|2016 Frye Festival Author.|
It’s been much too long since Ian has been a guest on the Scribbler. The good news is that he’s back with lots of exciting news about his novels.
He has been featured previously and you can read an excerpt from his first novel in the Northern Fire series.– Harbinger. Go HERE.
A special note was made of Harbinger on another post of Six Great Books. Go HERE.
**Dear reader - please note that the posts aforementioned were issued before Harbinger was divided into two novels.
Following the decision by Lugar Comun Editorial to pick up the Northern Fire series, they have decided to split the book in two. Book 1 – Harbinger. Book 2 – The Broken Dream.
The launch of the third novel in the series, The Winter Wars, was delayed by the pandemic we are experiencing. For those of us anxious to read the next instalment, it was disappointing news, to say the least. However, things are progressing and it will soon be available.
**Exciting news – the publishers have agreed to share the new cover today for Book 3 – The Winter Wars. (Please see below)
We are fortunate that Ian is taking the time to answer a few questions about this work.
Ian H. McKinley
Ian H. McKinley is a former Canadian diplomat. He writes “fantastic realism,” fantasy that escapes the traditional tropes of pure good versus ultimate evil. Rather, Ian’s narratives are driven by alignments and/or collisions of human interests and values. His first novel, The Gallows Gem of Prallyn explores 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.” Harbinger examines the role of violence
in society and between different peoples, as well as the role of culture in
perpetuating concepts of social order.
In 2019, Ojo de Vidrio, a speculative fiction imprint of Lugar Común Editorial, secured the publishing rights to the Northern Fire series. In 2020, Ojo de Vidrio released a second edition of Harbinger as well as book two in the series, The Broken Dream, a collaboration that brought improvements to the books and that deepened the Northern Fire narrative.
Ian took advantage of the first COVID lockdown to write Up and Under, a novel-length illustrated tale of the travails of a fledgeling sports team in a fantasy world. More light-hearted than his previous work, Up and Under nevertheless delves into topics such as women’s empowerment, the rich potential for inter-racial cooperation, and the burden of celebrity. Human interests and values again predominate, albeit with a sports environment. But mostly it’s just a blast! Up and Under is being released in episodes and can be found at
Ian is doing a last re-write of Tears of the Ghosts, Book Five of Northern Fire, the conclusion of the series. In the meantime, his publisher, is putting the final design touches on The Winter Wars, Book Three of Northern Fire, which is due for release in May, 2021. Book four, The Rune Slate is in the final stages of editing and, COVID permitting, will be launched in October at The Conference on Canadian Content in Speculative Arts and Literature.
Ian has been married to his wife, Josée, for nearly twenty-seven years. Josée is Ian’s first source of editorial advice and assists the translation of Up and Under into French (Frappe Précise, in case you were wondering.) Together they try to help each other understand their strange dog, Sanja, an eleven year-old German Shepherdy thing.
Ian was born in Calgary, Alberta, and grew up in Northern Ireland and on the Canadian prairies. He has served Canada abroad in Colombia, Kenya, Zimbabwe, and at the Permanent Mission of Canada to the United Nations in New York.
4Q: Regardless of the delay in your launch, Ian, it must be an exciting time for you. I understand that the first novel is being reissued in two books with new covers. Are there any other changes we should be aware of? What can you tell us about this?
IM: Yes, it’s a very exciting time for me. COVID threw the release dates for the Northern Fire series out the window, but the publisher has decided to go forward now. As much as I enjoyed the freedom of being an indie writer, having the external validation of a publisher is important. So seeing the new versions of Harbinger in print as two books was moving; like a milestone that I’m passing in my journey as a writer.
The publisher got a hold of the first edition of Harbinger and liked it so much they secured the rights to the entire Northern Fire series. Given their enthusiasm for the original material, they didn’t seek many changes to the text. They did help me add to the material, giving the characters greater depth, their motivations greater clarity, and their evolutions more profound.
The one big change the publishers brought to the second editions relates to the pacing of the series, as you note. They examined the remaining material and saw the potential for five books of roughly equal length. So, rather than move forward with two books, one really long, and the second really, really long, they decided to break the material into five volumes of a more usual length. Hence, the first edition of Harbinger transforms into Harbinger and The Broken Dream.
