The Warlock's Child Part 2: An Interview With Sean McMullen
And here is Part 2 of the interview with the authors of The Warlock's Child! This time, I'd like to welcome Sean McMullen to The Great Raven. I have known Sean since before we both made our first sales - and here he is, writing bestselling books! We were both members of a writers' group, then Sean persuaded me to join the SCA and learn how to fight properly so that I'd write better fight scenes. Pay attention to his answers below, because Sean does his research - thoroughly!
GR: What gave you the idea for The Warlock's Child?
SM: This is Paul’s question, mostly. Paul wrote the original story, Deathlight, for a YA anthology years ago. Deathlight more or less covered the same ground as Books I and 2 of The Warlock’s Child. When he started expanding the story into a novel he called me in as a collaborator. My main ideas were adding the dragons, and making Dantar’s sister Velza a major character.
GR: How did you work on it as a team? For example, did you plot it all out in advance and decide who did what, or did you work like the authors of Logan's Run, who had one person write while the other paced up and down waiting for his turn?
SM: Paul wrote an outline draft, then I expanded on some areas and added new bits of detail and story. I suppose that means we followed the Logan’s Run model, because we took it in turns to work on whatever was currently in the works.
GR: When I read a book with two names on the cover I wonder who wrote what. Can you tell us - unless it's a secret?
SM: It’s very complicated and tangled. This is largely because Paul had written about 35,000 words centred on Dantar when I invited me in, but when I expanded the series I enlarged the role of his sister, Velza, as well as adding the dragons as a vital part of the story arc. This meant that a lot of my extra text got interspersed into Paul’s text, while some of his text had to be changed because there were now dragons and an older sister on the scene for the plot to take into account. Don’t try to disentangle our contributions to the text, it’s padded cell territory.
GR: The characters are in their teens, but it seems to be aimed at younger readers - why is this?
SM: Younger readers like to see what they are in for when they get a bit older, so they look for older characters to identify with and emulate. Usually they will look for characters about four or five years older than themselves, but I have had twelve-year-olds turn up at my signings with an armload of Greatwinter or Moonworlds novels – which are definitely adult books. I honestly can’t remember ever meeting a child who preferred younger characters in fiction.
GR: Though it's set in your own world, given the particular technology on the ships, for example, which historical era did you imagine when you wrote it? And who did the research?
SM: Roughly speaking, early Middle Ages. Ships with catapults and rams were in use for about fifteen hundred years by then, and flame throwers had been around for a few of centuries too. The research … well, I did my PhD in this area, I have spent time as a sailor on other people’s yachts, and because I’m descended from a Bounty mutineer I have read a lot about life on sailing ships. All this was a good reason to set a lot of the series aboard ships – I did not need to do much research.
GR: It can't be much fun to be the child of the villain. It's also an unusual situation, unless your name is Luke or Leia Skywalker. What made you think this might work?
SM: This is one of the many lessons for kids that we built into the series. You can’t choose your parents, but you don’t have to be like them. How many kids are out there whose parents are doing time, or have done time? Quite a few, I should imagine. How many kids just think their parents act reproachfully over some things? Quite a few more, probably. Kids need to be reassured that they are allowed to go their own way, and that they are not destined to grow up to be just like mum or dad. That said, Darth Vader does wear a great outfit, you have to admit it.
GR: This series reads like a novel broken up into parts - is this the case? If so, will you consider, at some stage, publishing it as one book?
SM: That structure was deliberate. The series was consciously written to be accessible to reluctant readers, yet exciting enough to hold the attention of accomplished readers. Following on from that, a 100,000 word book is going to look a bit daunting to an eleven year old reluctant reader, so Paul thought that six novelettes of around 17,000 words would be a better way to present the story. Individually the books look really manageable, and when you reach the end – Oh no, something exciting happens in the next book, so you’d better get it and keep reading. On the other hand, if some huge publisher comes along with a proposal to bundle it into one novel, I think that would also work really well for the more confident readers.
GR: Have you had much response to this series from children so far?
SM: The first book came out less than three months ago, but already the responses we have heard from kids in signings and seen in reviews have been splendid. Generally they think it’s a fast, exciting read and they love the characters. Nobody has said that it’s difficult to read, which is exactly what we were aiming at. I don’t know if you rate sales as a response from children, but the books have been selling well above expectation, and even gone into multiple print runs. Ford Street Publishing is also running a writing and illustrating competition based on The Warlock’s Child, and readers have been very excited about that. The deadline is 1st August. If anyone who is fifteen or younger wants to enter, details are available from the Ford Street website.
GR: A general question for both of you. You have both been known for writing for adults and have turned very successfully to writing for children and teens. How did you decide to make this change - and how has it worked out for you?
SM: Terry Pratchett gets the blame for me. I read Only You Can Save Mankind in 1993, and I found it incredibly engaging for a book that was clearly written for older children and teenagers. I empathised with the characters and really liked the philosophy behind the book, so I did what every author does when faced with something seriously impressive: I started experimenting with my own YA fiction. The young readers certainly like what I write, and I thoroughly enjoy writing for children and teenagers. They are at a very exciting time of life, so there is infinite scope to tell exciting stories.
GR: If The Warlock's Child ever becomes a movie, no limits (you can have a time machine to collect young actors from the past if you wish), whom would each of you cast in the lead roles?
SM: I think Edward Furlong as he played John Connor in Terminator 2 (1991) would be pretty close to Dantar. Dantar has to be resourceful, brave and funny, while also being convincing as an older child who has a lot to learn. I think Furlong did a great job with all that as John Connor. An actor for Velza is a lot harder. She has to be seventeen, dynamic, brave and assertive, yet a little vulnerable and uncertain of herself too. Caitlin Clarke as Valerian in Dragonslayer (1981) played a girl of about that age pretending to be a boy, and she ticked all the right boxes to play Velza. Maisie Williams and Dakota Fanning could certainly handle the role too. I know you did not ask for adults, but I’d also nominate Mark Strong as Captain Parvian, Charles Dance as Calbaras and Benedict Cumberbach as King Lavarran.