Why we need to ask "What if?" by Jeff Norton
Extract: Tom Pollock's The City's Son

Hindsight: Mark Charan Newton

Our latest blog feature continues. This week, we asked Mark Charan Newton what he'd change about his own work. Mr. Newton is always reflective about the creative process (often aided by a glass of whisky), so we're delighted he could take part.


Nights_of_VilljamurThat’s a dangerous question to ask an author. Given enough time, I’m sure we’d like to change any work we’ve done, over and over again. Nothing ever seems perfect, but you can keep on tuning a book endlessly and still find things to tinker with. That said, I’ve been quite lucky - I have been able to make some changes to my first novel, Nights of Villjamur.

One of the issues I had with the original was the use of occasional esoteric language in order to reflect a disconnect with a culture of the far future. That, I suspect, failed - and instead created a disconnect with a few readers instead. So in the edition that comes out in a couple of months, I’ve managed to iron out well over a hundred of these instances, as well as making some other minor alterations - for example, I’ve toned down the swearing, and taken out the c-word. Loads of swearing isn't big and isn't clever. There.

As you’d expect, I would change more about it if I could. This is mainly based on reactions of a few negative (though constructive) reviews that have cropped up over the years.

For one, I’d not make as many contemporary references; while this is a culture of the far future, many readers simply wanted to immerse themselves in another world without sly references to our own. I understand that. I’d also rework the dialogue - I think the clash of modern parlance doesn’t always work with what the fantasy audience expects. I’d probably rework some of the prose too - I was reading a lot of trendy lit fic at the time and really admired the uncommon sentence structure, so ran with what inspired me. I suspect a lot of fantasy readers didn’t dig that. I’d also make it clear that I deliberately wrote a pretty useless detective character - I’m not sure everyone understood that he was intended to be that way.

But there are some things I’d keep, despite awkward reactions: I genuinely think that a few readers just felt really uncomfortable about a gay man being the lead character in a book. Some people moaned that I did nothing with his sexuality - you know, because gay men can’t just be gay. GAYNESS MUST MOVE THE PLOT ON.

Finally, I really do get the impression that some people didn’t appreciate having gay heroes in fantasy books without some sort of warning beforehand. But those people can just deal with it or f**k off.


The new edition of Night of Villjamur is out in November. The other three books in the Legends of the Red Sun are out now (including the series conclusion: The Broken Isles).