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Most Read Interviews

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Imagine a world where our myths live – especially the ones about fabulous beasts.  Why stop at a unicorn? Chris Humphreys takes us deep into his world of writing in a multitude of genres and changing people’s perspectives within the pages of his novels. Read on and take a few steps in the mind and soul of true story teller. 

Where does you love of writing come from, and your love of fantasy in particular?

I think I was born telling stories. (In a way, that is true because my mother said that she knew me at the moment of my birth because in my first cry she heard her father’s laugh). From the time I read or saw my first adventure tale, I was hooked. One of the earliest photos of me is in a Zorro outfit. I wanted to engage in derring do. Preferably with a sword in hand. I became an actor so I could live a life telling stories. Eventually I knew I needed to tell my own. (I also became an actor so I would get paid to leap around with bladed weaponry)

I didn’t have a particular favourite genre when I was younger. It was the story that hooked me, or didn’t, and if that was set in medieval London  or on the ice planet Tharg it was one and the same as long as the story was good.  But I realized that fantasy was a place where you could often find a good epic, the best kind of tale for me. High stakes, swordplay, ‘other worldliness’. When I discovered Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books I found not only great characters and an epic scale, but also ambiguity. One of the things I most like in books is characters who are more than one thing – villains who do heroic things. Heroes with deep flaws. Fantasy is great for that

How much time do you spend on research and/ or world-building before you begin the first draft of a novel?

If it’s historical fiction, I usually research for a couple of months before I start writing, then that tells me what I need to keep researching – it’s an ongoing process. With fantasy, there’s usually a little less pure research of place and times. However that’s not true of The Tapestry Trilogy because it is set in our world, present day, and also in another world, Goloth: Land of the Fabulous Beasts. This is like earth’s shadow world, a world where all our myths live. So I had to research the full Bestiary. I began writing the book because I needed to figure out what it meant that I have worn a unicorn on my hand since I was 18. (It’s a ring, with the family crest). What does a unicorn mean? Once I learned it was unconquerable – except by a maiden – I had the beginning of the story. That a touch of its horn could remove poisons gave me more. Then, when I discovered the stunning Unicorn Tapestries in New York, I had both my door between worlds and the amazing world of weaving to explore. So, yes, the usual few months of research, more once I’d dived in – and then the other beasts appeared!

You are an international best-selling author, and your novels have won many awards. What do you think sets your work apart from others in the same genre?

Interesting question. Most good writers all do similar things: try to create compelling characters and then put them through hell. I know you ask this question later – about me being an actor – but I know that is the difference in my writing from some others. It is almost as if I am giving my characters a good role. Lots of flaws, lots of conflict, so that when they win out they have really achieved something against the odds. I have been in enough bad television to know when I read the script I think: there is nothing to play here. No stakes. I always try to give my characters something to play.

What inspired The Tapestry Trilogy?

That ring, as I said – trying to figure out what a unicorn meant once, and could mean again. Then the tapestries themselves. I saw them online, then visited the Cloisters (the medieval collection of the Metropolitan Museum, in Fort Tryon Park, New York City). I was blown away by these extraordinary pieces of art. Huge, filled with action, beasts, humans. You feel like you are looking at a painting – yet it is made from colored thread going down, and going across. Warp and weft. How do you get a twinkle in a hunter’s eye? Also, these tapestries are a mystery – no one knows who they were made by, who they were made for, exactly when or where they were made. Mysteries are good for writers – you can fill in the gaps. So the woven, joined ‘A’ and ‘E’ that appears in the corner of each tapestry? Of course it stands for Alice-Elayne, the original weaver’s daughter from the 15th Century – and my 21st Century protagonist in Manhattan.

What role does myth play in plot of the Tapestry Trilogy?

It’s the core of it. I imagined a world where our myths live – especially the ones about fabulous beasts. I thought: why stop at a unicorn? So there are griffins, manticore, cockatrice … dragons! Their abilities, the powers they had in myth become a reality in Goloth. Especially the one about the unicorn being able to cure poisons and sickness with a touch of his ivory horn. That is something that proves vital both sides of the tapestry portal, in Goloth and in New York. But I won’t say anything more about that!

Tell us a bit about the character Elayne, and the journey she goes through in The Tapestry Trilogy?

Joseph Campbell, the great writer on mythology, talks about the stages of the Hero’s Journey. An early stage is: The hero refuses the call to adventure. Elayne is a normal New York girl – well, not quite because she is a bit of a loner, is not big on social media, and tends to prefer books over Tic Tok. So when she is summoned by a unicorn and finds herself in a very dangerous medieval world where it appears she is ‘the prophesied one’ come to end the tyrants king’s reign, she understandably goes: ‘Who? Me? Forget it!’ But as the story progresses she finds her courage, learns the skills she needs and, especially, bonds with the 500 year old unicorn, Moonspill, who summoned her. She always has moments of Why Me? But throughout the series she grows in strength – and learns not to be so much of a loner. Learns that it is ok to accept help – and even love.

Is it challenging to juggle the arc of a story, character, and series at the same time? How do you manage this?

Yes, always challenging. But this was a bit different. Because originally I was only commissioned to write one book, the first, ‘The Hunt of the Unicorn’. So I juggled arc and character but thought it was only going to be within one book. Then I found I was really missing the characters and I had left Goloth kind of on a knife’s edge. Plus, I thought: who doesn’t want to write about dragons? Hence Book Two: ‘The Hunt of the Dragon’. Really thought that was it… but the same things happened. I needed to conclude the whole epic with a third book. So, ‘The Hunt of the Shapeshifters’ was born. But that’s it! Honest! (I think)

You are an actor as well as an author. How do these two art forms complement each other?

As I said above, it affects my writing, how and why I create character the way I do. I mainly write full time these days but I make sure I get back to the theatre at least once a year. (At least I did before… well, you know!) Telling other peoples’ stories helps you with your own. Seeing what an audience is receptive to is also very informative and can be used on the page. What makes people laugh and cry?

You have a love for epic fantasy, but also for other genres. In fact, your novel Plague won a crime novel award. How does it feel to be recognized for different styles and genres?

You know, I am hoping that people will read me because they like the way I tell a story, irrespective of genre. Some people think: oh, I’ll never read epic fantasy, or historical crime or… But if they try, they might just find that they are caught up in the storytelling – these flawed characters dramatic adventures, no matter where, or when, they take place. I know that’s what I think. I write the story I want to write and then find it fits the genre.

What are the challenges of jumping from different genres?

Really, peoples’ perceptions, as I say above. Also publishers get a bit twitchy. They like a regular standard product to bring out every year. I would probably be far better known and have sold many more books if I’d just done endless slight variations on my first novel. Then again, I wouldn’t because I’d have got bored. It sounds crazy but even though I like to sell books it’s truly not for the money. I write to be read. I hope readers will be intrigued not put off by my variety. Ooh, what’s he up to now?

What projects will you be tackling in the future?

Ha! Well, speaking of… I am in the early stages of writing a World War Two saga/romance loosely based on my parents’ story. ‘cos my dad was a fighter pilot and my mum was a spy in the Norwegian Resistance. How can I not write that?

We learned through Chris’ interview that not only telling other peoples’ stories helps you with your own and that it doesn’t limit you to telling stories that involve real live characters. It also tells us that we can find relatability and connectivity to fantastic beasts in the story world as well.