An interview with Tarn Richardson

Tarn Richardson

I suppose we should start by saying ‘congratulations’ on completing The Darkest Hand trilogy! You must be really pleased to have finally finished writing it? 

Pleased! Relieved! I loved writing the books, loved writing about the characters, loved entombing myself within the wicked machinations of the Catholic Inquisition and the horrors of World War One. But, after five solid years writing, with 16 re-writes in total across all three books, am I glad it’s over and I can move on to new pastures, people and places! 
 
Sixteen rewrites? So what happened?! 

Ahh, it’s just my way. I’m what is described as a ‘pantser’. I write by the seat of them! I knew scenes A, B and Z of the trilogy when I began, so I knew where I was going, just not how I was going to get there. The story evolved as I wrote. It’s much more fun and compelling to write without knowing exactly where you’re going. Gives your writing that ‘edge’. But when you go wrong, it can be extremely time consuming and disheartening!! And I did go wrong. Often! 
 
The trilogy is set within World War One, with a secret Inquisition holding sway behind the scenes and werewolves running wild in the trenches? How on earth did you come up with this premise? 
In 2012 I travelled to France on the trail of a great uncle who went out to fight in the trenches of WW1. It was an incredible trip, really moving and inspirational and I just felt I had to write about the experience. But I was lacking the ingredients that tied the whole piece together, that made it unique and different and worthy of a trilogy. And then my youngest son one night suggested the idea of, "Werewolves" and a light came on in my head and instantly I knew there was seed of an idea there! 
 
I loved the idea of werewolves and war, the whole thing of ‘monsters we are lest monsters we become’, of soldiers doing horrific things simply to survive, of werewolves cursed to do the same. Immediately I started researching werewolves and was staggered to discover this rich and long history of them within folklore, of curses and connections with the Catholic Church. It was fantastic to find such wonderful material and at once I knew I had two points of the triangle that would form the basis for the trilogy; soldiers fighting in the trenches and werewolves cowering in their clans within them. I just needed the third element. 
 
And the third, I am guessing, was Inquisitor Poldek Tacit?

Correct! He just walked into my life one day. Just materialised on the page. I really liked the idea of someone who was a hero but fundamentally flawed. And Tacit is gravely flawed, a sadistic alcoholic, but who happens to be the best at what he does. But, of course, he wasn’t always this cruel individual, not always this damaged. The road to making us who we are is long and Tacit’s journey is one of the longest and hardest. I had immense fun writing him and making him who he is. 
 
Like Tacit, all your characters in the books are in some way flawed.

Yes, because we all are flawed aren’t we, in someway or other? It’s the human condition. It’s what makes us unique and different, hateful, pitiful and loveable. Whilst researching the book, the thing that struck me about the soldiers who fought in the war was how mundane and human they were, whilst all the time committing these incredibly heroic or horrifically terrible acts against one another. I definitely wanted to make sure I carried that forward into the characters, their flaws as well as their flair. So, Henry Front the British officer is indecisive and proud, Isabella is, for want of a better term, a prostitute of the Catholic Church. Sandrine Prideux is … well, as you know from reading the books, particularly mixed up! 
 
Going back to the very start, the trilogy actually begins with a prequel, a little novella doesn’t it, THE HUNTED, set at the very eve of war?

Yes! A little free teaser, to get readers to dip their toe into the world of Poldek Tacit. 
 
And possibly lose the toe as well?

Ha! Well, maybe. Not in The Hunted I hope!? The Hunted is a little bit more … considered in terms of Tacit throwing his weight around. Okay, he chases a demon halfway across Sarajevo and works his way through half the members of the Black Hand assassins, responsible for the death of Archduke Ferdinand. But it’s only when you arrive at The Damned that things turn darker! 

You favour jumping backwards and forwards in time to tell your story? Why do you use this method of storytelling? 

