Have I mentioned before how much I love Leo Hunt’s Thirteen Days of Midnight series? I think I have. Luke Manchett is perhaps my favourite protagonist of all time and I gave both Thirteen Days of Midnight and Eight Rivers of Shadow glowing five star reviews. There is just something about Leo Hunt’s writing and Luke Manchett’s self-deprecating manner that draws me in time and time again.
The fabulous news is that the final book in the trilogy is being released tomorrow and to mark the occasion I’m giving away three copies of Seven Trees of Stone and I’m also featuring an exclusive guest post written by none other than Leo Hunt himself. Definitely give it a read, it tells you all about Leo’s journey in creating Luke Manchett and his journey to the end of the series.
It really couldn’t be more perfect if it was my birthday this week. which it is. Let’s get started then.
Now Leaving Dunbarrow – Leo Hunt
In September 2010 I wrote a page and a half of prose. It was about a boy getting a letter telling him his father was dead, and then letting his dog in from outside. I remember liking the voice and thinking the story could go somewhere.
It’s now May of 2017 and the final book about Luke Manchett, Seven Trees of Stone, will very shortly be released. It’s been a long journey from there to here, and although I immediately thought Luke’s life in Dunbarrow had narrative potential, I had no idea the character I created that day would alter the course of my creative life so completely.
Endings are difficult to get right because they weigh so much in a reader’s mind. Your novel can survive a few misjudged scenes in the middle much more easily than it will survive a bad ending, so there’s a great deal riding on those final paragraphs. Similarly I think there’s a lot riding on the final book of a trilogy; having spent the previous volumes spinning plates and dropping hints and leaving narrative doors slightly ajar, any reader who’s come this far with me will have high hopes that all their questions will be answered, and have their own ideas about how they want the series to end. Writing this final volume of the series, I had a great deal of self imposed pressure not to disappoint.
Adding to this pressure was the fact that I never intended this to be a series. When I wrote Thirteen Days of Midnight, in my mind the narrative stopped at the final scene, where Luke walks back towards his house at sunset, with his father’s necromantic sigil and book buried in the field behind him. He’s achieved victory but at heavy cost — his bargain with Mr Berkley — and symbolically laid to rest the memories of his father, facing up to the dark figure Horatio really was. I’ve never been interested in triumphant endings where trumpets blare and the hero gets given the medal for being a Good Person Who Did Everything Right, and I was happy to leave Luke for good, and have his future be a dark mystery. My publishers disagreed, and argued that I should explore Luke’s world further.
I was initially not keen on this, but there did prove to be a story beyond that moment in the sunset field that was worth exploring. I decided that the second book of the three would focus on the world of the dead, which Thirteen Days had hinted at but never revealed beyond a pair of surreal scenes in the final chapter. The plot of Eight Rivers of Shadow was built around the idea that Mr Berkley would take a backseat, Luke would face a new adversary — Ash Ahlgren — and the final act would be a journey through the grey horrors of Deadside. This journey remains some of my favourite writing that I’ve done, and the second book of the trilogy might be the one I’m most proud of.
However, Eight Rivers did not shed any light on two of the nagging questions left over from the ending of the first volume — the exact nature of Luke’s bargain with Mr Berkley, and what Horatio did after Luke set him free. The Berkley question in particular drove me insane because I had never planned for the issue to be resolved. It went from being a dark, ambiguous presence at the end of Thirteen Days to being something that I actually needed a concrete answer to, not to mention that I also needed a way for Luke to defy Berkley and defeat him. Not to mention that I needed a plot. I had none of these things.
In the end, the structure suggested itself. The first book is Luke as an apprentice, discovering the spirit world and making tentative use of his powers. In the second volume Luke is a literal journeyman, leaving his home to travel deep into Deadside and encounter the true source of all magic. The final book is about mastery, Luke finding ways to fully use magic and his wits to overcome the being that inducted him into this hidden world in the first place. I also realised that in this third volume the worlds that had been separate should come together, and the veil could be lifted so that characters apart from Luke and Elza would see the spirit world. With these two concepts in place, the shape of the final book started to emerge, and I saw how I could resolve the bargain between Luke and Berkley.
I’ve spent close to seven years of my life working on these books and living with these characters in my head every day. It’s strange to be leaving Dunbarrow and moving away from this project into something new. When I look back at the town I built it’s hard not to see the mistakes, see the story threads I wish I’d pursued further or resolved differently. But I’m also amazed by how much I was able to grow from that first page and a half of writing, and how moved I’ve been by reader’s reactions to it. The years I spent in Dunbarrow changed me, and I know I’ll never forget them.
The Thirteen Days of Midnight series is not the kind of secret one could or should keep to oneself and so to celebrate the release of Seven Trees of Stone, I am giving away three copies of the book to lucky readers. Enter using the Gleam widget below and remember that the competition is open to UK resident only.
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