The Five Horsemen: The Influences That Led Me Towards The (Wildermoor) Apocalypse by Chris Tetreault-Blay

Today I’m pleased to welcome Chris Tetreault-Blay to the blog. Chris’ new novel Acolyte, the first instalment in The Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy was published on 26 July 2015. Chris has written a fantastic guest post on what influenced the series.

The Five Horsemen: The Influences That Led Me Towards The (Wildermoor) Apocalypse

If you were to ask an author where they got their inspiration for their latest book from, you would probably expect them to reference one book, one author or one event in particular.  You may find, however – at least in my case – that you’d be wrong.  When faced with this question, I have always been quick at replying ‘the idea just came to me’, but in truth I only said this as I could not put my finger on one particular reason why ‘Acolyte’ was written the way it was, or even written at all.

That is until I started thinking about writing this post.  The more I thought about it, I started to understand more about what has driven to write this novel.  What you will find is not a simple answer to this question, and my reasons may err more on the side of random, but the fact is that my book – and what will eventually be the entire Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy – is the product of my varied past, heavily influenced by the popular (and, in some cases, unpopular) culture in which I spent most of my child, teen and adulthood immersed.

I have also realised that the answer to this question may be different for every single author who is asked it.  There is no right or wrong. After all, the characters that make up our stories are merely extensions of our own selves in some way, no matter how much you have to dissect or squint at them to see it

Ed Kowalczyk

Anyone that has known me over the last fifteen or twenty years or so will know how important music has always been for me.  I would very often spend my days or nights losing myself in music, escaping from the world around me.  Within this world, one person has been more inspiring and influential to me than any other.

Ed Kowalczyk was the lead singer of my favourite band ‘Live’, until they split in 2009 and he pursued a solo career.  I was given my first Live album (‘V’) by my sister the night before I left for university in 2002.  Upon hearing the first few songs, my fears of leaving home quickly disappeared, almost as if Kowalczyk’s vocals had calmed me somehow.  From that moment on, I was hooked on Live’s music and soon acquired their back catalogue and found that I wasn’t just listening to the music but the lyrics too. They not only told a story but also purveyed a feeling of hope.  After surrounding myself with bands whose songs consisted of messages like ‘I hate the world, the world hates me, I want to die’, I was listening to a guy singing his heart out about stuff that I had never even heard of before.  Many of Ed’s lyrics were inspired by eastern religion and were so refreshing; I found that I couldn’t get the songs out of my head.  I was actively seeking out the meanings behind a lot of the songs, listening to interviews with Ed to find out more about his inspirations.  

For the first time in my life, I felt inspired.  I wanted to make something happen for myself. In December 2002, admittedly after a pretty kick-ass Nickelback gig in Manchester, I decided that I was going to buy a guitar and teach myself to play.  Once I had my own instrument, the first songs that I managed to (sort of) master were Live’s. 

After Live’s break-up, I continued to follow Kowalczyk’s solo work and his second album ‘The Flood and The Mercy’ was the album I was listening to when I found out I was going to be a dad. This album still remains one of the most important in my collection and return to it whenever I feel that I need guidance, inspiration or just to be reminded of the feeling that I felt on that day.

Wilbur Smith

I credit Wilbur Smith as being the author that changed my opinion of fiction reading, and thank my now-parents-in-law for introducing me to his work.  It was either my seventeenth or eighteenth birthday, I think, that I was given ‘When The Lion Feeds’.  I was quite hesitant to begin reading it as, up until this point, the only reading that I indulged in for pleasure consisted of anything from my vast collection of wrestling magazines.  I had a VERY short attention span and – I don’t mind admitting now – a limited imagination when it came to reading fiction, and until only fairly recently actually felt intimidated by the size of some books (anything over 300 pages was considered a challenge).

Somehow, though, with this book Wilbur Smith had a way of very subtly drawing me in and holding my attention, until soon enough I was actually struggling to put the book down.  I had finally learnt what it was like to lose myself in a whole new world, and feeling a sense of loss when I finally came to the end.  I became an instant fan of Smith’s ‘South African Courtney’ series and, in the main character Sean Courtney, had found someone that I wanted to follow with great curiosity.

