether different in scale and tone. I did end up skirmishing in them, having small-scale sorties, even a migration or two. But by and large what fascinated me in those early days was a central character whom I had placed in a cruel dilemma. In The Way to Babylon, a man kills his beloved wife through an act of carelessness, and subsequently discovers that the fantasy world he created is in fact real – and his dead wife is a character in it. That’s one hell of a maze to run your rat around.
A Different Kingdom, a young boy forms an intense emotional bond with his girlish aunt, and when she disappears, he resolves to find her. The only problem is that she has disappeared into a world just behind his own, where he’s liable to get himself killed, or lose his soul, or both. Just to tempt him further, I threw into the mix a delightful, dangerous, changeling girl who is not quite human. Now stir up those adolescent hormones, step back and let’s see what he does.
Riding the Unicorn, (which does not have a unicorn in it, by the way; to those of you who have complained about the misleading nature of the title, I recommend you look up the word metaphor), a middle-aged, brutal wife-slapping alcoholic prison warder is given the chance to be a selfless hero in a world even more violent than his own. That was enormous fun to do, that one. Forget the usual callow neophyte; this hero was a hulk from the broken side of the real world. Dropping him into a fantasy setting was pure joy.
So three books into the aforementioned career, and I’m the guy who does ‘contemporary,’ or even ‘urban’ fantasy (though those terms hadn’t been invented back then – this was twenty years ago.)
(Here the author pauses over the keyboard as the appalling reality sets in; he has been writing books for more than twenty years. He will never again be described as a young writer – or young anything come to that. He stifles a sob, wipes away a manly tear, and gets on with it.)
The key to the big change in gear for me was very simple; money.
My first three books, while garnering many great reviews, garnered very little in the way of sales. My then editor, Richard Evans, a lovely, patient man, gave me a little nudge at a very boozy lunch one afternoon, and suggested I give a go to something more epic, more fantasy mainstream as it were. This is before Game of Thrones or any of the other ‘dark’ gritty epics that we all now know and love ever came out. I had a throwaway idea about a fantasy version of the voyages of discovery; Columbus, Magellan and the like. What the heck, I thought; it might be fun.
This broken soldier, mourning his dead wife, fleeing his post, and watching his world burn around him – this character grabbed me and just howled for a big, fat story arc of his own. Poor old Hawkwood and his ships were elbowed to one side, and instead of a series of books about sea-voyages, I began to write a towering epic about the clash of civilisations. Armies appeared; Corfe fought his way through despair into rage, and then full-out military genius. I realised that I enjoyed the macro just as much as the micro. More than that, I conceived an absurd urge to write about battle, and to bring to it everything I possibly could in the way of authenticity.
Before I knew it, the single novel I had intended to write became a trilogy – and then a pentalogy. I was able to saddle up several hobby-horses and ride them into the fray. I was investigating not only the dilemmas which afflict individuals, but the processes which created history itself. And I loved it.
So, I became that guy who writes epic fantasy, who consults maps of his imaginary worlds and writes lists of characters to keep them in order. It’s not what I intended, but I’m awful glad I chanced across the levers of that particular machine.
A Different Kingdom by Paul Kearney
Solaris (January 28, 2014)
Michael Fay is a normal boy, living with his grandparents on their family farm in rural Ireland. In the woods there are wolves; and other things, dangerous things. He doesn’t tell his family, not even his Aunt Rose, his closest friend.
And then, as Michael wanders through the trees, he finds himself in the Other Place. There are strange people, and monsters, and a girl called Cat.
When the wolves follow him from the Other Place to his family’s doorstep, Michael must choose between locking the doors and looking away – or following Cat on an adventure that may take an entire lifetime in the Other Place.
This is Paul Kearney’s masterpiece.
The Monarchies of God, The Macht, and The Sea Beggars series. He has been long-listed for the British Fantasy Award.
“One of the very best writers of fantasy around” – Steven Erikson
"Paul Kearney remains one of the most criminally underrated authors working in the genre today." – Tor.com