Certainly in The Damned I do go back and forth in time, less so in book two, The Fallen, and hardly at all in the final book. But in The Damned I couldn’t see anyway around it. There were events in Tacit’s past that needed to be revealed at specific moments in the present to explain why he is how he is, so I had to keep returning back to these times in order to unveil these revelations and surprises. It’s certainly split readers’ opinions. Some love the depth of the story, the history, the slow unveiling of past tragedies and crimes, others have found book one especially challenging. But it’s a big piece of work. It is suppose to challenge and make the reader think. But so is Tolkien’s work, so are Eddings’ novels. And readers of dark fiction and fantasy are an intelligent bunch. They can handle it! 

Dark fiction? Fantasy? Historical Fiction? Horror? How would you describe the trilogy?

This is the one question I hate, because I can’t really answer it! The books touch many genres. For a long time I called The Damned, a love story, because it features several love affairs and their effect on people. My publisher has pushed the trilogy as a mix of fantasy and horror, partly because our bookshops have been squeezed in terms of the range of genres they can now offer. It’s got elements of both fantasy and horror within it, but both are quite subtle and not your typical gratuitious or fantastical storytelling.  The story is set firmly in historical truths. I like the fact that what happens in the books could have really happened, and still be happening in the world! Dark fiction, I like that term. Let’s stick with dark fiction!

You’ve had some wonderful reviews and author endorsements from the likes of Publishers Weekly and Kirkus to Ned Denny at the Daily Mail, David Moody, the horror supremo, author Tim Lebbon. The crime fiction author Cal Moriarty described the final book as ‘evoking the fantasy of Tolkien and the darkness of King’. What’s the trilogy’s appeal? 

I think the books surprise people. I think readers think they are going to be one thing, a sort of war story / Hammer Horror mashup with long fanged wolves and shrieking maidens in distress, and actually find something that is, I hope, intelligent, thought-provoking and moving. Something that lingers within readers. So many people have said to me, and I quote, “I didn’t think I would enjoy these books, but I did!” I love that, to have surprised readers in an unexpected and positive way. I wrote the books with a big message to tell and I hope that strikes a chord with readers.  
 
For all the violence, there’s a lot of love within the books. I describe it as darkness and light. Not everything can be dark. You need light to balance. 
 
The message I take from the books is ‘find your own path. Don’t take the one set before you by your superiors.’ Is that what you were trying too say?

Spot on. It’s why I love fantasy and horror, the opportunity the genres give to use their themes as metaphors to real life problems or situations. The social commentary behind the book actually came together whilst sitting on a train to London. I was watching the commuters working themselves to death on the early train into town and, at the end of the day, drinking themselves half to death in the bars at Waterloo before coming home, and it just got me thinking, ‘Why do we do the jobs we hate, for people we despise, to just end up in a life we loathe?’ It doesn’t make sense, and yet life’s demands and constraints means that it so often happens. That was the blueprint for Tacit, a man stuck doing what he does and drinking his worries and his doubts away.

So, dare I ask, is there a bit of Tacit in you?

Ha! Well, I like a drink! Perhaps not to extend that Tacit does. If I did, I’d long be dead! I think there’s a bit of Tacit in everyone, or everyone would like to be a little bit like Tacit - the tough bit, the heroic bit, the bit that is pushing back against those who make our lives, and the lives of those around us, miserable. Tacit is most definitely not right, but his more often right than he is wrong, and he’s more good than he is bad. I’d like Tacit as a mate, just one I kept at arm’s length, to call upon when needed! 

It’s clear you’ve done a huge amount of research into World War One? Has history always been of interest to you?

It’s become of interest, the older I’ve got. I left school with a pretty low opinion of the subject. The thing that changed me were those Penguin Classics for a Pound books. As a penniless student, like I was at the time when they first appeared, they were fantastic to feed my literary fix and opened up my eyes to the historical worlds of Moby Dick, Last of Mohicans, The Great Gatsby, Ivanhoe, all these magnificent works of fiction from the ages and from different geographies. I loved them, and from out of them grew this genuine love of history and the world around us. 

