Last weekend I had the pleasure of meeting with fantasy author Miles Cameron, and his daughter, Victoria. We discussed a wide variety of topics ranging from history, LARPing and reenacting, his future novels, and reversing a zombie apocalypse.
For convenience, M = Miles Cameron, V = Victoria, and R = Rebecca (myself).
R: I’m here with Miles Cameron, author of The Red Knight, the first book in The Traitor’s Son Cycle. Miles, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?
M: I’m a new Canadian from a foreign country called The United States of America. I’ve been a Canadian since 2009, I was in the military there, and I’ve been a writer since 1986, I love to write, I have a wife and a child, Victoria.. I’m a passionate historian; I believe in history the way a lot of people believe in religion, and I love to tell stories.
R: Your love for history definitely comes through clearly in your writing.
This one’s a bit of a specific question, but bears… It’s rather interesting to have narrative from a bear’s perspective, will there be more like that in the future? (Lions and tigers and bears..)
M: So, there’s supposed to be five of these [books], now I’ve only sold three. I just threatened my English editor with ending it with “And everyone died of the plague.”
V: — If he only lets him do three.
M: Because it’s a very complicated story, and this is actually the simplest part of it. In fact, in a way this isn’t the story, this is more like the introduction like “Here are some people, an amazing thing is about to happen to them.” The bears, and the irks, and the boglins, they are just as right and good, or wrong and evil as the people. In book two, you will meet an irk who is also a knight and is a heroic character the rest of the time, and you will begin to see the wild side, I gave some glimpses of it, but while Thorn is not good – he would not be good even if he was living in the world of men – there are going to be bad people, and good wild characters right through the end of the series.
I don’t think I’m giving away the whole game to say that what this is really all about is the character who is now the Red Knight becoming the pivot point which will allow the Wild and the people to live together. They will kill each other for a while, but that’s partly because my beloved Greek philosopher Heraclitus says “Through strife people come to peace.” And I don’t think I’m wrecking my story by saying that over five books this is what’s going to happen. It’s not going to happen in an afternoon, and not all the good guys are going to be on the “good” side.
Do you ever notice that very good people believe stupid things?
R: Yes, and those beliefs can lead them to do stupid things, though that just means they’re misguided, not bad people.
M: Yeah, and I’m going to try to catch that too, like, I want my world to work like the real world. In our world, some of the most heroic people have sadly represented some of the most horrible biases. Think of Robert E. Lee and slavery. Robert E. Lee was probably morally the best of all the generals in the American Civil War. The side he was fighting for was without a doubt, loathsome. There’s humanity for you. Anyways, so yes, there will be more bears. In fact, Blueberry, the little baby bear who escapes alive…
V: That’s my teddy-bear.
M: .. is one of her stuffed animals, so I couldn’t kill Blueberry bear.
R: That is so adorable.
M: Most of the archers have the names of stray cats we have known and fed such as Long-paw, and Bad Tom. They’re all real stray cats, with a lot of character which I tried to put into the archers. So, I was deeply offended – not only as a writer, but for those bad-ass stray cats when one reviewer said that the archers had no character.
R: Alright, thank you… That’s certainly interesting. Also, book two is titled The Fell Sword?
M: Yes, and it’s done.
R: And Tournament of Fools, book three, is what you’re currently working on, right?
M: Actually, I’m not writing Tournament of Fools until August, I’m giving a tournament in August, a real-life tournament, because my passion is various forms of martial arts. This is how I get inspiration, and stuff will happen there. The stuff from there that will make it into the book won’t be the fights, it’ll be things people do when they’re drunk, or what happens around the camp-fire.
All those funny little things that happen that the mercenaries do to each other are things that friends of mine have done. I try to write what I see, and the best way to write about a tournament is to have a tournament. So, after August I’ll be writing Tournament of Fools.
R: Okay, so you’ve stated that The Red Knight does not take place in our world, though there are obvious European influences – Jean de Vrailley being a French name and things such as that. But what were your main inspirations or parallels you drew from when writing this novel?
M: So Hermeticism – part of hermeticism that we still have with us today is astrology and alchemy, also the theory of the million spheres. Have you read any of Michael Moorcock?
R: Yes, I have.
