Dream and a Lie:
Over the past
couple of years, it's been my privilege to work with Fiona McGavin
as the editor of her amazing dark fantasy trilogy, A Dream and
a Lie. Now that the first volume, A Dark God Laughing, has been
released by Immanion Press, I wanted to put Fiona and her book
in the spotlight with an interview.
An Interview with Fiona McGavin
did you first begin developing the story, ideas and characters that would
become the Dream and a Lie trilogy?
The story has been going around in my head for a long time now – I've
always told myself stories and gradually Alix pushed himself forward as the character
I most wanted to develop. I had a very vivid picture of a sad, lost young man
living at the edge of the world sitting down to write his life story and I wanted
to develop that.
One of the earliest characters was The Angel. He and Havgard appeared
in an earlier novel I wrote when I was younger but nothing
else exists of that story except for them.
you wrote short stories based on this world, some of which
were published, for example in Visionary Tongue. Can you tell
me a bit about these?
I had three stories published in Visionary Tongue – "A Tale
from the End of the World" which was a sort of retelling of the Adam and
Eve story from the Bible, "Roses" which is a vampire/ghost story
which is about a boy and his dog who wander the Wilderness fooling travellers
into trusting them before murdering them and robbing them. I borrowed the name
Twilight from that story for the character in the Dream and Lie trilogy
but that's as far as the resemblance between the characters goes, except that
neither are quite what they seem. "A
Tale from the End of the World" and "Twilight" are
loosely based in the same world as the Dream and Lie trilogy,
but far away from the cities and out in the Wilderness. I
Eve" which is on the web site, at about this
time as well to help clarify my thoughts about Zoelon.
When did you begin working on the books as an actual single manuscript?
I began putting the ideas together 10 years ago. At the same time I was writing
a completely separate novel about Traize and the Triple God. Then I got a
proper job, moved away from home and it all fell by the wayside for a while
though the stories were still going round and round in my head.
You've told me that it wasn't until a couple of years ago that you finally
picked up the manuscript and put it together as a book once and for all.
What inspired you to do this and what was the experience like?
I'm not sure what made me go back to it. I was bored and vaguely dissatisfied
with my life. The only thing I'd ever wanted to do was be a writer, and
yet I wasn't actually writing much. I could remember how excited I was
when I started A Dream and a Lie I wasn't thinking about being published
at that point. When I was younger I used to lose all track of time when I was
writing and I wanted to get that feeling of being in another world back again.
So I took it out and I thought I'd have a quick glance through and
either bin it or steal some of the ideas from it. I was reading
through it and although parts of it made me cringe and parts
of it didn't make sense, I could see it had potential. It still made me
excited. At the same time, I remembered the Traize stories
I'd written and I suddenly saw that it made sense to put the two together.
I had a few ideas for other new characters – Nym is probably the
most significant newcomer in the first part of the trilogy.
I loved working on it and it writing it started to become like a compulsion
again – I used to do it at work when no-one was looking. I didn't
care about getting it published, it was just something that I needed to
get out of my head.
Because I'm older now, I think my view of the world is much less
black and white and a lot bleaker than it was when I started it. I'd
also been working as a copywriter/analyst/editor so I'd developed
the discipline to look at each sentence and ask myself why it wasn't
working and what could make it better.
Could you give people an idea what your book series is about?
The trilogy is set in a world on the brink of a massive religious war – the
Draels and their bloodthirsty Triple God, against the Westermen and their vaguely
"Christian" beliefs. The Westermen are strong but the Draels are gathering
strength and they have the advantage of having winged soldiers who can fly
over the land and then drop poisons on their enemies. There are also the enteri,
shapeshifting immortals, who are still nursing their wounds after the Westermen
invaded their lands and destroyed their cities. They're trying to decide where
to give their allegiance and they're also plagued by in-fighting and feuds
that go back centuries.
In the meantime, Alix Reste is on the run from his past. He's wound
up in Zoelon a grim, cold, industrial city in the throes of religious fanaticism.
Alix has to hide his own strange powers and talents because they burn witches
and heretics there. He's slowly giving into his despair when he meets
a girl called Altair and an enteri called Midnight who change his life.
