Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Interview with Aidan Harte, author of Irenicon - April 1, 2014

Please welcome Aidan Harte to The Qwillery as part of the 2014 Debut Author Challenge Interviews.  Irenicon is published today. Please join us in wishing Aidan a Happy US Publication Day. You may read Aidan's Guest Blog - North of Neverland - here.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery. When and why did you start writing?

Aidan:  In 2008 I was studying sculpture in a Florentine atelier. They were long days. I’d come home beat every evening covered in mud. Early one morning I was schlepping over the Ponte Vecchio when a simple story popped into my head, about an engineer coming to build a bridge in a town with a civil war brewing. One thing academic art gives you is time to think, so the idea soon blossomed into an elaborate Fantasy set in medieval Italy. I never had any great ambitions to be a writer but I like stories and I knew this was a good one. I got typing.

TQ:  Are you a plotter or a pantser?

Aidan:  You can write short stories any which way you like, but a novel is a marathon; do the prep or Brother, you are going down. You need some idea how each scene fits into the whole to know what tone and pace is appropriate, and what information to reveal, what to withhold. There quickly comes a point however when rewriting outlines is another way of procrastinating. It really doesn’t matter how you get to the ball. Your first draft might an exquisitely plotted result of ten years’ graft, or something pulled out of your ass in a fortnight. Once you get to first draft, you see what’s what. As Helmuth Von Moltke said, No battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.

TQ:  You are a sculptor and also have worked in animation and TV. How has this influenced your writing? What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

Aidan:  I might say that my writing is very visual but that’s too easy, and most Fantasy authors could say as much with as much truth. Fantasy is almost by definition visual. Most occur in worlds other than this one and populated by strange characters, so description is more than scene setting - it’s essential to telling the story. No, it’s more practical than that: my background in visual art gives me a discipline. Sculpture and animation are both laborious activities in which very little is achieved in a day, but, given a few months, great things are possible. Writing’s like that. The greatest challenge is to keep faith in the process.

TQ:  Who are some of your literary influences? Favorite authors?

No matter how far out your Fantasy, a folk tale will out-weird it any day of the week. P’u Sung-ling, the author of Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio, can make Gabriel García Márquez look like a plodding realist. I have a tendency to ramble so I edit strictly to keep on point; reading someone like Angela Cartier who can cut loose and weave gold is a joy.

TQ:  Describe Irenicon in 140 characters or less.

Aidan:  In a land of warring city-states, a town of flag-wielding brawlers is poisoned by partition. Only the love of two enemies can heal it.

TQ:  Tell us something about Irenicon that is not in the book description.

Aidan:  The Wave which the Concordians unleash on Rasenna is inspired by a real episode in Florentine history. Her two canniest sons, Niccolò Machiavelli and Leonardo da Vinci, concocted a scheme to economically cripple the rival state of Pisa by diverting the river Arno. You can’t fault their ambition but the execution was less inspiring. It completely flopped.

TQ:  What inspired you to write Irenicon? Why did you choose to write Epic Fantasy? Do you want to write in any other genres or sub-genres?

Aidan:  “Where is fancy bred, in the heart or in the head?” If that august philosopher Willy Wonka failed to discover the source of inspiration, I too must surely fail. As I mentioned, the hook of Irenicon – a river used as a weapon – comes from Florence’s various crackbrained attempts to flood and bring drought to their neighbors. But more broadly, Irenicon shares its DNA with Romeo and Juliet. The Italian city states of that era were violent and architecturally distinctive. The forest of slender towers makes a unique urban environment, at once medieval and modern. It’s a setting that demands grand passion and great action. I love Kung Fu, but it always seems misplaced when transported to a western setting, so I tried to remedy that. Each city state exceled in one trade: Venice had her sailors, Bologna her professors, Rome her popes and Salerno her doctors. I imagined a town that was famous for martial arts.

It’s important to say I didn’t choose the genre, the story did that. All I did was follow its lead. If where I landed looks like an Epic Fantasy Land, so be it. Genres help publishers to sell books, but writers who think in those terms do themselves injury. Why put yourself in a ghetto? If at some point the writer doesn’t forget they are writing a Fantasy, the story will remain earthbound, weighed down by formulae. If I ever start thinking along the lines of ‘I can’t crack a joke here, this is High Fantasy,’ I pray someone slaps sense into me.

TQ:  What sort of research did you do for Irenicon?

