Usually when writers say they’re writing a satirical fantasy novel, they mean something in the vein of Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, just with elves and magic instead of robots and aliens. But in the following email interview about his new novel, Wyntertide (hardcover, Kindle), the second book in his Rotherweird trilogy, writer Andrew Caldecott says that while his book is a satire, it’s more Swift-like than silly.
Let’s start with some background. What is the Rotherweird trilogy about and in what kind of world is it set?
Rotherweird, with its surrounding valley, is a secretive self-governing English market town granted independence by Elizabeth I in the sixteenth century on the sole condition that nobody can study her history and no local can study any history before 1800. The reason for this uncharacteristic act of political charity is lost to time when the trilogy starts.
All three volumes have brief flashbacks to the Elizabethan era and to the Roman invasion of Britain and — in [the third book] Lost Acre — to the Roman abandonment of their most remote province.
The trilogy broadly concerns a conspiracy which is centuries in the making and has at its core the ultimate ambition: resurrection.
And then, aside from being the second book of three, what is Wyntertide about, and how does it connect, both narratively and chronologically, to the first book, Rotherweird?
Wyntertide concerns the weakness of decency (and democracy) when set against those who are ruthless in the pursuit of power; the dangers in that context of ignoring the lessons of the past and the related importance of history; the perils of scientific experiment without thought to where it might lead; and the complexity of causation and character. It is also about self-sacrifice — both by the good and the wicked.
As a matter of narrative, it is about how an Elizabethan mystic, Geryon Wynter, with the aid of his followers achieves resurrection.
Rotherweird is to a degree an introductory volume. It ends with a victory (although even that turns out to be the result of manipulation by Wynter’s acolytes) which leads to complacency.
When in the process of writing Rotherweird did you come up with the idea for Wyntertide, and how did the plot evolve between then and now?
I always envisaged three volumes with a familiar structure: an introductory skirmish won by the forces of good in Rotherweird; followed by defeat and Wynter’s resurrection in Wyntertide; and his consolidation of his power until a final confrontation and resolution in Lost Acre.
I embarked on Wyntertide with its climactic closing scene firmly in mind — and several fragments in between. The writing process joined the dots. Its present-day plot follows the first volume chronologically but with this difference. In Rotherweird, the enemy is a venal outsider and recognizable a such; in Wyntertide he is hidden among the present inhabitants — truly a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Wyntertide sounds like it’s a fantasy story, but is that how you’d describe it, or are there other genres at work in this story as well?
Without wishing to sound grandiose, it is intended to be a satire as well as a story in its own right, as in the tradition of Swift — on politics, small town life, etc.
I had rejections from agents early on because they said Rotherweird did not fit any one genre. I agree with the diagnosis but not the treatment. It aspires to be part history, part mystery, part comedy, part tragedy, and a cautionary tale.
Are there any writers, or specific stories, that had a big influence on Wyntertide but not on Rotherweird?
I wanted variety as between the three volumes. Wyntertide is (I think) overall the darkest of the three books and the most challenging to read. That was intended to reflect a theme behind much speculative fiction and suspense films, where the most unsettling enemy is the one you cannot readily identify. The “it could be anyone” idea.
I don’t consciously set out to incorporate or reference work by others, but no doubt I am influenced by what I’ve read and seen. Gormenghast has understandably been raised, and I read and enjoyed the first two at university.
How about such non-literary influences as movies, TV shows, and video games; did any of those have an influence on either what you wrote in Wyntertide or how you wrote it?
Writing, I believe, whether prose or poetry, is more an individual statement. It’s like the distinction in music between what you play and how you play it.
I did enjoy clue-based video games — but there is a twist: here the puzzles manipulate more than assist those who solve them.
And this is my last question about your influences: You are a barrister who works in media law. How, if at all, do you think your law degree influence Wyntertide?
If I may indulge the lawyer’s affection for lists and start with a some more general observations:
- First rule of world building: coherence. That’s what a lawyer tries to bring to evidence.
- Writing is a form of advocacy. You have to persuade your reader to believe.
- Nothing more satisfying for a lawyer than unravelling a hidden truth, especially when it’s been hidden deliberately for nefarious purposes.
- A lawyer is subservient to other people’s facts, real life facts. What better escape than inventing your own?
- Just a word about wordplay and puzzles: that was a staple in the first Elizabethan age. They used codes, they reveled in double entendre, Shakespeare better than any (hope you make it to Volume 3, and you’ll see).
More particularly, Gorhambury demonstrates the plusses and minuses of strict adherence to rule and regulation. Procedure can be both a protection and a prison.
As I mentioned earlier, Wyntertide is the second book of the Rotherweird trilogy. With the third, Lost Acre, tentatively scheduled to be released in the fall of 2020, there are people who will wait until then before they read any of these books, and some will then read all three back-to-back. Do you think this is the best way to enjoy your books?
The plots are complex. The characters are numerous. The points of view are also multiple. That was true of much nineteenth century literature (Dickens, Wilkie Collins etc), but perhaps less so now. Lost Acre follows straight on from where Wyntertide ends, and Wyntertide is tough reading if you haven’t a fairly good recollection of Rotherweird. They are emphatically not stand-alone and must be read in order. I would advise not too long a gap between them unless you’re happy to recap. For that reason, I hope Lost Acre will be available in the U.S. soon.
Earlier I asked if Wyntertide was influenced by any movies, TV shows, or video games. But has there been any interest in adapting Wyntertide and the rest of the Rotherweird trilogy into a series of movies or a TV series or a video game?
Plenty of interest but nothing solid yet.
Do you have a preference?
Definitely a series and not a single film. Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials is a case in point. The serial approach worked (as currently being shown by the BBC and HBO), and the single film did not.
Finally, if someone enjoys Rotherweird and Wyntertide, what similar kind of fantasy novel by someone else would you suggest they read next?
Philip Pullman’s work for its mix of the familiar and the fantastical.
And, for a truly great work, [Mikhail Bulgakov’s] The Master And Margarita as a political satire / critique which mixes time zones, stars the devil and savages real Stalinist Moscow.