Tell me about Alix. Don't give away the whole plot, but just describe
what he's like and perhaps how you developed him as a character.
Alix is an orphan, somewhere in his late teens. He desperately wants to be
a good person, and he just wants to fit in and be ordinary, but he can't
stop himself saying the wrong things or doing things that make the religious
fanatics suspicious of him. He's a mass of contradictions – he
can be very kind and honourable, but he can also be very cruel. He's
not particularly strong morally – he knows a lot of what he does is wrong,
but a lot of the time he's more worried about being caught than what
He has strange talents – he can see the future, he knows how he'll
die, sometimes he can read thoughts, he can destroy things just by imagining
it. He knows he's more than he seems but he doesn't know what
or why. He's fiercely independent, but also wants someone to look
after him and rescue him. He's had a learn to survive because there's
never been anyone to help him.
The book has a very complex plot, with many characters, locations, flashbacks
tying things together. What kind of planning, outlining, note-taking, etc.,
if any, did you do to keep track of everything as you were writing?
Actually, I didn't plan it or take notes about it at all. I did know
what the final outcome would be, but I wasn't sure how I'd get
there. I just wrote and then went back again and again and again to sort out
things that didn't make sense or contradicted other parts. At first I
was doing it all long-hand so it was very time consuming, but it did mean that
everything got re-written other than just edited which is what I tend to do
now that use a computer.
When I added the new characters and inserted all the bits about Traize
and the Triple God, there were huge chunks that needed to added or reworked
or to be taken out altogether. I cheated a bit with Traize, by introducing
him through Alix's dreams as a completely separate part of the story.
But it was surprising how easy it was to assimilate it all into the existing
this is because despite all the changes, I kept the central
plot the same – the battle between the Draels and enteri, and the
Westermen, and the greater force behind it. And the three or
four love stories at the centre of it never changed either,
so the changes I made seemed more like details rather than
When did you first meet Storm?
I first started working with Storm when I was writing the stories for Visionary
Tongue. I'd been reading her books for years and they really influenced
my own writing – I think they were the first fantasy novels I'd
read when men weren't just sword wielding heroes and women pathetic
princesses needing rescuing or "feisty" stereotypes. I'd
always worried that the men in my books sometimes behaved more like women,
but with the Wraeththu novels, I saw that there was a way round this and
I'm not sure that the enteri would have developed as they did if I
hadn't read Storm's books. Her comments were always very helpful
and encouraging. Eventually, I met her in Stafford. I'd had to a meeting
there for my job and popped in for a coffee afterwards.
How did you wind up submitting the MS to Immanion Press?
To tell the truth, I didn't really expect it to be accepted. I sent off
the first part on impulse and then didn't hear anything for ages (my
own fault as I hadn't provided an up to date email address). So I carried
on with it anyway and eventually I heard back from Immanion that they wanted
to go ahead with it.
More than anything, I wanted an honest opinion from like minded people,
and Immanion Press seemed like the best bet for this. I didn't think
Immanion would take it on, but I thought they might at least tell me where
I was going wrong.
What has been your experience working with IP?
Very, very positive. All the comments I've had have been constructive
and helpful. It's been hard work, but I've enjoyed every moment
I found that doing the one short novel I've written, that working on
a novel is a lot different than working on a short story,
because of how big it is and how hard it is to "wrap your head" around
the whole thing. A Dream and a Lie is essentially one HUGE book.
What challenges have you faced in creating and editing such a large work?
Because A Dream and a Lie has been a work in progress for so long, it hasn't
been too hard to keep track of it all. After over 10 years of it, I pretty
much know it back to front.
Telling the story in the first person also helps – I only have to
worry about Alix's viewpoint, with the exception of the dreamscape
episodes and the stories other characters tell him, it's all seen
through his eyes. It means it's restricted in a way, but also stops
me going off on tangents.
The challenges have been in keeping the action going and stopping it from
lagging in the middle. I've also found it hard to write the parts
where the characters are happy! I also find writing action scenes quite
difficult and that's why I've avoided battle scenes.
Who are some of your favorite characters in the books?
