Interview with Mike Shackle (WE ARE THE DEAD)
Originally from London, Mike Shackle has wandered the world before settling in Vancouver, with his wife and two children. His other constant traveling companions around the globe have been his comic books, his favorite fantasy novels and an army of super-hero statues. He more often than not can be found daydreaming over a cup of tea.
Hi Mike, welcome back to the Hive!
Firstly, congratulations on the release of your much-anticipated sequel – A Fool’s Hope. How does it feel to finally have the book out there in the wild? Have you been nervous about its release, or are you confident this time around?
I’m definitely nervous! It was a hard book to write in many ways— juggling multiple characters, locations and timelines into one (hopefully) coherent tale but I’m super proud of how it has turned out. Early reactions have all been positive so that’s helped with the pre-release jitters a little.
What can readers expect from A Fool’s Hope?
Plenty of action and adventure, edge of your seat thrills, a bit of heartbreak, ordinary people trying to be heroic, bad people being dastardly and lots of mayhem, magic and monsters — who could want more?
Indeed! But oh no Mike, heartbreak… see now I’m afraid for all my favourite characters. Actually, I always am with you!
We Are the Dead was very much a story of survival by any means necessary, and of the underdogs fighting back against oppression. Is this still a predominant theme in the sequel?
Without spoiling the ending of We Are the Dead, A FOOL’s HOPE shows that just because you’ve won one battle, it doesn’t mean you’ve won the war.
The fight back may have begun but Tinnstra, Dren, Jax and Yas still have a long, hard road ahead of them before it’s over.
Family is also a big, recurring theme between the two books and the sacrifices we’re willing to make for the people we love.
Has your world-building or have your characters changed in any significant ways? Are they still floating in the morally grey areas?
Everyone’s changed by the end of We are the Dead and they’ll continue to change as the tale goes on — I think that’s what makes stories interesting. Tinnstra, for example, has gone from being a very selfish coward to becoming the queen’s protector and surrogate mother. Dren was a psychotic terrorist and now he’s trying to be a good soldier.
That’s very true, each of your characters take incredible personal journeys in the first book. I found Dren’s character development fantastically done, he goes from someone despicable to someone you actually begin to understand and even like.
Of course, their best intentions will be challenged by circumstance and who knows how they’ll end up by the end of the book.
We get to see other countries too in AFH – we go to the Egril Empire and see what life is like there as well as Meigore – the only country still free (for now) from occupation.
Which have been your favourite characters to write? Do you have a least favourite character?
I love them all to be honest. They never fail to surprise me — except in their refusal to follow my plans. They can be infuriating at times but, deep down, they’re all good people who want to do the right thing.
There are three new characters in AFH, including a swashbuckling sea captain called Ralasis who is great fun to hang out with. He appears on the very last page of WATD and was supposed to disappear off into the sunset after that. I’m happy to say he had other ideas.
There’s no one quite like Darus in AFH though. He was always fun to write because he was so utterly insane in the best possible way.
Oh yes, that he was!!
2020 has been quite the year, what have been the highs and lows of writing this sequel? Was the experience any different from writing the first book?
Wow. 2020. What can I say about that? I was lucky that A Fool’s Hope was finished by the end of December last year, so it was only affected by publishing delays.
However, I’ve been working on the third book this year and it’s been hard. All my routines went out the window, my wonderful children were around all the time, making it difficult to write, and it’s been really difficult to get in the right headspace to write dark tales when the world is going to hell around you.
Instead, I spent a lot of time drawing little innocent cartoons about my family as a form of stress relief, until I was ready to face returning to my make-believe world.
In the end, deadlines pushed me back into writing properly and I’m very happy about that. Now, working on the book is all-consuming. I’m really eager to see how The Last War ends and what will happen to my cast.
However, whatever mental stresses I went through this year are nothing compared to what so many other people have endured. My heart goes out to everyone who’s had to deal with some truly awful things because of COVID. Hopefully, the end of the pandemic is in sight now.
