James Fahy grew up on a steady diet of Tolkien and CS Lewis and this is very evident in his Changeling Series. According to a reader, the series "took everything I loved about my childhood, shook it up and thrust it back at me in unexpected ways." As our Author of the Day, Fahy talks about the second book in the series, The Drowned Tomb, reveals his vision for the series and chats about the source of his inspiration.
Please give us a short introduction to what The Drowned Tomb is about.
The Drowned Tomb is the second book in my Seven Book fantasy ‘Changeling’ series, and a direct sequel to ‘Isle of Winds’. It furthers the story of Robin, who in book one was plucked from his everyday life following the death of his grandmother and whisked away to a remote country house where he discovered two important things. Firstly, that the mortal world has a flip, alternate mirror image known as the Netherworlde, a place with its own races, creatures and troubles, and secondly, that he himself is not human, but a Fae, a direct descendant of a persecuted and hunted race who recently lost a very bitter civil war. He is brought to Erlking Hall to master his innate Fae skills, and to ultimately be trained to fulfil his purpose, which is to reunite the shattered source of all magic in the Netherworlde, known as the Arcania, and restore his people to power.
‘The Drowned Tomb’ follows Robin as he seeks out the second shattered piece of the Arcania, the Water Shard (having already obtained the Air Shard in book one) and as he solves clues and riddles racing to find the location of this hidden sanctuary before his enemies, the book also delves deeper into his family’s increasingly murky past and further into the history of the war in the Netherworlde.
Why High Fantasy? What is it about the genre that draws you?
It’s the bread and butter I grew up with. I had a steady diet of Tolkien and CS Lewis, Terry Brooks and Raymond E Feist. I spent my childhood daydreaming my way through Middle Earth or exploring Narnia, and I think these kind of stories, when told well, are absolutely timeless. There’s something both epic in scope but also incredibly human about them. I always think as a writer, you should write the book you want to read which doesn’t exist yet, and the Changeling Series is my version of this. We all need a little magic in our lives. One of the most pleasing review comments I’ve seen about the series reflected what I aimed to do with this series, when a reviewer said, paraphrasing, that the books ‘…take everything I loved about my childhood, shook it up and thrust it back at me in unexpected ways.’
What inspired you to write The Drowned Tomb?
I’ve always envisioned the Changeling Series as a whole. It’s all one big story, split into seven separate books, so Drowned Tomb is in a way the second chapter of the larger story in total. It was an interesting exercise for me, as what I’ve deliberately planned from the start of the series was to set up certain expectations for the story in book one, and then to maybe take things in directions that are not obvious as the books then progress. In book one for instance, it seems fairly clear who the good guys are and who the bad guys are. By book two, I was able to start muddying the waters a little. Robin’s allies are not always without their own agendas and motives, and his adversaries are not so clearly wicked. It’s a theme I plan to deepen as the series progresses, as I think this is something that naturally happens to our perceptions as we ourselves grow from children into adults. Things become less black and white, the world is not a simple place and it’s not always clear who to trust, or what the right thing to do is. It’s important to me to reflect that complication as Robin ‘grows up’ through the series. Drowned Tomb allowed me to begin toying with this idea through the introduction of several new characters. ‘friends’ who may have dark pasts, and ‘enemies’ who may have more complicated backstory than our heroes realise. It’s something which is deepened in book three, Chains of Gaia, and which comes to a head of sorts in the upcoming book four.
Did you know from the start that this was going to be a series?
Yes. It was always going to be a large story in total, so the division of the books had to have some structure for me to make sense of them. The natural choice was to base them on the Arcania themselves (an object of pure magic in the Netherworlde which was shattered into fragments during the war and its shards scattered and hidden throughout the Netherworlde) Each of these seven lost shards relates in some way to what is known in the books universe as a ‘tower of magic’ (basically tied to one of seven elements): Earth, water, air, fire, shadow, light and spirit. So each of the book instalments of the series is in some way themed to one of these towers. The individual books centre around one of the shards each, and when the series is complete, the Arcania will, technically, be whole again.
Where do you get your best ideas?
