How do authors chose their worlds? What makes one world about angels different from another? These are the sort of questions I addressed to Hilton Pashley, and he came back with the most fantastic discussion of his universe. Whether or not you have read his work, it is a fantastic insight into the level of thought which goes into a setting.
Hilton Pashley is the author of the Hobbes End trilogy, which began with Gabriel’s Clock, and ends with the newly-released Michael’s Spear. It is a favourite trilogy of mine. I have reviewed Michael’s Spear separately to this post.
‘I will never let you fall.’
When I first started writing the Hobbes End trilogy, which began with Gabriel’s Clock and now ends with Michael’s Spear, I wanted to set it in a world that hadn’t already been thoroughly explored by other authors. My main concern was that it shouldn’t be a re-tread of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings; so what should I write about? The answer came from a chance reading of a poem called High Flight, written in 1941 by John Gillespie Magee Jr, a Canadian Spitfire pilot. The words, “Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, and danced the skies, on laughter silvered wings,” conjured up the image of an old angel, staring at a cobalt-blue sky and remembering what it was like to fly, before sacrificing his wings to give life to a place where those in need could be safe. And so Hobbes End and Gabriel were born.
If I had an angel then I would need to have Heaven, and if I had Heaven then I would need to have Hell, and so the world in which Hobbes End nestles slowly took shape. I didn’t want to rely on existing imagery for angels and demons; I wanted them to be my versions, flawed, driven, slightly bonkers, altogether more human in the way they behaved. One of the loveliest comments I have received so far was from a retired librarian in the US who wrote about Gabriel’s Clock on her blog. She described the story as being “Chock full of theology, but with not a whit of religion,” which is exactly what I was aiming for. Every faith has its own versions of angels and demons, and I didn’t want to exclude anyone from the story by making it too literal or too western in its interpretation.
Set against the backdrop of a longstanding but – uneasy – truce between Heaven and Hell, Jonathan, Gabriel’s grandson and the young hero of the story, discovers he is the only half angel – half demon in existence, something that up until that point was thought impossible. I liked him from the moment he popped into my head. In the blink of an eye he is thrust into a world that no longer makes sense, filled with gods and monsters, and with the knowledge that the power he holds can be used to create or destroy. I didn’t want Jonathan’s story to be as simple as a 1930’s cowboy film, where the hero wears a white Stetson and the villain a black one, that’s doing the reader a disservice. Life is far more grey, far less defined. Whether you are good or evil depends solely on your actions, not on the label you are given, and that’s the lesson Jonathan has to learn.
Out of all the characters in the trilogy, Lucifer was the hardest to write. He is best described in the story by Elgar the cat, who says of Lucifer, “He’s not good or evil; he’s just very, very scary.” This is true to a point, but as Jonathan discovers, the ruler of Hell is not all he seems on the surface. Maybe underneath that Saville Row suit, the first Morningstar (who looks rather like the actor Michael Fassbender) just wants to be forgiven for screwing up, but is too damn proud to say sorry. I have The Sandman graphic novels to thank for giving me the inspiration to come up with my own version of the fallen angel. If Neil Gaiman could do it, then why couldn’t I?
Above all, the story is about the bonds of friendship, family and love, between angels, demons and humans all. As Jonathan says to his dear friend Cay as he cradles her safely in his wings, high above Hobbes End at the end of Michael’s Spear, “I will never let you fall.” Now that is something worth fighting for.