In the last four years, Lauren Halkon has had
over 30 short stories published. An enviable Night
Seekers was published by Cosmos Books, an imprint of the Wildside
Press. In addition to being a fine writer, she is a talented photographer
and artist who has designed book and CD covers among other things. She
also has possibly the coolest author website on the net, which naturally
she designed and built herself. record
likely to send other writers into paroxysms of self-doubt over their
comparative lack of achievement. In September 2002 her debut novel
I interviewed Lauren in October 2002, and began
by discussing Night Seekers. The book is predominantly a Fantasy
novel, but has elements of Science Fiction and Horror. It is a hugely
imaginative, angst-filled, challenging book. It is dark and yet hopeful.
The characters seek some kind of spiritual redemption and the book builds
to an apocalyptic ending in which that redemption might be achieved
or lost forever.
Chris Butler: I'll
start by asking about the origins of Night Seekers. What were
your first thoughts and intentions when you started out writing it?
Was it a natural follow on from the stories you had written previously
or was it a departure?
Lauren Halkon: It was pretty much a follow
on. A lot of my work was taking on a darker edge at that time and so
to write a novel along those lines seemed natural. Basically I wanted
to write a story that would stand apart from others, that would blend
past and present, dream and reality, that had characters whose emotions
were very real and very extreme. I hope I succeeded in that.
CB: I think it's worth
trying to look at the book from a number of different angles. Let's
look first at the setting, which seems to be both emotionally and physically
desolate. Is it intended to be the far future or a dream reality, or
LH: It's intended to be both, an extrapolation
of where we could end up if all things are taken to extremes, yet also
a telling of a tale in a time without time, with no boundaries except
the imagination, which is boundless. I consider reality a transient
thing and I wanted to make people think twice about all the things they
take for granted, the thoughts in their heads, the things they see,
to really pull the rug out from under them I guess!
CB: This dream reality
evolves over the course of the book. There is a barren desert-like wasteland,
which is obviously meant to reflect the emotional emptiness of the future
humans. There are vast spire cities in which the humans actually live.
And there is a sacred mountain that is being drained of its energy.
When you were creating these, were there any real-world landscapes or
other literary worlds that particularly influenced you?
LH: A lot of the influence for Night
Seekers came from my dreams, in fact, writing Night Seekers
encouraged them to become more vivid. Many of the landscapes are real
dreamscapes that I caught on paper before they drifted away. Most of
the other inspiration came from folklore, myth and religion. This was
where I got the sacred mountain -- in nearly all mythologies there's
a mountain where the gods or wise ones live. It's also part of Egyptian
mythology, the primeval mound that rises from the waters. The spire
cities came from an image that stuck in my head from a book I read about
a place, somewhere in Turkey I think, where these spires actually existed,
although obviously not on such a huge scale!
CB: There are three
races in the world of Night Seekers: the humans, the Pale Ones
and the Dark Ones. Tell me about the characters you introduce first,
and how the story begins.
LH: I wanted to start the story with
something that would grab the reader's interest. A short sharp shock.
You can't get a much bigger shock than magic and death on the first
page! Also I wanted to establish almost immediately the fact that there
is a dream world and a real world in the book, which is done in the
first few chapters with quick switches from one to another, seen through
the eyes of several of the main characters.
The first characters to be introduced in detail are Kai-ya, the Pale
One and Sahla, the Dark One. The Pale and the Dark are the ancient races,
which populated the real world before the humans took over. The Pale
were city dwellers, worshippers of the heavens, almost alien in their
appearance. The Dark are more connected to the earth, tribal, a shamanistic,
nomadic society. Kai-ya is the only Pale One still living; in his mind
he holds the knowledge and pain of the past and the wars between the
races. He is Sahla's tutor, and the relationship between them is a catalyst
for what happens later in the book. As for Sahla, she's the book's main
character, the shaman of her tribe, a strong young woman with a deeply
tortured and fragmented soul. I wanted to make her believable, strong
yet vulnerable. Night Seekers is very much about her spiritual
CB: Your stories frequently
look unflinchingly at the darker emotions, with characters lost in nightmarish
worlds of loneliness and despair. Why is Sahla "deeply tortured" and
is it important to you that there should be some kind of positive outcome
at the end of her journey?
LH: For me it's important that Sahla
is a tortured soul because Night Seekers is all about extremes,
not just of the dark variety, as I like to think there's an equal amount
of beauty in the book, but I also think that tingeing the beauty with
darkness and vice versa makes the tale into something very bittersweet,
much like life itself. Like Sahla's life. With her shamanic gifts she
has entire worlds open to her that others can never see, yet at the
same time she's very much a psychological orphan because of this. And
yes, it is important that there's a positive outcome. I want the tale
to hurt people, to move them, but ultimately to give them hope. If we
give up on the idea of hope, then we give up being human.
