Thursday, 28 April 2016

Something wicked this way comes - Q and A and review of The Sowing Season by Chris Tetreault-Blay

Writing horror novels must be exhausting. Finding those places in the darkest recesses of your mind where the twisted creatures lurk and men with souls as black as the night wait to do you harm must have quite a profound effect on ones psyche.

Fortunately, I know that Chris Tetreault-Blay is one of the nicest and most genuine people around and a fantastic author to boot. Which is why, when given the opportunity for a second time to be involved in one of his blog tours, I jumped at the chance.

I loved 'Acolyte', which was the first book in the Wildermoor Apocalypse series. A novel that starts out thriller and ends up being full on horror. Graphic but not to the point of being exploitive, 'Acolyte' was an original take in a well trodden genre with echoes of The Omen and many of the classic Hammer horror films, updated to the 21st century.

It was with this in mind that I found myself excited when I was given the opportunity to read the follow up 'The Sowing Season'.

Seeds for this story had already been sown (no pun intended) in the first book, namely the insidious Reaper and his acolytes (again, no pun intended!). It is no spoiler to say we meet this character again, alongside a few others who we got to know well in the first book.

Once again, Chris TB does a fantastic job of navigate a story across timezones whilst making it very easy for you to follow what is going on. The journey that you are taken on with DI Thomas Laing is both compelling and disturbing in equal measure. The author does a fantastic job of setting the scenes, both form a historic perspective, but also form a visual one. One particular scene of a character's encounter with The Reaper is particularly memorable and graphic, yet in keeping with the town of the story and never overly descriptive enough to put you off. (Urizen is another character to look out for!)

The story bounds along at a breathtaking pace, cumulating in a chilling ending that left images in my mind for the remainder of the evening (when you reach St Dymphna's Facility you'll know what I mean!). And the ending is one of those that leaves you devastated that it has arrived so soon, easily setting up the next book in the series but also acting as a satisfying coda to everything that has gone before...creepy too.

I cannot recommend this book enough. Make certain you seek out 'Acolyte' first and then ensure you take the journey into 'The Sowing Season'. Horror is not particularly my thing, but I know a good book when I see it and Chris TB's series are already up there with Herbert and King in my opinion.

I really enjoyed my time in Wildermoor and can't wait to return.  I suggest you book your room, but for now enjoy my interview the the very talented Chris Tetreault-Blay as his blog tour kicks off in ernest...

Hi Chris! This will be the second of your blog tours I have had the privilege of being involved in…thank you!

So, first we had ‘Acolyte’, now ‘The Sowing Season’. An amazing follow up and novel in its own right (my review will be posted separately!!). What can you tell us about the idea behind it?

The path which The Sowing Season takes is actually different than what I set it out to be when I started writing it last year.  From the outset I knew that it had to be the bridge between the beginning and the end parts of the whole story, therefore had to pretty much explain everything that linked what happened in 1684 to what is about to happen in 2012.  Before I even wrote the first word, I knew that it would be a challenge.
I had originally planned it to be more heavily focused on Truman Darke, particularly given the strong position in which he left Acolyte.  But it was the story of how The Reaper and The Council of Eternal Light strengthen their ranks that emerged as the most important thread in Season, and the more it developed the more I fell in love with their side of the tale.  I guess this is to the Wildermoor Apocalypse what The Empire strikes Back is to Star Wars.

Was it always the intention to write a sequel? Though ‘Acolyte’ lent itself to a follow on, was the story always there or was it inspired by the actual events whilst writing the first book?

I knew that I was planning a trilogy when I started writing Acolyte, so it was always intended.  Thinking of how the entire Wildermoor Apocalypse story would play out, I knew that there was no way that I could contain it all in one book and have it retain the level of impact that I am intending from spreading it over three.  However, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what the sequel would achieve, or where it would even begin, until I had finished Acolyte.  I had an end point for the whole trilogy and a large open space to fill in between, which allowed me to adopt the similar organic style in which I wrote the first book – not having a plan for the story, just daily or weekly word count targets and ‘checkpoints’ to write to.  As with Acolyte, The Sowing Season largely wrote itself.

