An interview with Adrian Faulkner

Adrian Faulkner

Adrian Faulkner has been writing stories since he was 7 and has never really stopped making things up. He spent a decade as a leading pop culture journalist and geek culture commentator, before focusing on fiction.  The Four Realms, one of our March books of the month is his debut novel. I caught up with him and asked him about his writing, his influences and his love of genre fiction.

As a reviewer in the fantasy genre I am used to reading all the varied sub-genres that it has to offer. I have read high fantasy, contemporary fantasy, vampire fiction; I have read about worlds-within-worlds, angels and demons, elves and dwarves. I've also read many books that cross-over these genres but I have never, until reading The Fourth Realm, read a book that attempts to incorporate them all! How difficult was it to integrate so many differing genres and did you ever just sit there and think that you may have bitten off more than you could chew?

Oh man, and you’ve not even found the Science Fiction element yet!

I wouldn’t say it was always a conscious decision. If you look at a lot of Japanese manga you’ll see they are more prone to mixing genres and tropes. It happens in videogames as well, Cloud Strife from Final Fantasy VII rides a motorcycle. Even in the West, fantasy stalwarts like World of Warcraft mix elements of Steampunk and Science Fiction, happy to ignore traditional genre boundaries.

Personally, it’s those mashups that really push my “oh wow, that’s cool” button. So the book isn’t me deliberately trying to add all those elements in trying to be clever, so much as a product of my own personal tastes and influences. The one exception for this book was the science fiction element. When I was originally brainstorming the series, I wanted something that hadn’t really ever been a seen in a fantasy novel (or at least something I hadn’t seen), something truly big and epic. I deliberately looked outside of genre for that in a “what’s the last thing anyone would expect” frame of mind. After that, everything else seemed a bit tame.

The biggest challenge was finding a way to get everything across to the reader without infodumping and slowing the pace of the novel. You have to be quite ruthless and focus on the story. It ended up being a case of learning to drip feed information as and when it was needed. I cut out this fantastic history of the Vampirwaffen that I just love but ultimately just got in the way of the core story.

It seemed to me that The Four Realms could have easily been - as is popular at the moment - aimed at the young adult market. And indeed large parts of the book can be read by the younger reader but certain chapters  (Darwin's encounter with a run-away in a squat and a trip to Larry McNally's nightclub being the first two examples) move it into definite adult-only territory. Was it ever a temptation to edit or tone down parts of your story in the aim of being able to market it to a larger audience?

I think there’s a lot of innovation and exciting storytelling going on in YA.  I have a lot of friends that both write and publish it.  I think part of its success is that there really aren’t any boundaries with it.  Personally, I feel adult fantasy could learn a lot from it.

When I was writing the book and went to conventions I would constantly hear authors say “well, of course, you can’t do elves anymore and be taken seriously as a writer.”  Why?  They’ve survived thousands of years of folk tales and mythology and we now have to give them up because some people think Tolkien did everything you possibly could with one book?  Or are they not gritty enough for today’s fantasy?  It was stuff like that that made me more determined to take the novel towards more adult territory.

I think because so many of my friends work in YA, it was another reason I never seriously considered toning it down.  In fact, if anything, I tried to see how far I could push it.  I thought some scenes would get more pushback from beta readers than they did, but ultimately they are there to serve the story rather than just ‘shock’ the reader.  I want my worlds to be as diverse as the real world is,  Plus, I have a terrible potty mouth.

At the beginning of your book there is not a lot explained about the characters and the world they inhabit. Did you feel you were walking a fine line between instilling a sense of mystery, making the reader want to know more and also running the risk of the reader becoming frustrated and putting the book down, unlikely to continue?

Early drafts tried to tell too much about the world and the characters and became complete infodumps. I found, through successive rewrites, that I kept moving certain pieces of information back and back, only giving it to the reader when they needed. The story plays on a big stage (both our world and secondary world) and I had a fear that unless readers got told everything in the first chapter they'd get confused. But I think you have to have faith in your readers and their intelligence to pick stuff up as they go. I kept telling myself that I had to focus purely on the story I was trying to tell which lead to a lot of stuff being pushed back or cut. There's an entire history of the Vampirwaffen that reads like the synopsis of an awesome novel I was just gutted to cut.

