Anne Lyle’s first novel, The Alchemist of Souls, was released last week. Lyle is pretty busy right now, getting ready to attend Eastercon in England and working on The Prince of Lies, the second book in the trilogy, but she answered some questions for Fantasy Literature.
Marion Deeds: I suppose the fact that you grew up in Nottingham partially answers this question, but what inspired your love of swordplay?
Anne Lyle: Mostly it was watching Hollywood swashbucklers as a kid, as they were staple Sunday afternoon TV back in the days before cable. The Adventures of Robin Hood (naturally!), The Crimson Pirate, Scaramouche, The Three Musketeers — I lapped them all up.
One of the best things about The Alchemist of Souls was that the skraylings’ culture is so different from Mal’s that when the ambassador explained things to him he still couldn’t understand them, because he had no frame of reference. It reminded me of some early Ursula LeGuin novels in that respect. That said, what was your starting point for the culture of the skraylings?
I decided I wanted to create a non-human race who weren’t based on traditional folklore, so I went back to my biological knowledge (I have a degree in zoology) and picked out some animal behaviours that I thought would lead to a rather different culture than our own. For example, many animals are seasonal breeders and in some, the sexes only come together to mate and spend the rest of the year apart. I thought that would make a strong contrast to the human, and especially European, notion of marriage and nuclear families, and play a major role in structuring skrayling society.
I’ve read an awful lot of fantasy over the years, and quite a lot of science fiction too. I’ve also read many “classic novels,” from Daniel Defoe to Jane Austen and Alexandre Dumas. At the moment I’m reading a wide range of historical/political/adventure fantasy to try and keep abreast of developments in my corner of the genre: George R. R. Martin, Joe Abercrombie, Richard Morgan, Douglas Hulick, Juliet E. McKenna, Rachel Aaron…
As for influences, it’s been remarked (and not just by you) that my writing is reminiscent of Ursula Le Guin and Lynn Flewelling, so I guess those are the most obvious. I would add Terry Pratchett — not because I aspire to write humour or satire, but I think I’ve absorbed a lot about the craft of writing, of pace, plotting and character, from reading so many of his books.
Mal is not as rowdy as Christopher Marlowe, who was a rather public bad-boy, but did you base Mal on him at all?
Not consciously — but the book was inspired in large part by Charles Nicholl’s The Reckoning, a non-fiction account of Marlowe’s spying career.
Sir Francis Walsingham, who was Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, plays an important behind-the-scenes role in this book. Is your intent in the NIGHT’S MASQUE series to create Elizabethan spy-dramas like John LeCarre?
I haven’t read any LeCarré, so I can’t really compare my work to his, but in any case I’m sure my plots are far less opaque! The espionage angle arose after I read about Marlowe’s connections with Walsingham and became fascinated by the parallels between the late sixteenth century and the modern day: religion-inspired terrorism, government paranoia and a “surveillance state” are nothing new, I’m afraid.
You have an interesting interpretation of Elizabeth, which also addresses the concerns her Privy Council (and the nation) had about succession. Have you gotten much reaction from readers and critics about this change?
Not so far. Everyone seems far more interested in the fact that a couple of my characters are openly gay, than that I changed the entire course of English history!
This is a book-end to the LeCarre question. How would you categorize the NIGHT’S MASQUE books? Is it spy drama, court intrigue, or Shakespearean-era romance, an adventure story with fantastical elements?
It’s all of those — Angry Robot is well-known for its cavalier attitude to genre boundaries.
Thank you for your time! Readers, Take a moment to visit Anne Lyle’s website.