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A Dream and a Lie:
An Interview with Fiona McGavin

by Wendy Darling

Taylor Ellwood

Author & Book Information:

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.

When 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.

I gather 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 and "Twilight" 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 wrote "Wintertide's 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's done.

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 plot.

I suppose 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 massive alterations.

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 of it.

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 much more.

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.

I think 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" powers.

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.

Zoelon 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 now.

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.

About the Interviewer:
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 at

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