How did you go about the research as the level of detail was particularly engaging, at least for me? Given the subject matter, was it difficult to add such a level of realism given the nature of the story?

I have to admit that I did virtually no research for Season.  When writing Acolyte, I had to gain a certain level of knowledge of several historical events and scientific methods but with Season, it was more about developing the characters themselves and turn up the ‘threat’ factor for The Reaper and The Council. It was more about putting the reader slap bang in the middle of Wildermoor and feeling as though they were looking over the characters’ shoulders and witnessing what was happening first hand.  I suppose this kind of idea came from my love of survival horror video games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill – through following the characters, your own fear of them or for them is enhanced. 
Saying that, there are still small details that come from my own experiences.  For example, the broken relationship between Thomas Laing and his family was inspired my parents’ divorce when I was young. As a father now, I tried to put myself in the ‘absent father’ role, how it would affect me, the reasons behind it, and so on.
In terms of maintaining the realism of my story, for me it is all to do with creating a balance.  The story itself is largely paranormal or fantasy, I understand that.  I have my own ideas about how the darker side of religion could be our downfall, but that doesn’t mean that The Wildermoor Apocalypse is it.  This is where I had to simply ensure that each character at some point possesses a ‘human’ side, something about them that someone out there can relate to.  Once the reader can empathise with a character, you will have them rooting for them or against them.  Either way, it keeps them hooked to find out what happens, whether they believe it could be real or not.

The series seems to have evolved between books from a tale to frighten to something more interesting and multi-layered. You have crafted a very compelling world throughout The Wildermoor Apocalypse tales…was it difficult to keep any links consistent between the two?

Firstly, thank you.  I aimed to create a world that would be different to those out there in this genre, and hearing that I have achieved this gives me a great sense of pride.
And to answer your question, yes it was a big challenge to keep them consistent.  The hardest part was ensuring that the dates all lined up.  I wrote portions of the book out of sync, therefore referenced the gaps in time pretty flippantly without thinking about how it would eventually fit into the chronology, and ended up having to go back and re-write some small parts just to ensure that they fit in the correct places.  It certainly taught me a lot about planning for the next book, and the importance of keeping a timeline of events before I start writing it.
In terms of the characters themselves, I introduce a couple of new guys in The Sowing Season and had great ideas of where they came from, why they were there, what will happen to them, but then had to write backwards and make sure that their own personal history and story had a place in the overall trilogy and, especially, to make sure that they had some relevance to Acolyte.  I experienced many moments of uncertainty where I almost removed them completely from the story, but in the end I saw how vital their presence is to the story and even to Book Three.

Did the spanning of different timelines during the course of the narrative prove challenging in anyway compared to the first novel? To me, it was one of the most intriguing elements that drove the narrative in both books. Is it hard to keep track?

A little, more so in Season.  Whilst writing Acolyte, I was around three-quarters of the way through the book before the two threads of the story (the past and the present) actually came together.  I was starting to worry that I had was simply two separate stories rather than one.  With The Sowing Season, I not only had to make the two timelines tie together within this book but also tie in with Acolyte.  The story was ever-changing as I was writing it, meaning that the challenge became greater.  Some of my ideas for certain scenes had to be left on the cutting room floor simply because I had no way of making them fit the existing structure.  I toyed with the idea of abandoning the flashbacks to 1684 in Season, maybe just reducing them to short snappy paragraphs in between the main chapters, but I truly believe that the trilogy needs both ends of the story in order to exist.
Ironically, as a reader I used to hate books that jumped around between different timelines but on this side of the pen, they help keep the writing fun. I am able to come up with a heart-wrenching scene and then think of a way how it could be linked to one event, one decision, made by a character three hundred years before.

