Author Feature ‘Iconoclast: Not To Be’ by E.M. Swift-Hook

From Iconoclast: Not To Be, the eighth Fortune’s Fools book by E.M Swift-Hook.

The funeral was beautiful and her death had been a liberating experience.

Kahina Sarava knew she had a lot to thank her murderer for and made a mental note that she should be sure to do so if probability ever permitted it.

Not that many here knew Kahina had been murdered.

A few would be raising a slight eyebrow at the official pronouncement of her having passed away after a sudden, unspecified, illness, recognising in that formula the designation that suggested foul play. But Coalition policy prevented the assassination of those at its heart in Central being generally known unless they were so public that it could not be avoided.

The official commemoration of her life was everything Kahina could have wanted. Smiling beneath the all-concealing mourning veil, she listened to music commissioned especially for the occasion and eulogies from those who had spurned her so completely, following her fall from grace as one of the key pivots of Coalition power.

Her death had been a liberation. It had freed her from the need to lurk in the shadows, eking out an existence, closeted away in the extravagant country estate she had always loathed and allowed her to return to her true home in the midst of the greatest Central metropolis.

Admittedly the luxurious apartment she now occupied was slightly less desirable than the one she had lived in at the top of Sarava’s headquarters building. But it was chosen for being perfectly placed to allow her to access and be accessible to, those who breathed the refined air at the pinnacles of power in the Central establishment. She was not about to allow the inconvenience of her demise to prevent her from living out a full life in the manner which she preferred.

A Bite Of… E.M Swift-Hook

Question 1: As Fortune’s Fools draws to a close, we are no nearer to really understanding Durban Chola. Will we ever really be allowed inside his head or will he remain a ‘man’ of mystery? Do you understand him yourself?

I think the issue here is that Durban is something of an enigma even to himself. As author I know his motivations, his intentions and aspects of his character that he, in the story, is utterly unaware of. 
There is a lot more to come about Durban in the last two books and in Iconoclast: Not To Be we finally get to understand what he has been working towards since he realised exactly who and what he was. However, understanding what he wants to achieve doesn’t necessarily mean understanding the full impact of it.

Question 2: You manage to make your readers empathise with even the darkest of villains. Is this a conscious choice or is it simply your own empathy with your characters spilling out onto the page?

Both, I suspect. I struggle to accept the idea of any individual being one hundred per cent good or evil. Most who do ‘evil deeds’ are not the classic pantomime, moustache-twirling ‘evil for evil’s sake’ variety of antagonist. Some evil people find themselves that side of the line because of a choice made in one moment from a place of high emotion. Other have a sincere belief in the necessity and rightness of their actions for the greater good. Some are driven by strong selfish ambition. But most are people of goodwill who are simply and profoundly ignorant when it comes to the reality of life for others. They have things in their lives they take for granted so much it never occurs to them others don’t have the same.
I call this ‘The Marie Antionette Effect’. She said ‘let them eat cake’ when told the poor were starving from a lack of bread, not because she was callous, but because she truly did not realise that those who didn’t have bread couldn’t even dream of having cake. In my opinion, this kind of lack of understanding and ignorance is responsible for many of the shortcomings in our world and, being human nature, will continue to be so.  But if we ‘other’ such people, we lose all chance of ever changing their viewpoint. And, if we look into our own hearts we all have some places where we echo their deeds…

Question 3: Who has been your favourite supporting character to write?

Jaz. He is so completely unlike me and represents the kind of individual that I would never wish to have anything to do with in real life. His worldview is light years away from any that I could live with. But maybe because of that rather than despite that, I find him the one I most enjoy writing.

Question 4: There is a core of grimness to these stories, and as a reader, I find myself constantly bracing for the next blow. Do you understand that is what you are doing, or is the story simply driving your writing?

‘Grimness’ – I see what you did there! A story needs conflict so a lot comes from that. The setting the characters are in is not utopic – though I do feel it is far from a true dystopia. Like the real world, there are places, cultures and strata in society where people can live a decent life. But, as in the real world, there are also those where life is indeed grim.
I do try to point out on more than one occasion that the lived experience of the vast majority of the people in the Coalition is not bad. They may not have access to all the top high-tech toys, but they have decent homes and freedom within limits. Much of this world’s population live like that too. They are happy enough with their lives, not feeling downtrodden, miserable and oppressed all the time by it.

Question 5: Who the hell sets out to write a nine-book series? And why set yourself such a mammoth task?

I had written over four of the books before I knew it was going to take three full trilogies to tell the tale. Before that, I had a kind of open-ended idea it might be four or five books. I don’t feel I set myself the task, more it needed that amount of time and space to unfold things in a way that would do justice to the story, the characters – and the readers.

E.M Swift-Hook is the author of the Fortune’s Fools dark space opera series and co-author with Jane Jago of the alternate history whodunits the Dai and Julia Mysteries.
In the words that Robert Heinlein put into the mouth of Lazarus Long: ‘Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.’
Having tried a number of different careers, before settling in the North-East of England with family, three dogs, cats and a small flock of rescued chickens, she now spends a lot of time in private and has very clean hands. 
You can follow her on Goodreads and Twitter and keep up to date with Fortune’s Fools on Facebook.

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