Ed McDonald Interview

With Crowfall (Canada, USA, Europe) about to be published, I thought it was high time to have a chat with Ed McDonald. Hopefully this interview will entice you to give the Raven's Mark trilogy a shot!


- Without giving too much away, can you give potential readers a taste of the tale that is the Raven's Mark trilogy?

The machinations of godlike being dictate the fate of the world, but even among such great powers, a single mortal can make a difference. Ryhalt Galharrow is bound to serve a cruel, dark master - but a master who may be the only hope for keeping the enemy at bay. Blood, tears, love, swords, magic, romance, monsters, guilt and the looming destruction of the world tend to characterize the Raven's Mark series.

- What can fans expect from the final installment, CROWFALL?

CROWFALL is very much the end of the line, both for the story, and for the characters we've followed in the Raven's Mark. Bigger villains, heavier betrayals, deeper mysteries, and the resolution to the unanswered questions left over from the first two books. Fans of the first books will be glad to step back into the Misery for more insanity, and to discover how it all ends.

- How would you describe your work to someone who hadn’t tried your books before?

Fast paced fantasy action thrillers with heart. The world is tough, the decisions are hard and not everyone is an impeccable hero, but I like to think my writing has a core of hope at its heart.

- How well-received has CROWFALL been thus far?

I try not to know these things! Reading reviews is where happiness goes to wither, even if they're very good. But on the whole, I'm hearing that it has met some quite high expectations so far, and that's the important thing. By the time you get to the third book, some people have been with you for nearly a thousand pages. Characters really matter to them. I'm glad to be able to give them another journey to enjoy.

- Although CROWFALL offers closure and resolution, you left the door open for lots of different possibilities. Are there any plans for additional sequels?

I would love to come back to the Raven's Mark world one day. Galharrow's story arc is played out by the end of CROWFALL, but there are other characters who are ready to go on adventures of their own. I think that I've done all that I can with the Misery for now, and I'm certainly ready to take a break from it for a while. But, if a publisher requested another Raven's Mark series, then I'd definitely think about it.

- What are you currently working on? Any tentative pub date?

I'm working on a book that has the working title SEVEN WOLVES DEAD - which will almost certainly change later on, but if it doesn't, you heard it here first! I'd describe it as an homage to Kurosawa colliding face first with a spy thriller. And weird magic. And a lizard.

- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write the Raven's Mark series in the first place?

I write in a pretty weird way. There's something that I like - and in this case, I think that I was just riffing on the moody, gritty heroes that Bernard Cornwell and Joe Abercrombie were writing about, and wanted to write about mercenaries. So I just kind of start writing, and then as I have other ideas I end up changing stuff, over and over, until what I've written no longer bears any resemblance to what I started with. My ideas generate as a direct result of writing something else.

Here's an example from RAVENCRY:

I didn't know what to write next and was struggling one day, at about 10,000 words in. So I asked myself what I really wanted to write about, and the answer was that I'd been looking up 17th century English civil war armour all day, and I wanted to write that. So I wrote a scene in which Galharrow got kitted out in new armour.

Following this, I needed a reason for him to use it, so I had Tnota fetch him and they went off to a building. I wanted the building to be cool, and I like seeing what I can get away with in fantasy, so I gave it the dimensions of the Empire State Building. Of course, there had to be a monster in the building. It was a man whose face had melted.

Of course, these things all kind of just say outside of the story. But the building became the Grandspire, and a focal point of the story. The melted man became a key plot point, only he wasn't melted anymore. And the armour - that got cut entirely. But I could never have got to any of the rest of it without writing that scene.

- The Misery is a fascinating concept and plays an important role in the series. What was your inspiration for the Misery and were you aware that it would be at the heart of the tale you were telling from the very beginning?

That's actually one thing that has been in my head for a long time, but I didn't know how important it would be. I've always had this one phrase in my head: "The land is trying to stop you getting out." And that's what the Misery is. I didn't know that it would develop in the way that it did in CROWFALL but I'm glad that it did.

- Scenes in both RAVENCRY and CROWFALL hint that the world at large is much vaster than what we've seen in the Raven's Mark thus far. Unless it's a "read and find out" kind of thing that will be explained in future books, is there a reason why the Range and its surroundings, arguably the ass-end of the world these days, seem to hold such a strategic importance in the struggle between the Nameless and the Deep Kings?

The Range is basically the Maginot Line that failed to protect Europe in WW2, and I guess that they have to fight over something or other. The whole reason for the Lady of Waves being what she is was so that the Deep Kings can't just sail around the Range. It's the only land that they can cross, and as such it's the focal point of their struggle.

