My guest this week has her latest book being released later this month, the concluding installment of her trilogy Tears of Artamon, titled Children of the Serpent Gate. She is a member of a group called the Write Fantastic that wishes and strives to discuss and offer new perspectives of fantasy to its fans.
She was kind enough to participate even with a WorldCon schedule and in the midst of sending her proofs as we discuss her forthcoming book, music, and manga.
Jay Tomio — Currently there are two novels out in your Tears of Artamon series. Can you tell fans who as yet may not have read the series, what the basis of the series is? Not exactly what many would consider traditional fantasy I take it?
Sarah Ash — The Tears of Artamon (which was inspired by the legends of Eastern Europe) tells of a young painter, Gavril, who discovers that he has inherited the rule of a remote and snow-bound country from a father he never knew. So far, so traditional fantasy! But what he has also inherited is the Drakhaoul, an ancient dragon-daemon spirit that possesses him and gives him terrifying powers — and these powers come, as Gavril soon discovers, at a terrible cost. At the same time, a neighboring ruler, Prince Eugene sets in motion his plan to make himself emperor, and Gavril finds himself caught up in intrigue and counter-intrigue in a bitter struggle for supremacy. Eugene sees himself as an enlightened man and has equipped his armies with the most up-to-date military technology. He is convinced that the tales of dragons and daemons issuing from Azhkendir are nothing but superstition and that Gavril will soon capitulate when his own highly disciplined armies invade.
So one of the underlying themes of the series is a conflict between the ways of ‘modern’ science (I see Eugene as a product of an enlightenment, very similar to that of Europe’s eighteenth century) and the darker, wilder, unpredictable forces still at large on the far borders of his country: reason versus intuition.
Another theme is Gavril’s conflict of conscience as he is driven — against his will — to use his Drakhaoul powers to defend his people, knowing full well he must face the consequences of his actions. He is desperate to exorcise the daemon — but he also needs it to protect those he loves.
And then there is the whole question of the Drakhaoul’s true identity and origins. This takes the story into another territory altogether: the aftermath of an ancient war in heaven, the afterlife, and the Ways Beyond
Jay Tomio — In September, Book 3 of the Tears of Artamon, Children of the Serpent Gate is scheduled to be out later this year, concluding a planned trilogy — is this the last novel planned in the setting?
Sarah Ash — Aha! No. Children of the Serpent Gate is the final novel in this trilogy and it ties up the major storylines. But I have more planned in the same world and I dearly hope that I’ll be asked to write them. Even though several vital issues are resolved at the Serpent Gate, other mysteries are still left unsolved.
Jay Tomio — You are working with other authors that include Chaz Brenchley, Mark Chadbourn, Juliet E McKenna, Stan Nicholls and Jessica Rydill in a program to to promote the genre to those who have not been exposed to, or chosen not to include genre work in their reading habits. Can you tell us more about this program/union, the Write Fantastic, and what do you and the members have planned, how it came about, and how, if applicable, has it been thus far?
Sarah Ash — ‘So you’re a writer! What do you write?’ When I declare myself to be a writer of fantasy, I tend to encounter more blank, wary or frowning looks than nods of understanding — or even appreciation. In spite of Harry Potter and the LOTR films, there is still much misunderstanding of the genre and ignorance of the extraordinary richness and variety of fantasy writing available today. All these wary readers are missing out on so much good stuff! So Juliet E. McKenna has gathered together a group of authors who are interested in introducing new readers to the genre and sharing their own enthusiasms as readers. Each author in Write Fantastic represents a different aspect of contemporary fantasy writing. Our next appearances will be at the BFS Fantasycon (30.09–02.10.) in Walsall where Mark Chadbourn is one of the GOHs. After that, several of us will be in Bromley Library, Kent on 20.10.05, thanks to Ottakar’s. Sometimes all six will appear, sometimes less, and other fantasy authors will join us to talk about the genre, the writing life, our own work, and to give readings. Do visit our website at www.thewritefantastic.com to check out our schedule.
Jay Tomio — As a part of Write Fantastic, and I’m sure before, when talking to the fans what did you find as the primary causes for these misunderstandings?
Sarah Ash — Unfamiliarity with the genre is probably the most frequently encountered cause, I think. And the media’s tendency to equate fantastic fiction with escapism. Escapism is rather a dirty word in literary circles, isn’t it? Of all the genres in fiction, fantasy does tend to be tarred most often with the ‘escapist’ label — or ‘shlock’ (a term employed by a review in the Guardian recently (although I must be grateful to the Guardian for reviewing fantasy and science fiction at all!) There still seems to be this suspicion that fantasy is not ‘proper’ fiction (apart from magic realism, that is) and is therefore only appropriate for children. To be caught reading it beyond the teenage years must, therefore, indicate an immature personality and/or a weak intellect. Why else the ‘adult’ editions (with suitably ‘straight’ covers) of Pullman and Rowling? No wonder that potential readers are put off?
Jay Tomio — What work can we expect from you in the future? Anything already making the publishing rounds, or have something in mind?
