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Interview with R J Madigan

Here it is- the low-down on talented fantasy author R J Madigan’s stunning debut the Sword of Air. Published as an interactive iBook it is unlike any book you will have experienced before.

Author Q& A with R J Madigan

View the awesome trailer for The Sword of Air here.

Let's start with The Sword Of Air. How did you come up with this concept- what originally triggered the idea, and what challenges did you encounter in the process?

The Sword of Air by R J MadiganI was studying for an MA in Creative Writing in London and it was dissertation time. I was sitting in the university's children’s library thinking what the hell am I going to do? I went to the section for mythology and found a book of Irish legends that had last been taken out of the library in 1983 and I remember thinking how sad and sat down and started reading about the Fae. My dad's family are originally from Dublin and I have a love of Irish mythology. That's where it all started. I decided to write the three opening chapters of a fantasy novel for teenagers right then and there. That was the very beginning of 'The Sword of Air'.

The decision to publish as an iBook came much later, after the dissertation. It was inspired by my interest in the use of interactive technology in storytelling, which I had explored a little at university.

There were many technical challenges that I don’t have the space or time to go into right here. I wrote a blog post on the challenges of producing an iBook if you’re interested in this topic. - http://aliisaacstoryteller.com/2015/03/20/guest-post-multi-touch-technology-and-the-future-of-ebooks-by-r-j-madigan/

Sadly the overall challenge for me has been the resistance of some people to accept interactive iBooks in the same way they would a printed text. I am an early adopter of this technology so I knew it would always be a tough challenge. I get some comfort from the fact that lots of artists who changed the way people think in a significant way were put down at the start. David Bowie, Andy Warhol and Jimi Hendrix immediately spring to mind.

People can see the importance of film and television as an interactive form of storytelling but sadly it is not always the same for iBooks.

It is frustrating as an artist because iBooks have been welcomed with open arms in education as teaching aids. Children use iBooks on platforms such as interactive whiteboards, iPads, Macs and PCs all the time now. Such technology is an important development as many people are visual learners. This development is particularly important in the academic progress of young boys where it has been proven that for many the traditional method of academic teaching is not ideal. How can anyone argue that iBooks do not have their place if they can help a child excel at school?

The Sword of Air by R J MadiganThankfully some agents such as the Madeline Milburn Literary, TV & Film agency are forward thinking in realising eBooks and interactive iBooks are important if not paramount to the survival of storytelling. The feedback from publishers, agents and other authors has been very positive.

Who would your three favourite authors be, but more importantly, why?

That's a tough one so I'm going to cheat and say these are just three of my favourite authors (I read far too much lol!).

For Children's or YA literature it has to be Patrick Ness. 'A Monster Calls' totally blew my mind. I love the eerie line drawings by Jim Kay. No one can spin a tale quite like Patrick Ness and he deals with the subject of a child losing his mother to cancer in a respectful and thought provoking way in his award-winning novel.

Daphne du Maurier. If it's good enough for Alfred Hitchcock then its good enough for me! 'The Birds' and 'Rebecca' –say no more. Rebecca probably has to be my all time favourite gothic novel. I am obsessed with gothic literature. You will see some of these influences when reading The Sword of Air particularly in my depiction of Maev 'The Raven Queen'. I'm not one for re-reading books but I've read Rebecca again and again and it still haunts me even now.

Charlotte Bronte. You can't be a true fan of gothic literature without mentioning Jane Eyre. It's probably the most famous example of Victorian Gothic Literature and was a huge influence on Daphne du Maurier when writing Rebecca. Jane Eyre has influenced my own gothic style in 'The Sword of Air'. One of my lecturers once said Jane Eyre is a novel you should read at different stages in your life, as you’ll take different meanings from it depending on your age and where you are in your life at that point. I couldn't agree with her more. Every time I read Charlotte Bronte's great novel I learn something new.

Do you listen to music while writing, or prefer silence? If you do listen to music while writing, what genres do you prefer?

Good question and one that fascinates me as I also play guitar, saxophone and piano. I remember my saxophone teacher saying once when I was very young that to a musician there is no such thing as background music. At the age of 14 this went over my head and now I get it. We all listen to music and have our favourites. However if you're musically trained you can't ignore the piece of music that is playing in the background as your ear has been trained to analyse it. After saying this I imagine there will be a wrath of response from other musicians who are able to listen to music and write at the same time. LOL! Of course, it always differs from person to person depending on how your individual sensory system works. To answer your question I always write in silence.

I love all kinds of music. My favourite classical guitarist is John Williams and I love John Etheridge for Jazz. I listen to everything from Elgar, John Coltrane, Eva Cassidy, and David Bowie to a yoga musician called Jack Harrison.

How important do you feel illustrations are in (a) writing for adults, and (b) writing for children and teens?

