I'm pleased today to have author A.J. Hartley stopping by the blog to talk a little bit about his young adult fantasy adventure novel, Act of Will. The fantasy genre as a whole is one that's really been growing on me this past year, so I'm always on the lookout for as many fantasy books as I can get my hot little hands on, and I can't wait to give this one a try. Welcome to Supernatural Snark, A.J.!
I have a thing about lighthouses. I know that sounds weird when you put it baldly like that, but it’s true and I suspect (hope) I’m not alone. I’ll try to explain why in a second, but let me explain WHY I’m talking about lighthouses at all.
There’s one in my book.
That’s pretty much it. It’s not central to the plot or anything, but it features in a key moment. Allow me to set it up for you.
Will Hawthorne is an 18 year old actor in a world that looks a lot like late medieval or Elizabethan England (which is where I’m from: the country, not the time period [cause that would mean I am like 500 years old, which I’m not]). Will is a snarky, no nonsense kind of guy, used to living on his wits and theatrical talents, but he falls foul of the authorities (easy to do in this world) and winds up traveling with a group of high minded adventurers. These guys have been hired to figure out who is terrorizing a region far from anything Will has ever seen. It looks like there may be magic involved but Will thinks that’s absurd because there is, as everyone knows, no such thing as magic…
Will and his new found “friends” (at least one of whom needs the smallest of excuses to kill him right where he stands), have travelled to said far-off land and have been hired to escort a crucial cargo from a minor port to its market-town destination.
So far so good.
Except that their mysterious enemy have a knack for showing up in the middle of nowhere with just enough troops to wipe out their target with minimal loss to themselves, and then vanish into the mist as if they had never been there. Will, who is determined to find rational explanations for everything, insists his colleagues search a nearby ghost town where the enemy horsemen might be hiding out.
This is where they find the lighthouse and where things star to get hairy.
Now, I’ll be honest. When I was writing the book a few years ago, I had not intended to include this episode. I had the cargo idea in place and had imagined a scene on the road involving Will and the others encountering the enemy he comes to know as the Crimson Raiders, but I had not thought anything of the previous moments when the cargo first arrived by ship. This scene came to me when I was visiting a friend in northern California and we went out to a lighthouse. I had also recently visited one on Cape Cod, and one in Wales. I just can’t get enough of them, it seems.
Lighthouses are, for me, images of isolation, of defiance, of hope. Though their modern incarnations are heavily mechanized and computerized, there is something vaguely timeless about the idea of these beacons along the coast, the glimmer of light that keeps sailors alive as they navigate the cold, black water of the sea. I picture the solitary lighthouse keeper trudging those tight spiral staircases up into the storm, tending the lamp, alone and precarious up there on that narrow platform above the treacherous rocks. It’s a lonely life, I think, one driven by routine but also by a persistent idea that if you stop what you are doing, people will die.
Lighthouses are like castles, remnants of major events, witnesses to life-and-death struggles out there in the dark where the waves crash on the stony headland, where people’s very existences depend on that one rotating glimmer in the night. And like castles they are invariably desolate places, especially at night, places of shadow and wind where normal people don’t go. Outside they are haunting and isolate. Inside they are claustrophobic and cut-off from the rest of the world. They reek of atmosphere, of dread and danger…
How can I resist?
So yes, there’s a lighthouse in Act of Will. There wasn’t supposed to be, but there is, and I love it. I rewrote the plot to include it and the result is one of my favorite scenes in the book, but I’ll say no more about that for now. Wouldn’t want to spoil the story :)
• • • • • • • • • • •
ACT OF WILL
Act of Will is a rollicking fantasy adventure that introduces us to Will Hawthorne, a medieval actor and playwright who flees the authorities only to find himself inextricably bound to a group of high-minded adventurers on a deadly mission. Will travels with them to a distant land where they are charged with the investigation and defeat of a ruthless army of mystical horsemen, who appear out of the mist leaving death and devastation in their wake. In the course of Will’s uneasy alliance with his new protectors, he has to get his pragmatic mind to accept selfless heroism (which he thinks is absurd) and magic (which he doesn’t believe in). Will must eventually decide where his loyalties really lie and how much he is prepared to do--and believe--to stand up for them.
• • • • • • • • • • •
Andrew James Hartley is the Robinson Professor of Shakespeare Studies, specializing in performance theory, theatre history and dramaturgy. His academic books include The Shakespearean Dramaturg (Palgrave 2006), Julius Caesar (Shakespeare in Performance series, Manchester UP 2013), Shakespeare and Political Theatre (Palgrave 2013) and Shakespeare on the University Stage (Cambridge UP 2014). He was the editor of the performance journal Shakespeare Bulletin (Johns Hopkins UP) from 2003-2013 and is an Associate Artist at Georgia Shakespeare where he was resident dramaturg.
He teaches Renaissance theatre history and Shakespeare, blending literary and historical critical practices with a material sense of contemporary theatre. He also works as a dramaturg and occasional director for campus productions of early modern drama.
As A.J. Hartley he is also the bestselling author of a dozen mystery, thriller and fantasy novels for children and adults, including the Darwen Arkwright series for middle grades readers, the first of which won best young adult novel of 2012 by SIBA. With David Hewson he has written adaptations of Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Hamlet.
Dr. Hartley received his undergraduate degree from Manchester University (UK) and his Masters and Ph.D. from Boston University.