M: So, Michael Moorcock played with the same meme. If you imagine that instead of living in our universe where we comfortably have rocket ships and stars, and you imagine that they were right, and you have planet-centric bubbles with maybe some star systems, and maybe no star systems – a bubble of reality, and then there’s another bubble, and another… but they’re not universes, they’re all connected in a Roger Zelazny-ish kind of way. Usually through the use of hermetical magic, but they’re the gateways.
Remember, this is how everyone thought the universe worked through about 1500, even Galileo still kind of thought there were going to be all of these connected bubbles. This [The Red Knight] is definitely not our world, but I would say that the most casual reader should understand that this world has been in contact with our world.
R: Yeah, with the European influences.
M: And if you wait long enough, a major character in book two is the Muslim character from the Arthurian tales, because this is deliberately Arthurian. In the Arthurian tales, there is a Muslin knight.
[[The background noise kind of over-powered the next bit, so the next little bit isn’t exactly verbatim, it’s simply what I could hear/understand. Also – ignore my spelling for some of the names.]]
M: So he will be appearing, and where’s he coming from? From Ifrika — from Africa! So we’ll have Daar es Salaam and Islāmic culture, and they’ll believe just as strongly as the Christians believe in Christianity, and all their magic works too. In fact, Harmodius’ teacher is Ali Rashid – the great, in our world, philosopher who Thomas Aquinas and the Jewish philosopher Maimonides both thought of as the greatest mind of their generation.
So, sure it’s Arthurian, sure it’s influenced by all the martial arts I’ve ever done, but this book was actually born when discovering that the man who rebuilt Judaism – by the 11th century, a lot of being a Jew had become cultural and not religious. Along came a guy – he was not the last Rabbi left in the west, but he’s sometimes described that way, a lot of rabbi’s had been killed off by the Arabs of Kordogo, and it was like they had killed everyone, but left Albert Einstein alive.
He was a ruthless philosopher, and he looked into the abyss and said “We’re not really about magical spells, we’re really about thinking about how the universe would work and why there’s good and evil.” Modern Judaism is more modelled around him than Moses. He rebuilt it in a very intellectual and rational way, and he took out a whole lot of spirit worship and stuff like that, which people are delightfully rediscovering. I say all this purely as a historian, and not to offend anyone. What totally fascinated me is that he was a student of this Muslin philosopher, Ali Rashid, who is still the most-taught Islamic philosopher in Islamic universities.
I’m telling this long story because Maimonides, Ali Rashid and Thomas Aquinas lived in one generation and exchanged letters with each other. I was sitting up at my cottage, and thinking “If this were a fantasy universe, and they were all magic users, what would they discover, and where would that could?” If they’d all come honest to the beliefs in a good and evil, black and white universe, and one day through sheer intellectual prowess came to the decision that the universe was far more complicated than they’d thought, like most of us do, where would that have left the world? Not just Europe – but I had to start somewhere.
My first option was to write this from the point of view of Harmodius or Ali Rashid, since my Maimonides equivalent has been dead for twenty years when my novel starts, but that meant I would have to show everything – it’d be like having Gandalf as the main character.
R: Which would be interesting to a degree.
M: But not as much fun, and if you could get into Harmodius’ head all the time, you’d already know all five books from the start, there’d be no discovery. I think – as a reader, it’s the discovery that we like.
R: Show, don’t tell.
M: Maybe that was too long-winded, but that’s the under-pinning, and the other is that if you have a million spheres, and they all interconnect, they don’t have to interconnect in a neat way – this world [[in The Red Knight]] is a nexus world which allows many other spheres to connect through this world. So all of these things, which don’t appear to belong together like people, irks, dragons, and wyverns – if this world goes on for 6,000 more years and has modern technology, and archeologists, they’re going to be desperately confused as they won’t find Australopithecus because people did not come from here.
Neither did wyverns, what happens – because it’s a strategic nexus, generations of people try to take it over – and this has been going on for hundreds of thousands of years, waves of magical armies with heroes and villains, and they roll through – and the peasants till the fields, and then it’s another wave. This is about that cycle being broken.
Is that big and complicated enough?
R: Hm… Yes, I think so.
You’ve already told us a bit about the sequel, and you’ve hinted about it – which kind of answered my next question, but is there anything else you can say about it?
M: Sure, do you recall the character Ser Alcaeus?
R: Yes, I do.
