Interview with Anne Lyle
Today’s interview features Anne Lyle, author of the Night’s Masque series. We talked about her upcoming book, The Merchant Of Dreams, and a lot of other very interesting stuff.
F.I.: Let’s start with the obvious question. How did you discover fantasy?
I think it was probably when our teacher read us “The Magician’s Nephew” by C S Lewis, when I was about eight or so. I was entranced by the magic rings that could carry you between worlds, and soon began to scour the local library’s bookshelves for similar stories!
F.I.: Now let us imagine that you find one of those magic rings, to which world would you like to be transported?
Obviously I’d love to travel back to Elizabethan times, to see Shakespeare’s plays being acted for the first time, but I’m not sure I could deal with the stench of 16th-century London! The Discworld would be much nicer, I reckon – who wouldn’t want to see the Rimbow, or watch the sun rise over the green ice peaks of the gods’ mountain, Cori Celesti?
F.I.: That answer takes us seamlessly to my next question. Which are your favorite writers and books?
I would have to say Jane Austen and Terry Pratchett are my long-term favourites – they’re my comfort reading that I go back to again and again. I also love Tim Powers’ excellent historical fantasies, Dorothy L Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries, and I’ve just discovered K J Parker. Anything with an intelligent hero who is either dashing or snarky or a bit of both!
F.I.: Of which book that you’ve read do you think “Man, I wish I was the author of this book”?
I always find that a difficult question to answer. I might sometimes be envious of others’ talent or success, but wishing to have written someone else’s book is rather like wishing to have lived someone else’s life – pointless and illogical. I’d rather aspire to write my own stories better.
F.I.: Which book of 2012 would you recommend to your readers?
“Sharps”, by K J Parker. Absolutely loved it, though it’s not to everyone’s tastes. It’s quite slow-moving in places, and there’s no magic (in fact little overt fantasy apart from the invented setting), but the writing is excellent and I love Parker’s barbed sense of humour.
F.I.: How do you feel about modern day fantasy, how it’s become so gritty and dark?
I like the fact that one can get away with including sex and swearing and other “adult” content these days, but I’m not so keen on the nihilism and ultra-violence that you find in “grimdark”, particularly when combined with misogyny. It bothers me that our culture glorifies violence whilst being awfully prudish about subjects that are frankly much more natural and wholesome.
Which is not to say that my own work is all sunshine and roses – I put my characters through the wringer from time to time – but the overall tone is upbeat.
F.I.: An interesting answer. Let us talk about you writings now. Where did you get the idea for Night’s Masque?
It’s a combination of different influences. One of the main ones was “The Reckoning” by Charles Nicholl, a non-fiction account of the murder of Christopher Marlowe that was the beginning of my fascination with the Elizabethan secret service; the other was “Guns, Germs and Steel” by Jared Diamond, which made me wonder how I could change history to make it harder for Europeans to conquer the Americas.
The former was the inspiration for my hero, Elizabethan spy Mal Catlyn, and the latter led to the creation of the skraylings, a non-human species who live along the east coast of the Americas and form a kind of buffer zone between the Native Americans and the Europeans.
F.I.: How would you compare ‘Merchant of Dreams’ to ‘Alchemist of Souls’ in terms of scope and writing style? I presume that you have evolved as a writer in between those two books?
Structurally it’s quite similar, in that Mal and Coby have their own storylines that come together towards the end, but this time the story plays out on a much bigger stage, moving from France to England and thence to Venice, via several of the Mediterranean islands. As for how I’ve evolved as a writer, I think I’m bolder and better at controlling pace, but the style is essentially the same.
F.I.: What can we expect of ‘Merchant of Dreams’ in terms of story and character development? How would Mal Catlyn himself describe his adventures in your new book?
Ooh, that would be telling! But I can promise you that Mal and Coby’s relationship moves forward, and we get to see a lot more of both Sandy and Gabriel (as well as Ned, of course – there’s no getting rid of him!). We also learn more about the skraylings and their history of contact with Europe, and meet some new characters who will reappear in the next book. Not saying which ones ;)
I’m not sure we should ask Mal his opinion of his adventures. He’s too much of a gentleman to talk about his sexual conquests, and of course he’s not allowed to discuss his *ahem* diplomatic activities, so it would be all seasickness, sightseeing and swordfights.
F.I.: Night’s Masque is going to be three books, if I’m correct. What will you write after you’ve finished the series? Will it also be historical fantasy or something completely else?
That’s right – three books only, at least for now. As for what I’ll write next, definitely fantasy, but probably set in an invented world rather than the past. I enjoy creating interesting cultures, and sticking to history does limit one’s options in that regard! I have a few ideas, but I’m letting them percolate on the backburner whilst I finish off my current manuscript.
F.I.: A question about the genre you write in. How accurate, in your opinion, does historical fantasy have to be?
If we’re talking about fantasy set in the “real” past of our planet, then I like it to be as accurate as the author can make it. One careless mistake (e.g. tulips in a medieval garden) can really throw me out of a story! Also, if you’re writing alternate history, as I do, the changes you make to the history will only stand out if the rest is accurate – otherwise it just looks like you’re making everything up.
My attitude is, if I can easily find something out by looking it up online, then so can a reader – so I need to hit that level of accuracy plus a bit better. But I’m sure a historian specializing in the era will still be able to catch me out on a few details!
F.I.: Good answer. For my last question I want to ask you something completely different. I saw on Twitter that you have a huge interest in Playmobil. Where did you get your passion for that?
As mentioned in my bio below, I played tabletop RPGs for many years. Not so much D&D, but other medieval games and also SF and horror, such as Call of Cthulhu. We often played with miniatures (I enjoyed painting them), but multiple house moves and relationship changes means that I don’t have many of mine left, and painting new ones requires time I don’t have. So, I’ve taken to buying Playmobil, as they have lots of historical figures – especially if you hunt down the more obscure ones on eBay! I find them very useful for planning the logistics of combat scenes, just as I used to do for RPGs.
F.I.: Thank you for the lovely interview, Anne. I enjoyed it very much.
Anne Lyle was born in Nottinghamshire in a town that used to be in the middle of Sherwood Forest (before the woodlands shrank) and grew up obsessed with Robin Hood and other swashbuckling heroes. Anne always loved writing, but when she was younger she was more easily distracted by other activities (boyfriends and tabletop RPGs, for the most part!), so it’s only in the past ten years that she’s really applied herself to finishing novels and getting them published. She has currently one published novel: The Alchemist Of Souls, being the first part of the Night’s Masque series. The second book in that series, The Merchant Of Dreams, will hit bookshelves on December the 18th.