An interview with Greg Hamerton
Greg Hamerton is convinced that writers have the best chance of learning magic, because they know how to spell. He lives near London, close to Gatwick airport so he can escape should the island go under due to global climate change. He is an outdoors enthusiast and enjoys soaring over clouds and getting lost on his paraglider and then trying to find his way back.
In 2008 The Riddler's Gift, the first tale within his Lifesong cycle, was published. 2010 will see the publication of the Lifesong's next tale, Second Sight and Greg kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review shortly before its UK release.
What's your writing method?
I write by discovery rather than by design: I write the brightest scenes first, and then look deeper into the shade beneath to find the twisted vines that link them all together. At times this can cause days of grief, because I'll sit with this vivid scene I've witnessed and wonder to myself "Why did this happen?" The writing seems utterly disjointed, unrelated, until I discover the plot stem, and see how it links to everything, and suddenly, it is an obvious part of the whole. Once the scene fits, I can ask "What happened next?" which is a faster method to develop the plot. However, I like an organic story, with twists and turns and discoveries ... because the writing is my journey. I'm not in any great hurry to get to the end. I write to be in the altered state of writing, not to finish the book.
You have an alter-ego as a paragliding instructor. Do the extreme sports influence your fantasy writing?
Well of course! Paragliding is full of maps and quests. We fly off to strange lands (sometimes that's Essex). The perspective I get from flying helps me to view the world with some detachment, which leads to ideas of the rise and fall of civilisations, and the passage of great spans of time. The air is a beautiful realm and that stimulates a lot of creativity. There are also more obvious influences: in the Lifesong you'll find descriptions of the wind whistling under the wings of the dragon, of riding a gryphon, of being snatched up by a winged demon, and a wizard who likes base-jumping. I also studied martial arts for many years - I use that knowledge to understand how my characters survive in a fight. An appreciation of risk and how one can feel alive in the face of fear drive my action scenes. Years of surfing taught me to find the calm place at the centre of power; the balance point. All this goes into my writing ... or at least, I understand these things and so they shape the story as it emerges.
You designed your own book covers. That's quite unusual.
The cover is often the first thing I design, before even writing. I love good designs, and the cover image helps to define the theme and mood of what I want to create. It gives me a mental container to hold the story ideas I develop. I like to involve myself in every part of the creation, and the cover is a vital part of the character of a book. The cover for The Riddler's Gift was designed to express a touch of magic, the small but poised figure in a slightly strange world, and the threat of approaching danger she seems unaware of. The colour is limited to white and black on a blue background, which is the Light and Dark in the realm of Eyri. The cover for Second Sight is more developed. On closer inspection you'll find layers of prophecy and spellscript or orderlore below which Tabitha has become submerged. The golden 8 of the Gyre wizards is placed in the centre, but there's a hint of a swan in the figure. The smaller swan mirrors the greater one, which is an echo from the story, where Tabitha mirrors the Goddess Ethea. The darker surround reflects the tone of the story, but the darkness only serves to highlight the gold more. Tabitha is hidden, to only be noticed by those who take a second sight. The rough earth represents the parched and damaged Oldenworld, but it suggests a fertile soil that only needs rain to come to life.
What is the hardest part of writing?
Life. I want to live it, you know? Writing takes a lot of time, and I need isolation to achieve the deep levels of concentration to hold the whole fantasy world in my mind. I find it very difficult to write in brief moments, wedged in between daily life. It's especially difficult to achieve in the periods when I've been working at a full-time job in publishing ... but this is nothing exceptional for authors. I believe most authors go through this baptism of fire while establishing their writing career.
What is writing like as a profession?
It's a crazy profession. Writers are generally a small step away from madness. Let me explain. Apart from the general lack of salary, creating a story is an exercise in controlled psychosis. You begin with an idea or a vision of the story (we make something up?). Then we obsess about that thought until it becomes its very own family of thoughts. A self-supporting system of delusions. But that's not enough. To make the story come to life, we have to really believe in the characters as real people, see them acting out their passions, learn of their idiosyncrasies. And that's where we cross over into the story world, and discover that we didn't make anything up at all, that the story is very real and was waiting to be discovered. From the outside, it seems to be invention. From the inside, it seems like revelation. And so the psychosis (is it psychosis?) deepens, until we spend every waking moment in the altered world and are reluctant to come back to the one where we have a life and partners and friends and a mortgage. We feel more alive when we are 'in the story'. Can I stop there? It takes a strong mind to go that far into psychosis and yet come back to complete sanity. Who knows, maybe we're all mad. But we're happy.
What is the Tale of the Lifesong, and where is it heading?
It's a story about the song that is hidden in the sounds of the world, and the young singer who learns to release its power. It is fantasy with a soulful twist. There are philosophical themes woven through the tale: justice, forgiveness, beauty and temptation. The second tale, Second Sight deals with the corruption of the soul, the power of visions and the vital nature of love. And it attempts to answer the question: why do birds sing? I have been working on the series for the past ten years ... I write slowly because every part of it is deeply considered. So the next story will take some years to release. No doubt it will include themes of music, magic and freedom. I intend to create something more quirky, philosophical, joyous and life-affirming. But who knows what I'll discover as The Tale of the Lifesong unfolds? I look forward to taking the journey.
Where can people get your books and find out more?
Go to www.greghamerton.com.
Greg Hamerton books reviewed