A new Empire has risen in Rome, and the Emperor is determined that Britain shall kneel before him. But when legendary King Arthur hurries his knights to court, the Black Wolf of the North brings more than just his sword…
One of Arthur’s most stalwart supporters, Sir Lucan comes from his cold northern home along with his beautiful wife, Trelawna, for among the delegates from Rome is her lover.
The world stands poised on the brink of a terrible war, in which the fates of lives and hearts will play as great a role as those of nations. This is the theatre in which the Black Wolf of the North must finally come of age as a warrior and a man – because for Lucan there will be a war within this war.
This is Dark North.
Representing stories from the true Dark Ages, Malory’s Knights of Albion brings the dark underbelly of the Arthurian dream to life with tales of blood-thirsty revenge, Godless wastelands and unholy missions.
We talked to author Paul about Dark North, his advice for would-be writers, and which Arthurian knight he'd like to be...
Q: What were the particular challenges you faced in writing for an established universe?
A: There were more challenges than I expected. The Arthurian mythos is colossal. Not only are there numerous written accounts of the adventures of Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, from many different periods of history and many different countries, but quite a few of them contradict each other - with regard to times, places, relationships, and so forth. There are extensive and in-depth scholarly debates about so many of the 'facts', which shows how seriously it is taken. In addition, it exists solidly within the popular imagination and extends far beyond the realms of academe. So, all things considered, it has a very large audience who you know you won't be able to hoodwink easily. There was certainly no room for guessing at stuff. Any time I was dealing with known events, known characters, known locations and so on, I had to take extra large steps to ensure that I wasn't moving out of sync with the established narrative.
Q: Are the Dark Ages a setting you were already familiar with, or did you have to do a lot of research?
A: Thankfully I'm very familiar with the Dark Ages. My history degree focused on the Medieval Age, the Dark Ages and the Ancient World. I took those exams a long time ago, admittedly, but I've maintained my interest ever since. Many of my previous written works have been set in various periods of that violent, mist-shrouded era we loosely term the 'Dark Ages'. Of course, in a Dark Age setting, Albion, Arthur's realm, is very anachronistic. It is always presented in the established Arthurian canon as a kind of High-Medieval society. Fortunately for me, I'm pretty well-read on that period too. (We had a bit of fun with that latter detail actually - in Dark North, when the Romans return to Britain, they expect to find everyone living in mud-huts and hill-forts, and instead encounter a world of medieval splendour).
Q: Tell us a bit about Dark North and why people should buy it.
A: Well ... at the risk of blowing my own horn, if you want epic battle scenes, terrifying monsters, bitter rivalries and heartbreaking romance, this could be one for you. Though I like to think it goes a bit further than that.
Dark North concerns an attempt to reconquer Britain by the reinvigorated Roman Empire, and the resistance to this, which is inevitably led by Arthur and his knights. This would be a massive tale in itself, but I always think that the best stories are those that work on the human scale. As such, the war between Arthur and New Rome - and it's a whopper, as ancient wars go - only really serves as the backcloth to the more emotional drama of Lucan and Trelawna. Sir Lucan, the Black Wolf of the North, is the fierce warrior who guards Arthur's northern marches. He has mellowed over the years since his marriage to the lovely and charming Trelawna, but when she absconds with her lover - a Roman officer - on the eve of war, a much darker pesonality reasserts itself - to the dismay of his squire, Alaric, who soon fears for his master's soul.
When the war actually starts, it quickly becomes a personal vendetta for Lucan. However, while Dark North is not just a war story, it's not just a revenge story either. I've gone out of my way to make the human emotions as realistic and as complex as possible - it isn't simply about heroes and villains, this book. I also make a big effort display the hardship in general of life in the Middle Ages, especially within a martial society, the main emphasis of which is on winning honour and renown. We touch on other issues too - religion, politics, chivalry, loyaty, etc - in an effort to create a living, breathing world. I suppose what I'm trying to say that, while Dark North is a big action-adventure, I also hope it's quite a grown-up one.
Q: Tell us a bit about your writing routine.
A: I don't like sitting at the computer all day, so I often dictate into a Dictaphone while walking the dog or kicking a football around the garden. I then type the notes up later. Of course, that's rarely the final draft, but it helps get the story down on paper, which I always think of as the toughest part of the job. I also use the Dictaphone when I've got a piece that I feel may be ready to go. I read this 'finished version' onto tape, and then play it back through earphones. This tactic always helps me - not just in noting and correcting literals - but in ironing out bits of clunky text, repetition, cliche, and so forth. It's a simple strategy, which I'd recommend to anyone. If any part of what youv'e just written sounds crap, that's because it probably is - the good news is you found it before anyone else did. In terms of hours, I try to stick closely to the 9-til-5 rule and keep weekends free if I can, but neither of those are always possible. At least, as a self-employed writer, it doesn't matter too much if you start late or finish early.
Q: What are your five favourite novels?
A: To date they are: The Wolfen by Whitley Strieber, Grendel by John Gardner, The Saxon Tapestry by Sile Rice, Legion by William Peter Blatty and A Kestrel For A Knave by Barry Hines.
Q: What advice would you give to new writers hoping to break into the field?
A: Learn from your mistakes. It amazes me how many newcomers to the writing game fall at this first hurdle, thereby condemning themselves to a career-long lack of success. You simply can't afford to assume that you are always so right and your work so good that no-one else must have a negative opoinion on it. None of us likes harsh crticism, but it serves a purpose if it alerts us to something we are doing wrong. You may not necessarily agree with what the critics are saying, but at least consider it - anyone who feels that their work is already perfect, has the wrong temperament for what can be an emotionally bruising game. LIkewise, if one editor after another rejects your work, - and trust me, we've all got enough rejection slips to wallpaper our bedrooms with - look carefully at what they are saying. Again, you may not like it, but it could be the difference between you getting it right the next time or failing again.
Q: If you were a Kight of Camelot, which knight would you be?
A: Well ... in Dark North, Sir Gawaine is a larger-than-life character, very popular socially, but also a prolific drinker and party animal, and a wild and successful womaniser. We're only dreaming here, right? Okay ... I'd be Gawaine.