WHEN game designer and fantasy writer Gareth Hanrahan took a three month sabbatical from his job in computers, he thought he’d try freelancing.
“Write or starve is a powerful motivator!” says Gareth, who graduated from UCC with a degree in Computer Science. It worked out well.
“My day job is still designing tabletop games,” says Gareth, best known for creating role-playing games. “I’m more than 20 years designing games.
The 43-year-old, who grew up in Douglas, wrote tournament adventures for UCC’s Warpcon convention and found he had a talent for it.
“That’s a long time. I started back in secondary school.”
His success followed a leap of faith.
“I got a job in computers and wasn’t very good at it,” Gareth explains. “The company down-sized. I had three months cash left and thought — ‘I’ll try freelancing and I’ll see how long it lasts’.”
Success in the game creation world was followed by success in fiction writing.
“I got an agent and the first book sold, which was surprising,” he says.
Was his experience in game writing a factor when it came to fiction? Are grotesque monsters like ghoulish Tallowmen, who are living candles who hunt their prey relentlessly, created from Gareth’s gaming talents?
“Designing video games definitely helped,” says Gareth, who merges magic and technology elements into his books. “Gaming’s influence is everywhere.
“But when you’re trying to find things to hang on to, you look around and grab them from anywhere.
“Often, I follow a thread like you do in a jigsaw when the corners are done.”
He even grabs ideas in the local supermarket.
“Yes I do!” says Gareth laughing.
“I remember shopping in Tesco, wandering around the food aisles, and I wondered what would happen if the supply chain broke down; if there were no transport operating, deliveries happening; how would society change? How would civilisation change?
"Are we only three meals away from anarchy? Ideas are always babbling away like an undercurrent.”
Does he live in the real world, or is he a day-dreamer?
“I live in the real world,” says Gareth.
“I have three children! I steal family time and relaxation time to write nonsense about elves, dwarfs and goblins!”
Gareth’s popular books are clearly far from nonsense and he has made a big impression on the fantasy genre.
He is regarded as an impressive up-and-comer on the back of two breathtaking fantasy novels, The Gutter Prayer — published in 2018 — and its sequel, The Shadow Saint.
The Broken God, published next week, completes the trilogy.
The rip-roaring romps take us into a make-believe world inhabited by a thief who is struck down by a degenerative disease that is slowly turning him into a living statue.
What will be his fate?
“Spar Idgeson has plans to survive,” says Gareth, who completed The Broken God during lockdown.
“Even though his powers are failing and the criminal dragons of the Ghierdana are circling.”
Gareth’s universe crafts a complex world governed by capricious deities who actively alter reality.
“I like taking abstract forces and concepts and turning them into physical manifestations and translating them into living things,” says Gareth.
“Visiting Hawbauline naval base in Cobh or occupied fortresses like Spike Island ignites my imagination and gives me ideas. The history of such places is fantastic.”
Twenty years on from the prospect of starving or writing, Gareth has a massive readership here, in the UK, and in the USA for his fantasy writing, something he never anticipated.
“My original plan was to get a proper job in computers and do a bit of writing on the side,” says Gareth, who is married to Edel and who is Dad to twins Elyan and Tristan, aged 8, and Nimue, 2.
“And we have two dogs, Salome and Dawn!” adds Gareth, who is renting a house in Carragaline while his own house in Half Moon Lane, Cork, is being renovated.
Where does he get his inspiration for his dark materials?
“A lot of the locations in my novels are inspired by places in Cork, and by some of its history,” he says.
“The centre of the city is relatively modern because of the Burning of Cork.
“But there are chunks of Victorian places right next to them. And next to them; brand new office blocks. St.Finbarr’s Hospital, for instance, was once a workhouse.”
The star of the Black Legacy trilogy is the city of Guerdon with its hidden secrets; which is a mish-mash of a neverland that has metastasised around a harbour with a star-shaped island.
There are nods to Cork landmarks like Spike Island, and to Cork’s hills and valleys.
Winks to Cork’s past include the city as a trading centre with a strong maritime tradition and present day as a pharmaceuticals hub.
“The architecture of Edinburgh is in there as well as the size and importance of London, and a chunk of New York attitude,” he adds.
Now that Game of Thrones (GOT), adapted from George Martin’s A Song of Fire and Ice, has reached it’s 10th anniversary; announced as an ‘iron Anniversary to the countdown on April 17, how does Gareth, a master of fantasy literature, feel about it turning 10?
“Game of Thrones reminds me of James Cameron’s Avatar,” says Gareth, who was more of a fan of George Martin’s books than of the TV series.
“The programme went through a brief period of being popular and hugely expensive and hugely profitable.
“But when it was gone, everybody forgot about it. Even though some bits still get referenced; Tyrion, Jon-Snow-knowing-nothing, the White Walkers, but overall, it seems to have receded from public consciousness without leaving much behind.
“I think it was rather lacklustre at the end. While early on, it was essential viewing for many people, GOT stopped being appointment viewing, even though I really enjoyed the early episodes. Then I lost track. I do think GOT was very well cast and well produced. It answered our appetite for fantasy.”
Hunger for fantasy and escaping the real world was satisfied by other productions.
“In the early 2000s, Harry Potter and the Lord of the Rings movies were very good movies, well cast and well-produced and they were the touchstones for fantasy,” says Gareth.
“The films stayed true to the books.”
Does Gareth enjoy going over to the dark side writing his compelling fantasy novels?
“You mean in between child-care?” he asks jokingly.
It’s surprising he never wrote about his great-grandfather, Cork man James Hanrahan, who was a World War I war hero? “And another distant ancestor, James Dunlea was awarded the Victoria Cross.”
The men were both heroes.
“I think that their stories feed indirectly into the sub-onscious,” says Gareth, whose fantasy characters in his books are both villains and heroes.
Would he be surprised if he was approached about the movie rights for the Black Legacy series?
“I can confirm that they are available for sale!” says Gareth.
We’ll watch out for Black Legacy on the big screen!
The Broken God by Gareth Hanrahan, published in trade paperback by Hachette. Available on May 18.