We caught up with author Philip Womack to talk about his latest novel, Wildlord, in the latest issue of PaperBound Magazine.
Could you tell us a little about your new novel, Wildlord?
WIldlord is about a teenage boy, Tom, whose long lost uncle invites him to stay with him on a farm in Suffolk. He’s stuck at his boarding school for the summer, and so decides to escape without telling anyone. But when he turns up, he finds some very mysterious things going on, and discovers that the farm is menaced by various strange forces, known as the Samdhya – and the people inside the farm are pretty weird too, including a silver-haired boy called Kit, and an enigmatic girl called Zita. It’s a fantasy novel with some elements of time travel to it.
Wildlord is set in a different time period to many of your previous novels, and is aimed at teen readers. What inspired you to tell this story, and what do you hope readers take from it?
I’ve always loved folklore and fairy tales, and been fascinated by the idea of the Sidhe, or the Good Folk – the many names for fairies we have in these islands. They’re quite strongly associated with mounds, and of course they can’t cross running water or abide iron. In Suffolk, where I spend quite a lot of time, there are plenty of houses (even small ones) with moats – and when I saw this, of course my natural conclusion was that they must have been put there to stop the Good Folk getting in. From there it was a short step to thinking about why they were being prevented from coming in – and from that came Wildlord. I have written novels in the past which are set in the present day – my first novel, The Other Book, was set in a country prep school; my second, The Liberators, was in London post-financial crash; and The Darkening Path trilogy begins and ends in our world.
I don’t really think of time as linear – the past is all around us, and we are essentially in the future as we go about our daily lives. So I wanted to write something about time and how people think about it. I’m fascinated by history, and by all the moments that contrived to make each and every one of us who we are. Sometimes it’s dizzying to think of that chain of consequences.
It’s also about a teenager finding his own place in the world. I hope that readers will enjoy the setting and the story, and that it will make them think about our own place in history.
Can you sum up your novel in 3 words?
Mysterious, dark, hopeful.
Could you tell us a little about your writing journey, and why you decided to become a writer?
I think that as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a writer. There’s something about the ability to create a story – a good, convincing story – that seems like magic. I swallowed down books as a child, indiscriminately, and I always wanted to know and understand how to write them. It’s an ongoing journey, of course – as a writer, I learn new things every time I sit down to write a sentence. I think it’s also something that, once started, is very difficult to give up, because you always want to go one better.
Are you working on anything else at the moment?
I’m thinking about possible angles for a sequel to Wildlord – we shall have to see. I had two books published in 2020, and it would be nice to see sequels for them too, in some form. I loved writing The Arrow of Apollo, which is set in the ancient world, and have enjoyed seeing its reception, so we shall have to see about that too.
Why do you think readers find fantasy so appealing? Are there any other fantasy books you would recommend for young people today?
Fantasy speaks to us in many ways. There’s a danger with realist fiction (which of course has its place) that it can be too specific and therefore date very quickly. With fantasy, you’re dealing with archetype, and metaphor, which means that it can console and inspire people in quite complicated and mysterious fashions. There’s escapism, of course; and then there’s dealing with our own world in a way that throws new light on it. Fantasy has been with us since we told stories. When you’re a child and you listen to fairy stories, you don’t think about them in terms of reality structures – you listen to them for deeper meanings that you can’t articulate yet. I’ve never been a fan of the kind of criticism that says, oh well, fairy tales are all about kings and princesses and are about power structures and so forth. That seems to miss the point – they’re stories in which people can imagine themselves as princes and princesses.
What are your three top tips for young aspiring writers?
Read, read, read. That’s number one. Read everything. Read things you don’t understand. Read them again when you’re older. Then read them once more. Read everything – poetry, prose, drama, non-fiction. Absorb things. Don’t be put off by people who tell you that things are complicated, or not for you. Just do it.
Write, write, write. I seriously mourn the loss of letter writing, with pens. It was such a nice and easy way to learn, subconsciously, how to tell a story. If you went to stay with a friend, you’d write a letter afterwards, and I soon learnt to tell a little anecdote. The fragmentation of most communication now, I think, is quite a worrying thing.
Turn off your computer and your phone. Yes, yes, I know it makes me sound like a fuddy duddy or a Luddite. But computers take up enormous amounts of your emotional and creative bandwith. They do things for you. There are computer programs now which try to anticipate what you are going to write. Take a pen and a piece of paper, and go and sit in a park or a café or on top of a bus, and note down what you see, hear, smell. Look at people. Fiction is ultimately about people.
Philip Womack is a British author and journalist, and his writing has appeared in The Daily Telegraph, The Times, The Literary Review, and TLS. His books for children and teens include the fantasy trilogy The Darkening Path and The Arrow of Apollo. The non-fiction book How to Teach Classics to Your Dog was published in 2020.
You can keep up with Philip on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
Wildlord was released in October 2021 and published by Little Island, available in the UK and Ireland.
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