Today I get to interview a fellow dragon-lover and flautist who just happens to write fantastic fantasy!
Q: You are obviously very fond of dragons, and the dragon characters I've met so far are so realistic. What inspired you to write about dragons, and more specifically shapeshifting dragons?
MARC: Dragons are Fantasy’s most majestic creatures. I like my dragons served up awesome, magical and as full of character as any person you’d wish to meet, the kind of person you’re almost compelled to spend time with or watch. I’m a fan of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern as well as her other writings. It was her viewpoint of fully-formed dragon characters, the telepathic communication between Dragon and Rider, and the possibilities of Human-Dragon interaction which shaped my early fascination with dragons as creatures and characters. Oh yes, and it’s kind of fun to blow up hydrogen dirigibles with dragon fire.
As a brief aside, I find it intriguing that myths of dragons and giants pervade so many of Earth’s ancient cultures.
Shapeshifters? I fell into this as a necessity to Aranya’s plot. When the evil empire decides to execute your main character by chaining her to a rock and throwing her off a five mile tall cliff, well, something has to happen or your story ends rather abruptly and messily at the bottom.
I hadn’t read shapeshifter novels previously as many in the genre are too racy for my taste, but I was aware of the concept. Here I had a character who I imagined transforming between two different forms, and that opened up such a wealth of possibilities, I was a bit like a child discovering a Pandora’s box filled with Smarties. What if a person could have the power of a dragon, I wondered? What would he or she do with that power? What would the possibilities and limitations be?
In Aranya’s case, that answer is to team up with her best friend and go take on the bad guys. Two girls against the evil Sylakian empire? Bring it on!
Q: Your amazingly detailed world is so unique and well-drawn. Did you do your world-building before you began writing the stories, or did it gradually evolve while you wrote your stories?
MARC: I believe a diverse upbringing and cross-cultural experience, as well as meticulous research, is very essential to an author seeking to build believable worlds. We see many monocultural worlds in fiction–that’s OK, but not very interesting. I frame a world in broad brush-strokes before I begin writing, but I’m always shifted one way or another as I’m developing a world. I love the diversity, colour and clash of different cultures, unique settings, and different character-shaping experiences for my fictional characters to encounter. I also work hard on believable levels of technology and mythology / legends, but that often arises from what I feel a story requires.
Q: Your background of living in two entirely different African countries is fascinating, and from what you've written on your blog I see your desire to mine the rich storytelling traditions of that wonderfully diverse continent with its history and legends. Did anything specific within Africa inspire your cloudland world with its "islands" and dangerous beauty?
MARC: The mythos of European folklore has been so extensively mined that elves and dwarves have become a byword in fantasy. But Africa is in many senses, Joseph Conrad’s ‘dark continent’. So much is unexplored or misunderstood, and there’s a beautiful, diverse richness to Africa’s people and cultures and a long, long history that I believe is missed in a world inured to the ‘development needs’ of this continent. In my Shioni of Sheba series, African fantasy set in ancient Ethiopia, I sought to break free of that mould by drawing on Ethiopia’s culture, mythology and history (yes, they have legends of dragons). I have plans for more African fantasy, perhaps set in South Africa.
The Pygmy Dragon draws strongly on African ideas of community and social structures, as well as the obvious connection of Pip being a jungle-born Pygmy, standing less than four feet tall. But I wanted to make her far more than just a ‘little person’. She is huge in heart, and despite being the smallest of dragons, she manages to turn her world upside-down and triumph against the odds.
The cloudlands world of Dragonfriend, Aranya and The Pygmy Dragon is a world of islands raised by ancient dragons from the base of a gigantic impact crater which is half-filled with toxic clouds–the ‘cloudlands’. I love how you phrased the question, ‘dangerous beauty’. That’s exactly what I was aiming for when I created this world. The Simien Mountains of Ethiopia were one of its primary inspirations. The Simiens are a unique, jagged landscape of dark volcanic mountains, often partially covered in cloud. I travelled there when researching Shioni of Sheba. But for the purposes of creating a memorable world, I wanted to create something even more majestic, a huge and inspiring world where dragons would love to live. Here’s an idea of what the world looks like – MountRoraima (in Venezuela). So I have jagged islands rising up to a league (3.45 miles) out of the clouds, all sheer cliffs and diverse, isolated cultures.
Q: I have to know: Did you ride in a hot air balloon or dirigible before writing about the Dragon Ships? They were very realistic!
MARC: No such luck, but it’s on my bucket list. I recently found out that someone offers hot air balloon rides over Addis Ababa. I would love to do that!
I do a lot of research for the technology of my worlds as you’ll see in condensed form in the appendices of Aranya and Dragonfriend. I’m not enamoured of using magic as the panacea of all problems, and you’ll see that my characters don’t just slip into a magical cloak and achieve insta-mastery of their abilities. True character growth requires pain, struggle and mistakes. In the same way, ‘pain’ (OK, I enjoy research, I’ll admit to a case of closet nerdiness) for an author I believe is the necessary research to build a realistic world – be that the origins of the universe, a satisfying creation mythos, technology or the history of ancient civilizations in Africa for my Shioni of Sheba series.
Q: What are you currently writing? Do you envision many more books set within your dragon world?
MARC: I am currently finishing Dragonlove, the sequel to Dragonfriend, which I hope to have ready within the next six weeks or so. I’ve also started drafting Dragon Thief and the sequel to The Pygmy Dragon.
In all, I have the following novels set or planned for this dragon world:
The Pygmy Dragon, part #2 planned for autumn 2015
The Girl whoSang with Whales, and part #2 planned for 2016
Dragonfriend (the sequel will be Dragonlove, planned for end of July 2015)
Dragon Thief (work in progress) – planned for August 2015
Thanks, Marc, for the great interview! I am looking forward to reading the rest of your books.