LS: James, The Enemy's Son has a very epic sweep. It's a fantastic piece of world-building and creates very strong images in the reader's mind. It's also peopled with very distinct characters. Can you give us a 'rough guide' of Erth, it's cities, cultures, and a little history?
JJ: Erth is a place that may be or may have been. It was always my intention to only hint at where we are, so the ‘inferno’ that is only touched upon within the first book can be read in to on all kinds of levels. This world is a savage, desolate wasteland and has shaped its people over the course of thousands of years - all of which have individual mutations, or ‘marks’ as they are known. Erth is a cracked and bleeding world that desperately needs to be healed. Fragmented in to thirteen lost cities - the thirteenth, the flying city known as Newton, continues to scourge and bleed Erth dry of its precious life source. The Newtonian Empire also keeps control of its people through a form of substance abuse known as the Dosage.
The only culture that has any connection to their dying land are the Rojin - a spiritual people, those mutated by the twisted realms of Erth, who follow the guide of a mysterious, immortal figure known as The Father. With his strength beginning to fade, the Rojin capital, Yodann is now threatened by a traitor in their midst.
Now, the fate of the Rojin and all life on Erth, rests in the hands of two Newtonian exiles - their enemy, Jeradon Horncastle and his son Pirian. Will their arrival divide the Rojin further or lead them to salvation?
LS: Tell us about the major players. What I found interesting was the constant shifting of perspective - you're always wrong-footing the reader about who are the good, and who the bad guys...
JJ: I’m a strong believer that there is good and bad in everything. The world really isn’t as a clean cut as some people may think, it’s far more complicated than that. What makes a person good, what makes a person evil? Usually it is their surroundings, the society they are brought up in, circumstances they have dealt with for better or worse. Even their genetic code. Nature vs nurture has always fascinated me and is something explored through my characters – understanding this helps you shape them.
This is Jeradon and Pirian Horncastle’s journey. Here we see the sins of the father through the eyes of a child - a tale of redemption and tragedy. Jeradon represents the fallen hero, where as Pirian is the potential hero - both are shaped by circumstance. I think a lot of young readers will relate to Pirian as he grows a great deal throughout The Enemy’s Son.
Other key characters are the wolf-man pirate, Lomax and his faithful companion, the gargoyle Vagabond. Lomax is a real powerhouse character and is a prime example of not knowing whose side he is on.
Shades of grey makes a story so much more interesting to explore. Personally, I think it makes the characters denser, richer. As mentioned there is good and bad in everything - this is a universal message and therefore opens up the world and cultures to be interpreted in different ways. Who are we to say that Newton is evil? That the Rojin are good? Indeed, they do lend themselves more to one than the other, but there are reasons people become who they are. Nature vs nurture - one simply cannot survive without the other and if it does, maybe then we will have the answer to what is truly black and white.
Perspectives are very important in storytelling and developing character. There is nothing that excites me more than to be pulled in to a story only to have the whole thing turned upside down by this shift. It forces you read in to these characters and their world on a whole new level. Essentially, The Enemy’s Son can be read again as two separate books in chronological order if they wish, which will add more depth and understanding to certain key players.
LS: One of the other really exciting things about the whole concept was the idea of it being an illustrated book, but of the illustrations being online. I love this notion that people can find out about the characters in advance, if they wish, or as they read. There's so much thought gone into this aspect. How did you go about creating the visuals and inspiring other artists to get involved?
JJ: Being a Graphic Designer and Illustrator I felt that this should support my writing if anything. They are entirely different disciplines, yet they sit very comfortably together. When the official site was in its early stages of development it was only the chapters and my own gallery showcasing developmental pieces to help me visualise certain characters and scenes. I’d like the think I set a benchmark, that there was a quality there that people appreciated and wanted to become part of. There is no doubt that others have surpassed this and I find it a very humbling experience.
It is important for myself, first and foremost, to have this story recognised and the official artwork is a huge part of that. I also hope that along the way the talent that has attached itself to Erth so far will also gain some recognition in the process. I’d still be writing this story even if the official site never existed - but there is no doubt that it encourages me a great deal to see the respect and dedication of fellow artists around the world devote so much of their time to my world. I feel both humbled and gratified with the submissions - I must be doing something right for them to be producing work of such a high standard. Most of it isn’t simply inspired; it has become definitive due to those artists who are wanting me to art direct them.
