So there I was trying to decide whether to junk yet another opening. If you’ve read the book, you already know I didn’t and you also know why. The solution to the problem was pretty simple. It had already been established (in Daemonslayer, for example, and in the Daemons of Chaos book which was causing me so much trouble) that daemons can return from the dead. You can’t ever really kill them, only destroy their body. When this happens they are banished from mortal reality for a time until they can take a new form. All I needed to do was posit that N’Kari did this before the Battle of the Island of the Dead. Given the fact that this was at the height of the first and greatest Chaos incursion, when the Winds of Magic blew most strongly and mortal reality itself was under threat this was not too hard to justify.
I thought, OK, that’s N’Kari sorted, the opening set down and the basic structure of the book established. I already had given a fair amount of thought to the use of imagery, so all I needed to do was get on with it, and with my travels.
The contracts for the series came through while I was in Georgetown, so I signed them and couriered them off to my agent in the UK. I have to say that made me feel very writerly. I took a bus down to Malacca, the old spice port, to meet up with Jeff and Eve in time for Chinese New Year.
I came across a quote from some long dead Italian that said, he who controls Malacca has his hands on the throat of Venice. It was one of those things that gave a feel for the way maritime trade affects the outlook of the people doing it. It got me thinking about the way the Elves of Lothern look at the world in big picture terms and see the ocean and the places on the coast as their backyard.
In Malacca, one of the city streets had been transformed into a replica of an old street market complete with wooden arches as part of the celebration. Red lanterns were everywhere. My friends were staying in an old Chinese mansion that had been converted into a hotel. The hostel I was staying in was in a converted go-down (a combination house/warehouse) that would have seemed quite at home in the merchant city of Lothern.
Bits and bobs of all this found their way into the book. I used the furnishings I saw in the hotel as part of my description of the Emeraldsea Mansion. I found myself inventing (or just outright lifting) little details for the local Elvish festival of Deliverance. In Lothern the great ball at which Tyrion is challenged to a duel takes place to celebrate the recovery of Aenarion’s lost children saved by the Treeman Oakheart. The scene is illuminated by green paper lanterns, there are small treeman dolls that acknowledge Oakheart’s place in history. Describing the festival was an easy, unobtrusive way of filtering some background knowledge about Elvish society and our heroes’ forebears into the text.
As writers always do I smuggled small bits of my own experience into the narrative. We took a boat trip along the river canals in Malacca. At one point our small boat crossed the wake of another one and bobbled up and down in the disturbance. I lobbed this into the text as Tyrion was coming ashore in Lothern harbour, a small, concrete detail that makes things more convincing when you’re describing a fantastic city. While all this was going on I hit the halfway mark for the first draft of the book.
Jeff and Eve departed and I took a bus up to Kuala Lumpur, a place I had passed through many times and had always wanted to spend more time in. I took a place in a hostel behind the huge Times Square shopping mall complex. I actually like staying in hostels when travelling because it gives me more of a chance to meet fellow travellers than staying in hotels. When you spend time on the road and on your own writing, opportunities to socialise are to be welcomed. I ambled around Chinatown. I bought books.
I was nailing down the assorted characters as I wrote. I already had a pretty clear vision of Teclis from Giantslayer, clever, caustic, proud of his talent, insecure in his physical infirmity, compensating for it by forcing those around him to acknowledge his cleverness. He was a very flawed character but such are often the easiest to make interesting. Tyrion was more difficult. He was a golden boy, a hero, fearless, charming, attractive to women. In short, horrible to read about as anything except a wish-fulfillment fantasy figure. I wanted to keep him as all those things but somehow round him out, to make him more interesting, to show the flaws in this flawless elf.
There were some clues in Giantslayer. While acknowledging that he was a well-liked, charismatic, heroic figure, Teclis managed to convey the sense that his brother was suspected by many of their contemporaries and suspected of many different things. There was obviously something sinister behind the mask, or was there? Elves are a notoriously bitchy bunch and maybe it was jealousy made manifest. I knew I needed to work on this.
I wanted to stress the physical contrast between the two so I made sure almost all the scenes Tyrion takes part in he is seen to be astonishingly physically active, while Teclis is mostly bed-ridden. I started this in the very first scene in which Tyrion appears and I kept it up throughout the book.
I wanted to show the twins growing up in isolation with their somewhat neglectful father, who is obsessed with repairing and recreating the Armour of Aenarion. I put in a scene where late at night Tyrion sneaks into his father’s lab and looks at the armour. He has no idea that his fate and that of the armour are going to be intertwined, but the reader does. It is one of the pivotal moments of his life, but as with so many such moments, he will not realise this until long, long afterwards. It is a bit of foreshadowing I am still very proud of.
I knew Lothern was where Tyrion was going to come into his own. In Cothique, isolated in his father’s house, he was the outsider with not much in common with his scholarly wizard father and his intellectual brother. Like most boys he wants approval but in such a situation he cannot get it. In Lothern, where his wit, good looks and charm make him much more acceptable in a social situation, he finds the approval he seeks, and that, unlike his father, most people actually prefer him to his brother.
The scene where it really came together is the ballroom scene where Tyrion is challenged to a duel and manipulates things so he has to fight it even though people are trying to give him a way out. He wants to kill the elf who challenged him. In the duel and its aftermath he comes to the chilling realisation that he likes killing and he is very, very good at it, and he’s only going to get better. It is this that really sets him apart and makes people suspect him. Underneath the intelligence, the good looks and the charm lies someone very frightening, a deadly killer when he lets himself off the leash. In a city where duels are often a form of legalised assassination, he becomes someone who is useful to have on your side.
I was happy with the way Tyrion was starting to come through, and the N’Kari storyline sped along. I traced the trail of carnage the Keeper of Secrets left all over the map and wondered how the Elves would solve the puzzle. The solution came from a most unusual source. Of which more next time.
Blood of Aenarion has made the short list of the David Gemmell Legend Award. You can vote here.