A Dense Interview With helen Lowe, Author of The Gathering Of The Lost
K: Your books feature characters from a wide variety of different cultures, but they all feel extremely real. What’s your process for writing so many realistic charcters?
H: Usually what happens for me is that I’ll have an idea for a character that will spark in my mind in some way. And often that initial idea of the character will have some sort of cultural ambience associated with them. That could either be ambience from the world I’ve created directly, or I’ll be thinking about some often historical permeation of our world, and the character will come with that. But after that they very much evolve in relation to what is happening in the story—the events in the story, the places in the world, what they’re encountering. You have a fundamental character, but you’re shaped by the people you know, the things that have happened to you, your environment, your beliefs, all those sorts of things, so I try and make it the same way for my characters. And when I’m talking to people in workshop situations about character I say it’s really important to think about the five senses– the point of view of the character, you’re in their skin so to speak, so they are going to have a sensual relationship to their world, in terms of what they see, what they touch, what ‘s touching them—those kinds of reactions—and that’s not just physical but also emotional and intellectual reactions as well—so that’s the process.
K: Have you ever been surprised by how a character’s reacted to a situation–or developed due to a situation?
H: Yeah, there was something in the latest book in the arc of the story that I anticipated happening in relation to the plot for quite some time, from my earliest ideas of the book and the characters; but the closer I got to that event in the second book the more I realised that it just wasn’t going to work—the reason that it wouldn’t work is that the character as he has evolved would never do something like that. I felt that people reading it wouldn’t have brought it—I wasn’t buying it myself! So I actually had to change—not the story completely, but I guess if you think of an event in the plot as being like driving on a dark road and your headlights illuminate the landscape, I had to change direction a bit and illuminate a different bit of the landscape, to stay true to the character.
K: The Wall of Night is obviously an epic fantasy series, but there’s a few sci-fi elements in there as well-like the alien Derai and the Swarm of Dark. Did that produce any unique opportunities or challenges for you?
H: I think that it’s not unprecedented in the genre. The characters do come from offworld, and they have come from some kind of space and time travel, but I don’t think that presents too many problems–there’s a way that it’s happened, and all will be revealed in due course. But just as I think that some science fiction—the space opera kind of fiction—is like fantasy in space, with the science elements rather fuzzy to say the least—I think for fantasy fiction to have a few science fiction elements doesn’t present too many problems.
K: One part of the story that interests me is the five year gap between The Heir of Night and The Gathering of the Lost–George R. R. Martin had planned a similar gap in A Song of Ice and Fire, but found it too difficult to write, because he had to rely too heavily on flashbacks. Did this produce any difficulties?
H: No, it didn’t! I think that’s because that was always my vision for the story, that there would be a period between them leaving the Wall of Night world and their story being picked up in the wider world. It kind of depends on what kind of story you’re telling, and what the focus of the story is—to me, the focus of the story is really about Malian and Kalan dealing with the Swarm and the problems within their own society. And the time that they’re away from the Wall they’re not really doing that—they’re learning interesting stuff, and going to warriors’ school and magicians’ school—but it’s not really a warrior/ magicain school story—so that would have made it a really different story.