World War One was, of course, of interest due to my family’s involvement in the campaign, and I think it is naturally for us Brits because of our involvement and sacrifice in the war as a nation and how it shaped Britain afterwards. But once I started researching the war more, reading the official war diaries at the National Archives at Kew, discovering the real reasons behind the war, the decisions that led to the conflict, the individual battles, the theatres, the suffering, the bravery, well, it was a whirlpool of wonder and disbelief that pulled me in.

What about books not related to the war or history which have influenced and inspired you, both to become a writer and to write the trilogy?

I have to start with The Hobbit. It was hearing that read to me at eight that first made me want to become a writer. A real bolt from the blue moment! A few years later I progressed onto the Lord of the Rings and that was it! I was hooked. After that, Dave Eddings’ made me realise there were other fantasy books out there beyond Tolkien! For my horror fix, I scuttled over onto James Herbert, a tantalising mix of sex and horror that was just perfect for a teenager growing up in conservative Britain! And then there were comics! I loved 2000AD, Alan Moore, Frank Miller. The biggest compliment I received was from someone who said reading The Damned was like reading a novel of a comic book. I loved that, because comics have had such an impact on my ideas, on my pacing and structure of stories and scenes. 
 
But I’m fairly eclectic in my tastes. I read everything and anything, and like anything from thrillers (Day of the Jackal) to retro-geek fiction (Ready Player One). I think this is why my writing is hard to categorise and define because my reading tastes are so diverse. 
 
Your books touch different theatres within the war, the Western Front, the Italian and the Eastern front. Was this intentional?

Yes, I wanted to write something ‘epic’ that spanned the whole of the war and its main theatres. Book one was set on the Western Front, of which so much is known and reported. But book two takes the reader to the Italian Front, one of the most inhospitable regions of the war and the scene of some of the worst and most barbaric of battles, over a million men killed fighting over bare stretches of rock, armed with just clubs and stones. People are genuinely staggered when they read about just what went on there in The Fallen. The final book starts on the Eastern Front and the Russian Revolution, before taking the reader around the globe and back to France for the climax. It hopefully helps paint a more complete picture of the conflict, the political machinations behind the scenes and the sheer size of the war.

And the Antichrist, waiting, biding his time throughout all three books, till he appears?

Yes, planning his ascent to power! Again, look at the world around us, look at our leaders, not just from 1914 but from today! Look at those supposedly trustworthy and ‘good’, insisting we put our trust and faith in them, leaders more interested in starting wars than starting peace.

And, dare I ask, is there a happy ending to the trilogy?

I couldn’t possibly say! But what I will say is that those who deserve what they deserve get it. But unfortunately some don’t!

And what next for you?

I’ve got this rather peculiar, decidedly bloody but, in my opinion, life-affirming paranormal modern day Jack the Ripper novel that I’ve written that may well be one of the best things I’ve produced. It’s been sitting on my desk since 2014. So, I think that may well be next in terms of publication. I’m also currently researching my next book, a WW2 thriller based on true life events. Fewer werewolves and demons, but still plenty of action, shocks and surprises. I’m looking forward to that and, as with the research I did for WW1 and The Darkest Hand trilogy, I’m finding out some unbelievable truths about the world, the nations who fought in the Second World War and the deceptions of our governments post war.

So no more Tacit?

Never say never! I love him, as a father might a son. But after five years together, we’ve both had enough of each other. We need a separation, some time apart. It’s time to write a different sort of book and, for my sanity, not rewrite another Tacit book over and over again till I get it right!  

Thanks for your time, Tarn.

Thank you, and thanks for your support over the years. I really appreciate it very much.

THE RISEN comes out in the UK on 18th May 2017. You can buy the series from all good book shops or from Amazon at https://www.amazon.co.uk/Tarn-Richardson/e/B011LWRQ20/ and https://www.amazon.com/Tarn-Richardson/e/B011LWRQ20/

Tarn Richardson books reviewed