This decision to break up the first edition in two brought about a substantive change that adds further depth and understanding to the series’ characters. So as to provide consistency across the five books in the series, Ojo de Vidrio wanted that I add an epilogue to this second edition of Harbinger and a prologue to The Broken Dream.
***For readers who might have enjoyed the first editions, the publisher has kindly allowed me to release the missing material to subscribers to my newsletter, so if the Scribbler’s followers want to get it, just go to www.ianmckinley.com and click to subscribe to the newsletter.
4Q: I am fortunate to be reading an Advanced copy of The Winter Wars and it's a wonderful tale.. When our readers pick up their copy, please tell them what they can expect?
IM: As you know, I have no pretensions of writing earth-shattering literature; I’m just out to spin a good yarn. Fantasy as a genre doesn’t interest everyone and I don’t blame readers from casting a wary eye on it. But for those who enjoy speculative fiction, they’ll see that I continue to focus on character-driven narratives that escape the good versus evil trope. In my novels, characters are motivated by the same passions and values that have motivated people forever: love, greed, ambition, a sense of honour, fear, sorrow, etc.
Beyond setting aside the good versus evil trope, readers will see I continue to re-examine other tropes in The Winter Wars that are common to fantasy. In The Broken Dream, the main characters of the series realize they aren’t the protagonists of the saga in which they find themselves, but rather the antagonists. I build on that in book three. So, for example, as the title of the book suggests, there’s armed conflict that springs up. I have found that many fantasy writers pay no attention to humanity’s attempts to impose international humanitarian law on their combattants. In The Winter Wars, readers will see the main characters forbidding the summary execution of prisoners or the use of child soldiers. Also core to Northern Fire is the doubt I plant in the reader’s mind regarding prophesy. Why is it that prophesy somehow always comes true in fantasy stories? So, I play with that trope as well.
In terms of my main characters, it’s in this middle instalment of the series that the they take the steps necessary to set aside their past as bringers of death and become better people. The challenge for them, however, is that they have a hard time overcoming the justifiable prejudice of those around them. Also, their old enemy who pursued them through book two has risen in power and now threatens them again. So, in spite of their determination to escape their past, they have to rely on it to survive.
I have experimented with my story-telling style. The whole first part of the book takes us deeply into the viewpoint of new characters that we meet, with each one of these characters focussed on one of our main characters. So we get to see the characters through the eyes of patrons, enemies, besotted fools, and sceptics. This has a secondary impact of deepening the world-building that is always necessary in speculative fiction. We get to know new cultures, the sophisticated, trading Polgati, and the adventurous, nomadic Drovers.
4Q: We noticed these new books are being released under the name Ian H. McKinley, not just Ian McKinley, as before.
IM: My journey as a writer got tripped up just as I was set to participate in the 2016 Frye Festival as an Emerging Writer with the release of my second book, the original version of Harbinger. As I was up in Fredericton doing a book-signing event at the great Westminster Books, a provincial colleague of my wife approached her to say he’d really enjoyed my first two books, including Harbinger, so he picked up my third book. He commented to Josée that he’d been surprised to see I also wrote … that stuff … as well as fantasy.
This took my wife aback because I didn’t have a third book out at the time. She enquired about what he meant by “that stuff”. That’s when we learned that another Ian McKinley had popped up on Amazon selling ebooks of science fiction porn! That’s when we realized I had a problem.
We considered developing a nom de plume and brainstormed possibilities. Taking the advice of that successful Fredericton writer, Cary Caffrey, to heart, we duly tried to think of ear-catching, unique monikers that would propel me to instant stardom. We came up with “Boom Antler” … complete with hip-hop hand gestures that would underline the coolness of my writing, and of having antlers.
Then we did a google search and found that the name was already taken! OK, so the guy used the more-sophisticated Boum Antler, but still …
In the end, my publisher convinced me to use my actual name but include my middle initial. So now I’m Ian H. McKinley.
4Q: A quote from James Fisher of The Miramichi Reader - “Mr. McKinley's writing style is solid and detailed, yet pleasurable to read. He has concocted a mythopoeic story of the first rank and one that will have you highly anticipating..., The Winter Wars.” This is a wonderful compliment. How did you develop your voice, your writing style?
