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PK Interview: Paul Kane (Part 2)

In part 1 of our interview, we grilled author Paul Kane about >Arrowhead, his post-apocalyptic retelling of the Robin Hood myth. In part 2, he answers questions about its brilliant sequel, Broken Arrow. There are some spoilers, but we've done our best to flag them up. (Beware of magenta!)


Paul Kane at Sherwood In contrast to Arrowhead, Broken Arrow is "myth-free" - the characters are now running around on their own. Comparing the two writing experiences, which did you enjoy more?

I don’t know if I’d describe it as “myth-free”. If you mean it goes beyond the initial retelling of the Hood legend, then I guess that’s true, but then don’t most of the retellings set in Hood’s time? 

The recent BBC version starring Jonas Armstrong, for example, came up with loads of stories beyond the original retelling of the myth. In actual fact, Broken Arrow adds more layers to that mythology, because you see the introduction of my version of Alan -a-Dale, in the form of...Dale; who else! He’s a young ex-musician who comes to fight on Robert’s side and you just know at some point those songs he writes are going to end up telling the tale of Robert and his Rangers. 

I’ve also introduced my version of the Saracen Nasir, who actually only came into the mythology with Richard’s series. My guy’s called Azhar, a skilled swordsman who has even more of a role to play in the third book Arrowland

Broken Arrow Cover by Mark Harrison

Broken Arrow cover artwork by Mark Harrison © Rebellion.

But at the same time, yes, I’m extending this out and – hopefully – making the retelling my own. The Tsar, for example, is a new villain to take over from the Sheriff. I thought to myself, if I’m going to replace him – and I did um and ah about... [spoiler alert!] ...killing off De Falaise, but at that time didn’t know if I’d even get a sequel back then – let’s make him bigger and even badder. [end of spoiler!] 

Even more crazy. The Tsar’s army dwarfs the Sheriffs. I never do things by halves, though, and Robert not only finds himself having to deal with the Russians, but a mysterious and deadly cult back home as well – one that will definitely play more of a part in his future and the future of Britain. 

Which did I enjoy writing most? Probably the first, simply because I had more of a template to go on. I knew I had to introduce my Robin, Marion , Tuck, Little John... I knew I had to have Robin battle the Sheriff at the end. Broken Arrow was much more of a challenge, not least because I’d never done a sequel novel before. I’d done short stories in the same universe – like my Controllers pieces and the Dalton Quayle adventures – but not a novel. There was quite a bit of performance anxiety, I can tell you. But then the ideas started to flow and it was fine. Having said that, I did enjoy the freedom to take these characters somewhere different in the second book, to make them more rounded and more interesting in their own right. 

One of the highlights of Broken Arrow was the phenomenal battle scene between Robin's men and the invading Russian army - like the Helm's Deep of plague-ravaged England. How do you set about writing something like this - a scene that complicated & cinematic? Do you have it planned out from the start? 

A big thanks for that, I really appreciate the comparison! 

It wasn’t easy doing that battle, and it’s the first like it I’ve ever written – which gave me a newfound respect for some of the fantasy writers out there who do it all the time. I did plan it out, yes, otherwise I would have got really muddled. It helps that I tend to see things I’m writing about like a movie in my head, so I just let that play and see what happens, jotting down notes then adjusting things when I come to write a first draft – which itself changes quite a bit. 

The main difficulty was how to credibly take on advanced weapons like Black Shark attack helicopters with just bows and arrows or bolas. Luckily, I have a friend called Trevor Preston who knows everything there is to know about warfare and weapons. He’d been an advisor on quite a few films and is doing an MA in Counter Terrorism – he’s a very handy bloke to know and I thank God I met him. I run everything by him to make sure it’s okay and could conceivably be done, and he tells me which bits don’t work for whatever reason. He’s an absolutely star, I tell you. 

As regards the planning, I’d compare the whole thing to co-ordinating a dance routine, but on a much bigger scale. It needs to look haphazard, as if it’s playing out right now for the reader, but at the same time needs to be figured out beforehand in order to work. I’m quite proud of that sequence, I worked really hard on it. 

A couple plot questions [sorry, more spoilers!]: By the start of Broken Arrow, Gwen and Robin have fallen out, creating a divide in their two communities. They're both still on the side of the angels, for now, but they're incapable of seeing eye to eye. What happened between them? 

