Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Guest Post by Mark Charan Newton: Six Influences on the Legends of the Red Sun Series

Six months isn't such a long time at all, really. It's the halfway point between birthdays; it's the time it takes for Winter to turn into Summer, for the snow to become sun; it's how often you go on holiday, if you're anything like me. But let me tell you. In internet years - they're like dog years, only more nebulous - The Speculative Scotsman is positively claiming its pension. Sometimes it feels like I've been at this for ever, and so it's a pleasure, from time to time, to hand over the reigns to someone else. I don't do it terribly often - I'm not at all good at letting go, even temporarily - but this one time, in aid of the ongoing celebrations here on the blog, I'm making an exception.

Without further ado, then, it gives me great pleasure to welcome the one and the only Mark Charan Newton to TSS. Mayhap you've heard of him?

But enough of my burbling. Over to you, Mark...

One of the things I'm conscious of, as a writer, is to leave a trail of clues littered through my books so that people can see where I've been inspired by other writers. It's important to acknowledge these things. So, textual clues aside, here are six books which helped shape the construction of my own books, to varying degrees.
1) The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell. Now any such lists invite pretentious selections, but invoking this metaphysical classic of the 1950s isn't me trying to appear clever - I learned a very important lesson about what book sequences can do from reading Durrell's stylish masterpiece. Each book in the series undermines the previous novel, and minor characters suddenly become the focal point, giving the reader a completely different understanding on what went before. It was a revelation, and made me instantly consider such subtle tricks in my own books.

2) The Scar by China MiƩville. I've harped on about this book in many places and interviews, but suffice to say I wouldn't be writing today if I my imagination had not been inspired by this book. Reading this was the first time I realised what fantasy fiction could achieve in scope and ambition. I remain somewhat disappointed by the lack of true weird wow-factor in the genre (though it does exist with writers such as Erikson or Gaiman, for example). It strikes me as if some writers are reluctant to put much radical fantasy in their fantasy fiction, which I admit is my own personal taste - I don't have any agenda here. Because of my perceived shortage of such weirdness at the time, I thought I'd have a go at writing my own book. So I did.

3) The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov. In City of Ruin readers will meet a new character called Voland. Bulgakov's mesmerising political satire contains a character called Woland, which was, in turn, linked to Goethe's Faust (the knight Voland - a demon), and so I wanted that satanic force to appear again, but in my new guise (though I've made a few connections apparent). I won't go into too much detail, since I'll leak spoilers everywhere. But if people want a unique spin on good and evil (and a thousand other themes) then you could do worse than take a trip through Bulgakov's Moscow.

4) The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe. It's the definitive dying earth book, and outclasses Jack Vance's series for depth and imagery (though certainly not for madness). Whilst I can understand why readers would be frustrated with Wolfe's prose, I found this to be a beautiful book with so many layers, and it really captured the mood of how I viewed my own series. It informs much of how I view the dying earth sub-genre. I mean, you only have to look at the similar series title to see I'm conscious of this literary debt.

5) The Wallander crime series by Henning Mankell. My guilty pleasure is that I'm a huge fan of the detective Wallander, and Mankell's bleak Swedish crime series has been endlessly good fun for me when I wanted something a little less intensive to read. They're not mere entertainment though – they're very clever. In later books, Wallander constantly finds himself up against a certain political or social frustration, and I very much wanted to replicate such matters in my own books. Fantasy books don't have to just be entertainment (that should be a minimum) - if you want to talk about a theme or an issue, then where's the shame in that?

6) The Book of Imaginary Beings by Jorge Luis Borges. Mythology informs much of my work - in fact, as the series unfolds, it will become apparent just how much the world depends on mythology. And there's no way to deny that I love a good monster – who doesn't? Borges's bestiary is a wonderful A to Z of, well, monsters, creatures from different cultures and mythologies – and specifically in my case, the garuda came from this resource. If you want one book where you can quickly look up a beastie to put in your own writing, then this is it.


  1. Is that Lawrence Durrell as in Gerald Durrell's (the naturalist/zoologist) brother? I always remember Lawrence coming across as a bit of an idiot in Gerald Durrell's biographical writing ... to the extent that I assumed his books wouldn't be very good either. But judging a book by its author (as seen through the eyes of his teenaged brother) is maybe just as silly as judging it by its cover. I'm quite tempted to give the Alexandria Quartet a try now.

  2. Rachel - it is indeed his brother, and quite a few people have made the same observation. But you should totally give it a read. It's huge, dense and complex, and I'm not sure I understood everything from one read - it also contains some of the best descriptive writing I've read.

    I want to give it a few years before I go back to it, so I can enjoy the experience more.

  3. Roger Zelazny's first five Amber books were also originally inspired by The Alexandria Quartet...

  4. Hi Mark. I just got the first book of your series, though I haven't read it yet. One of the main reasons it interested me was because I read somewhere that it was (at least partly) inspired by The Book of the New Sun. I tend to agree that fantasy writers in general should take more chances. That is the only way to move us past the current stagnant phase we are in (although there are a few who are doing original and awesome work). Anyway, looking forward to the book.

  5. Hi Aaron - yes, that was certainly one influence, though Wolfe's intensity and style is something that can't really be replicated! The influences were more atmospheric, as well as a few pointers to the construction of the world, but I wanted to do something more contemporary and - well, a bit more of a romp. Though absolutely, risks these days are rather rare. I really hope you enjoy the read.