We absolutely echo these sentiments Mike.
You said when you were writing We Are the Dead that a lot of it was written whilst listening to U2’s Joshua Tree album, was there any particular band or soundtrack you were listening to this time around?
I remember struggling with music for AFH. There wasn’t one song or album that defines it. A huge chunk was written to Johnny Marr’s Call The Comet, as well as the soundtrack to Into The Spiderverse, but mostly it was film scores by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross that got me through.
If The Last War series was to be adapted to screen which medium would be your ideal choice – anime, a Netflix/Prime tv series or feature length films? Any ideas on who you would cast?
Eeek. Tough question. If you’ve seen my doodles, you’ll know how I imagine what my characters look like — but that doesn’t mean every reader sees them that way. I keep my descriptions deliberately vague so people’s imaginations can fill in the gaps.
If a TV series was made (and obviously I’d love that), I think you’d need a cast of unknowns to keep that ‘ordinary people in extraordinary times’ feeling of the books.
I agree, I think well-known famous actors just wouldn’t fit.
If there was an anime though, I’d love an artist from Singapore called GUWEIZ to be involved. His art really inspires me.
Tell us a few of your favourite books you’ve read this year? Any favourite debuts? Any underrated ones we should know about?
Reading is another thing that has suffered during the pandemic. Without an hour’s commute each way to the day job, my TBR pile is growing by the day. From what I have read, my favourite debut book was probably STORMBLOOD by Jeremy Szal. It’s perfect for people who like their Pierce Brown put through the blender with Richard Morgan. Other great books have been Evan Winter’s Rage Of Dragons, Brian Naslund’s Blood of an Exile and, at the moment, I’m working my way though Justin Call’s sequel to Master of Sorrows. It’s called Master Artificer and it’s soooooo good.
Rage of Dragons and Blood of an Exile are both excellent reads, and I’m looking forward to Master Artificer – Justin Call is such a great writer.
He’s just a genius world-builder. (I’m quite jealous actually.)
So you’ve mentioned your artwork, and we’ve seen you share quite a few pieces on Instagram and Twitter, is drawing something you’ve always enjoyed doing? Would you ever consider doing an illustrated edition of your books?
When I was a child, I was either drawing or reading. I was obsessed with Marvel comics and my mind was full of superheroes all the time. Back then, it wasn’t easy to get hold of American comics and I was lucky that my mother would drive me to the one shop that had them, despite it being a good hour’s drive away. It was a tiny, dark place called Books, Bits and Bobs and I loved it. I couldn’t believe there was a shop packed full of comics.
I stopped drawing for a long time, but my ability to draw any superhero amused my son when he was younger and I got the bug once more. I find I can switch my mind off for a little while and relax while I draw. During this past year, I’ve been doing it more and more for my own self-care while the pressures have built up and the world’s gone mad.
I also use it as a way of developing characters so, if you follow my Instagram, you’ll see some of the cast from The Last War pop up as well as ideas for the book I plan to write after I finish this trilogy. It’s a character that’s been waiting patiently since 2017 and I can’t wait to write his adventures.
However, I’m not sure I’m actually good enough at drawing to illustrate my own book but never say never.
What can you tell us about book three? What can readers look forward to?
Ah … Book 3. This is it. The big one. The series isn’t called The Last War for nothing. Expect epic battles, sacrifice, impossible odds and the future of the world in the balance. And maybe some tea and cake.
That sounds fab! *takes notes – must eat cake whilst reading book three*
And lastly, just because this is a favourite question of ours, which magical creature would you ride gloriously into battle?
My daughter is obsessed with unicorns (as is every 5-year-old) so, to keep her happy, I’d have to pick one of those. I’ve got a feeling that they are not quite as cute and cuddly as people think…
Thanks for joining us again, Mike, and good luck with the release – A Fool’s Hope is out today from Gollancz.