Q&A With Ed McDonald

I’m really excited to have Ed Mc Donald on Bart’s Bookshelf today to talk about his new book, Blackwing.

I’m reading the book at the moment and loving it! Look out for a review in the near future. Many thanks to the fantastic Stevie at Gollancz for sending me a review copy and setting up the Q & A. Make sure you check out the rest of the blog tour as well! (Banner at the bottom of the page.)

Welcome to Bart’s Bookshelf, Ed, it’s great to have you stop by! To start with, could you tell us a little about yourself?

Hi, my name’s Ed. I used to spell it ‘Edd’ because the only way that I’d ever seen it written was for ‘Edd the duck’ on children’s TV and now I’m stuck with an email that has too many Ds. Oh, and I also wrote a novel called Blackwing.

Could you tell us a little bit about Blackwing and the main characters?

The idea with Blackwing was to capture the elements that I love from crime/thriller fiction and incorporate them into a fantasy, which is the genre that I’ve always loved. Therefore I describe Blackwing as an epic fantasy thriller.

The lead character is Galharrow. He’s kind of broken by the past but still doing the best he can, and he’s not entirely honest with himself about why he does what he does. There’s a lot of bitterness in him, but also a lot of heart. He’d really like to be the heartless brute, but his conscience won’t quite let him. He’s bound to serve Crowfoot, an absentee wizard of god-like power who manifests as a raven that tears itself out of a tattoo in Galharrow’s arm. Ouchie.

Galharrow is backed up by Nenn, the most foul mouthed woman you’ve ever met, and Tnota, the navigator who guides him around on his missions. Finally there’s Ezabeth, a shadow from Galharrow’s past, possibly mad, highly dangerous and either going to save the day or really, really ruin it. In some ways, the book is Ezabeth’s story as much as Galharrow’s.

If you could take the place one of your characters, major or minor, for 24 hours. Whose would you take and why?

In all honesty, none of them. Blackwing is a story about people living in really tough times, with the fate of humanity lying in balance and part of what gives the book its pace is that things are never easy and don’t let up. However, if I have to choose someone, then I’ll go with Galharrow. I put quite a lot of myself into him (there’s a lot about him that isn’t me at all) especially in terms of his desire to take responsibility and fix things.

It may be related to your answer to the previous question, but what is your favourite place you’ve written about in the book?

It has to be the Misery. The Misery is a wasteland of leftover, toxic magical badness that stretches for hundreds of miles, and also forms the no-man’s-land between the republic and the enemy. Distances in the Misery aren’t always constant, directions change, even the places might move. It’s full of horrible, destructive things and creatures that just want to eat you while you’re numbed and asleep. In a way, the Misery is a character in its own right and I just love writing about it. I sometimes feel like I’m writing about a surrealist painting when I write about the Misery.

What aspect of writing do you enjoy the most? What part could you happily do without?

Writing the ending, always. I wrote the last 30,000 words of the second book in just four days because once I go into the zone, it’s all I want to concentrate on. For me, the end is the culmination of a hundred hours of working on the plot and characters to put them into a position where I know what’s going to happen and all the threads come together to make something satisfying. It’s the easiest bit, where I get to indulge myself.

The worst part by far is the copy editing. Grammar/punctuation checks just send me to sleep, especially as I don’t always stick to traditional forms.

Do you like to keep a tight grip on your characters or do you let them lead you through their stories?

I don’t believe that characters ‘take over’ as some writers claim – ultimately you can make them do whatever you like – but I think that it’s inevitable that if you’re striving for internal consistency that your characters behave as previous pages have dictated. There are certainly moments where you think “Oh, I think that Nenn would actually…” and then go off at a tangent for a while. But there are equally time when you think, “Oh, it would be awesome if Nenn would do the opposite. I’ll go back and change X, Y and Z so that it’s set up when she does it.” It’s a give-and-take process for me.

Talking of characters, could you tell us a fact about one of them that doesn’t appear in the book?

In an earlier version, Galharrow and Nenn were shown working out. They aren’t just naturally stronger than other people, ultimately they’re soldiers and they lift weights and run a lot to keep in fighting shape.

So, the UK cover is pretty damn gorgeous! What was was your reaction when you first saw it?

In all honesty, I wanted a very different cover. We’d designed something totally different, and had gone through six different variations to get it right and then the bird-cover was made for the advanced reader copies. I wanted something with characters and swords, very 1990s. Ultimately the publisher talked me round and I saw that the final cover we have now if much more up to date, but I think that as a long time fantasy reader/writer, you always have an idea about what it should be, but it doesn’t necessarily fit into the modern market. I liked it in the end.

Lastly if one of your characters was able to read a book from your own bookshelves, which one would they enjoy the most?

I have a Good Beer Guide somewhere. They’d definitely make use of that.