I don’t really think any writer knows this. If you’re a writer, everything is fair game. Snippets of overheard conversation on the bus or train, a passing thought while you’re out walking the dog, or just toying around with odd story scenarios in the middle of the night staring sleeplessly at the bedroom ceiling. It’s always actually difficult to trace back and pinpoint a specific moment when the idea for a given story popped into your head. For the Changeling series, it’s been rattling around a long time in my subconscious. I do recall it starting off with a single unbidden image, which was a boy standing in a broken doorway of an old dark house, snow blowing in on the flagstones, playing a flute in the night. I have no idea where the image came from, but it was persistent enough that I found myself wanting to know who this boy was, why he was alone in this grand, spooky old house in the middle of the night, why the doors were broken down, and what on earth he was playing a flute for. Answering these questions to myself and filling in the blanks became the seed around which the story grew, and this scene is actually now a pivotal part in book one, where Robin summons a friend to assist at Erlking Hall following the kidnapping of a member of the household.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
That’s a very difficult question to answer! There are lots of books that I like, some that I absolutely love, but does that mean I wish I’d written them myself? I don’t think so. If I had, they wouldn’t be the same, so choosing any of my favourites would mean altering them. I’d rather be known for my own work than anyone else’s. There are books that have had a deep impact on both myself and my writing, and a few which certainly inspired me to start writing the genre myself. One of the main elements of the Changeling Series is the juxtaposition of two alternate worlds, the human world and the Netherworlde, and the wild moorland setting I gave to Erlking. Both elements I can probably trace back to my Childhood love for Alan Garner’s fantasy books. I still wouldn’t want to have written those myself though. But I would like to meet Garner and give him a big hug for being so influential in my childhood.
If you could choose one character from your book to spend a day with, who would it be? And where would you take them?
From Drowned Tomb specifically, I’d probably choose Jackalope, who is a character only introduced in this book, and who has been living alone and in hiding for several years. He’s incredibly grumpy, mistrusting and serious. I’d like to take him to a funfair and force him to have a good time. (maybe that’s just my author-guilt as I always feel a little bad when I make my characters have a hard time)
How do you go about choosing your characters' names?
Very carefully. Every name in the Changeling series is chosen deliberately. The Netherworlde is (for reasons which will become apparent as the series progresses) a mixture of traditional ‘Celtic’ mythology, and some of the more obscure Greek myths and monsters. So the naming of almost all of the main characters, friend or foe, will relate in some way to a myth or a character from that tradition. Some of the character names contain hints as to their true nature, or their real agendas or allegiances, others (like Woad) refer to their physical appearance or personality. I put a lot of store in names, and as a writer, one of my favourite things is when a reader emails or messages me having cracked one of the easter-eggs I’ve hidden in the book.
When working on a new book, what’s the first thing you do?
I don’t put pen to paper for quite a while to be honest, not until I’ve rolled the story around my head over and over a few times, making sure I know the shape of it, the main things I envision happening, and where I want it to start and end. Once I have the bare bones, I’ll usually work out the main scenes that the book hangs on, and then work forwards and backwards between them for a few weeks until it all links up. Only then will I actually open a notebook or laptop and start writing. And the story inevitably wanders around in ways I hadn’t anticipated. That’s part of the joy of the process though.
Do you have a set of rules for your world? Is there a process you go through that helps define these?
There are lots of rules to my fantasy writing. I think if you're going to have a book with magic in it, that’s so incredibly important. Magic should be difficult, painful and always come with some kind of tremendous cost, toil or effort. Otherwise, you have a world with no rules or boundaries, and it would be impossible to maintain any tension. Wouldn’t matter if someone gets mortally wounded, who cares if you can fix it with a magic wink? I structured the magic in the Netherworlde to be almost like disciplines, like a martial art which must be worked at and perfected over time. Dividing them into different elements helps me structure the world, and it was important for me that Robin, discovering in book one that he is essentially a magical creature, does not take naturally to mastering his innate abilities. He has to earn them, sometimes at great cost, and always losing his humanity little by little in the process.
Where can our readers discover more of your work or interact with you?
All books in both the Changeling Series and in my other, Urban Gothic Series, the Phoebe Harkness series are currently available on Amazon. You can find me online all over the place. My blog is https://jamesfahyauthor.wordpress.com/ and I’m active on social media too: Facebook/ jamesfahyauthor , Instagram: @jamesfahyauthor and Twitter: @j_r_fahy_writes . you can also seek me out on both Goodreads and Litsy.