In the wake of Viking Week I managed to catch up with MD Lachlan, author of Wolfsangel and Fenrir, and dragged him away from his current work in progress for a quick chat.
MFB: Hi Mark, and welcome to MFB. So what came to you first – the lore or the story?
MDL: Not sure. I was always interested in Viking mythology from an early age and completely immersed in fantasy through Dungeons and Dragons. I guess it must have been the lore, as I only thought of the story as I was going along.
MFB: You have a series in mind when you started writing Wolfsangel? If not, when did the switch happen, and what was the catalyst?
MDL: Wolfsangel was originally conceived as a stand alone novel, set in WWII and flashing back to the Viking era. Publishers loved the novel but couldn't see how to market it. Simon Spanton at Gollancz suggested turning it into a series. I found this daunting at first but, when I started writing, the story sort of wrote itself.
MFB: Did the story change much from your original idea as you wrote it? Are you a planner or seat-of-the-pants writer?
MDL: Seat of pants by choice but, more and more, a planner by necessity. I'm writing two novels at the moment, one under the MD Lachlan pen name and one under a new pen name - Mark Alder. This means I can't afford blind alleys and false starts. The plan at least points the direction you're going in. The novel still has to evolve organically, though, and I do depart from plans in the writing. But the plan means there's at least a path to come back to. What you can't do in a plan - or at least I can't - is surprise yourself. That moment when you realise something about one of your characters or the real reason X did Y is one of the most rewarding things about writing and, for me, it evolves spontaneously.
MFB: I thought you captured the action sequences very well, and in a way that suggested more than just paper and ink research. Am I right?
MDL: I've done various sorts of martial arts since I was a kid and I've also been a fencer for about 10 years. I think this is why I put a lot of nerves into my fight sequences. I've noticed that the standard of fencing on a club night is much higher than in a competition - at least at my level. People freeze up, they feel self conscious, movement becomes less free. Also, particularly when I did Thai Boxing or Judo, the feeling of going into a competition or full contact grading is one of extreme nerves. And, to a point, when you come together with two lengths of sharp steel, anyone can beat anyone. I've seen the British number one at Epee hit by a relative beginner. OK, 999 times out of 1000, the British number one gets the hit. Once he doesn't. In real sword fighting that could be the day he dies!
MFB: Fenrir has a wonderfully dark and savage feel to it, and an appreciable bodycount. Were there any ideas you had that your publishers thought were too dark, or did you have free reign to go as far as you wanted to?
MDL: No one's ever tried to rein things in. The early middle ages were a savage time. The story reflects that! I do sometimes wonder if I lose some fantasy fans with the darkness of the series but, for every one you lose, I guess you attract one. I've been surprised people call it gory. I really do think I hold back on the gore. That said, it's a werewolf story. I wanted to make it truly scary and disturbing.
MFB: How would you describe Fenrir to someone who’s not familiar with either Norse lore or Wolfsangel?
MDL: A medieval 24 with a bottom-kicking werewolf. A story that begins at the VIking siege of Paris in 885. It's a historical, mythic fantasy where incarnations of Norse gods battle it out on earth, some to survive, some to fulfil a terrible bargain with fate. It also deals with the collision of Christianity and Paganism. It features some very scary gods and the toughest character I've ever written - the crippled monk Jehan.
MFB: Do you write in silence and/or isolation, or to music? If the latter, what sort?
MDL: I can't write or read to music. However, tunes do arise in my head while I'm writing - it's normally a sign things are going well. For Wolfsangel it was Psychic TV's The Full Pack. Fenrir was directly inspired by Kate Bush's Hounds of Love. I wanted that propulsive beat in my story.
MFB: What’s the coolest thing you discovered while doing your research?
MDL: Things that I find cool aren't found cool by everyone! That Vikings had turf saddles? That at a monastery in the Swiss alps they had sung one song for 350 years! I think that the VIkings besieged Paris was fairly cool!
MFB: What can we look forward to in the next instalment, and when is it likely to be out?
MDL: The next one is called Lord of Slaughter and it's out in 2012 - around June. It's set in Constantinople and concerns the beginnings of the Byzantine Emperor's Viking guard - the Varangian guard. The repeating myth cycle of the first two books ends here! It also features my first fairly straightforwardly evil character. A sample line from the beginning: 'Under a dead moon, on a field of the dead, a wolf moved unseen beneath the rain's great shadow'. That's pretty much the tone of it!
MFB: I like it! I think we've kept you long enough - back to work!