An interview with Mark de Jager
Mark de Jager was born and grew up in South Africa, now lives in London and works in the banking sector. He is a much loved and highly respected member of the science fiction and fantasy community, a regular at conventions and is married to author Liz de Jager. His debut novel, Infernal, is reviewed here and will be published on August 11, 2016 by Ebury Press.
Q: When reading Infernal it is difficult for the reader to decide if Stratus is the ‘good guy’, or indeed if Infernal features any ‘good guys’ at all. Do you believe that the modern fantasy reader requires characters to reside more within this ‘grey’ area, and not be either a good-two-shoes or a pantomime villain?
A: That was part of the challenge of writing him, and most of the fun too. I don’t think it’s essential for characters to reside solely in the grey area, but these days readers do expect, and deserve, more from the characters. I have no problem with characters veering sharply to good or evil, but there has to be more than that to them.
Take Fisk from the recent Daredevil series as an example. On the surface, he’s a murderous, sociopathic tyrant, and his character could so easily have wound up as another Bond villain-like caricature. Yet I’d bet a penny to a pound that I wasn’t the only one who was rooting for him by the end. Sure, he’s unrepentant and evil by anyone’s measure, but it’s an evil with purpose and a plan.
There’s some great fantasy out there now, and half the reason they’re so popular is because people care about the characters, warts and all. It’s not all about good and evil ; broken and amoral characters have loads to offer too. Just look at Gemmell’s Jon Shannow, Glokta and Ninefingers from Joe Abercrombie’s First Law trilogy, and more recently Jen Williams’ mercenary band from the Copper Cat trilogy. It’s a good time for fantasy.
Q: Was Infernal’s structure one that brought you a lot of writing enjoyment? By that I mean writing a book where nothing is known at the beginning and then allowing the reader and the lead character Stratus to uncover the past and learn at the same time.
Not all the time, but yes! I knew what the core structure was more or less from the outset, but there’s a lot going on in his head. I had to be very strict about what he would or would not have known originally, how he would have viewed it then, and of course what he knows when he wakes up in the body of a man. There’s a difference between having forgotten something and having never experienced it before; you have no frame of reference.
It was frustrating at times, but quite fun. As an exercise to keep in the right frame of mind and voice, I started asking myself how Stratus would see things as I went about my day. I did get a few stares but it was quite valuable for me.
Q: Is this it for Stratus, or will we see him again in the future?
You’ll be seeing more of him. I’m currently working on a second outing for him which will pick up right where Infernal ends. He still has a lot of vengeance to mete out and a body to reclaim.
Q: How did you manage to balance working in London’s banking sector (which one would presume takes up much of your week) and writing of full novel? That must have been challenging.
It is, but if you want to do something you make it work. It took some time, but I found that I’m better at it early in the day rather than at night, so my usual routine is to leave for work quite early in the morning, which gives me about 45 mins to an hour to do some writing in the Costa near my office. I do the same at lunch, which gives me almost two hours of writing time each day, unless I’m out with clients or at an event.
When that happens I try and make up for it at night or on the weekend. My wife, Liz, is an author too so neither of us are bothered when the other is hunched over their laptop and the evening’s conversation consists entirely of ‘Tea?’ and ‘Yes please’.
I don’t set myself a daily target anymore. Some days are simply better than others, and even though it’s a target you’ve set for yourself, you can’t help but beat yourself up about it. So I just write and trust that it will even itself out eventually.
Q: Do you think growing up in South Africa was any different to growing up in the UK or US when it came to the availability of books? Did you have access to all published books or was your selection limited?
I didn’t know it at the time, but our access to books was limited, and fantasy got an ever rawer deal. Books were expensive to buy too, so libraries were a real haven; even then they’d only have one copy of a new title, so you had to have a strategy to get your hands on it!
Stumbling onto a new title was like finding Wonka’s golden ticket, so you can imagine the starry eyed wonder when we discovered the smorgasbord offered by the likes of Forbidden Planet.
Q: At Fantasy Book Review we recommend fantasy genre books we’ve enjoyed reading the most. So we also like to ask authors to share the fantasy books which have had a significant impact on them. Could you please tell us a little about the fantasy books which you hold dearest?
This is such a deceptive question! I can’t do less than five.
- Legend by David Gemmell - I read this every year, and sometimes Deathwalker too. And every year, I get emotional in all the same places. It’s my go-to read.
- The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien - The grandaddy of them all. It’s a staggering piece of work. I’ve read his other works too, but it all feeds into LotR.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller- Perhaps not genre per se, but it’s certainly fantastic and amazingly evocative.
- The First Law Trilogy by Joe Abercrombie - I went through a bit of a slump in my reading appetite a few years back. Nothing seemed to hit the spot; in retrospect I think I was a bit burned out from doing too much trying to keep our blog going. And then the Blade Itself arrived, turned my expectations on their head and hooked me all over again.
- Beowulf via Seamus Heaney- It’s a very accessible translation but loses nothing of its power to evoke another place and time. Reading it while listening to it spoken in Anglo Saxon (I can’t speak it but I can listen to it all day long) is like having a bridge into history.
Q: Some fantasy authors write beautifully - J. R. R. Tolkien, Robin Hobb, William Horwood and Ursula Le Guin to name but a few. Are there any authors you read that just leave you smiling and appreciating just how skilled with words they are?
Infernal by Mark de Jager
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Ebury Press (11 Aug. 2016)
Purchase Infernal on Amazon.co.uk | Purchase Infernal on Amazon.com
Stratus wakes alone, with no memory of his past. All he knows is his name and that he is not human. Possessing immense strength, powerful sorcery and an insatiable hunger, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by a war, as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction.
Disoriented and pursued relentlessly by enemies, he will have to learn what he truly is, or risk bringing the world into ruin...
You can follow and keep up-to-date with Mark de Jager on Twitter - @Gergaroth