It’s a wonderful process that some writers will never experience, through choice or simply not opening those doors. They really want to see my input at every level, which also helps with the world still being recognisable. If I just allowed anything to be placed up on the website, then there would be no point to it. I guide them right down to the subtle nuances - the symbolism, the clothing. Details - but little things that matter to me and hopefully make my world more believable. It began with my own artwork that set the benchmark and I really think these artists are surpassing that.
LS: What were your main sources of inspiration for the book?
JJ: There are so many. I’m a very eclectic person, but if I had to pin point the key influences I would have to say the start of all this for me was Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal. I was taken to the cinema when I was six years old to see this film and it just blew me away. I still watch it religiously and I still think it’s untouchable, even in the light of Peter Jackson’s efforts with The Lord of the Rings.
I used to watch a lot of Saturday morning cartoons, one of which wasn’t so well known was Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors, which has certainly influenced Erth Chronicles. I’ve always been an avid reader of comic books and obsessed about film. These things are a real passion of mine and I enjoy analysing and looking at how they are made - that’s the artist and designer in me I guess. I read a lot and in terms of writers I’m as happy reading Iain M. Banks as I am Elmore Leonard - I’m sure both have rubbed off on me in some way.
One of my favourite young adult books that really pricked up my ears was Michelle Paver’s Wolf Brother. I wish I could write something so simple and effective - an absolutely brilliant read and made me totally rethink the first two chapters of The Enemy’s Son.
LS: The Enemy's Son is book one. Can you give us a taste of what's to come? The preview at the end of the book is very tantalising...
JJ: It’s set seven years after the events of The Enemy’s Son. Erth's harsh realms will be explored on a much larger scale as Pirian, Larissa and Ched begin their Erth Walk - the Rojin's rites of passage. Now he knows he must find Gana, Pirian's life is threatened further not just by Erth, but the relentless pursuit of the beast known as 'Gana's Brother'. Kira Vaseesh must call on a certain Rojin and his Mindship to help save her brother, Karl and his mission from Newtonian forces. Imprisoned within concentration camps and forced to work the protronnium mines - his attempted rescue leads to a harsh discovery.
Back on Newton, a young boy escapes the watchful eye of his father, Emperor Rayal Jakahn. Losing himself within the metropolis he searches for the one emotion that makes him feel remotely alive - 'fear' in the eyes of his victims.
Visit: ERTH CHRONICLES
I've had a series of epiphanies this year; some dumb (I finally figured out what "a stitch in times saves nine" means. Being about as literal-minded a fella as you'll likely meet, I'd always thought that the refered to "Stitch in time" was actually, y'know, a stitch in the fabric of time. I was cool with that part, but exactly WHAT of the denomination "9" was this space/time weave supposedly saving? Hurt my head for decades that one. And if you've not figured it out yourself, it can all be made so much clearer with the addition of the word "just". Not saying where though...) others not so.
It might seem bloody obvious, but most of us are great at paying lip-service to ourselves. We understand our mistakes, and our quirks with the mental acuity of the reader of a work of fiction. We figure out the plot, understand the points, the structure, what went wrong. We see the LOGIC, and we GET it. But we don't ABSORB it. It stays in the bit of the brain that houses memories of stories, dreams, day-to-day living. It stays liminal, but doesn't get deep into the core subliminal level, where it becomes part of our state of being. We're not fixing the wiring, and we're not rewiring ourselves so we don't make the same mistake again.
In my case I've known - as have those who've been generous enough to read my ramblings over the years on various blogs - that I've been unhappy with my achievements. I've waxed lyrical about how unexpectedly tough creating art and writing can be, and how much of a struggle it is to be understood, to find your style, to be true to yourself and remain motivated. I don't want to go back into that area here, as it's not what this blog is about, but I've also seen with the eye of a reader of fiction the success I've had. And that's the point. It was as a FICTION I understood this. A logical reality filtered through memory and mental disection, never actually becoming part of my self-belief system. It stayed up top and didn't get absorbed, and as such I never FULLY believed it, and was therefore never able to enjoy it.
