Born and raised in New Zealand, David Hair has also lived in England, India and Thailand, and is an award-winning fantasy author. He now lives in Wellington, New Zealand. Though he had a passion for great stories since childhood, Hair first pursued a career in finance before being pushed into submitting his first novel to a publisher. This novel was The Bone Tiki, and since then Hair has gone on to publish more than twenty books. One of his latest publications is Mother of Daemons, which is the fourth book of The Sunsurge Quartet. Wanting to learn more of Mother of Daemons as well as Hair’s career, I was able to interview him for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: What stories did you enjoy when you were a kid? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
David Hair: I used to read a lot of mythology – Greek myth, King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Tales of Robin Hood, and the myths and legends of New Zealand; and I still delve into mythology at times, though more often for research purposes these days. I still find mythology a brilliant source of inspiration.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to become a professional writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
DH: Growing up in New Zealand in the 1970s/80s – with a population less than 3 million at the time – almost all of our books were imported, and few New Zealand writers that I was aware of. Fantasy has never really been a big genre in New Zealand. So, the books I loved were all written by foreigners (almost entirely English or American) who assumed a kind of mythic status in my mind: incredibly talented superhuman creators who I could NEVER aspire to emulate.
That held me back for a long time, because I just assumed that I could never reach the required standard. I had to be bullied into submitting my first proper novel to a publisher (The Bone Tiki, a New Zealand-based fantasy adventure). I was shocked when it was accepted – and then the following year it went on to win “Best First Novel” at the New Zealand Children and Young Person’s Book Awards, and was a finalist for Book of the Year. Suddenly I was an award-winning author, and realizing that you don’t have to be superhuman to write after all, just hardworking and brave enough to try. It also taught me that other New Zealand writers are plenty good enough as well.
Yanes: As an American, I sadly don’t know much about New Zealand’s literary culture. Who are some other fantasy writers from New Zealand you think the world should know more about?
DH: As I say, we’re a tiny country, so our domestic output in anything is small, and for some complex cultural reasons, our writers have tended to create “serious literature” rather than work in genres like SFF or crime fiction. We’re also held back somewhat by being remote from global markets, so we’re not well integrated into “the scene” in larger countries, where the trends are set.
Despite this we’ve had Eleanor Catton win the Booker Prize in 2013 (for The Luminaries), and Keri Hulme also won it in 1985 with The Bone People. And Lynley Dodd (the Hairy Maclary illustrated children’s books) is really big too. Maurice Gee is something of a legend locally, breaking the ground for local genre writers. Helen Lowe won the David Gemmell Morningstar Award for Best Fantasy Newcomer in 2012, so check her out; and Nalini Singh writes amazing fantasy/romance and has a huge international readership. Such successes are very encouraging to the rest of we Kiwi genre writers.
Yanes: New Zealand has a fascinating history and culture. What are some ways you think this helps New Zealand literature distinguish itself?
DH: The New Zealand actor Sam Neill created a documentary film called The Cinema of Unease, which asked why much of New Zealand’s most notable films had a dark, brooding feel to them. A similar documentary could probably be written about New Zealand writing. I feel that we have a tendency toward the bleak and the disquieting, perhaps due to being a small and isolated population, with a lot of wilderness and a very changeable climate, and an uneasy colonialist past that we’re still coming to terms with.
We like to see ourselves as fair and egalitarian, but that doesn’t always stand up to close scrutiny, and I think that expresses itself in the stories we tell, which are often full of shades of grey and ambiguity, rather than black and white depictions of life. I know for myself that I struggle to create straightforward characters – almost all of my heroes are flawed, prone to making mistakes and prone to inner demons.
Yanes: You’ve taken and recommended writing courses. What are some key lessons you’ve taken from these experiences?
DH: More than anything else it taught me to write in a focused way – to cut back on the flowery language I was prone to, to minimize adjectives and metaphors and to develop a more “lean and mean” style. It also taught me to engage all the senses and to extract the most “juice” from every scene that I can.
Yanes: One of your upcoming books is Mother of Daemons: The Sunsurge Quartet Book 4. What was the inspiration behind The Sunsurge Quartet?
DH: The Sunsurge Quartet is a sequel series, set in the same world as its predecessor, The Moontide Quartet. Because Moontide was my first epic fantasy, I approached it as a series of interlocking quests, and most of the characters were relatively young and discovering the world of the story alongside the readers. When I got the go-ahead to write a sequel series, I wanted to provide a different experience, less focused on exploration and discovery, and more about themes of leadership in war and peace. I concentrated more on the things that ruthless people will do to acquire power, and how “good” people deal with combatting them. It also doubles down on a theme of Moontide, that together people are stronger, and that when people of vastly different cultures and backgrounds work together, they can overcome the self-imposed limits of bigoted mono-culturalists.
Yanes: As the series progressed, who were some characters or plotlines that took on a life of their own?
DH: In so big a story, your original plans always have to change, as new ideas occur to you during the creation process and have to be integrated. Also, feedback from beta readers and editors can require quite substantial alterations. For example, in Moontide there was one character who I had planned to kill off in Book 1, but my editor pushed back because they liked them; so I killed them in Book 2 instead. Again, I got pushed back, and in Book 3 too. I finally got my way in Book 4.
A similar thing happened in Sunsurge, where one thread utterly changed, because I’d planned for a certain good character to go bad, but my test readers didn’t like the transformation and nixed it. Taking constructive criticism and working with it is a vital part of being a writer.
To directly answer your question – in Sunsurge there’s an utterly off-the-cuff alliance between two characters (Tarita and Ogre) that was in none of the planning documents but came to embody the themes of the whole series because they are of such different backgrounds.
Yanes: Sunsurge has amazing world-building in it. What steps do you take to make your worlds feel so grounded?
DH: My background prior to writing is in financial services, which taught me a lot about how the world works in terms of how money and trade shape things. I also came from a religious family, and I’m a history major, so when I’m creating my story worlds I tend to bring a very holistic approach, integrating economics, military technology, geo-politics, religion and culture into how the story world works. Sometimes that just sits in the background, but in a story like Sunsurge, which focuses a lot on power and morality, it’s an important dynamic.
Yanes: When it came time to Mother of Daemons, what were the key plots you wanted to wrap up?
DH: Everything! I believe very strongly that readers that have stayed with you for the series deserve to see everything thoroughly wrapped up, not just plot-wise but also in following through on resolving the big underlying themes, providing a memorable, explosive climax, and giving each major character a satisfyingly appropriate dénouement. That’s a lot to juggle, but I’m very happy with what I’ve delivered. I think anyone who’s read Moontide knows that series had a strong finale, and this one does too.
Yanes: When people finish reading Mother of Daemons, what do you hope people take away from the experience?
DH: A desire to read everything else I’ve ever written and will write.
Seriously, I hope they are moved by the moving bits, enjoy seeing certain people get the resolutions they’ve earned (good and bad) and be left with a feeling that human beings function better when we work together, with love and goodwill, for the collective good.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
DH: My newest series is called The Tethered Citadel trilogy, and Book 1, Map’s Edge, is out now. It’s set in a different story world to Moontide/Sunsurge, and the story is more of an adventure novel than an epic (i.e. it’s much shorter). I had a lot of fun writing Map’s Edge, and I think Book 2 (World’s Edge), which I’ve just finished and which comes out next year, is even better.