CB: Which brings us
nicely to the humans in the story. They're in a bit of a state, aren't
LH: You could say that, yes! The humans
in Night Seekers have basically given up their humanity. They're
no longer mortal, having found a way to drain the life force of the
land they live upon to sustain their lives indefinitely. Nothing is
created, nothing is won or lost, no children are born, no emotions are
felt, even their sleeping dreams are ceasing to be. Living forever they
don't really live at all. Locked up in three sprawling cities of vast
rock spires, each human in its own personal cell, they haven't seen
the outside world in centuries. Everything is just a myth to them now,
safely depicted on one of their computer screens.
CB: And of course,
Night Seekers is very much about the consequences of this. And
ultimately the situation has to change. Without giving too much away,
can you give us some idea of how this change begins, and the character
conflicts that arise? There are a number of other characters that we
haven't mentioned yet.
LH: Night Seekers has many other
characters, every one of them has a part to play, and every single one
of them told me in no uncertain terms what that part was! The humans,
Darbo, Fainan and Kelefeni, are three very unique individuals amongst
their kind. Each one of them has a key to saving the land, even though
they don't know it. Kelefeni has an illness that drives her insane until
she realises it's actually her freedom. Fainan has dreams and visions
that terrify him, emotions he doesn't understand. As for Darbo, it's
as though all the hate, fear and despair of every human is caught up
in him. He's the one who starts everything with his discovery of the
truth of the past. Darbo challenges Sahla's beliefs and takes her right
to the edge of what she thought she was capable of. At the same time,
she deeply unnerves him, as she awakens things inside him he can't control.
Kelefeni becomes Sahla's saviour in a way. Fainan is the hardest of
all for Sahla, because she has to learn to trust him, and the relationship
between them is never completely fulfilled until the very end of the
book. And then probably not in the way people would have expected.
Of the other characters, I'll be briefer. There's Zinni, an ancestral
shaman, in essence no longer alive, but still able to help Sahla and
the others. Daviki, Sahla's grandfather, who makes many sacrifices throughout
the book, and Dil-ya, Kai-ya's wife and another of Sahla's tutors. There's
also a crow, a wolf and a snake that are absolutely vital and would
not forgive me if I missed them out!
CB: The book seems
to have a fairly straightforward narrative flow. Did you have any particular
objectives in terms of storytelling?
LH: I wanted to write a novel that would
take people back to their roots, that would touch some primitive part
of the mind as well as the logical part, that maybe had a slight flavour
of the tales clan elders might have told to their people in times past.
I had no objectives other than those, most of my work comes very smoothly
and easily, the writing process for me is like dreaming while awake
and I don't think too much about it.
CB: So in terms of,
for example, choosing a viewpoint character in any particular scene:
is that all done entirely on instinct?
LH: Absolutely. In fact, it seems a strange
question to answer because I honestly never have to give that kind of
thing any thought! The characters were so strong in my head that everything
fell easily into place. When I began, I knew it would be a challenge
to write Night Seekers, and it did take a lot out of me emotionally,
but the actual act of writing flowed very smoothly. If any of the characters
wandered off the path (which only happened twice) I knew immediately
that it was wrong and I knew just what to do to find the way back.
CB: Night Seekers
is a standalone book. It builds to an epic ending, and I really enjoyed
that aspect of it. Is there any possibility of the story continuing
in some way, or does the ending really preclude that?
LH: I didn't write it with any intention
of writing a follow-up. I suppose it was a reaction against endless
fantasy trilogies and Hollywood sequels, I wanted to write something
that was complete in and of itself. Not that I have anything in particular
against trilogies -- I've written one myself! -- but I wanted to do
something different this time. I suppose part of me wonders what would
happen if I were to write a sequel, but to be honest, I don't think
it needs it. I think there's an art to knowing when to stop, and Night
Seekers stops just where it needs to.
CB: Are you looking
for a publisher for your fantasy trilogy?
LH: To be honest, with all that's been
going on with Night Seekers, I haven't had a chance to think
too much about anything else. Maybe now that the pressure is off a little
I can devote more attention to my trilogy. It's called The True Folk
and is a fairly traditional high fantasy tale, although I have tried
to bring in a few unusual elements to make it stand out. As usual with
my work, there's a lot of interest in history and the ultimate origins
of the many races populating the land. Also, the three main characters
are all women, which I enjoyed writing, as I don't think there are enough
female lead roles in books. This isn't to say I neglect the men, just
that I feel I have a better balance than most. But yes, now I am going
to start looking for a publisher, it's just deciding where to start!
CB: You've been a prolific
short story writer so I presume you enjoy writing them. What are the
relative merits and benefits of writing short fiction, compared with
LH: I enjoy writing full stop! I get
ideas for stories from the strangest and slightest of things sometimes.
Often they stay in my head for months or years before they come out.
When they do, they emerge in the shape and form they want to. Some will
be very short, 1500 words or so, others will be 7000, then others will
settle for nothing less than the full works. Again, I know what needs
to be done automatically. More so now that I've been writing for a while.
Each short story is a telling of a certain moment in time, which says
all it needs to say in that 1000-7000-word stretch. Any more would be
extraneous, would diminish the message. With novels, I use them to work
more on worlds and their history rather than single moments in time,
hence the larger stage needed for such an undertaking.
