By all accounts, it seems like Gary Whitta is living the dream right now. Having completed a draft of the Gareth Edwards-directed Star Wars standalone film, Whitta is now hard at work penning an adaptation of Mark Millar’s Starlight. That isn’t all the London-born writer has up his sleeve though; today his first novel, Abomination, is available for pre-order. All in a day’s work for a man of Whitta’s considerable narrative talents. (After all, this is the man who gave us the wonderfully weird fan fiction about Howard Stark taking a trip to Downton Abbey.) Published by Inkshares, Abomination is a dark, twisted historical fantasy epic that takes us back to ninth century England. But this isn’t the England you learned about in history class; this one is filled with black magic, stygian beasts, and high adventure.
With his first novel, Whitta has crafted something truly special. By turns horrifying and heartening, Abomination takes us back in time as King Alfred the Great desperately tries to bulwark his kingdom from invading Viking forces. Desperate for a solution, he turns to the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has uncovered an ancient secret in the form of a dark magic that could help turn the tide in England’s favor. Nothing comes without a price, though, and soon the Archbishop is driven mad with power, corrupted by the very forces intended to save the kingdom. With a mad priest on the loose, Alfred must turn to his bravest warrior, the knight Sir Wulfric, in order to put an end to the Archbishop’s insanity before it’s too late. Ancient curses, eldritch monstrosities, and a little bit of the ol’ ultraviolence — what more could you ask for from a dark fantasy?
In celebration of the book’s imminent release, I caught up with Whitta to pick his brain about Abomination, the challenges of tackling his first novel, the experience of writing Star Wars, and much more. But that’s not all — after the interview, we have a very special treat for in the form of an exclusive sneak peek of Abomination‘s first chapter.
Nerdist: Tell me about the genesis of Abomination. How did you first conceive of the novel? How much research did you have to do in order to nail the historical accuracies?
Gary Whitta: I always wanted to do a good old-fashioned monster story, and I had been wanting to try writing in a different medium for a while. The two came together perfectly here because Abomination is very much a character piece, with lead characters that for various reasons have chosen to spend their lives alone, away from society. I really wanted to get inside the heads of these character and the solitude they had chosen for themselves, and I felt that a novel, with the opportunity to explore character through backstory and interior monologue, was the perfect way to paint them as vividly as possible.
For the historical research, I did quite a bit of reading to make sure the basic state of England at that time in history was correct, and I had fun littering some interesting details that popped up during my research into the story, but one of the great benefits of mashing up history and fantasy is that I got to take liberties with the historical parts as the story demanded. Once you start adding monsters and magic to the Viking invasions of England, you have pretty much given yourself license to do whatever else you want too.
N: I really appreciate the decision to set Abomination within our world. What attracted you to a real-world historical setting, and how did you settle on ninth century England?
GW: I didn’t want to do another version of Middle-earth or Westeros. The fantasy genre is crowded enough already and it seemed to me that creating yet another fictional fantasy world was not the best way to stand out in that crowd. There are so many rich settings in our own history to play around with, and setting this story in a real period of ancient English history seemed like an original way to ground the more fantastical elements and make them seem more real because they’re existing alongside real historical characters and events.
N: You described the novel to me as a “f–ked-up dark fantasy”, which immediately had me on board. Much of your work has been sci-fi-oriented, it seems; what compelled you about fantasy, specifically fantasy with darker, more adult themes?
GW: I’ve always been interested in fantasy and science fiction equally, I just never hit upon a fantasy idea that I really wanted to explore in my own writing until this one came along. I’m not really much of a horror fan myself and I don’t really consider this a horror book, but it is certainly horrific in many places and part of the fun of writing it was in seeing just how far I could take those elements and to see how readers would react to them. I’ve had to issue warnings to some of my more squeamish relatives who asked to read it.
N: What do you hope readers take away from the novel?
GW: On a basic level the book’s designed to function as a yarn; a page-turner. If it does at least that I’ll be happy, but beyond the gnarly monsters and magic and battles and all the popcorny stuff like that what I hope people take from the book is a basic human message about the importance of simple values like mercy and charity. The lead characters in the book are heroic not necessarily because they’re courageous or valiant or whatever, but because they’ve managed to hold onto basic human values like kindness and selflessness during a period in history when those qualities had almost vanished because times were so bleak and people were just trying to survive.
N: Who will play Sir Wulfric in the inevitable movie adaptation?
GW: I try not to think that far ahead! Can Channing Tatum do an English accent, do you think?
N: Lately it seems like you’ve been primarily writing screenplays; did writing a novel pose any unique creative challenges? Do you find you prefer one over the other? What did you learn from writing your first novel?
GW: It’s been really interesting and actually quite liberating to write a story in another language, so to speak. Every medium has its own strengths, and prose lets you do some things that aren’t quite so easy to get away with in a screenplay. I was able to indulge myself a little bit in the lives of the characters and the world they inhabit perhaps a bit more luxuriously than I perhaps would have if I’d written it as a film.
N: Obviously, I have to ask you about your work on Star Wars. I’d kill a whole lot of Bothans for information about it. What was the experience like working on a Star Wars film as a writer?
GW: I had a fantastic time working on Star Wars, it was among the most rewarding creative experiences I’ve ever had. As I’m sure you can imagine that’s pretty much all I can say about it!
N: We’re also very excited about your adaptation of Starlight. Are there any updates you can give us where that is concerned?
GW: I’m a really big fan of Mark Millar’s work so I jumped at the opportunity to adapt one of his comics for the big screen. Mark has this tremendous ability to create comics that aren’t just great in their own right but also so strongly suggest themselves as movies. He’s got a very cinematic sensibility even though he’s a comics writer. And the idea for Starlight – essentially, what if Flash Gordon got old and had to save the universe again as a senior citizen – struck me as genius. I think it’s going to be a really fun movie and hopefully continue the trend that Guardians of the Galaxy started in swinging us away from the era of dark and gritty comic-book movies that frankly I think we’re all getting a little tired of and back toward just having the kind of fun that movies had in the 1980s when I was a kid.
N: From what we can tell from casting reports, the Star Wars standalone film seems to revolve around a female lead. Likewise, Abomination looks to have a compelling female character at its heart. As a counterpoint, Fox News just ran a story claiming Frozen is “empowering girls by turning our men into fools and villains”, and as such is bad for society. Hyperbole aside, are gender politics something you’re conscious of when approaching your works? Do you find yourself drawn to writing certain character types?
GW: It wasn’t necessarily a conscious decision to have both male and female leads in Abomination, that’s just what the story demanded in order for it to work the way I wanted it to, but once I started from that point I was determined that each character be just as layered and complex and flawed as the other, regardless of gender. I think there’s a bit of a tendency when writing heroic women to just make them tough, the mistaken belief that if a woman can kick ass then she’s a “strong” character. I think strong characters are built out of flaws and weaknesses and vulnerabilities. It’s their ability to succeed in spite of those things that makes them truly strong.
Now that you have an inkling of what you’re in for, we have an exclusive sneak peek at chapter one of Abomination for your reading pleasure.
Abomination is available for pre-order from Inkshares.