Aidan:  It’s tempting to read about internecine feuding in the Italian city-states and conclude these guys are just pazzo but I wanted to understand the politics. That quickly gets you into European history as Italy was a kind of tilting ground for the great powers. The best starting point to Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror.

But books can’t get you as far as the train. The great cities are all very beautiful but in the smaller towns, Siena, Verona, San Gimignano, Perugia and Lucca, you can see an older country, less flattened by modernity. The most memorable places are those that are most fully themselves, least troubled by what the neighbors think. They teach you how to live.

TQ:  Who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why? Who is your favorite character in Irenicon?

Aidan:  The easiest character to write was Pomptinus. This historian is an apologist for the Concordian Empire. He’s a character with colossal complacence and no self-awareness. He’s a humorous reminder that every empire employs court philosophers to spin high-minded justifications. There are many laconic warriors in Irenicon, so it was fun to indulge occasional in Pomptinus’ windy cant.

The hardest was Giovanni. He’s the Concordian engineer sent to build a bridge in Rasenna. The trouble with heroes, often, is that they react (to villainous deeds or what have you) instead of inciting. I solved that by dropping Giovanni in an environment where he had to intervene in Rasenna’s feud or let it sink his mission. The other difficulty with Giovanni is that he has (you guessed it!) a mysterious past. That was more a matter of dropping the right hints at the right places. Forgive me but I must say no more….

Doc Bardini is my favorite. He’s a cold blooded strategist in a town passionate to the point of insanity. An empire can suffer successions of poor rulers without feeling the consequences, but weak States don’t have the luxury of being stupid. It takes character to face down populist arguments especially when they are shouted by a mob, but that’s what Doc does repeatedly. He’s a good foil to the heroine Sofia, because for a long time she is one of these short-sighted hawks.

TQ:  Give us one of your favorite lines from Irenicon.

Aidan:  “The true value of the Concordian Empire is not land or slaves or new towns to tax, no, no, no! It is the empire of knowledge we have built. What was dark, Girolamo Bernoulli illuminated; that which was mystery, nature and the elements, we now understand, and in understanding, we control. The world, from Rasenna to Gubbio, has been flooded with our knowledge.”

This sinister speech comes, naturally, from the historian’s lips. To add insult to injury, he delivers it to a prisoner whose hometown has been literarily flooded by Concord.

TQ:  What's next?

Aidan:  A trilogy is a long slog, and I knew I should do something completely different afterwards. I set my heart on a straight Historical Fiction. Something bleak and literary. I was all set; I bought a polo neck, threw out all my commas, and cleared a space on my shelf for the Booker Prize. Then I sat down to write. What emerged was a full-blooded lasers-blazing Space Opera. So much for making plans. Oh man, I’m having fun with it.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

Aidan:  My pleasure!

Note: "pazzo" is Italian for "crazy."


The Wave Trilogy 1
Jo Fletcher Books, April 1, 2014
Hardcover and eBook, 496 pages
(US Debut)

The river Irenicon is a feat of ancient Concordian engineering. Blasted through the middle of Rasenna in 1347, using Wave technology, it divided the only city strong enough to defeat the Concordian Empire. But no one could have predicted the river would become sentient—and hostile. Sofia Scaligeri, the soon-to-be Contessa of Rasenna, has inherited a city tearing itself apart from the inside. And try as she might, she can see no way of stopping the culture of vendetta that has the city in its grasp. Until a Concordian engineer arrives to build a bridge over the Irenicon, clarifying everything: the feuding factions of Rasenna can either continue to fight each other or they can unite against their shared enemy. And they will surely need to stand together—for Concord is about to unleash the Wave again.

About Aidan

Photo by Damien Sass
Aidan Harte was born in Kilkenny, studied sculpture at the Florence Academy of Art and currently works as sculptor in Dublin, where he also lives. Before discovering sculpture, he worked in animation and TV; in 2006 he created and directed the TV show Skunk Fu, which has been shown on Cartoon Network, Kids WB and the BBC.


The Giveaway

What:  Three entrants will each win 1 special galley of Irenicon (The Wave Trilogy 1) by Aidan Harte. US ONLY

How:   Log into and follow the directions in the Rafflecopter below.

Who and When:  The contest is open to all humans on the planet earth with a US mailing address. Contest ends at 11:59PM US Eastern Time on April 11, 2014. Void where prohibited by law. No purchase necessary. You must be 18 years old or older to enter.

*Giveaway rules and duration are subject to change without any notice.*

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I've already got this one on my tbr list - thank you for the interview and giveaway.

  2. This story reminds me of Joan of Arc. It is going on my TBR List.