Sean Beech served in Iraq with the British armed forces. Saddened and appalled by the reading standards of the young infantry soldiers, and in an attempt to show them that reading can be done for pleasure, he began the writing of The Ice Crown. Sean kindly spoke to Fantasy Book Review in February 2009.
It is often said that an author draws inspiration from his or her own personal life experiences. Are there any characters, events or locations within The Ice Crown that would substantiate this?
Sean Beech: I remember, as a sixteen year old, being met on the station platform in Chepstow – having signed up to join the Royal Engineers – by a large, extremely volatile sergeant who screamed and shouted at me with his nose touching mine whilst being told not to eyeball him. I ask you, how can you not look somebody in the eye when they are that close? Of course it is impossible and they know it. They are looking for the reaction! That was my introduction to a Sergeant in the Army, an image that will remain with me for life and one I can now look back on and laugh (although would not have done that at the time). But the main inspiration comes from my love of castles and the outdoors, something – having being brought up in castle country in the northeast of Scotland – I am extremely grateful for.
I particularly enjoyed the chapters in The Ice Crown that involved the Wolves of Fennigan. Had you planned to portray the wolves as intelligent, talking animals from the very beginning or did this element develop once the writing of the story was already underway?
Sean Beech: The idea for the wolves came whilst writing. I wanted something different -an angle that would appeal to fantasy readers and also add a further twist into the plot. Although the exact mechanics of their role did not fully develop until after I had written their first chapter, and then had fun thinking about where I could take them. But you are not alone in your enjoyment of them, I have had a lot of comments relating to the book and most seem to focus on the Wolves of Fennigan or Ranabin the mage.
When an author publishes a debut novel they will likely receive both praise and criticism. What has the reception been like for The Ice Crown?
Sean Beech: Criticism is hard to take. Thankfully – to date – I have only had one bad review. Whether this means that everyone else enjoyed the book or that they simply could not be bothered posting a review or expressing a comment is unknown. Now whilst criticism is hard – and I will contradict myself slightly here – I appreciate the fact that somebody has taken the time to express their opinion and thus hope to learn from it and improve my work. Overall the reception has been good. Book of the week; fantastic fantasy; escapism of superior quality; at last something to replace Potter – are just some of the quotes published about the book by the press. But – and this pleases me more – the feedback I have received from children who have read it means more to me. A child stating – they have loved reading it – will always mean more to me than a hundred literary reviews in the press or postings on Amazon.
Are you working on a sequel?
Sean Beech: The sequel ‘The Silver Fox’ is just about finished. I have the last two chapters to type up and then proof read. In it, you will discover more about the Moon Lands, why the 300 year war exists and get to meet some very interesting characters; some of whom previously ruled the land.
You were horrified at the reading standards of the young infantry soldiers you encountered whilst in Iraq. Is there an example that you could give to explain your strong reaction?
Sean Beech: When you meet young men – and I use them solely for this example – in the army that cannot read and write, even to the standard of a seven year old (I use my daughter as an example as she was seven at the time), it saddens you. Reading especially, is a key skill, and one which we need to be proficient in even to function at a basic level in modern society. It is something that needs to be encouraged and viewed as an alternative form of entertainment. This will only happen though if parents, teachers and adults enthuse about it and set good role models. Meeting soldiers who could not read their letters, their e-mails, their magazines or even a newspaper and yet are thousands of miles from home, from their loved ones, even their children, saddened me. The simple comfort of a few written words of love deprived to them in silent solitude, instead belittled and diluted by their need for an interpreter. The written words meant as a comfort and yet a cause of anxiety and stress instead.
You donate 50% of the book’s profits to literacy-related charities. What will these charities do with the funds that they receive?
Sean Beech: The National Literacy Trust utilise all the donations they receive to help improve literacy in this country. The charity do not focus solely on children, they recognise the wider community and the needs and roles of adults with not only their own literacy problems, but those that need to help others with theirs. If you have parents that cannot read properly then their children will not be supported with their reading as well as those that come from homes that do (in like for like scenarios). The National Literacy Trust provides resources and advice to anybody that feels they have a need either for themselves or to support somebody else. They conduct research and issue recommendations to the government regarding key issues in developing literacy. Their website though is the best place to view all the excellent work they are doing.
Do you still intend to train as a Primary School Teacher?
Sean Beech: I do. I intend to train under the GTP programme (Graduate Teacher Programme), a one year school based course. The course in very intense and although I have been selected by a Primary School as their candidate; I am waiting for the results of the interview I had last Tuesday (10th February ) with Chichester University to find out if I have secured one of the 18 places available.
What does the next 12 months hold in store for Sean Beech?
Sean Beech: Many things. My second book ‘Dethweld the Grubbit’ – a younger children’s book – has been sent to publishers. The second book in the Lords of the Moon trilogy ‘The Silver Fox’ is nearly finished and I intend to finish another project I am working on, a book aimed at six to nine year olds. Other than that, I hope to start teacher training in September, which will mean I will have to take a year out of writing.
What fantasy author(s) have had the most impact upon you as a child, an adult, and an author? Do you have a favourite fantasy book?
Sean Beech: It is funny you ask. I read hardly any fantasy fiction. I have read, to date – The Lord of the Rings (but only after seeing first film); Philip Pullman’s Dark Materials (discovered by accident whilst doing voluntary work in Kenya); The Harry Potter series. I am sure there are many others out there that I will enjoy, but with one thing and another I have very little time to read and when I do they are usually historical war novels, fictional yes, but based on actual battles, for example, Bernard Cornwell’s works. Another reason is that whilst I love fantasy adventure I much prefer to invent my own, and I feel as such that if I read too many books in the genre, my ideas might become influenced by other writers. In short, though I like to read things that are original in thought and influence. I love exploring books, hunting out the hidden gems hidden amidst the bookshelves. Gems usually, but not always, written by debutantes who allow their imaginations to run wild and their style to enthral and excite you. One such gem for me as a child was discovered in my local library. Up until that moment I had had no interest in books; seeing them instead as yet another tool to be used by teachers to inflict yet more homework on you. The book ‘Danny Champion of the World’ by Roald Dahl – to me at that time – an unknown author – but it was the discovery that mattered. A book ‘Danny’ for me; for you something else, but it is out there, I promise you. As an author I think that all fantasy books stem from the one – ‘The Lord of the Rings’. My story – my book – though was originally thought of as a child, long before ever setting eyes on the book. I had heard tale of ‘The Hobbit’ in the corridors of our school, a pupil – one of the computer boffins (ZX Spectrum) – had even written a game based on it. But as to whether any of it influenced the final work I could not truly say. Perhaps I will leave that to the reader to debate.
For nearly three hundred years now the Moon lands have known peace. But the Ice Crown of Man been stolen and also the Ancient Howl of the Fennigan Wolves. Their theft robs both races of the power to unite their peoples! But who is responsible; the mysterious Fey; the magical Mages or the lands’ erstwhile enemy, the dreaded Dark Knights?
The Ice Crown, which was written in army notebooks during off duty periods in Iraq whilst deployed on Operation Telic 9 in 2006, was a fine opening to a planned trilogy. Strong on characterisation it quickly drew the reader into the Lands of the Moon and now, in The Silver Fox, Sean Beech furthers the story as Morkin continues his quest to recreate the Ice Crown, the Wolves of Fennigan look to recover their lost howl and Luxor, with the threat of the Dark Knights growing, attempts to bring the Lords of the Moon all under one banner.