IM: It took practice. My time as a diplomat helped my writing immensely. When I was a young Second Secretary writing reports about what was going on in the civil war in Angola, or even later when I was a Counsellor relating what was happening during the post-elections crisis in Kenya, Ottawa had to understand clearly what I was saying. If I was making policy proposals from afar, my counsel had to be comprehensible and appropriately nuanced. A lot of work went into making my writing solid.
When I turned my writing to fiction, I build on that foundation by working with editors, participating in writers’ groups with colleagues, and attending workshops. One of the high points in my time in New Brunswick was integration into the provincial Writers Federation. Part of their core programming is biannual meetings during which there are always great workshops and one-on-one sessions to help writers raise the standard of their writing. These always provided me with exposure to constructive criticism from people who understood how necessary it is for writers to hear about their tics, bad habits, and errors of style or the use of English.
More recently, the lockdown also helped by letting me focus on a project where I had to use a different writing style and develop a different voice. In the space of four months, I wrote a new novel with a more direct style with less elaboration of character motivations and narrative arcs. It was good to see that it has clicked with my target audience, which gives me more confidence about my skill and versatility.
That said, there’s always room for improvement and that’s where I should keep my focus.
4Q: Your novel has maps and a list of characters which I find enormously helpful in keeping track of them and who they are. Was this your idea and where do you get the cool names?
IM: Yes, that was my idea, though it’s hardly a revolutionary one. Maps are common in speculative fiction because the novels are usually set in whole new worlds that are not yet familiar to any given reader. Maps are a key ingredient to world-building, which a writer has to do in fantasy. Also, listings of characters are also often necessary because names are strange and my stories tend to be so wide in scope that there are many characters who have an impact on what goes on.
I do something similar for character names. Yes, some names we could see in this world, like that of one of the principal characters, Lora. But others are adaptations of existing names, such as most of the names of the Drovers, the nomadic people we encounter. Many of those names are modifications of Roma (gypsy) names. Three Drovers become entangled romantically with our principal characters, of which two have names that are such adaptations: Nehemiah, and Esmyralda. And yet, the most important of the love interests who appears in the novel has a name I invented completely: Siançiorny. I have no idea how I came up with that one!
4Q: What attracts you to write in this genre?
|Image credit: Pixelstock.net.|
Also, I can add dragons! (To be clear in managing expectations, there are no dragons that appear in my work except as constructs of the imagination of some of the characters). I’m holding the dragons in reserve!
|Image credit - Morpheus Wikia.|
4Q: Favorite authors and/or novels?
IM: I’ll always pick up the latest work by Guy Gavriel Kay from the moment it becomes available. My all-time favourite novel is his The Lions of Al-Rassan. Like many other readers who like fantasy, I’m impatiently waiting for George R.R. Martin’s next instalment in his series that began with Game of Thrones, which the television show popularized. I recently re-read Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, and surprised myself by how much more I liked it than back in 1996. I went through a phase trying to expose myself to more Can Lit, especially that written by women, and I’ve come to enjoy Jane Urquhart, Elizabeth Hay, Miriam Toews, and Carol Shields. When I was in Colombia, I enjoyed reading Gabriel García Márquez and Juan Gabriel Vásquez. It really depends what I feel like reading … if I’m interested in face-paced crime thriller, I’ll pick up a book by Fredericton’s Chuck Bowie.
4Q: Anything else you’d like to tell us about?
IM: I’d like to thank you for having me back on the Scribbler. The support you give to writers who are working hard to bring their works to a wider audience is oh so valuable. I’m proud to have a blurb from the Scribbler on the back covers of both Harbinger and The Broken Dream.
***SBS: I'm flattered and appreciative of the gesture, Ian. Thrilled to be part of your new venture.
If anyone is intrigued by my having noted I wrote a novel during lockdown, and if they like light-hearted, fast-paced speculative fiction, the novel’s called Up and Under. It’s loosely based on a real-world game wherein players coach teams consisting of fantasy races (elves, orcs, dwarves, etc.) trying to score touchdowns against opponents. It’s a lot of fun and it’s good. It’s being published in weekly episodes on the site of a blogger who publishes a lot of articles about how to play the game. You can find it here: www.upandundertale.com , or in French here: https://bloodbowlstrategies.com/fr/frappe-precise/
Finally, I hope everyone will keep their eyes peeled towards the beginning of May for the official release of The Winter Wars, Book Three of Northern Fire.