The souring of relations between Robert and Gwen happened because of Robert’s reluctance to go to the castle and rescue her back in Arrowhead

Just to explain a little about the background, Gwen was attempting to set up a community called Hope when the Sheriff’s men arrived and demanded food and whatever else they wanted. Gwen saw her lover killed in front of her, then was dragged off to the castle to become De Falaise’s plaything, in spite of Reverend Tate (my version of Tuck) trying to stop this. Because he was still gathering his men – in fact he was still hiding away alone when Gwen was snatched – and didn’t even know the woman, Robert refused to go after her; it would simply have been a suicide mission to go to the castle. 

However, when Mark is snatched and other villagers from the surrounding areas are threatened with execution, Robert is forced to act. So a situation has been set up in which Gwen thinks Tate and Robert should have come after her – she managed to free herself in the end – and won’t listen to their point of view. She sort of forgives Tate, because he at least tried to persuade Robert. But things are further complicated by the fact that Gwen fell pregnant and refuses to believe that the child is De Falaise’s. It’s this obstinacy, bitterness and a few other instances of being let down, which see Gwen going down a very dark path indeed eventually. 

I’ve always been interested in what drives good people to do bad things and Gwen’s a perfect example of this. In her mind she’s perfectly justified in her actions – building up the defences of New Hope and using every tactic she can to protect her son – but to the outside world... 

[OK, the spoilers are over now!] Visions take a role in both books - Robin, De Falaise and Tanek are all guided by voices or messages that they can't explain. The rest of the book is very grounded in reality (that is, a reality-after-the-plague-wipes-us-all-out) - where do the visions come from, and why are these particular characters singled out to receive them? 

Again, it’s that thing that was in "Robin of Sherwood", the mysticism of the forest. The idea that Sherwood itself, or the spirits within it, might be feeding Robert these visions in his dreams – giving him glimpses into a possible future to help protect him. Because of Robert’s strong symbolic link to De Falaise, the flip side of the coin, that man also experienced them as well – and by extension Tanek later finds the Sheriff communicating to him through his nightmares. 

In the book I’ve just been writing it’s explained a little more, though hopefully it loses none of its mystery because of that. I’ve always thought Sherwood’s a magical sort of place, you only have to go there to experience that, and I’m not alone. So I just thought it would add another dimension to the stories if this was included; a counterbalance to the horrific realities of life after the plague, which you mention. People can either accept the visions or take them with a pinch of salt, it doesn’t really matter and nothing is ever set in stone. Maybe the forest heals Robert after his battles, or maybe he just feels better because he’s home? I leave that up to the reader to decide. 

Both you and Scott Andrews have done a great job keeping your stories linked together. He gave us some hints (mostly oblique ones) on what to watch out for in Broken Arrow. Anything we should be looking for in Children's Crusade

I first met Scott Andrews at a British Fantasy Society Open Night a few years ago, when I was in the middle of writing Arrowhead I think, and we got on really, really well. He’s become a good mate, so it’s been easy to bounce ideas off each other and interweave certain aspects of each other’s books. 

The hard part was figuring out the timelines, as Scott’s books are set before mine, and because he started his series first it gets a little complicated when crossing over. For example, Scott wanted to hint at the new villains from Arrowland in Children’s Crusade, but Robert wouldn’t have come across them that early. 

It was great that Scott was able to include a scene with De Falaise and a reference to the Tsar in Operation Motherland, because I’d mentioned some events from that book retrospectively in Arrowhead. This time we’ve gone all out: there’s definitely a crossover feel as Robert and the Rangers feature in Children’s Crusade. I can’t say any more just yet as Scott’s still writing it, but it should be an extra special kick for fans of both series. 

When is Arrowland? And what nation will have the honor of providing its villains? 

I’ve just finished the first draft, so will be doing another few more before publication. But if all goes well Arrowland should be out a little later this year. I’m bringing in a few nations this time, with a much more complex web of a story – that joke will make sense when you read the finished book. I can’t give too much away about it, but I have just written a preview short story (I say short, it’s 9,000 wds) called ‘Signs and Portents’ for the back of Children’s Crusade. It introduces aspects of the main villains, previews certain major events and also fills in some of the back story about Reverend Tate. 

So for people having withdrawal symptoms after reading Broken Arrow – and I know you’re out there cos I met quite a few  when I was guesting at the recent SFX Weekender – that should tide you over until Arrowland comes out. 

Arrowhead and Broken Arrow are both available via your local bookshop - and for the latest news, visit the author's website.

Plus, stick around for part 3, in which we leave the Afterblight behind and talk about Paul Kane's other work (plus a few recommendations for good horror viewing, from a man who knows his stuff!).