About The Author
Mark de Jager was born and grew up in South Africa and now lives in London and works in the banking sector. He is a much loved and highly respected member of the science fiction and fantasy community, a regular at conventions and is married to author Liz de Jager. Follow him on Twitter: @Gergaroth
In his fantasy debut, Infernal, Stratus, his anti-hero like no other, wakes alone, with no memory of his past. All he knows is his name and that he is not human. Possessing immense strength, powerful sorcery and an insatiable hunger, he sets out across a landscape torn apart by a war, as a dark magic drives the world to the brink of destruction. Disoriented and pursued relentlessly by enemies, he will have to learn what he truly is, or risk bringing the world into ruin...
Exclusively for Foyles, we talked to Mark about the influence of computer games on his writing; heroes and anti-heroes and living in a household of writers.
Author photo © Liz de Jager
Questions & Answers
Infernal is a dark, magic-filled fantasy novel. How did you set about creating its world, and were there any inspirations from your own real world experiences?
The world is one I’ve had in mind for a long time. It started off as a homemade backdrop for my Dungeons and Dragons group, and steadily evolved from there. Back then I was still living in South Africa and hadn’t done much travelling, but I was a fervent moviegoer and classic movies like Conan, Excalibur and Clash of the Titans all had a big influence on the tone I was shooting for; discovering Lord of the Rings also meant that every map I tried to draw was a hamfisted knock-off of Middle Earth.
Even though the games died away as the reality of paying bills set in, the setting never really faded. Who knows where I’d be now if I’d put as much effort and attention into my schoolwork as I did my games!
It kept evolving as my horizons broadened and I got to travel to places I’d only ever read about, but it was always there as my go-to setting for the various projects I attempted over the years.
I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of magic, flowing in tendrils between characters. Did you have the whole system of magic worked out in your head before you started writing?
Thanks! The answer is both yes and no. I had the idea for it, and I knew it was going to be an integral part of the story, so Iabelling it ‘magic’ and leaving it at that was never going to be an option. The idea of the Songlines was an amalgam of a number of influences, but the key element was that it is an elemental force, as much part of the world and everything in it as the sun, wind and rain. Every living thing carries an echo of it inside them, making them capable of connecting and becoming part of something greater, but at same time creating a vulnerability that someone with the right tools can exploit.
Mankind unsurprisingly covets its power and has found ways to bind and manipulate it, but that’s like trying to tell the wind which way to blow. You can funnel it, but you can’t really control it. As ever, though, a little knowledge can be dangerous, and when you combine that with the right level of arrogance and ambition, you create a monster. Or, in this case, necromancers.
Stratus is an intriguing character, and learning about him as he learns about himself is a great aspect of the story. Has the character been with you for a long time?
Yes, albeit in various guises. He first saw the light of day as a villain in a Dungeons and Dragons game, but he survived the final battle and I liked him too much not to let him return to haunt the players over many more adventures. To make him more believable, I had to know more about him, and ended up writing a bit of a biography for him.
That turned into me writing pages and pages of what was essentially terrible fan fiction, and I eventually retired him from the game because I was worried they were finally going to kill him! He kept showing up even after the regular games faded away; I named and styled a lot of game characters after him.
When I first sat down to write down the idea for Infernal, I knew it was going to be about Stratus. The very first draft was a lot broader in scope, but it gave me a good foundation to bring the focus in on him and explore what he did and didn’t know and how it was going to fit together. In addition to his fractured memories and anger management issues, there’s also a lot of everyday human stuff that he has simply never encountered up close before. It was hard work, but also fun.
I see Stratus is described as an anti-hero; is that what he is to you, anti-hero rather than (entirely unconventional) hero?
My understanding of what being a hero entails makes him an anti hero to me. He’s selfish, arrogant and not particularly bothered about the idea of human genocide. Everything he does is aimed at getting him what he wants and, on the face of it, he’s not someone you’d want to spend a lot of time around. No one’s going to be erecting a statue of him any time soon.
It made writing him a challenge, particularly in first person perspective, but even though he’s prone to violence with scant regard for the aftermath, he does all of this without any real malice. It’s a small but important distinction, that and his quiet wonder at discovering his first tentative friendship with the one human he actually has a reason to kill were something I enjoyed exploring.
You put Stratus through some serious physical punishment through the course of the book. Did you ever feel guilty about this at all?!
Not really! He’s been through far worse than being bludgeoned, shot, stabbed, cut, bitten, electrocuted and set alight.
Actually, you may have a point.
Your wife, Liz de Jager, is also an author. What’s it like being a household of writers?
Quiet but chaotic! I think we’re quite lucky in that we can bounce ideas off each other, and talk about things with someone who understands the process. There’s also the bonus of not having to rationalise why you’ve been staring at your laptop for an hour without having written a single word, or why you’re googling battlefield injuries and how many pigs it takes to eat a body.
The housework suffers a bit, especially if we’re both trying to hit a deadline for something, and the constant backlog of stuff we’ve put off watching or doing means it’s far too easy to say no to social invitations, but these things have a way of working themselves out. These days we make a conscious effort to get out of the house on weekends, either to catch a movie or even just to go to a cafe on the high street for an hour and talk about things that have no bearing on work or writing. It’s important to find a balance.
Infernal ends on a huge revelatory bombshell! Will we see more of Stratus, and if so, how long will we have to wait?
It certainly does, and it was an exciting one to write. Spoilers are always a danger, but the journey to that point is the real story. I’m currently working on the next part of his story, which will pick up right where Infernal ends, and I’m looking to have the first draft wrapped up in the next few months.