I started work on Defiler of Tombs almost seven years ago, back in 2006. I really wanted to write a novel about Kormak, the monster-hunting hero of The Guardian of the Dawn but I was trying to fit it into the template that would be acceptable to a conventional fantasy publisher. I’ve written about what a struggle that was elsewhere, but to recap, I was trying to fit a lean, taut sword and sorcery tale into an oversized vessel, to make it longer than it was meant to be. It could not to be done (by me at least) and thus I abandoned it.
I always thought it was a real pity, because the story had many strengths. There was Kormak himself, a somewhat different take on the conventional sword and sorcery hero, a savage outcast trained by an order of warrior-priests to battle the ancient demigods and demons of his world. There was the world: a dark strange place with echoes of Tolkien and Robert E Howard, where immortals walked the night, and elder races lurked on the edges of civilisation.
And there was the opening, one of the strongest I had written, as Kormak prepared himself to enter the freshly opened tomb of an ancient king to save a group of children from the awakened wight therein. It was dark and it was scary and it showed the Guardian going about his business in a way that made it clear he was a somewhat different kind of hero. Unfortunately, in my original draft the story then went off at various tangents after that and just kind of petered out. It had suffered because I had tried to develop the storyline organically, without any sort of outline and I had just ended up rambling.
When I came back to it I knew the best thing to do was to strip it down and concentrate on the ramifications of the first chapters. It turned out that one of the main problems was my sloppy approach to plotting and my inability to see what was in front of my face. Right, I thought, let’s deal with this. Someone is opening long closed tombs and letting out the undead horrors therein. That begs a number of questions that need to be answered. Who would open tombs containing barrow wights and why would they do it? And how did all of those ancient undead evils get in there in the first place. There were a lot of questions for Kormak and myself, so I set myself to getting the answers.
The sort of person most likely to be opening the tombs was a wizard or a tomb robber. Given the fact I was going to hang a book on this, I figured a wizard was the better bet for a villain because one) he would be powerful enough to be a formidable antagonist and two) it let me build the book around the classic sword and sorcery struggle between a wizard and a warrior. I’d been wanting to take a trek back to the roots of the genre and this pointed me in the right direction. Since he was opening tombs it seemed like a fair bet the wizard was some sort of necromancer. After that I made notes. I set down character descriptions and I created a detailed outline that incorporated some of the scenes from my original draft. I set down pages of history.
As I wrote the necromancer nation of Kharon ( a deliberate echo of Robert E Howard’s evil Acheron) came into focus, an empire that had once rivalled the ancient Solari and which had gone down in deadly conflict with the First Empire, shattering both. In a final apocalyptic gesture the ruler of that shadowy place had laid a curse on his land and its conquerors that poisoned the earth and caused the dead to walk unto this very day. Having established this, it seemed only right to point the action at the very heart of this dreadful evil and begin a desperate hunt to prevent it from being reawakened.
En route Kormak encountered many of the people who lived along the boundaries of this haunted land, finding enemies and allies in the most surprising places. He travelled with his old friend Brandon, an aging but still powerful knight with something to prove, and met the mysterious and beautiful witch Aisha and her Tinker companions along the way. He encountered the Twins, a pair of extremely sinister Old Ones who ruled the mining town of Elderdale. He fought many of the ancient monsters spawned by the undead curse. I worked and reworked my outline until I knew that I could quite definitely complete the story. It built to a mighty climax in a city full of the dead being restored to life by an awesome feat of necromancy.
I then set out to write the actual book. Of course, I had the usual problems you get when working from outlines. Some scenes worked well. Some scenes didn’t. The ones that worked tended to run long. The ones that didn’t needed to be excised. This meant that new scenes needed to be introduced to balance the flow of the narrative. No plan survives contact with the enemy.
Some of the characters turned out to be quite different from how I had imagined them. It took more work that I had originally thought to make it all fit together but eventually, it got there. I managed to complete the first actual Kormak novel (Stealer of Flesh is a collection of linked novellas) and I was pretty pleased with the result. It read like one of the fast-paced, action-packed sword and sorcery novels I had devoured as a youth. My test readers and my editor thought so too. I was so taken with the result that I started work on a third book as this one was being edited, which revealed more about the setting so I had to go back and incorporate these revelations into Defiler. This stretched out the process of rewriting even further. Now however, the book is done and available for sale on Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Smashwords. It will gradually filter out to other online retailers as Smashwords puts it into distribution.
You can read Guardian of the Dawn here.