Sarah Ash — I’m really hoping that my proposals for more tales set in the world of Artamon will be given the green light. One — a standalone — is about the singer/Guerrier Celestine de Maunoir, whose life has intrigued me from the moment she appeared to give a recital at the imperial court. Celestine has schooled herself well to hide the scars of a complicated — and tragic — past, and I’m looking forward to exploring her story in greater depth. Oh — and revealing one or two of the as yet unresolved mysteries about some of the other characters, especially the enigmatic Magus, Kaspar Linnaius.
Jay Tomio — You told me you just got back from Glasgow and Interaction and if I’m not mistaken you were scheduled to talk about the “British Landscape and the Fantastic”, can you tell us how that discussion went, in summary?
Sarah Ash — This was rather a sad story (from my point of view, anyway, as it was a really interesting topic with an excellent group of speakers) in that I woke up that morning with a terrible migraine. My sister, the writer Jessica Rydill, nobly took my place and I heard that it was a very interesting and stimulating discussion!
Jay Tomio — I read some interesting comments by you at your site regarding how you recognize the close relationship between your writing and music you listen to, and vice-versa, and you often listen to music while you are involved in the writing process. Is this something you employed before you were published or something you picked up afterwards, and is this something you practice exclusively when writing?
Sarah Ash — My first writing attempts coincided with my being given my first record player and LPs (vinyl! yes, I’m that old!). I found that certain pieces of music evoked certain images, moods and scenes that went straight into my stories. Now I use certain pieces of music to help me return to the mood of the story I’m writing — and to blot out the noises around me (a building site beyond our garden is particularly irksome at present). Music teachers would tut disapprovingly, I’m sure, at my ‘using’ music in this way instead of listening to it with my full concentration — but I know that many other authors work in this way too.
Jay Tomio — Who has influenced your work; whether other authors, musicians etc?
Sarah Ash — I’ve been much influenced, inevitably, by the books of myths and legends that I’ve loved since childhood. I’m still fascinated by the links that exist between place, event and legend and whenever we go somewhere new, I’m usually to be found looking for books on local folklore.
The composer I listened to the most whilst writing Children of the Serpent Gate was Sibelius (whom I used not to like at all!). ‘Kullervo’ (which is based on Finnish legends) evokes for me the clear air and the bleak wastes of the far north. And also ‘The Wood Nymph’, which, far from being a pretty, simpering piece as the title might suggest, has one of the most chilling and foreboding endings I’ve ever encountered. Wonderfully moody stuff!
As for writers, well, I recently returned to the Arthurian novel Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff (when researching writers on the Matter of Britain for Worldcon) and I was reminded what a strong influence she had over my early writing. Alan Garner and Tolkien were also big influences! But then there followed so many others, from Dumas to Austen, Gene Wolfe to Ursula Le Guin, Shakespeare to M.R. James…
Jay Tomio — Ms. Ash can you please offer our readers some reading recommendations, genre, or non-genre, and what you enjoyed about them?
Sarah Ash — My first recommendation is a manga series (I’m a bit of a manga-head right now): xxxHolic by the wonderful quartet CLAMP. These exquisitely drawn tales are by turns poignant, funny, macabre and charming. Then there’s Mary Gentle’s swashbuckling 1610; A Sundial in a Grave which, in its wry take on the Comte de Rochefort (the scarred man who is later to become the young d’Artagnan’s nemesis in Dumas’s The Three Musketeers) is infuriatingly brilliant as a portrayal of early seventeenth century France. Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes is a fascinating cultural study of Russia that can be savoured a little at a time (I particularly enjoyed the chapter called ‘Descendants of Genghis Khan’)
Oh — and of course, all the novels by the other authors in The Write Fantastic!
Jay Tomio — Speaking of manga, I found this quote at your site, “I admit to a passion for anime and manga — my latest ambition would be to see my stories re-worked as anime (I’ve never really grown out of my early love for comics)”. What comics did you enjoy in the past, and what anime and Manga catch your attention now?
Sarah Ash- Ooh, where to start? I read all the comics I could get my hands on when I was a child, including ‘Eagle’, ‘Girl’, ‘Bunty’ and ‘Look and Learn’ (that gives away how old I am!) Then I discovered Tintin and Asterix and was inspired to learn to read French so that I could access some of the wealth of great bandes dessinÅes titles.Then I encountered the brilliance of Neil Gaiman (Sandman and 1602) and Alan Moore
My eldest son Tom introduced me to anime and shonen manga, especially the work of Akira Toriyama, and I felt an instant connection with the stories, themes and characters, especially the mingling of everyday life with extraordinary happenings, often rooted in Japanese mythology. In anime, my current favourite is Gonzo’s Last Exile, an amazing steampunk adventure with a Byzantine plot and battles fought by warships of the air. And then there’s Get Backers, Fruits Basket, Full Battle Alchemist… I am a huge CLAMP fan and in manga, I particularly like the mingling of the supernatural, dark humour and gorgeous artwork found in their current series: Legal Drug, Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and ): xxxHolic. I love the way that the four talented ladies who make up CLAMP slyly introduce characters from their other series and hint at little hints of parallels and crossovers that may be to come. At last, after many years, manga and anime are becoming easier to access in the UK, although we still lag far behind the US and Europe, and can only look longingly at the many excellent titles available across the water.