An Excerpt from Winter Wars.
(Copyright is held by the author. Used with permission.)
“The necromancer!” Thay yelled. “Demons!” Others had taken up the warning, relaying it back and forth along the line. Even the savage warriors of Markyal’s weroth weren’t immune and some few cowered behind what cover they could find, echoing Thay’s alarm. Some others and many churls fled back down the slope away from their great and terrible enemy. Freddi, showing as much courage as his master in the face of the much feared and hated necromancer, crawled forward to the shrieking herg and beat at the flames burning on Markyal’s clothing.
All of a sudden, the young hergling, Franz dropped beside Thay, eyes scanning the ridgeline. Despite his evident fear, Franz whipped out a dagger and sawed at Thay’s bonds.
“I had an odd dream last night,” Young Franz said matter-of-factly as though his father wasn’t on fire just a dozen paces away. “A great worm summoned me into a giant hall of many pillars. Her eyes were great, hypnotic harvest moons, all orange and menacing.”
“Her?” Thay asked, his heart skipping a beat and his stomach lurching.
“Ya, it was a she. She spoke to me without speaking. Nothing coherent. Nothing I could remember when I woke up. I saw things: you and Korgash duelling under a stormy sky, ravens all around you; you and I sitting in the room of some castle or other. Our fates, yours and mine, are entwined somehow.” The rope gave a jerk and the bonds fell away. “Can you make the necromancer go away and the killing stop?” he asked.
Thay nodded. “I can. But tell me more about the worm.”
The hergling ignored him. Instead, he said, “You were to lead us in an arc so we could flank your Soresayers, not just march us right up the main trail.”
“I don’t know these woods well. I was going to take your father on an aimless tramp along the first decent trail I found leading off this one.”
“He’d have gutted you.”
“It would have saved my people.”
Young Franz peered into Thay’s eyes. “That’s how you think?” He shook his head. “When my father counted his dead back at your camp, he didn’t even bother adding in the men-at-arms who lost their lives.”
“When your time comes, Franz, I’m sure you will.”
“It doesn’t look like my father’s badly hurt. We’ll be coming up the trail shortly. Can you make sure your people aren’t on it? That way we can keep chasing you without actually killing you or getting killed.”
“Your people captured my friend Hansi, the son of Herg Fuchs. Send him back along with four other North Straels. To Sar Lovrov. Make sure they know you and I brokered another prisoner exchange.”
Thay nodded. “I will do that too.”
Thay rose to a crouch, scanning a possible way into the brush. “Oh!” Franz held up Tear Tongue so Thay could see it, then he tucked the Fjordlander weapon in his belt.
“You’re going to keep my axe?”
Franz nodded and said, “A souvenir of a real leader. Come to Smyrton some day to retrieve it. After my father’s gone. I’ll tell you more about the worm then. In the meantime, you can have this.” He tossed Thay a spear.
Thay snatched up the weapon. “Oh, and take these,” Franz added, tossing over the lengths of cut rope. “I can’t have my father finding them. I’m in trouble enough already after our first prisoner exchange. Make sure the second one leads to less of a beating by sending me back Hansi and four others.”
Thay nodded and patted Franz upon the knee. “When the day comes, I’ll want to know about the worm.” Then he took the bits of rope and fled, scurrying away through the underbrush, heading for where the flames still lapped the air, hoping the terror of the necromancer and the work of his fire demons had cleared the way.
Thank you, Ian, for being our guest this week. As usual, it's a pleasure having you here. Hat’s off to your clever and intriguing stories. Wishing you continued success with your writing.
My author website: www.ianmckinley.com
The Broken Dream: to follow shortly.
The Gallows Gem of Prallyn: https://www.amazon.ca/Gallows-Gem-Prallyn-Ian-McKinley-ebook/dp/B00PNZAEUS/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=Ian+H.+McKinley&qid=1611083921&sr=8-2