Today I’m pleased to welcome Aidan Harte to the blog. Aidan is the author of the Waves Trilogy: Irenicon, The Warring States and the final installment Spira Mirabilis. I was lucky enough to chat to Aidan about sculpting, fantasy writing and the highs and lows of writing a series.
Not only do you write, you are also a Sculptor. Did you find that your other talent aided in your writing in any way?
When I sat down to write Irenicon, my academic training helped in that it gave me a method. Both are activities in which very little can be achieved in a day but great things are possible given a few months. Although my sculpture is rather surreal and mannered, my teachers in Florence were all first-rate realists. The basic philosophy is to work slow, and to keep standing back from your work so that you’re not distracted by detail. Only when you see your faults can you correct them. That method was my touchstone while writing the Wave Trilogy, and will remain so, I suspect, whatever I write next
Writing fantasy novels has to be descriptive, the reader perhaps relies more on the author to give them the ability to visualise the world they are immersed in. Do you find that writing fantasy novels gives you more freedom, with free reign to create a brand new world or do you find it brings more pressure?
I think creating a world from scratch provides freedom and imposes limitations. In a sense you begin by tying yourself up in knots, with the hope that the untying will be entertaining. But it also means much Fantasy is exclusively plot-driven and what little interior exploration there is of the most perfunctory sort. That creates a certain reliance of formula. Gene Wolfe said, “Magic realism is fantasy written by people who speak Spanish.” It’s a good line, (and he’s earned the right to say what he likes with his 1976 book, Peace) but Wolfe is an outlier. He’s one of the few Fantasy authors who even attempts characters with a fully realized interior life. Dan Simmons is another but quite often he’s content to write according to genre conventions. It seems obvious to me that Márquez and Rushdie have a very different project to Tolkein and George R. R. Martin. People sometimes get huffy and territorial at conventions and say that Katsuhiro Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go is just high toned SF, but that’s willfully myopic. It’s a different thing.
But I begin to think it’s wasted mental effort to tangle with these questions. Best to simply treat Fantasy as a wide embracing term, encapsulating yarn spinners like David Gemmel and surreal humorists like Mervyn Peake, and leave it at that.
You started to write Irenicon when you were studying sculpture in Italy. Did you find that your surroundings influenced you?
Yeah, I was studying in Florence when a lot of ideas coalesced. A feuding city state as a stage for a love story combined with the idea of rivers as medieval WMDs was the beginning. A sense of place is important in any story, but especially for Fantasy when you need something real to hang onto. I lived in the old city where the streets are narrow, and the buildings press in on either side making the sky a jagged sliver. The artificial twilight and closed-in feeling creates a unique tension. The density makes the rooftops an unbroken topography too, and – it occurred to me – a great landscape for running kung-fu battles. You’d often get parades though the city center led by the city fathers and behind them dozens of traditional flag throwers. It’s a great spectacle and that was the inspiration for the martial art practiced in Rasenna.
While writing The Wave Trilogy, I also read a lot of Classical and Medieval History, so much that the antique notion of Providence became a central theme.
Did you find it easier to write The Warring States given it was the second in the series or does writing a series create problems in itself?
There’s definitively a different challenge to the middle book. You can’t rely solely on novelty to keep readers’ attention, so you have to go deeper. Irenicon introduced the turbulent citizens of Rasenna, and because The Warring States begins in Concord, Rasenna’s rival, there are new characters to meet. The Apprentices were previously a shadowy presence, but the threat they pose becomes more immediate as we follow the progress of young Torbidda from innocent to Machiavellian tyrant. When we return to Rasenna, it’s about discovering another side to characters we think we know: we see Sofia hiding her pregnancy, Fabbro corrupted by power, and Levi helpless as Rasenna’s peace unravels.
I used to suspect, and hope, that a series was harder than a stand-alone but now I’m writing my fourth book, something totally unrelated, and it’s just as hard! I remember having the same expectation about drawing growing up, that one happy day it would become effortless. As I got better, I realised that the draftsmen I admired struggled too, albeit at a higher level. My admiration rose accordingly. Of course you acquire skills, but that’s just a polite way of saying you make less bone-headed mistakes. What’s easier about writing the second book is that it’s easier to ignore the doubt. That’s not nothing. The mile didn’t become shorter after Bannister ran it in four minutes but before 1954 was over, twenty-four others managed the same feat. If writing ever became effortless, I’m pretty sure I’d give it up. Cormac McCarthy, asked why he doesn’t write short stories, said, “Anything that doesn’t take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing.” I second that.
Can you tell us what your next book is about?
My next book is still pretty fantastical so fans of The Wave should find something to like, but it’s SF. Certainly the “smart” thingwould be to write something in the same world or very similar. Sod that. The writers I mentioned earlier, Dan Simmons and Gene Wolfe, could have put their feet up and re-jigged the same old story for the same audience but they regularly switched it up instead. It’s healthy to leap off a cliff every couple of years.
You must answer a lot of these questions. What question have you not been asked that you wish had been, and what’s the answer?
One question I can imagine readers of Spira Mirabilis asking is what the hell are cowboys doing wandering around Medieval Italy? Their appearance in Spira Mirabilis is admittedly anachronistic, but there are ox herders around Lazio called butteri. They apparently outwrangeled Buffalo Bill when his Wild West Show came to town, and I couldn’t resist squaring them off against medieval knights.
About the author:
Aidan Harte studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art and currently works as a sculptor in Dublin. Before discovering sculpture, he worked in animation and TV; in 2006 he created and directed the TV show Skunk Fu, which has been shown on Cartoon Network, Kids WB and the BBC.
The Warring States
Jo Fletcher Books
Published in paperback 3 April 2014
“After the rout at Rasenna Torbidda the last surviving Apprentice is all that can protect Concord from the enemies it faces on all fronts. Nobody believes him capable of handling these crises – but Torbidda didn’t become Apprentice by letting himself be manipulated.
At the same time the City of Towers grows wealthy. Yet as Sofia struggles to understand her miraculous pregnancy the people of Rasenna start arguing again, and the city starts to falls apart once more.
Sofia realises she must escape Etruria to save her baby and when prophecy leads her to another cesspit of treachery, the decadent Crusader kingdom of Oltremare, Sofia begins to despair, for this time she can see no way out …”
Jo Fletcher Books
Published in hardback 24 April 2014
“Read the thrilling conclusion of The Wave Trilogy!
After the Concord defeated the fractious city-state of Rasenna using the magical science of Wave Technology The City of Towers fought back, and for a while Concord was halted.
But First Apprentice Torbidda regrouped, and is now plotting the final battle that will pacify Etruria … permanently.
Contessa Sofia Scaligeri is needed by her people but there is little she can do whilst trapped with her son by the tyrant Queen Catrina in the Crusader Kingdom of Akka.
Darkness is falling, the final battle must be fought and the tide must be turned; lest evil reign forever.”