Welcome to the Saturday Spotlight, a weekly feature that shines the light on Indie and Debut authors. This week I have the pleasure introducing readers to:
~Author of Act of Will~
Finding Ordinary, or Fantasy Grows Some Snark…
by AJ Hartley- 2014
I fell in love with fantasy novels when I was a kid. They were the first books that really pulled me in and gave me an escape from the non-too-thrilling world I lived in—Northern, industrial, working class England. I could curl up with these books and they would let me hop through the wardrobe into Narnia or set out from Hobbiton on the quest to destroy the one ring. But there weren't a lot of people like me on those quests, or so it seemed, and as I got older I stated to get frustrated with the way that the books—so wonderful in so many ways—were populated largely by heroes who were always bent on Doing the Right Thing. They might not always know what that Right Thing was, and they might struggle with the difficulty of doing it, but they were driven by the need to find it and get it done. If they weren't, they were probably bad guys.
I by contrast was pretty ordinary, a bit bookish, not super confident, overly anxious, skeptical, and wary of sticking my neck out. More Holden Caulfield than Aragorn, and thus not what you’d call hero material.
No, don’t get me wrong. I like heroic go-getters as much as the next reader: take charge characters with stiff upper lips and noble profiles, men and women prepared to die for their beliefs, or their friends, and—you know—good things in general. Send out a brave warrior to slay the dragon or carve his way through the orc army to face the witch king and you’ll see me cheering him on, from the sidelines. Safely out of range…
That’s how I suspect most of us feel. We like the idea of being the conquering hero but last time I looked you can’t be that in a fantasy novel without spending a lot of time being pursued by people with fire and pointy things. Add in a little dark magic and the occasional fangy monster and the majority of readers would, in reality, be serious Out Of There.
But I found myself wondering what a story would be like that was set in one of those worlds of swords and magic and nobility, but was told from the perspective of someone who didn't believe in any of it.
And so was Will Hawthorne born.
Will is a teenaged actor in a world which looks a bit like late Medieval or early Renaissance England with one crucial difference. In this world, though most people don’t know about it, magic is real. Will, needless to say, doesn't believe in it, though he also doesn't believe in honor and nobility, self-sacrifice and the other staples of high fantasy, because Will is an ordinary guy, a normal guy: clever, funny, suspicious, and way more interested in comfort, money, and girls than he is in risking his life for other people. He doesn't know how to use a sword and isn't interested in learning. He is a card-carrying realist, and that point of view isn't going to alter unless his circumstances change radically… which, of course, they do the moment the story starts.
When it works, fantasy fiction offers a kind of “what if?” to the reader, draws them into a world quite different from their own and tells stories which grow out of that world. As such we’re invited to picture ourselves in them, wonder how we might respond to being charged by a massive troll with a war hammer, or pinned down by the spell of a wicked enchanter. I like stories where the characters meet those challenges unflinchingly, bravely risking everything for a cause or an ideal. But I love the idea that for some of the characters in these worlds, facing down that enchanter—even believing in it—is incredibly hard and goes against all their most familiar instincts.
I love characters who want to run screaming from that troll because I think that that is what most of us would actually do, and if I can convincingly sketch a character who really wants to run but somehow forces himself to stand and fight, then I think I might have something special. After all, who in our lives always makes the right choice, the honorable choice? I like characters who struggle, who get it wrong, who wrestle with demons inside themselves as well as those storming across the battle field towards them, not because they are tortured and angst-ridden but because they are, simply, ordinary. Maybe I feel this way because I think that doing good is hard and we shouldn't pretend otherwise even in fantasy fiction, but mostly it’s because I just like the idea that regular guys, despite what everyone else thinks, despite what they think themselves, can be heroes.
Andrew James Hartley is the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, specializing in performance theory, theatre history and dramaturgy. His academic books include The Shakespearean Dramaturg (Palgrave 2006), Julius Caesar (Shakespeare in Performance series, Manchester UP 2013), Shakespeare and Political Theatre (Palgrave 2013) and Shakespeare on the University Stage (Cambridge UP 2014). He was the editor of the performance journal Shakespeare Bulletin (Johns Hopkins UP) from 2003-2013 and is an Associate Artist at Georgia Shakespeare where he was resident dramaturg.
He teaches Renaissance theatre history and Shakespeare, blending literary and historical critical practices with a material sense of contemporary theatre. He also works as a dramaturg and occasional director for campus productions of early modern drama.
As A.J. Hartley he is also the bestselling author of a dozen mystery, thriller and fantasy novels for children and adults, including the Darwen Arkwright series for middle grades readers, the first of which won best young adult novel of 2012 by SIBA. With David Hewson he has written adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet.
Today AJ Hartley is giving away one eBook copy of his book Act of Will in the format of your choice. To enter please fill in the copter.
Act of Will is a boisterous fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake.
In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn't believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do--and believe--to stand up for them.
Thanks AJ for being on the spotlight! To find out more about this author visit his website.