Did you know that BattleAxe went into reprint before it had been released? A second reprint has just come out with a cover by the marvellous artist Shaun Tan (seen below to the right) depicting Axis and a line of Axe-Wielders approaching through an icy landscape towards an exceptionally evil looking Gorkenfort. Thanks Shaun, great job!
How (and why) did I write BattleAxe? Well …
BattleAxe was my first foray into fantasy — I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it. I wrote BattleAxe some time ago when I simply could not find anything to read one weekend and decided I’d write something myself. Because I wrote BattleAxe for such a tiny audience of one, I’m constantly surprised that anyone else should find it interesting — apparently the dark spaces of my mind are more crowded than I originally thought.
The entire concept for the novel came from a miniature axe I found on a chair in a shop in Adelaide one day. I had sat down, waiting to be served, when I discovered I was sitting on a tiny axe. No-one knew to whom it belonged, so I took it home and, the day I decided I would try my hand at a fantasy novel, pulled it from my purse and stuck it to the casing of my computer — where it rests to this day. I sat down … stared at the axe … and began to type. Once I started I found I could not stop; I wrote BattleAxe in a flurry of activity over five weeks’ worth of evenings and weekends (and many thanks to Louise Thurtell of HarperCollins for finding the book among all the flurry).
The only planning I did for the book was to write some brief notes on the three main races of Tencendor — Acharites, Icarii and Avar; I thought up a plot as I went to suit the characteristics of these races. Axis, StarDrifter, Rivkah and Azhure were the only characters I had any firm idea about; all the others, like the plot, simply got made up as the need and occasion arose (the actual Prophecy of the Destroyer was the last thing I wrote–and, according to one reviewer, I shouldn’t have even bothered then).
Faraday is the best example of a character I constructed on the spur of the moment. When I wrote the scene of Priam’s banquet I needed two minor characters to discuss the characters at the royal table as a ploy to introduce the main players; I never thought to use either of the two again. Devera has sunk without trace, but the moment I finished writing the scene I knew I couldn’t ignore Faraday. So I had to find something to do with her. I sat back and stared at the axe … but for once that wasn’t any help. So I focused a little further afield to the framed print of J.W. Waterhouse’s Circe Invidiosa (1892) hanging above my fireplace — and there I had Faraday, her gown, the Lake, and the magic of the water bowl. The original painting hangs in the Art Gallery of South Australia, so go along and have a look if ever you’re in Adelaide, you’ll recognise her instantly. (Turn to the left from the foyer, and follow the galleries through to the Victorian Gallery — about 2 in. Faraday hangs on the immediate right. Of course, knowing my luck, she’s been shifted by now.)
(Azhure I found recently in Allyn Fisher’s Fine Art Gallery here in Bendigo. She’s a bronze bust by Diedre Walsh-Fitton, and quite extraordinary … as befits Azhure.)
Much of the inspiration for the world of Tencendor came from my daily toil as a medieval historian. The medieval Catholic Church provided the basis for the Seneschal; all of the beliefs of the Seneschal (especially regarding attitudes to landscape) come directly from medieval Catholic teachings. The Avar once wandered eastern Europe, and I use an amalgam of pagan European culture for their religion — much of which remains in modern western culture. We still worship the (Christmas) tree at Yuletide, while Beltide (May Day, again worship of the tree — the may-pole) and Fire-Night (Midsummer’s Eve) are still marked in many areas of Europe. The Horned Ones were gods of pagan Europe, as was Artor the Ploughman — I have used a bit of artistic license to link him with the medieval Church’s alter-ego, the Seneschal. Some of the Icarii culture owes something to Greco-Roman myth, but that will become more obvious in Books 2 (Enchanter) and 3 (StarMan); I promise never to fly StarDrifter too close to the sun. All of my students can read BattleAxe and recognise six months’ worth of my lectures! (Of course, all of my students should be so busy studying they shouldn’t have time to browse these pages.)
The hardest thing I found about writing BattleAxe was thinking up original names — oftentimes I dipped into medieval poetry and legend for inspiration (as Raymond Feist and Stephen Donaldson have done). Many aristocratic names are Saracen characters from The Song of Roland, while most of the Smyrton peasant names came from the little village of Myddle in England (immortalised in Richard Gough’s The History of Myddle). Rivkah was a name I spotted in the credits of an American soap, while Axis is an obvious derivation from ‘axe’. Place names usually sprang unannounced into my head — but you’ll find one or two Tolkienish references, while South Australians can revel in local names! Some names have been changed from the original manuscript — most notably Gorgrael who I named originally Sathanas (from The Song of Roland).
Coping with patterns of speech, time and distance was also hard. As far as speaking went, I had to be careful not to have characters speak in phrases or use words that are too associated with our modern world — no ‘okays’ for instance. As for curses! Well, the ‘by Artor!’ was okay, but I had to be inventive as far as cursing went (and some of the best got cut — damn!). Using time was also hard; patterns of time are so ingrained in us it is almost impossible to have the reader accept any major changes. The Tencendorian year, like ours, has twelve months, and it was all right to have characters use expressions that used natural divisions of time (a day, or a morning, for instance) but I tried to avoid too many small or artificial distinctions of time like hour or minute — although sometimes that couldn’t be helped. Distance — leagues have the right feel about them, although I may have made them a bit long, but small distances (what we would use centimetres or inches for) were a nightmare!
By the way, the wrong scale got onto the map of Achar. It should have been smaller, thus increasing distances.
My favourite character? Azhure — by Book 3 you’ll know why.
©1995 Sara Douglass
Follow this link to see the maps of Tencendor and Escator, the realms where The Axis Trilogy, The Wayfarer Redemption, Beyond the Hanging Wall and Darkglass Mountain trilogy are set.
Editors note: BattleAxe is Book 1 of The Axis Trilogy. Overseas it was called The Wayfarer Redemption and The Axis Trilogy was the first half of the series of six books.