Ian McKinley is a Canadian diplomat currently on leave to follow his wife of 23 years, Josée Lanctôt, to beautiful New Brunswick. He writes what he calls “fantastic realism,” a genre that seeks to escape the traditional tropes of fantasy, wherein pure good confronts ultimate evil for global domination. Rather, Ian’s narratives are driven by alignments and/or collisions of human interests and values.
His first novel, The Gallows Gem of Prallyn was released to positive reviews in November, 2014. It throws together an explosive mixture of zealotry, class oppression, and nationalism, the results of which take the reader on a gripping adventure.
Ian unveiled his second novel, Harbinger, Book One of Northern Fire, at the 2016 Frye Festival, in which he participated as a “Prélude Emerging Writer.” In Harbinger, Ian explores questions around culture and the type of societies particular cultures construct, the various tools of societal control that societies develop, as well as the question of whether an individual can change the fate of an entire nation. Ian is working on edits to The Winter Wars, Book Two of the Northern Fire duo-logy. If things go to plan, it should be available by November, 2017.
Ian was born in Calgary, Alberta, and grew up in Northern Ireland and on the Canadian prairies. He graduated from the University of Lethbridge and joined the foreign service shortly thereafter. He has served Canada abroad in Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in New York.
Ian has seen his non-fiction published in Bout de papier and Au courant.
Ian is a member of the Writers Federation of New Brunswick as well as the Sunburst Award Society for Excellence in Canadian Literature of the Fantastic. He speaks English, French and Spanish.
They sailed from Cape Terror on the dawn. The mainland off Rignil’s port rail rose in sheer cliffs and the first of the Demon’s Teeth neared off the starboard beam. As if on cue, the winds found them; between mainland cliff and sea-bound tooth, the gusts buffeted the longship from changing directions. Then the rain began. At first it was but a mist, hard to differentiate from the spray thrown at them by the swirling winds from the wash rising off the prow or from waves surging against their sides. It turned into a steady drizzle, and, just before midday, to rain. Lars muttered. “Can this get any worse?”
Before Thay or Cairn could reply, Krüllig laughed and said, “Of course it could, lad! Be glad this is a summer crossing. In winter, you could be treading freezing cold water and watching our stern slip beneath the waves! But I wouldn’t worry too much about that; Kindron’s been through the Teeth two-score times. He’ll see us through.”
As if to underline their captain’s skill, Kindron delivered them a small blessing. He leaned against the rudder and turned them into a channel that ran between two jutting islands. He brought Rignil close to the southern island’s cliff face and ordered oars raised. The crew all leaned forward on their oars, panting in the pouring rain, but laughing as well as they saw that Kindron had found a current that pushed them along faster than any wind could. Then only he had to work as he controlled the rudder, pushing it or heaving against it as need be. But he grinned as he did so and that grin gave them all a fire in their bellies to combat the cold rain. Thunderer and Northern Fire hove-to and heard their fellow Sea Wolves bellow approval from the other boats.
Their respite lasted long enough for them to gobble down a damp meal. Kindron even threw them a skin full of wine to pass around. However, the captain’s face darkened at a low drumming of thunder that suddenly rumbled across the waves. Before it echoed off the cliffs, the men were back on the oars. By the time the boats shot out the other end of the channel, lightning arced between the Teeth. The clouds turned jet and sank lower to the water. The seas, too, surged and dipped, currents colliding and waves coming at them from every direction, once combining to heave the stern aloft and throw men backwards onto the oars of their crewmates.
Thay looked about him. Lora, huddling near the stern, looked as worried as he felt. Beside him, terror was carved on Cairn’s burly features: the big youth looked horrible, with his dark hair lank, wet, and clinging to his ashen face, his brown eyes red-rimmed and wide, and his head twisting from side to side as he shot panicked looks at the sheer cliffs bursting from the swirling sea on either side of their longboat. Thay felt Cairn strain against the oar, quickening the rhythm but for the countering control that Thay exerted; it would not impress the captain if they broke the unison of the crew. It occurred to Thay that though Cairn, the son of herders, had never sailed in a storm.
“Calm down,” Thay grunted between oar strokes. “This crew knows what they’re about.”
“The cliffs close in on us!”
“That’s just the boat shifting in the swirls,” Thay responded, but he glanced at the mountains involuntarily as he did so. At first glance, it did indeed look like the great wall to starboard loomed closer and the cliff to port filled more and more of the roiling grey-black sky.
Suddenly thunder boomed overhead, drowning the drumming of Asgear and wiping the grin off Kindron’s face. Thay quickly realized how much he had drawn confidence from the captain. Kindron studied the low, swift-flying clouds and then ordered the sail unfurled and trimmed. Rignil listed away from the wind and held to a course Thay hoped would steer them clear of the fangs of rock that rose from the waves. Salt spray carried on the wind from the bow showered him and mingled with his sweat. Behind Rignil, Thay could see that first Toftig on Thunderer, and then Albig on Northern Fire, followed Kindron’s example, unfurling and setting their own sails. He could see less to starboard as the boat leaned in the water, but he saw frothing whirlpools and white foam splashing off the ever-approaching cliffs to port. He gave a start when he heard the crash of a wave against a jutting point of rock an oar’s length from the gunnel.