M: He’s from a place called the Morea, which is over the mountains to the east. It’s sort of like the old Roman Empire, and it’s also like 14th century Greece, and a made-up fantasy place I made up. Almost all of book two happens there, but it’s a very big world, and people who think it’s going to be very standard fantasy-fair are going to be either going to be crushed or delighted.
We’re leaving for Eastern-Europe now, and more Native Americans and more bears.
I wanted every reader, regardless of age, to immediately identify that the “other side” was nuanced, and not orcs. If I had called the Golden Bears, “orcs” you would have had a completely different thought process. Bears, however have a chance at cute and cuddly.
R: Right, you’re not going to go and try to cuddle an orc.
This one is not so much about your writing, but is there any advice you can give to young people who are interested in getting into LARPing or reenactments?
M: Tonnes, I could be here for hours.
People reenact or LARP for very different reasons. So, my advice to people who are doing this for the first time is to try and decide what you want out of it before you spend money. I’ll give an example:
No matter how historical you are, any kind of recreation or reenactment involves an element of fantasy. Your fantasy. You’re pretending to be someone you’re not. At least, I am. It’s important to look that dead in the eye and decide what it is you want to be. So, over forty-years of reenacting, I’ve come further away from the fantasy and more interested in who they were, than who I want to be.
I know where I started though. I started playing dress-up D&D, and that’s fine. But it’s good to look that in the eye, and say “It’s not so much I want to be a revolutionary war soldier”, but that “I want to be a knight, or a dragon”, and then it’s just a matter of how much you want to put into it. I’m a 50-year-old man who wears his hair long so that I can be an 18th century British officer on weekends and have the right hair style. It’s a matter of commitment.
Which I think is something young people understand perfectly well because I see them with tattoos and piercings all the time, which represent a social infringement. They know perfectly well they’re going to pay. Just like all of us medieval reenactors will all of our bizarre medieval or 18th century hairstyles. We know when we go for the job interview, we look odd. That’s the price you pay for doing it well.
R: I think that holds true for a lot of different passions that people may have, if they fall outside the social norm. I attend conventions on a fairly regular basis, and there’s always someone who gives me an odd look for that, or makes some sort of comment.
M: It makes perfect sense, and one of my favourite reenactors used to say long before this was popular, he’d say it’s a lifestyle choice. You can make it as much of a lifestyle that you want – one of the reasons I love martial arts so much is that you can be in a very different head space here in Downtown Toronto without putting on a lot of funny clothes, or going someplace else.
So, decide what you want out of LARPing or reenacting, because every possible thing is out there, for the person who wants to put the time in. There are so many different flavours of what people want to do, you can be an archer, you can be a courtesan – it is amazing what a good reenactment society can do.
R: And do you have any advice for people who want to go into writing?
M: About once a day, someone usually closer to your age asks me how to get into writing. I’m going to assume the entire target audience I’m addressing can write.
Here’s the thing:
You have to have something to write about. Go travel around the world, join the Canadian equivalent of the Peace Corp., or join the military… and in four years, you’ll have something to write about.
Just as easily, you can go be a cook in a mining camp, or go so Saudi Arabia and work on a construction project, or dig wells in Africa. Just… go. Get out of the comfort of a major cosmopolitan life like you have in Toronto, New York, or LA… It’s great here, yes, but it lacks in life experiences. You can live the easiest possible life here. You should go somewhere where people live real, and difficult lives. Help a few of them, and you will have stuff to write about forever.
One of the things I dislike in a lot of novels is that I feel that the writer has not seen either good or evil. Just the mediocrity most of us indulge in from day-to-day. I find that out there, where life is harder, those edges are sharper. The really good people show up a lot more starkly against the background, and it’s really hard to be evil on the streets of Toronto… but on the other hand it’s also hard to be good. It’s easy to just go along with it.
That being said, I’m assuming anyone reading this can write. Because the other thing I would say is that writing is exactly like swordsmanship – you should practise every day.
People often ask me how much I write… and quite frankly, I write 20 pages a day, it’s a job. It’s like work, only more fun.
R: Hm… I have a silly question.
M: Awesome, I love those.
R: Is there a question you’ve always wanted to be asked during an interview, but have never been asked?