In going from only wanting to belong to a world of colourful costumes and staged athleticism to becoming immersed in 19th Century South Africa, tales of goldmining and the ivory trade, surprised yet invigorated me.  It was from discovering this author that I discovered my love for reading. 

Despite still being years away from coming into full bloom, my newfound interest would then lead me into the Thomas Harris’ Hannibal Lecter series and then the natural progression into the darker world of horror, where I would finally meet the likes of H.P. Lovecraft, Edgar Allan Poe and, ultimately, my hero James Herbert.

Guillermo Del Toro

Just as Wilbur Smith did for awakening my imagination, Del Toro helped shape the visual aspects of a lot of the ideas I have had for my own stories.  My earliest discovery of his work, like many others, was Pan’s Labyrinth.  The first time around, I had little idea of what was going on but found that I could not avert my gaze from the images that Del Toro had created on the screen.  

His characters – many of them considered monsters in their own right – looked and even moved differently to others that I had seen before.  It was almost as if you could feel their pain through the way they walked, talked or even just stared at the camera.  The worlds he created, as abstract as they seemed, were totally believable. And terrifying at the same time.  It is almost like sunlight and optimism are foreigners in every place that he paints on screen, but you love him for that.  Del Toro takes you away from reality with the snap of a finger.

During the process of creating Wildermoor, I saw it as if it existed in one of Del Toro’s films; dreary, cold and punishing. But with an unmistakeable charm – as if it was a place that was split in two and showed different faces depending on whether it was night or day.

When thinking about who would play certain characters from Acolyte if it made it to the big screen, I sometimes struggle to pick just one or two names.  But for me, Guillermo Del Toro is the only filmmaker who I think could genuinely recreate Wildermoor itself in the same vision that I have.

Prison Break

Okay, so not technically an individual but this series has played a big part in the creation of certain aspects of The Wildermoor Apocalypse so far.  I could even try and pin down one character and say that they are more responsible than others, but I would be lying; I have drawn from parts of most of the cast list.

Firstly, I would have to say that Prison Break was the first TV drama series that struck a real chord with me and the only one that I can happily watch repeatedly.  The drama and suspense gripped me from the first few episodes and is one of the only series that, in my opinion, got better with each one.  Up until recently, I was

most proud of the fact that they told the story and knew when to end it, and seemed happy to leave it alone.  I am still undecided as to whether I will support the new series or not, but guess at some point curiosity will get the better of me.

The twist and turns in the plot throughout Acolyte – and even more so in the Sowing Season – were inspired by Prison Break.  One thing that had me glued to each episode was the amount of times you were kept guessing as to what would happen next, sometimes as much as several times in the same episode.  This is especially evident in the original final series (Season 4) as the pace never seemed to let up, making you feel like you were running through the tasks and dangers that jumped out at every turn.  I wanted the readers of Acolyte to experience the same feelings; to believe that they were peering over the shoulders of the characters as they followed the story, always having to look behind them or around blind corners.  I wanted the pace too; I didn’t want any aspect of the book to feel stale and tired, but rather keep the reader’s nerves standing on end.

Although I have already mentioned that I drew on a large variety of the characters, there were a few in particular that I connected with more than others, and hence helped influence the direction in which I decided to take a few of my own.  Theodore ‘T-Bag’ Bagwell, for example, provided the cold, calculating and creepy nature of the darker characters, in particular Dr. Mason Stamford.  Similar to the way that Jake Roberts did, Robert Knepper’s dialogue and delivery was what made his portrayal of Bagwell so intense, so real.  I want people to look at the evil guys in The Wildermoor Apocalypse and hate them for what they do, but admire them for the way they do it.