I love many of the characters names…Julius, Urizen. How did you come up with such original and unusual names?

I really don’t know, I’m constantly pulling them out of the air or from songs or movies.  Most of the time, it is just because I like the sound of the name or that it conjures up a strong image or characteristic that I want to make part of the story.  Urizen, for example, came from the Bruce Dickenson song ‘Gates of Urizen.’  The name sounded strong, noble in some way.  I did a little research and found that it also had a biblical significance, which sealed it for me, given the subject matter.  I’m always trying to give characters names that the reader will remember.

What were the challenges in bringing this element of the Wildermoor Trilogy to life (research, literary, psychological, and logistical)?

As already mentioned, the main obstacle was trying to ensure that Season remained consistent with Acolyte, whilst also trying the move the bigger story forward.  I didn’t want this book to become a carbon copy of the first; it had to still be able to stand up as a novel in its own right, as well as part of a series. 
Psychologically, this book has been the most challenging to date.  Many a time I convinced myself that, despite having written some blistering chapters that I was immensely proud of, the story was not taking the path that I intended and also worried that it would be perceived as confusing compared to Acolyte.  I wrote most of the book during the later months of last year whilst also being struck down with a particularly stubborn winter bug, having to push myself to write when all I wanted to do was to put my head down and sleep.  I had already lost the best part of four weeks writing time in November after having ear surgery, so the pressure I had put on myself to have the book finished by the end of January was only increasing.
At times, the creation of The Sowing Season felt as though it literally took me to hell and back, especially as I had the added pressure of publishing this book myself.  But the moment that I had finished my first edit and received feedback from my reader/co-editor I was over the moon.  I knew then that this book was going to be the most important release to date, as I had poured more of myself into it than before.

How do you feel you have evolved as an author between books?

One of the biggest lessons that I have taken from the writing of Season is how to develop characters.  I had to take the same people from Acolyte and push them further, maybe even make the readers feel altogether different emotions about the character than they may have done the first time round.  Going into Book Three, I have also learnt the importance of planning and having a structure for the book before writing, no matter how skeletal it may be.

Aside from that, the biggest difference is that I am now self-publishing.  My publisher and I mutually agreed that the timing wasn’t right for us to collaborate this time around so I made the decision to take over all aspects of the book’s creation myself (bar the cover design).  I have already released one solo title, ‘House Of Courtenay’, but it started out as more of an experiment, to test the water ready to do the same with Season.  I cannot describe the level of pride that I feel at being able to see something that I have created from start to finish up on a site like Amazon, for all to see and enjoy.

Do you have any special message you would like to say to your readers?

“Please buy my book.”
Just joking. I would just like to say thank you to everyone who has bought, downloaded, reviewed or even just commented in passing, and overall supported my work up until this point.  At the times that I have questioned whether I am cut out for this writing lark, or whether I was even producing something worth reading, your encouragement has helped keep me focused.
But seriously, please buy my book…especially if you have read Acolyte – I’m sure you’d like to know what happens next!

And finally, what’s yet to come for Chris Tetreault-Blay?

The best, hopefully.
I am working on a more sci-fi-related project at the moment, ‘Chasing Grey’, which I will be researching for over the next month and then continuing the writing over the summer.  I am hoping to release this title in some capacity before the end of the year.
From the autumn, I will be starting work on the third and final part of The Wildermoor Apocalypse, which will see me through until it reaches its natural end.  I will not be placing such a strict timescale on this one, but hope to have it released at some point in 2017.

After that, who knows?  Maybe my story will be told and I will move on to other things.  But there is plenty of time yet for more ideas to form…

A huge thank you to Chris for allowing me to not only be part of his second blog tour but also to start the whole thing off!

The Sowing Season is available from here and please don't forget to check out the first book in The Wildermoor Apocalypse series 'Acolyte' here and Chris's book of novelettes 'House of Courtenay' here

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