James Johnson about ... The Enemy's Son
Books by this Author:
interviewed Jul 2008 by Sarah Rudd
We have lots of questions for you about your debut novel - The Enemy's Son, so here goes:
Pirian Horncastle isn't exactly a usual name, but is strangely memorable - is that something you strove to create or was it a moment of inspiration?
It was half and half with this particular character. The name Horncastle just stuck in my head back in í99 when I was on holiday in St. Ives. I have no idea why, perhaps it was subliminal or Iíd happened across it traveling - but that was the birth of it all right there. The weird thing is, I later discovered St Erth down in Cornwall, way after I settled on the name of the universe - it was by no means influential, but itís odd all the same that the origins of this story point back to such a beautiful part of the country. I remember shortly afterwards, the name Horncastle inspiring a sketch of a young boy with a dragon wrapped around his shoulder. As much as I love these creatures, I was a little tired of reading stories with dragons in them - I wanted something different, so it remained in my sketchbook for a few years as I tried to gain more confidence in my writing.
As I began to develop the world and characters of Erth Chronicles, this small dragon became the basis of the gargoyle, Vagabond - who I felt was the perfect companion for the wolf pirate, Lomax. It formed a stronger contrast, a more original image than a boy and his dragon, which by this time really had been done to death. The name ĎPirian', however was thought of long and hard. Some names are more familiar than others, but Pirian and Jeradon were important to me - they had to be right. You wouldnít be so flippant naming your first child - it says just as much about them as their actions. And of course, is more memorable!
The Dosage is a terrifying concept - substance abuse always is - but what made you decide to include this form of mass control for the Newtonians? Why not just make them live by the iron rule of their Emperors (in fear), or have them all brainwashed so they believed in their greater cause?
Well, Iíve never been comfortable with politics and never felt it would work anyway in a book aimed at young adults - there was a danger of slowing the pace. I needed something more familiar, disturbingly familiar that had a stronger, underlining message and also moved the plot along.
It was born out of my despair really. Most of us will have witnessed to some degree what the result of certain drugs can do to people and society. Iíve drifted apart from friends who have chosen that path, I never judged them, it was their life - but I did perceive them to be weak minded and that somehow they were never in control of their actions. I wanted the Dosage to reflect this somehow and be one of the underlining messages throughout the story.
Thereís nothing that new about it really, itís also a little nod to Orwell and Huxley who have both used similar concepts within their totalitarian worlds. This substance is Newtonís way of brainwashing, but it is only controlling the masses in a way of keeping them down, to keep the gears of Newton turning. If the Dosage made them believe in a higher cause, the engine would cease to function, as everyone on Newton would want a piece of the pie. I wanted to explore the notion of Ďcontrolí through the Dosage, rather than the Ďiron ruleí method - which is what they impose more on the Rojin. This is where Newtonians are feared the most - by the very people they slaughter in search of a mysterious artifact that may not even exist.
The Newtonians ethnic cleansing of the Rojin is not particularly a new idea in the history of our planet, but is there an underlying reason why they despise each other so much?
The fact ethnic cleansing isnít a Ďnew ideaí is terrifying in its own right - something that influences the most evil of people, those that allow power to corrupt themselves and follow this horrific action. Unfortunately there will always be these kinds of evil in the world and there is no escape in reflecting it either in writing.
Without giving too much away, I think the reason the Newtonians despise the Rojin boils down to them having something that Newton will never fully understand Ė and that this is what Newtonís Emperors have Ďfearedí. A true Rojin, one who has harnessed their power isnít capable of despising anyone. However, in The Enemyís Son we are witness to a time when the strength and even the faith of these people is now questioned. They believe that everything serves a purpose, no matter if itís right or wrong. For a young Rojin such as Karl, itís very difficult to accept this after his mother is brutally murdered and he is wide open to corruption (the contamination if you will). Even our young hero, Pirian will struggle with this belief as his story progresses.
With everyone fighting each other, it's hard to tell who are the good guys and who are the bad guys - particularly when the Rojin seem to have their own problems of brainwashing and fear of contamination... is this a deliberate grey area, or is the clear cut divide yet to come?
Itís deliberate. Life is full of grey areas Ė itís never as simple as black and white, which is what makes a story so much more interesting to explore. Personally, I think it makes the characters denser, richer. There is good and bad in everything Ė 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, however you see it, is one of the main themes explored throughout the series. 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.
There is a lot of mutation and odd organic growths going on throughout - what is the purpose of this? What is the contamination?
The mutations, or Ďmarksí as they are known to the Rojin, are what makes them unique. Here lie their own individual powers that make them who they are. Individuality after all is what sets the Rojin apart from the Newtonians. I think a lot of these devices Iíve written into the story, such as the symbiont blades, have grown out of my interest of studying natural form, those details and textures you begin to analyse as an artist. The contamination is read as a number of things - Indeed, itís the poison of the land that has spread across the cracked Erth. It could be seen that protronium is the contamination, that zetameen is Ė or simply the lies and deceit that have spread through the Rojin people. Itís all connected anyway, much like a corruptive eco system Ė it just depends how itís harnessed and understood.
The purpose of these mutations is simple - they are a test of character. The origins of how this all came about in the first place are only hinted at so far. This isnít to say I donít know where the story is going or where it has come from (far from it), I just like to allow a little for the reader to question and make up their own mind.
The Enemy's Son is your first book - how difficult was it to turn your ideas into words on a page?
Iíd be lying if I said it was easy. Certain parts I found effortless, but the majority was a real challenge. I have a long way to go before I feel comfortable even calling myself a writer - The Enemyís Son was a huge learning curve for me and all I can do is try and improve my writing craft each time, as Iím sure many writers strives for.
If there was anything you could do or write again in the book- what would it be?
Wasnít it Kubrick that once said, ĎFilm is never finished, just abandonedí? I think the same can be said about writing or any form of art. You abandon the book, you have to learn to walk away from it and move forward otherwise there is a danger of going round in circles. Of course there are things Iíd change about my writing, but Iím proud of the first story and there isnít a single thing Iíd change about that. It has set up precisely what I wanted to achieve. The structure works, itís gaining positive feedback so far and Iím always interested in what the readers have to say, which helps you improve as a writer. What I hope to do though, now things are established, is continue with the next installments, rather than think about what I could have written differently in Book I. All I can do is concentrate on assessing those issues to help with Book II.
There is some incredible artwork on your website www.erthchronicles.com, all of which really help bring both the characters and your world to life - how important is it to you that your writing inspires this level of imagination and artistic license?
It is important for myself, first and foremost, to get 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. Iíd 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 by 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 isnít simply inspired; it has become definitive due to those artists who are wanting me to art direct them.
Itís 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.
What do you think you have learnt from your first foray into writing a novel?
That itís a long journey full of many obstacles, pitfalls, sore eyes, test of character, loss of memory, red pens, sacrifice, word docs and redemption Ė pretty much like the story! The main thing I have learnt is to believe in your story and stay passionate. Discipline is the hardest part.
When can we expect the next in the series to become available?
After balancing the day job and the freelance work - let us hope within the next eighteen months!Read our full review of The Enemy's Son by James Johnson