Of course, everyone loves a hero.  But what I love more than that is an anti-hero; someone who is called upon to save the day but are not trying to, or are actively trying not to; they have their own reasons for what they do.  In Prison Break, I think you see this two-fold with the central characters of Michael Scofield and Lincoln Burrows.  They break more laws trying to escape prison and the government than it took to put them in the clink in the first place!  But we are always rooting for them, despite the fact that they are acting purely out of brotherly love for each other and their desire for freedom, not because they want to be seen as the good guys.  I see Truman Darke as a similar character; he is thrust into the front line of the battle to prevent the end of Wildermoor, but he didn’t ask for that responsibility and, at times, he may even give the impression that he does not want it.

Finally, Alex Mahone has got to be my favourite member of the Prison Break team.  Not to say too much at this point, but he is the man I envisaged when creating Thomas Laing.  Laing’s own story unfolds further in The Sowing Season. 

Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts

 “A victim of your own greed, wallowing in the much of avarice.”

A line worthy of being in a movie rather than being uttered by a professional wrestler before a match.  But let me introduce you to a true master on the microphone, a guy who has in fact provided the basis for some of my more sinister characters – Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts.

Okay, let me get this out of the way to begin with…yes, I was a massive (some would say ‘obsessive’) wrestling fan when I was growing up.  And no, I didn’t still think it was real after the age of ten.  But what can I say, it was my thing.  My entire world until I was sixteen revolved around wrestling, back when – oddly enough – the sport still resembled a sport, the storylines were not so unbelievable and the top stars were real heroes to kids like me.  

I wasn’t just glued to the ‘sport’ for the matches alone; I was more interested in the characters themselves.  I loved listening to the wrestlers talk, building up their matches to be the biggest show on earth, letting their words mould the character that we all got to see at home.  For me, during the 80’s and early-90’s, Jake Roberts was a cut above the rest in this department.  

His delivery was so deliberate that everyone who heard him speak would hang on every word.  At times he would talk in only a whisper but could make you think that he was one of the cruellest and most dangerous men around.  When playing the ‘face’ (good guy), his demeanour would make you think that he was just cunning.  When playing the ‘heel’ (bad guy), it made him look twisted and sadistic but the beautiful part of it all is that the man himself never changed.  It was just down to the role he was playing – which he could do either as well as the other – and how it made you perceive his actions and motives.

When I have written characters in Acolyte such as Mason Stamford and William & Julius Archibald, especially when tackling their dialogue, I imagine them talking and acting in the same style.  It is my opinion that having a character that talks calmly and quietly about any harm they want to cause or the pleasure they will get from it, whilst showing no emotion or remorse, provides the most chilling aspect of a story.  How can you take down an enemy that doesn’t care – or is not aware – of their own evil?

I leave you with some of my favourite of Jake’s promo’s, one of which even inspired the ‘End is beginning…’ tagline that I have given to The Wildermoor Apocalypse:

“I’m like a window too hard to break and too dark to look into.”  

“When I first came into this world I could not rob, I could not lie, I could not steal, I couldn’t even cheat.  But, boy, did I have some help learning. You’ve taught me well.”  (‘WWF Tuesday In Texas’, 3rd December 1991)

 “I’ll cultivate her into something even I would want.”  (‘WWF Tuesday In Texas’, 3rd December 1991)

“This isn’t the beginning.  This isn’t the end.  This isn’t even the beginning of the end…but the end of the beginning.”  (‘WWF Survivor Series’, November 27th 1991)

About the book:

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“A gripping horror that will keep you on the edge of your seat” Wildermoor 2011 Meet Colin Dexter a man plagued by visions of a monster. He turns to a priest for help but the priest is not who he seems. Wildermoor 1684 An old man hunts for his daughter Evelyn, who was abducted in the middle of the night. Wildermoor 2002 Detective Truman’s life is turned upside down when Dexler makes a fatal decision. What connects these people over hundreds of years? Who will unlock the secret? Something is coming. Something big. And light must face darkness. The end is just the beginning… Acolyte is the first book in the terrifying Wildermoor Apocalypse trilogy.” (Synopsis from Amazon)

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