CB: Reading your stories,
one of the things that interests me is the ambiguity in them. The reader
is expected to make an effort because elements may be only suggested
rather than explicitly stated. For example, in your story "Field Of
Angels," which was published in Realms of Fantasy, I don't think
you ever state that a field of angels is a graveyard. But this will
be obvious to the reader if they are thinking at all as they read. Do
you think there are any limits to how far you can push this before it
becomes too hard for the reader? And does it affect you if someone misses
LH: I don't think all my stories have
the same levels of ambiguity in them, but I will be the first to admit
that some of them can be rather baffling. The thing is, the stories
I write are more a way of communicating beliefs, visions and age-old
truths rather than simply entertaining, although I hope they do that
too. I work in very symbolic ways; I write what I see and what I feel.
Sometimes I do go back and write more detail so that it's not so hard
to understand; other times the story fairly shrieks at me not to do
this, and so I don't.
I suppose there are limits, but I think this goes for all writing and
art. No one can ever see or read the same way another person will, and
so part of the story is always held in the mind of the viewer/reader.
I have no control over that, interpretation is ever open, I just know
that this is what I have to do and I hope others take something from
it too. As for being misunderstood, aren't all writers? I think this
is why we do what we do, it's our way of trying to make the world listen
to us. Yes, it does affect me when the points I'm trying to make are
missed; I wish people could understand so much more than they seem to.
I think they do, deep down, but it's so often human nature to not want
to look too deeply.
CB: You're not alone
in wanting to work in a more symbolic, impressionistic way. I think
it's an approach that is understood by like-minded people. In any case
it is certainly true that not all your stories have these levels of
ambiguity. I particularly like your story "Siren," published in Enigmatic
Tales, which is a more straightforward tale.
LH: "Siren" was a ghost story,
which is not something I often write, but I enjoyed creating something
simpler. It was a good exercise for me, as I don't like to write the
same thing, or in the same style, all the time. I look upon it as listening
to the same music or eating the same food all the time, not good for
the soul or the body. The same goes for writing. Siren was written from
a child's point of view, which I find interesting to do, as children
have a very different reality to adults. I'm working on a new novel
right now, written with a cast of young people, different from Night
Seekers in one way, as its plot-line is not quite so complex, yet
using a lot of the same highly descriptive prose style. But whatever
style I use I always ensure there's a deeper vein running through the
tale, otherwise it just wouldn't be me!
CB: You write a lot
of Science Fiction, albeit often mixed with Horror. The best example
of this, for me, is "Spinner," published in the recent Octoberland
anthology. How strong an interest do you have in writing SF, and where
does that interest come from?
LH: I've never really had much interest
in specifying the genres I work in, so for you to say I write a lot
of Science Fiction is news to me! Seriously though, there are many sf
elements in my writing, and I suppose this is only natural, as I've
had a life-long fascination with cosmology, evolution etc. I read Asimov's
Foundation series when I was 16 and the scope of that appealed to me.
I have both a mystical and a scientific outlook on life, I don't believe
the two are incompatible and I think this is where our destiny ultimately
lies. A blending of these two theories of life that were once thought
to be separate things. So, if there's a Science Fiction element in my
writing, this is where it comes from. This belief.
CB: I agree that it
is more correct to say that there are "SF elements" in your work. A
story like "Spinner" appeals to me because it suggests that
life could become a certain way, and then leaves you wondering whether
maybe, on some level, it already is. Of course, this may just be me!
What were your intentions with that story?
LH: No, I don't think it's just you,
although it could be that we're both as crazy as one another! On some
level I think society is like the world in "Spinner".
The faceless doctors that people hand over their bodies to, the fact
that sex now seems the most impersonal act of all, rather than the intimate
joining it's supposed to be. Also, there still seems to be this pressure
on women to have children -- THE ALL-IMPORTANT FAMILY (big foreboding
words here!). If you get to a certain age and are still childless people
start to wonder if there's something wrong with you. To assume that
a woman's life is not complete without a child is ridiculous. So this
is where the world of "Spinner" came from, women little more
than battery hens, kept in prison-like wards, impregnated by men they
don't know and can't even see, and treated with such contempt that they
aren't even allowed to speak. It doesn't sound so dissimilar to the
conditions many women in the world live with now.
CB: You have a wonderful
website. From my own experience I know that this can take up a lot of
time but can be very rewarding. Have you found it so?
LH: It has taken up an immense amount
of my time, time I should probably have spent writing! It has been rewarding
though, in that it taught me another skill and helped me prove to myself
that I could do it. Basically I knew no one else would be able to design
it the way I wanted it, so I had a few lessons from a friend and then
went away and experienced a huge learning curve. What you see online
now is the result of three years of constant tweaking and discovering
of new tricks.
CB: So what next for
LH: World domination! Films, Broadway
shows, multi-million pound book deals, exhibitions of my artwork in
the Tate, buy a multinational corporation or three, hmmm, and maybe
my own publishing imprint, too...
Seriously? I don't know, I'm waiting to see. I'll finish my next novel,
continue to learn, write stories and take photographs, listen to some
music, eat, go to the toilet, sleep, try to be happy and take the occasional
Watch this space!
Seekers is published by Cosmos
Books (September 2002).
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