M: Yes, but it’s probably not very fun… Because I’ve been desperately waiting for someone to ask why there’s Christianity in The Red Knight, but I’ve already told you. There’s nothing else really, because I’ve done a lot of interviews, but I love being asked my 10 favourite books.
R: Alrighty, if you could write a collaborative story with any other author, which would it be?
M: C.S. Friedman – I’d love to write with her, Lois McMaster Bujold because I think she loves the middle ages for exactly the same reasons I do, and I love Neal Stephenson’s stuff… The person I would really just love to collaborate with may be passing out our world in the immediate future, and that’s Iain Banks.
R: Alright, good to know. What’s your zombie apocalypse survival plan?
M: Where do I start?
R: Half an hour north of Toronto.
M: Where are the zombies?
R: Wherever the closest graveyard to you.
M: My first warning?
R: Something typical… Undead dude lurching up the street moaning “Brainnns”.
M: Well, if I’m half an hour north of the city, I’m probably near my father-in-law’s house, so I would go there. Which would give me access to some arsenal, and one of the things most people don’t really spend enough time imagining, is simply avoiding the zombies.
Because, fighting is stupid. You don’t want to fight if you don’t have to. I would try to evade the zombies for as long as possible, and if given the opportunity, perform some very simple experiments to see if they could smell, what they could taste, so I could get a good idea of how to not be around them. Assuming they’re living off of human brains – I’m not a zombie fan, so there are probably facts I don’t know – then I’m going to assume that I’m safest being in the deep wilderness, where there are two things that zombies can’t abide:
- No graveyards
- No people
So, I am left with the difficulty of probably rescuing my wife and child and assembling my “we’ve planned this for 20-years” combat team, but we have our own fall-back plan. So I assume everyone will meet me.
There are some flaws in the zombie plan. For instance, the armoured knight in head-to-toe plate armour, I don’t think that zombies are going to pose a very big threat to a man in plate armour. I wonder if this isn’t just a technology a problem whereby we’re so evolved with our firearms, we simply don’t have a large contamination-elimination crew of people in plate armour. Honestly, if they can’t get at any part of your body, what are they going to do? Chew threw your plate armour?
V: With no brains and probably no teeth?
M: I haven’t watched enough zombie apocalypse movies, but I have a feeling they don’t have much interest in horses, only people.
V: You could just go to the farm down by King city and grab some horses.
M: But 40 people on horses in plate armour? You now have a way of dealing with an enormous number of zombies. So then it’s time to set-up the combat team to eliminate the zombies and let people go back to their lives.
But don’t forget the intelligence gathering phase, the part of the zombie-apocalypse story that always falls down for me is “Why are there zombies?” So I’d want to spend some time figuring that out.
V: And why would they all come up at the same time too? That’s what bothers me. Can they communicate with each other underground?
M: It seems to me that zombie stories are set up to allow the hero to use whatever weapon he wants to decimate the ranks of zombies, whereas in the old days of fantasy, the undead often turned out to be your old friends. So there was that horrible moment, which does sometime happen in zombie moves too. I would want to understand as much as possible before moving on – that the nice person who tries to understand is always eaten first.
V: You know, I’d just run for my life. I wouldn’t really pay attention to anything that’s happening with me.
R: That’s a good answer, and you should probably try to stick close to your dad.
V: Especially if I was near King City, I’d just run straight into the forest. I’m only one small child, I don’t think they’d really bother chasing me.
M: Remember the basic rule for all combat scenarios: You do not have to be faster than the bear, you only have to be faster than someone else.
R: Alright, I think that’s everything… Thanks! Unless there’s anything else you’d like to add?
M: Nope, it’s been fun.
R: Actually, sorry… One last question: What are your 10 favourite novels?
- The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
- The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas
- Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
- Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
- Flashman by George MacDonald Fraser
- The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
- When True Night Falls by C.S. Friedman
- The Culture Series by Iain Banks
- Black Company Series by Glen Cook
R: Alright, thank you very much for taking the time to do this interview, it’s been a pleasure!
Miles is quite an interesting person to chat with, an he has a great taste in bakery/cafes. It was a pleasure getting to know both him and his daughter.
I recommend reading his novel, The Red Knight. You can find my review for it here.
Thanks for reading, and I hope you guys enjoyed it as much as I did!
Another cracking interview. The story sounds like it’ll suit me to a T so I guess it’s going on my TBR pile.