They passed a headland to the south and heard Kindron yell from the stern, “Hang on!” As Thay hooked his legs around the prop of the bench in front of him, he saw terror on Lora’s face. Then the instant was gone as a wall of water hit them from starboard. As he rose into the air, he reached for the gunnel. He saw Cairn pitch sideways and flail at the bench. Then Thay flew.
When he broke the surface, he gasped from the shock of the cold water and fought to keep his head above the waves. Against the backdrop of the Tooth to the north of them, he saw the flotsam of the boat all around him; men, oars, cloaks, planking, sea-chests and rope bobbed on the water. Six men had gotten their bearings after having been thrown even further and they began swimming towards him. Thay twisted his head around and saw Rignil floating low in the water only an oar’s length from him. Improbably, the only person still in the boat was Cairn.
“Thay!” Cairn yelled. “Grab the oar!” The big lad stood unsteadily and ran out an oar.
As Thay swam he called out, “Sit down, you ass! And lean to the other side of the boat!” Cairn did so, scrambling to a bench and then straining with his great strength to haul Thay to the gunnel. Thay scrambled over and Cairn ran out his oar to the six men swimming closer.
Thay sloshed over to the rudder as Rignil bobbed on the waves. The wave that had tossed them overboard had also left the sail flapping in the wind, but pulling on the rudder only brought the water-logged boat around slowly. Thay looked then to the sea and saw another massive wave bearing down on them. He knew the rudder would not turn the boat around quick enough to point the prow into the wave, there were no crew at the oars.
Quick as he could, he pulled on the rope lashing the anchor to the stern, expecting the slip knot to give and release the heavy stone in its wooden cradle. The rope, however, was thick and sodden, and some misfortune had pulled the ends of the knot too tight to allow the loop to slip. He fixed his legs and gave the lashing a great heave. Still the knot would not give. He whipped out his dagger, pried its point into the knot and used the blade as leverage, hoping to loosen it. He glanced over and saw that it was not another man at all that had clambered into the boat, but Lora. He did not breathe a sigh of relief. Rather, he glanced at the approaching wave, suddenly much nearer, and put his entire strength behind a last heave of the rope. It gave way in a sudden rush and he fell back onto the deck, the anchor thumping onto the deck at the stern.
“Lora!” he yelled, “Trim the sail!” She did not reply but scrambled over to the loose ropes that set the sail.
Thay lifted the anchor from the deck and heaved it astern, towards the rock face of the nearby Tooth rearing up from the frothing sea. He could not heave it far, but he hoped it would be enough as it trailed its rope behind it, just as he hoped the water would be shallow enough for his gambit to work. As the anchor’s rope unwound with a whir, the prow crept to starboard, towards the wave that approached with alarming speed. But then suddenly the rope stopped unwinding. He knew he had to change dramatically the angle of the prow to the wave and that pulling on the rope from the stern would have no effect. So, with the black wall of water looming above them, Thay grabbed hold of the slack coils of rope attached to the anchor and ran, bounding from bench to bench above the water in the boat, to the prow yelling, “Hang on.” He looped the rope once over the prow, forming a noose for the wolf that was the figurehead, and he hung on for dear life. They were not going to make it, Thay suddenly realized in the moments before the wave hit. They did not have enough forward momentum to swing the boat around.
That was the moment that Lora got the sail properly trimmed. Being the daughter of a fisherman and so bold as to insist on accompanying her father out to sea to learn the handling of boats, she knew how to catch the wind in a sail. In the near-gale now blowing, she pulled the sail into position, it caught the wind and the boat lumbered forward and it came about. As the sea welled up and the wave towered over Rignil, Lora kept the sail in the wind and they turned. Thay pulled on the anchor rope with all his might, tugging the prow southwards. The wave crashed against their starboard side at an angle, but the prow had come about enough to cut into the onslaught. The boat lurched but did not capsize or toss them overboard, and then the wave was past them.
Only one other such wave hit them, but by then Kindron had relieved Thay at the rudder and had pointed the prow into the swell. The men hauled out of the sea had also bailed a great deal of water out of the boat and Rignil rode the waves with greater ease.
Northern Fire drew up beside Rignil after having scooped up Lars and Krüllig. Thunderer returned another five crewmen to them - sodden and shivering, but all grinning. Kindron did a head count, and then repeated it with Asgear, before dousing the momentary elation. “Hossig’s gone.” He strode from prow to stern, looking into the dark water, the other two captains looking around them, but they saw nothing. “We’ll mourn on the other side of the Teeth,” Kindron declared and then set about putting his boat in order.
The wind and seas calmed and Kindron passed around his wineskin again. Then he had them finish the bailing, return the sea-chests to their owners and re-stow them, secure the rigging and order the sail. He took his own woollen blanket from beneath the deck and, though it was sodden, just like everything else, he draped it over Lora’s shoulders, patting her on the back. He gave Thay and Cairn each a serious nod. All three knew they had just received Kindron’s deepest thanks.
Thank you Ian for being our guest this week. Looking forward to reading more of Harbinger.
Drop by Ian's website to discover more about him and his novels and watch for his next novel.
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