At SFX Weekender, the Pornokitsch team had the good fortune of meeting Paul Kane, author of Arrowhead and Broken Arrow. We pounced on the opportunity and signed up him for an interview. Mr Kane received a shopping list of questions from us, and, demonstrating Herculean patience, answered all of them.
What follows is part one of our three part interview. We'll be sharing it this week, so stick around to hear about projects past, present & future from one of the horror genre's leading lights (or should that be darknesses?).
Well, the previous novels in the Afterblight series – prior to mine – The Culled by Simon Spurrier and Kill or Cure by Rebecca Levene had covered parts of the US and the New Caribbean respectively; although The Culled does start off in Britain, it shifts very quickly to America. Scott Andrews’ School’s Out is set over here, but down South.
So, I figured I’d write about the areas that I know, and what might have happened to them. I live in the Midlands, actually only about 20 minutes away from Nottingham, so I was able to include accurate details about the towns and cities surrounding it.
For example, my main character Robert Stokes lived in Mansfield for a little while, which is literally just up the road from me. Hopefully, it lent an authenticity to the locations that might not have been there if I’d been writing about places I didn’t know that well. Basically it hadn’t been covered before and I knew the places inside out. It just also happened that Nottingham and Sherwood Forest, which again is just a short drive away and I’ve visited more times than I can count, is associated with a very famous legend...
Which leads me neatly to my next question! With Arrowhead, you took on the challenge of retelling an age-old story in post-Cull times. Where did that idea come from? And why, of all the myths out there, did you choose Robin Hood?
Firstly, I was exposed to the Hood legend from a very early age. Just as some of the characters come to know him from trips to the Visitor’s Centre at Sherwood, I was taken there most Bank Holidays by my folks, for which I’ll be eternally grateful. I was always begging them to take me round the museum and shop, then on the walk to see the Major Oak. It really fired my imagination, probably even before I got into comics or watching genre stuff on TV or at the movies. To me, Robin Hood was always like the first superhero, doing these fantastic things against incredible odds. Growing up, I followed his exploits on TV and at the pictures...
But Richard Carpenter’s amazing series "Robin of Sherwood", which began screening on Saturday teatimes when I was only about eleven, was for me – and still is – the definitive retelling of the legend. I loved the mixture of mythology and mysticism in the series, the fact it had Robin fighting witches and wizards with a magical sword, and he could draw his strength from the spirits in the forest – specifically Herne the Hunter. I said this in the Acknowledgments to Arrowhead, and again in Broken Arrow, but without Richard’s version mine wouldn’t exist – and you’d have to be blind not to notice nods to it throughout the books.
I was absolutely delighted when recently Richard dropped a line saying how he’d read and loved the books; he’d even lent them to his grandson to read! That was a really special moment for me, because it gave my little adventures a kind of seal of approval. I got the same buzz when another of my heroes, Clive Barker, said I was a first-rate storyteller after reading my fiction. Days like that don’t come along very often for writers and we cherish them when they do.
Some of the parallels were pretty straightforward (Jack, Bill, Mary...), but a couple of the characters completely eluded me. Was Tanek Guy of Gisborne? Who was Mark?
Tanek was definitely a version of Guy, yes. But I like to think a much more ruthless and sadistic interpretation, and also someone who was not only more than capable of taking on Robert, but also Jack as well; my Little John. I also liked the twist that instead of being at odds with each other, as usually they tend to be depicted, De Falaise and Tanek – or the Sheriff and Guy – are literally as thick as thieves. De Falaise once saved the big fella’s life and, in return, Tanek began to follow him blindly...well, actually not that blindly; it’s just that De Falaise’s plans make sense to him. In fact, those plans do seem to be working to begin with, until Robert sticks a spoke in the wheels.
As for Mark, he’s based on Much the Miller’s son, or at least the Much from "Robin of Sherwood" (played by the fantastic Peter Llewellyn Williams). He’s a lot younger than in previous incarnations, though, and definitely more savvy. Mark’s survived on the streets for a long time before Robert comes along, and doesn’t realise just how much he’s missed having a family until the Hooded Man takes him under his wing. There also the added twist here that Mark reminds Robert of the son he lost to the A-B Virus and the Cull.
At first it’s hard for Robert to come to terms with this, but Mark wins him round. Even now, Robert still views him as how his own son might have turned out if he’d lived, which makes for some fascinating character interaction. Similarly with Mary – my version of Marion . You get a sense that Robert’s still holding back with her all the time because of the memory of his dead wife. It adds something to the famous romance between these two, I think, and gives plenty of scope for friction – especially in Broken Arrow where Mary’s also struggling to get her head around Robert’s ‘living legend’ status.
I think my favorite character is De Falaise - he's fantastic. Aside from the fact that you needed a Sheriff of Nottingham, what other influences went into inspiring this nasty, nasty piece of work?
That’s a tough one. It certainly wasn’t meant as any kind of slight against the French; none of my characters are representative of where they came from at all. There are good and bad people from Europe in post-virus times, just as there were in the pre-virus era.
Having said that, because De Falaise is French it sets up a nice opportunity – at least in his own mind – to right some of the historical wrongs that he thinks Britain has done to his country. It’s similar to the Tsar’s hatred of the US, bitter enemies whose war goes back long before all this started. Other than that, I just knew I needed a mercenary who didn’t owe allegiance to much and saw surviving the virus as the perfect chance to become a ruler of somewhere. He tries to take over places like France and Germany, but can’t quite manage it because the opposition is entrenched. But he’s heard that Britain is in a state of disarray with no real leader to follow, which gives him the idea of sweeping up the country to gather forces as he goes – not really giving any of his recruits an option.
At the same time, he also raids old army bases for weapons, so that when he does finally arrive in Nottingham – fancying himself as the new Sheriff – he can crush any unrest. Eventually, of course, he sees himself as the ruler of the entire world. But, then again, he is quite insane.
Stick around for part 2, in which we discuss Broken Arrow and - you read it here first - Arrowland.
Arrowhead and its sequel, Broken Arrow, are available through your local bookshop. For the latest news, visit the author's website.