There's also a wider sense of mystery. There are a lot of unanswered questions in The Four Realms. I love series where the mystery is uncovered over the course of the books and fans put forward their own theories. With this book envisaged as the first of a series, I made myself a spreadsheet listing each novel's major revelation. Whilst I don't want to adhere to any sort of formula, I want the reader to get to the last book and still have something new to discover. And the intention is that this story, the world and its characters will really grow and experience real change over the course of the series. It means I can bury all the signs in earlier novels so that when you get to the final book and then re-read, you'll see it was there in front of you all along. That's a lot of fun to write and hopefully it'll help make the books not only interesting to read, but fun to later re-read.

So what exactly are the four realms alluded to in the book title?
The realm of man (our world), the realm of magic (Venefasia), the realm of Heaven, the realm of Hell. It's one of those titles that whilst a bit ambiguous at present, becomes much clearer as the series progresses.

Will there be more books to come set within The Four Realms? And what else can we expect from you in the future?

The plan is for this to be the first in a four book series. It'll follow Maureen and Darwin as we slowly uncover what Mr West’s race is up to, and the consequences of that. I’m busy writing the second book at the moment where we find Maureen and Cassidy on the run with a paranoid wizard, and Darwin joining up with New Salisbury’s criminal underworld. We’ll get to see more of Venefasia than just New Salisbury and you can look forward to ninja dwarves, steam trains, demons who think they are east-end gangsters and more.

Aside from that, I have a ridiculous number of book ideas. If I could write a book a month, I still reckon I wouldn’t have got through them all in 10 years. For now, I’m happy to let them percolate ready for when the opportunity presents itself.

You are obviously very influenced by many genres. I mention in my review that vampire fiction, high/epic fantasy and parallel worlds are all in there. I always like to ask authors what their favourite books are as this leads to either confirmation of books we already have on the site or to books we have either not read before or have never even heard of. So of the three genres mentioned above (vampire fiction, high/epic fantasy and parallel worlds), which three books would you recommend to other readers?

High/ Epic fantasy – I have a real love / hate relationship with epic fantasy. I’m a fussy reader when it comes to this sub-genre and it’s rare I read a book in it without coming away with equally long lists of loves and hates. That said I have a complete love of Lord of the Rings. I know it’s considered unfashionable these days by some quarters of the SFF community but I love how rich and full and lived-in Middle-Earth appears. More recently, Gardens of the Moon totally blew me away. It's unforgiving of the reader but what I admire about it is that it tries to be its own thing. At a time when magic is out of fashion with a lot of gritty fantasy, here's this awe-inspiring mage battle at the start that feels more akin to Saving Private Ryan than Narnia. Erikson is such an under-rated author and probably the best fantasy writer alive today.

And whilst it’s more Sword and Sorcery than Epic Fantasy (but then I’m not one for adhere to genre boundaries!) The Lies of Locke Lamora is just a beautiful book. Lynch does beautiful description that I’m just envious of.

Parallel Worlds – My first exposure to parallel worlds were the Narnia novels but I'm going to have to say my recommendation would be Clive Barker's Weaveworld. It's a book that I read as a teenager and one that really opened my eyes to how diverse fantasy could be. Weirdly it's probably the scenes set in and around Liverpool that had more of an influence on The Four Realms than the parallel world stuff but I'm a huge fan of all Barker's work and this remains my favourite.

Vampire Fiction – It’s amazing how diverse vampire fiction is. You’ve got the the historical like Interview With a Vampire and the original Dracula and the post-apocalyptic like Vampire Hunter D, The Passage and I am Legend. There’s people like Will Hill doing some great things in YA with his Department 19 books, and whether it’s to your taste or not, there’s no denying the cultural impact of paranormal romance like Twilight.

But for me personally, it’s got to be The Dresdan Files books, even though the vampires are almost a secondary element. Like some people, I stayed away from them as they were a long ongoing series, despite friends recommending them to me constantly. It’s only in the last six months that I’ve really picked them up and I immediately fell in love with the world and the characters. You have all these fantasy elements that come together in one seamless world and none of them ever feel forced on unnatural in terms of narratives. Butcher does just enough with his vampires to make them feel fresh and original whilst wrapping the reader with the comforts of the archetype. It’s that balance that I really admire.

Plus he has wizards versus vampires, and that’s really cool in my opinion.

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For more information on Adrian and his work, visit http://adrianfaulkner.com/

Adrian Faulkner books reviewed