Last week, we announced the acquisition of Featherfall, the debut novel from British fantasy author, Jerry Ibbotson. In this interview, we catch up with Jerry to discuss his writing career to date, his upcoming novel and the themes within, and the fictional worlds that have inspired his own.
What inspired you to write Featherfall?
JI: I’d written quite a bit in the past, and when I sat down to write Featherfall I ended up turning out the first draft really quickly. It was a time when I was pretty angry with life; the business that I’d set up and run for 12 years, working on audio for the games industry, had just collapsed and I was smarting from that. There are points where, even after all the edits, some of that shines through. It’s not necessarily a bad thing though! It really drove me on.
I was initially inspired by the idea of someone extraordinary living a very dull life in suburbia, before becoming a target for someone deeply unpleasant. This became Paul, my angelic friend, and Morrison, who wants to become famous for all the wrong reasons.
As the story developed, I realised that characters such as Owain, my very, very old grumpy Celt, were just as interesting and so he became as vital to the book as Paul. But it’s still about things hiding in plain sight. And swords. And magic stuff.
What’s your writing process like? Do you plan everything out in meticulous detail or do you leave things open to develop as you write?
JI: I’ve never been much of a planner, at least to begin. I was several chapters into Featherfall before I began to piece it all together. I think that’s because I began with a series of ideas — images — in my head, rather than a fixed concept or plot. With short stories, it tends to be the opposite — I have an ‘idea’ that runs right through to the punchline. Novels are exponentially harder in that regard. But I have since written up a whole backstory for Featherfall, which has helped hugely in the editing process. This lays down a chronology and all the basic rules of the universe that my story lives in. I may try doing this slightly earlier in future!
What distinguishes your book from other fantasy books?
JI: I’d say the difference is the mix of fantasy elements with really normal, day to day bits. There’s one point where Paul, the angel trying to live as a man, is debating how much he can compress the contents of his kitchen bin before he has to change the bag.
I really like that mixture. Another character has built himself a house on the fringes of the universe. I modelled the setting on Whitby in North Yorkshire, and there’s a lift to the beach that goes down through a one-hundred-foot-high cliff. Not a Victorian cliff railway type thing, but an actual department store elevator!
That’s what urban fantasy is all about. I just like to dial it to the max.
Which authors most inspired your own writing? And are there any novels that you looked to when you were beginning to shape your own world?
JI: I think one of the most important novels I’ve read has been Mythago Wood by Robert Holdstock, a writer described as the father of British fantasy. It’s set in the real world but has an ancient forest where mythical characters dwell. I read it when I was 17 and it really affected me. The same goes for The Way of Wyrd by Brian Bates, set in Anglo Saxon Britain. I love tales of ancient folklore. The Dark is Rising series by Susan Cooper is also brilliant and one of my all-time favourites is Weaveworld by Clive Barker — the benchmark for urban fantasy. A monster gets killed by a train to Runcorn. Enough said.
And lastly, describe your book in one sentence.
JI: Ancient warriors, angels and demons fight out the future of creation on Midsummer’s Eve.