1. How did you go about developing the plot for ‘A Sacred Storm ?
The broad outline to A Sacred Storm appeared as the second half of a massive tome I’d written as A Mighty Dawn. I first came up with the bare bones of the story that spans the two books way back in March 2012, driving around the woods of Northern Jutland (Denmark) in my cousin’s car. But once I’d split the draft in two, and A Mighty Dawn was out of the way, I could concentrate on making A Sacred Storm as thrilling as possible. I had to rewrite Part One a lot – as a relatively new author, I found it hard to get the balance right between giving enough back story and getting on with the plot, as well as re-introducing several of the characters. Sara O’Keefe at Corvus was brilliant at helping me with this, and pushing me on, so we got there in the end (not without some tantrums on my side). Another key was the sub-plot about Earl Huldir and his sons (the White and the Black). This came quite late – dropping into my mind while I was walking the dog in St Luke’s Garden, if I remember rightly. But the main spine of the story – the relationship between Lilla and Erlan, the friendship between Erlan and Kai, and of course the final outcome of this long-running feud between the two kingdoms, were all there early on.
2. Whose character did you find most challenging to develop and write ?
Lilla. Of the other main characters, Kai and Saldas came most easily (which is probably worrying). I spent a lot of time “interviewing” Lilla to understand her better. Pages and pages and pages. I feel she has a lot of depth to her now, whereas in the first draft (particularly of A Mighty Dawn) she was a bit flat. Now I find her fascinating.
3. Who is your favourite character from ‘ A Mighty Dawn’ and ‘A Sacred Storm’ ?
It has to be Kai. He does and says all the stuff I would do if I was a bit more naughty (and resourceful).
4. Do you ever base your characters’ traits and personalities on people you know ?
Some. Einar, for example, physically began life as a younger version of a rowing coach I had at university, who was rather portly, shall we say, and had the driest sense of humour of anyone I’ve met. Saldas is an amalgamation of two women I once knew – at least physically. I won’t say who!
5. How much of your time do you devote to writing ?
Err. Not enough. On a very good day I’ll get four or five hours done. A bad one, nothing. I’m writing Book Three in the series at the moment and, balancing that with home life in which I am heavily involved, is tricky. I try to get out at least 1,000 words a day. If I know where I’m going with a scene that usually takes a couple of hours.
6. How do you manage to keep the suspense going so well in both ‘A Mighty Dawn’ and ‘A Sacred Storm’ ?
Hmmm. Hard to answer that. There were a few reveals in the first draft which gave away certain things before I needed to. So I suppose cutting those bits helped keep the reader guessing and created a few surprises. The second half of the book came quite intuitively though. Again the spine was always there. But a lot of the finer interweaving of plot with sub-plot took some careful thought. I do remember finally putting all the chapters into one big word document – and reading just the last line of each chapter to check they had all gone in. Even doing that had my adrenaline pumping as the story built to its climax, so I knew I must have done something right.
7. I was on the edge of my seat reading both books, so many twists and turns, do you think a series or a movie could be developed ? I see great potential
That’s great to hear! Oh yes. I’d love that for many reasons! Although as soon as I think that would be good, my next thought is: what if they make it and it’s completely awful? It would obviously require a large budget. But in the right hands, it would be great to see it on screen. My imagination works very visually so I hope it could make the transition fairly easily. Meanwhile, we are chasing down a few leads.
8. Who are your role models?
A hard one, this. As my teenage step-daughter puts it, my wife and I are “raging” Christians. So I’d have to say Jesus. (I think we are contractually obliged to say that.) As far as the writing goes – I’d say GK Chesterton for sheer brilliance of mind; Giles Kristian for his skald-like ability to turn anything into deliciously entertaining prose; JK Rowling for stretching and believing in one’s imagination; Charles Dickens for his fascination with other people. My wife says I have a man-crush on Tom Hardy. I once watched him do the bedtime story on CBeebies (a Brit kiddies TV channel). When Tom Hardy says, “Now it’s time for bed,” you go to bed.
9. What is the worst job you have had?
Undoubtedly working as a sales executive for a software development firm. I can think of nothing more ill-suited to my character. In fact, they called the role “sales anchor” – which even at the time I thought desperately uninspiring. “Corporate dead weight.” It might have helped if I’d understood what on earth we were trying to sell.
10. If you could be any character in any book or movie, who would you be?
I think Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire is a pretty inspiring character. I’ve seen that film many, many times. Every time the synthesiser kicks in on the home straight of his 400m final I start blubbing, and I don’t really stop until the credits are long gone. Of course, his whole life was very inspiring, too.
11. What best advice would you give to new writers?
Writing is rewriting. Turn up at the page. Don’t listen to the critic in your head. You’re probably mad, but that’s OK.
12. Which scene was most difficult to write ?
The scene with the eagle soaring over the battle at the end. The first draft came out something like a dog-fight seen through the eyes of two different eagles. It was very weird. Happily, I didn’t leave it like that. But it was quite a challenge to get it right. I think I got there in the end.
13. Will there be another instalment ?
Very much so. Corvus has contracted me for two more. I’m currently writing the third which, if I can pull it off, will be even more epic – if that’s possible. Certainly more historic.
14. If so, will we see characters reintroduced from ‘A Mighty Dawn’ ?
No – if you mean, do we return to Erlan’s homeland? Not yet! Instead I’ll be introducing some new characters who are – I hope – even more engaging.
15. Which 3 words would you use to describe ‘A Sacred Storm’?
Epic. Enthralling. Pulse-racing. (is that a word?)