With The Cloven (paperback, Kindle), writer B. Catling is concluding the trilogy he began with 2015’s The Vorrh and continued with last year’s The Erstwhile. Though in conducting the following email interview with him, he notes that while Alan Moore [Watchman, Jerusalem] declared the first book to be “Easily the current century’s first landmark work of fantasy,” that’s not the genre Catling would use to describe this saga.
Photo Credit: © Gautier Deblonde
For those unfamiliar with this series, what is this trilogy about, what is The Cloven about, and aside from being the third and final book of the trilogy, how does The Cloven connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the previous book, The Erstwhile?
Yes, the timing is chronological, most of the previous cast continue their journey with or against their will. New characters join them or declare that they were always there. There is sense of the inevitable in The Vorrh. The powers of the forest are connected to the original powers and purpose of the Earth. All of humanity are referred to as the “rumor”by the angels that are lost within the trees. Those that have escaped live a parallel narrative in the world outside.
The Cloven and the other books have been described as fantasy novels. Do you agree, or do you think there’s another genre, or a combination of them, that describes them better?
It’s not what I first considered it to be. I thought it was an epic surrealistic novel — a contradiction in terms — and imagined its existence and purpose to be obscure. My readers and critics seem certain that I am in a dignified stream called “imaginative fiction,” so that’s fine by me.
The trilogy has its own life and to some extend I am another character in it. A kind of operator whose payment is the gift of more than one life. This means that the trilogy was never designed or plotted or aware of itself as a book.
Are there any authors, or specific stories, that were a big influence on The Cloven but not on The Vorrh or The Erstwhile?
Some of the character were real people. They had a life in this world which is said to be real and known. So their achievement, crimes, and abnormalities influence the directions and the color of the work. Eugene Marais is a perfect example. South African Poet, lawyer, natural scientist, drug addict, and suicide. His magnificent book The Soul Of The White Ant influenced images and attitude long before he demanded to be a player in it.
How about non-literary influences; are there any movies, TV shows, or video games that had a big impact on The Cloven?
I was and am a visual artist long before I wrote this trilogy. Or it dictated. Films have always been a huge part of my life. TV and radio, also are knotted in my memory, and far too many to name.
The character Nicholas; an escaped angel hundreds of year old claims that he was the companion of the great artist and poet William Blake. But his recent understanding and language skills come from listening to a primitive radio and hearing a BBC comic game show that has escaped its own time to wallowed out into an ether that ignores linear time and come backwards to find his lone ears.
The Cloven is the third and final book of this trilogy. But some writers who’ve penned trilogies have then expanded their stories with side tales in the form of novellas and short stories. Still others will then write other stories in the same universe, like how K.B. Wagers is doing a sequel trilogy to her Indranan War series. Are you planning to do the same?
There was a character scratching around in my head for a while after The Cloven was written. But she didn’t really have a way of getting in or gestating a fourth book. I don’t know if any of the character will escape. It’s impossible to tell. Maybe that will be somebody else’s job?
So what are you thinking of doing next?
I am not thinking of doing it, it is done. I have a written Wild West Gospels, a quartet of stories centered on Doc Holiday that is trying to transform itself into a novel. The odd truth is that these tales could be more “fantasy” than The Vorrh.
Now, as you may know, a lot of readers like to wait until every book in a series is available, and then they read them all in a row. Do you think people should do this with The Vorrh, The Erstwhile, and The Cloven, or is there some reason they should take a break and read something else in between?
I have no feelings about how others read or plan their reading. Some part of me is still in shock that the books exist and have my name on them.
When we last spoke about The Erstwhile [which you can read here], you said that you, director Terry Gilliam, and Ray Cooper — who I really hope is the British percussion who’s played with Eric Clapton and Elton John — were planning to turn this series into a TV show. Is that still happening?
Yes, that is Ray. He also created Handmade Films with George Harrison. Ray is determined to get The Vorrh onto the screen, becoming a weird fusion of midwife and mafia boss in the process.
Terry is a dynamo who would be shooting it now if he could. But I have learnt that these things take time, caution, and care. So to answer your question: yes, the trilogy is inching toward the reality of the lens.
Nice. Along similar lines, these books have also been favorites of comic book writer Alan Moore. Have you talked to him about doing a graphic novel version of this story?
Alan has been brilliant about the books: passionate, wise, and constant. And of course it takes a magician to conjure dreams and nightmares into books and understand that all stories are waiting for their writers. But my visual world is separate from the pacing and distinction of graphic novels. I just don’t see or think that way. Again, it might be a job for somebody else.
Finally, if someone enjoys The Vorrh, The Erstwhile, and The Cloven, what would you suggest they read next and why?
Confession time: I haven’t read any new fiction for some time. I can’t read and write at the same time. And I am working on many new books; my time is running out and there is so much to do. Soon I will stop and read again.
But your Q was not about me. So, looking back: Flying To Nowhere by John Fuller, a tiny novel that swells in the mind; and The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien, [which is] fantastic, poetic, comic, totally original, and encourages readers to write.