- Although the trilogy is being billed as epic fantasy/grimdark, the Raven's Mark is a more tightly focused tale than most novels/series in those subgenres. In a market full of sprawling works that are vast in scope, was this your objective from the start?

It was, actually. I like books that move fast and take you on a rush. When I was younger I adored 1200 page monoliths, but these days I prefer a sleek 400. Part of getting older and having less time to read, maybe. But I wanted BLACKWING to feel like it was a thriller, because that's what I tend to enjoy reading most these days. I like to think that the world still feels big and epic in scale despite a relatively modest page count.

- How do you see heroism in epic fantasy?

There is something beautiful about being prepared to give everything that you have in the defence of others. David Gemmell taught me that in Legend, and it is likely to be at the heart of everything that I write. It's even more compelling when the hero is an unlikely choice.

- Have the plotlines diverged much since you began writing the series, or did you have the entire plot more or less figured out from the very beginning? Were any characters added or further fleshed out beyond your original intention? Have you made any changes to your initial plans during the course of the writing of the series?

I don't do any world building before I start, and barely have even an outline of where I want to go. But there are some characters who were never intended to take such pivotal roles - Dantry, Amaira, Valiya and Nenn. Yes, Nenn! She was a throwaway character, just a single-line of description, but I liked her so much I kept her.

I had no idea what was going to happen in the books that come after BLACKWING. The second book was meant to take place away from the Range, but when it became apparent that people were really digging the Misery, I changed it completely so that we could go back there.

- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?

High tolerance for caffeine.

- By the same token, what would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

I don't think that there are weaknesses in that sense. My 'process,' if that's what it even is, is so chaotic and disorganised that nobody else should ever do what I do. I have to do huge amounts of rewriting and cutting. But if I didn't, I would never come up with the ideas that appear to be what people enjoy, so if I was more efficient, I'd probably write less interesting stuff.

- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write BLACKWING and its sequels?

I guess that I felt that I was writing Grimdark when I started writing BLACKWING, but by the end of the book, it had kind of gone the opposite way - a deconstruction of a deconstruction, essentially. And that only grows in weight with RC and CF. One of my friends said to me, "You try to trick everyone into thinking that your a grimdark author but really your books are about the power of love and friendship," and I think they are right.

- You are a practitioner of Historical European martial arts (HEMA). How did you get involved in that? Do you feel that being an actual sword wielder allows you to imbue your fight sequences with more realism?

I got into it because I wanted to play with swords! I used to fence, and I just wanted to do something that felt more real and less like a game, so I did. It is a curiosity that in the fantasy genre some writers do not feel that any kind of research is needed. I find it very hard to read on when authors with no fight experience write a scene in which one character trains another and gives all manner of hilarious advice, and there are some absolute clangers out there. Research matters! This is widely acknowledged in pretty much ever other genre, and even in other areas in fantasy, but not in writing about fighting for some reason.

- What comes first for you when it comes time to consider your next novel: themes you wish to explore, a setting you're interested in, or characters you want to write about?

Character, I think? Or theme maybe. Setting always comes last for me. It's usually a particular emotion or atmosphere that I want to write about. I want the reader to feel that sense of loneliness or dread or whatever it is that I'm currently interested in.

- Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?

Mine are all pretty well behaved. Crowfoot is the hardest because he has to be reined in all the time.

- Neil Gaiman says of Lord Dunsany’s THE KING OF ELFLAND’S DAUGHTER, “...It’s a rich red wine, which may come as a shock if all one has had so far has been cola.” If CROWFALL was a drink which one would it be? Would you recommend downing it in one shot or sipping it slowly...?

It would be a seven star Metaxa Brandy. You'd have to throw it back then slam down the glass, shake your head and made a shivering sound.

- If your readers could only take one thing away from having read CROWFALL (apart from enjoying the read) what would you want that thing to be?

"I must buy Ed's next book"

Seriously though... it would be to love people deeply, unashamedly and without reservation.

- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?

Awards are wonderful to receive, but achieving NYT Bestseller status means that you have to have sold a load of books and that's people voting with their wallets in the thousands. People spending money means more chance of being able to make a living as a writer, more chance of getting to write the novels that you want to write, and more chance to tell your stories.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces your books?

I have quite a few different covers for different language editions. They're a bit like children, in that you have to try not to have favourites. I really love the new direct that Ace have taken with the CROWFALL cover. It's up there with my favourites, but the one that speaks to me most is Bragelonne's French edition BLACKWING cover - it reminds me of the covers of books that I read 20 years ago and is kind of what I'd always imagined my own book covers could be like.

- Anything else you wish to share with us?

I actually really enjoyed the end of season 8 of Game of Thrones. 😁

Thanks for taking the time to talk to me!


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