My favourite characters are Alix (I couldn't write in his voice if I
didn't like him)and at times it seems almost like he's writing
himself. Midnight's probably my favourite character of all. He's
great fun to write – all those self-indulgent temper tantrums and his
weird morality. He's had a massive fall from glory and is now clawing
his way up from the mire, but in his own particular way.
Altair's character grew and grew on me as I wrote her. At first,
she was a bit insipid and when I went back to the book after the ten year
break, I couldn't see why Alix liked her, so she needed to be reworked.
She's had the most radical reworking over the various drafts as she
was a boy originally. When I gave her her sex-change, I found I liked her
How does your book differ from conventional fantasy?
I think the urban setting makes it different, and the fact that good and evil
are not clean cut and obvious. There are no dragons, sword fights and or
pitched battles. There are no magic rings or swords or other instruments
of power – just Alix and the power he carries inside him. I hope that
I've been able to take some of the elements of traditional fantasy
and give them a little twist.
Alix is more of an anti-hero than a hero. He doesn't really
do anything at all heroic, in fact he's very apathetic. He
gets swept along by actions but rarely takes action himself.
He also does a lot of very evil things, but I hope that readers
will sympathise with him and understand why he does them.
I hope they'll be rooting for him no matter what he does. In the meantime,
the so-called "good" powers, are almost as twisted as the "bad"
One thing I've never understood about conventional fantasy is why
anyone would want to live somewhere like Mordor. Even the orcs must prefer
comfort and luxury. I have my ‘dark lord' living in warmth
and luxury in a place that's a lot more attractive than the industrial
hell of Zoelon.
Did you have to do any research for your books? If so, what?
I'm really lazy about research and I think that's why I write fantasy – I
don't have to do any because I can make everything up. The only rules
I have to follow are my own.
is based on industrial revolution Britain, which I studied
at school and the witch stuff I read up on a bit after studying
The Crucible also at school. But I haven't made any conscious effort
to find things out for it.
Having said that, I do read a lot and some things sink in and get used.
I've read a reasonable amount about history, folklore and religion
though nothing in any great depth.
Who are some of your favorite authors and/or specific books?
In fantasy, Storm, especially the Wraeththu and Grigori books. Also, Elizabeth
Hand (Winterlong especially), early Anne Rice (the first three vampire
novels), Jacqueline Carey and China Mieville. I'm also a fan of Tad Williams – I
loved the Memory, Thorn and Sorrow series – it's absolutely enormous
and you can get lost in it for hours without getting bored. I love the way
he builds up the world and the characters and the way he writes the action
scenes – if I could write battle scenes the way he does, I'd
probably have included a few in my novel.
I don't actually read a great deal of fantasy anymore – a
lot of it seems very samey to me, though I think that's starting
to change now. I do love The Lord of the Rings though – those
brave hobbits trudging to their doom...
When I was growing up, I remember reading The Chocolate War and
Beyond the Chocolate War by Robert Cormier. They're children's
books, but I still take them out now and again to remind myself
of how power can be abused so horribly. They're probably the
first books I ever read that weren't straightforward – the good guys
aren't good, the baddies don't get caught and punished, and
things don't work out for the best in the end.
I think my favourite book is The Secret History by Donna
Tartt. Not sure why – it just struck a chord with me. Probably because
the characters are all amoral and doomed. It's a while since
I've read it though, so maybe I'll feel differently about it
What are you up to at the moment?
Not much – waiting for creative inspiration!
I'm working on the edits for the second book of A Dream and A Lie and messing around with bits of the final part.
I've also started thinking about a sequel or prequel to A Dream
and A Lie but I haven't got any definite plans but there are two
characters in particular that I'd like to do more with.
I'd also like to write something set in this world. I've got
a few ideas buzzing around my head for that but nothing concrete yet.
Wendy Darling (nickname Wiebke Fesch) is a web designer, fanfic author,
and editor of Inception. She lives in Atlanta, GA, where she is self-employed,
operating her own web design business, Metro Girl. Wendy is co-author of a Wraeththu
Mythos novel called Breeding
Discontent, and is an editor with Immanion Press. You can reach Wendy