This might not be as clear here in my writing as it has felt as a kind of awakening, so I'll try to make the illustration clear: I've dwelt, ultimately, on my failings and short-comings artistically over the last 20 years. I've analysed it, tried to be clear and dispassionate in my understanding. I've tried to apply logic, and not to let myself get too clouded up with a sense of failure - that ultimately lurked beneath the surface all the time. I tried to be circumspect, and to give honest information about the nature of practicing my trade. Occationally I've patted myself on the back by reminding myself about the work I have done over the years, but that's where I was really DISHONEST, as I did that witheringly. It remained, as I said earlier, a kind of fiction. I didn't truely believe it, or appreciate it. Yes, they were the facts, but I didn't absorb them in any kind way that would enable me to benefit, or draw strength and satisfaction from them.
And now it's happened. It's gone deep. It's reached the inner part of me, and spread like a drug. I don't know if it's more than just my age, or what triggered it, but it's a bizarre kind of serenity that is born specifically out of alowing that understanding to go deeper than just my logic centres. It sounds like hippy new-age bullshit, I know, but it's akin to waking up. Trust me! I'm looking back and KNOWING that there's merit in what I've achieved, even if it's only me that appreciates that. I've understood that external appreciation, the admiration of peers and those that have enjoyed my work over the years, is a great, momentary and unsustainable pleasure. Yet ultimately it remained the thing I most craved - and missed. I saw, logically, that it was futile to build a career on the back of that, and to judge myself by that, and yet that's EXACTLY what I did. And in doing that I missed a much bigger picture: I had done, and achieved, pretty much everything I ever wanted to, almost without realising it, because I had forgotten how to draw and think like a child. I stopped enjoying it, pitted myself against the monsters of my trade - talent-wise, and also success-wise. I bullied myself worse than anybody has ever bullied me in the real world. So I never really saw the full picture of what I was achieving, (and I hope you'll forgive this indulgence, but it is the point here,) I never understood on any deep level how successful I had been in achieving EXACTLY what I wanted along the way.
I wanted to draw barbarians. I drew "Red Sonja" and "The Death Dealer".
I wanted to work on european comics. I assisted Don Lawrence on "Storm", even painting some of the last pages of his final album.
I wanted to work for 2000ad, and did.
I wanted to draw the XMen, and did.
Likewise "The Hulk", "Manthing".
I REALLY wanted to draw something for one of my all-time favourite magazines from the late 70's, early 80's, "Heavy Metal magazine" - and I did, writing and drawing "A-crazy-A", and also becoming great mates with the mag's owner, Kevin Eastman.
I've draw adult horror in "GOTH". I've done creator-owned stuff, and even become a publisher, a small-time film-maker, writer, singer-songwriter, comedy writer, and I worked on a couple of big feature films. I've also worked on a book, "Testament", written by an intelectual (Douglas Rushkoff) that actually had something IMPORTANT to say about our existence.
My novel and short stories - 'God Killers' - is finally to be published! A crowning achievement in my eyes, as writing has been my greatest, and least seen, passion.
So why has it taken me so long SEE this, no matter how many times it's been written in my biog, or for interviews? Why did this just look like a list, and not a life?
I think the truth lies somewhere in the removal of "self" from the equation. In making it a list, it became just a list. Not a life, but rather a kind of fiction. I looked at that list and forgot that somewhere at the start of each job lay an amount of will and personality, a desire to do each one, and a maverick, near self-destructive need to re-invent myself every time in the shape of one of my myriad heroes. I forgot that I chose that path, and focused on the hardships. I neglected to enjoy the simple notion that I had, if I'm honest, gotten exactly what I wanted - and instead I recalled how hard and generally underwhelming each of those achievements felt in the execution.
I'm at a wonderful place now. I've done pretty much everything I ever wanted, and I'm starting to appreciate it fully for the first time. I don't have the same number of what my father calls "dragons" filling up my head. I've finally freed so many there's a bit of space up top, and it's a blessed relief! I can look at art now without always wanting to emulate it. I can appreciate success without secretly wishing it was my own. I'm appreciating my choices and my achievements, not because they brought me a kind of very low-level fame, or because my peers thought I was great, but because they were things I wanted to do, and I did them. For myself. I DID them! And that's actually pretty fucking cool.
Free your dragons, folks, but don't forget to watch them fly!
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