The Sword of Air by R J MadiganThis is another fascinating debate that has influenced my decision to publish my first fantasy book as an interactive iBook. 'A Monster Calls' is a great example. The novel is classified YA but is also a cross over novel because it has been enjoyed by countless adults including myself. Patrick Ness carried out research with his team to explore these kinds of questions. They found adults and teens do miss the illustrations and this is exactly why Jim Kay’s line drawings are as important to the narrative of 'A Monster Calls' as Ness’ text. I personally agree. I don't mean to bang on about music again but you only have to look at opera to know that music can express a story and I would argue the same for any kind of artwork. The progress in technology that we see around us every day is also making the society we live in more visual. This is exactly why I decided to include the stunning photography, HD film and 3D modelling in The Sword of Air along with a cinematic soundtrack. Technologies such as the Internet, iPads, and computer games are part of childrens' and adults' consciousness now and it would be silly to ignore this fact. If you are interested in this subject further please read the blog posts I have written on www.swordofair.net exploring iBooks further.

Do you feel that there’s any sort of future for books (in any format) and for the art of storytelling?

The Sword of Air by R J MadiganDefinitely. I strongly believe that books and the art of storytelling will never die. Personally I think storytelling is a fundamental part of what makes us human. You only have to look at Robert McKee’s screenwriting bible 'Story' which is heavily influenced Psychotherapist and Psychiatrist Carl Jung's 'Theory of Archetypes'. To cut to the chase the hero’s journey or the heroine’s journey (in the case of The Sword of Air) are a fundamental part of the human consciousness. Each community of people across the world has their own myths and legends that feature archetypes such as the hero, the ally, the threshold guardian etc.

Telling stories is how human beings communicate and this will always be the case in one way or another. I think the one thing we have to accept is that whether we like it or not technology is becoming more and more important in storytelling as modern society progresses. A wonderful example is Terry Pratchett’s daughter Rhianna Pratchett. She is an award winning scriptwriter, story designer and general narrative paramedic (lol!). She aims to help developers embrace story telling in games and improve ways in which interactive narrative is defined, integrated and received. I'm a fan of the way she works and is why I wanted to experiment with Apple iBook technology for 'The Sword of Air'. It really is unlike any book you will have ever experienced before.

Do you have any talents other than writing, which you’d like to tell us about?

I've already mentioned music. To relax I like to cook, it's my meditation after a long days writing in a way.

I'm also a huge fan of the outdoors and you will see this influence in ‘The Sword of Air,’ as Niamh my heroine battles to save the natural world from the Raven Queen’s determination to destroy everything of real beauty and meaning in the world around her. I particularly wanted to explore the conflict between the natural world and the modern industry in my novel, as I am a keen kayaker, walker and caver.

I believe everyone has some kind of talent or talents if they dig deep enough even if they're adamant they don't.

Is there one single book in your life that stands out, or provided some kind of turning point, major change, or affected you so deeply in some way that it changed the course of your life?

This is such a hard question because I am a total book geek and have read so many books that have affected me in one way or another. I’m going to cheat again to make this easier and talk about the most contemporary novel that has affected me deeply if that is ok just to make your question easier to answer :)

I absolutely loved Matthew Quick's 'Silver Lining Playbook'. Anyone who found the film version with Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper a bit cheesy please do not be put off reading the book. It's so much better. I wouldn't say it changed my life but it was very thoughtful and sensitive in the way that it handled the mental health issues it explores.

Finally, what new projects do you have in the pipeline / on the horizon? Which are the most important works-in-progress right now?

I am working on an updated version of 'The Sword of Air', mainly because the Apple iBook technology is updating every day and there are a lot of cool features I can now add in to make the readers’ experience even more visceral.

Of course there will be a sequel to The Sword of Air so keep watching my blog for news of that in the next year or so.

I have writing fever again as I'm about to start a new project, which I don’t want to say too much about right now. All I will leave you with is it's not fantasy. The novel will be very much set in the world we live in today so if fantasy is not your thing this may be the R J Madigan novel for you!

The Sword of Air by R J Madigan

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The Sword of Air is available for purchase from the iTunes store. Click on the front cover below to download the first three chapters of this this exciting new iBook for free.

The Sword of Air by R J Madigan

See what awesome vlogger ‘The Bookish Blonde,’ has to say about ‘The Sword of Air all the way from South Africa: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ua1Q5h88Pn0

The Sword of Air is available now to read on Available on iPhone, iPad and all Macs (latest software update required)

A sneak preview of the end movie for chapter five! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fvUbCJMsmSc

When you have read the Sword of Air please contact me at my blog or Facebook page to tell me what you think of the writing and the interactive technology. Your feedback is important to me. R J Madigan.


Comments (1)

  1. Joyce Hertzoff:
    Jul 20, 2015 at 11:52 PM

    This is a fascinating approach. I'd love to do this with some of my stories but I have no skills in creating videos or interactive books.



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