Last week Jo Fletcher Books published The Pyre, the first book in David Hair’s new series, The Return of Ravana. But new is a relative concept here, as The Return of Ravana is actually a re-issue, the series having been originally published by Penguin India and Penguin New-Zealand. I’m really excited for this Ramayana-inspired series, so I’m very glad to be able to share this interview with David Hair with you, in which he shares some details about what inspired the series, his love of football (the proper, round ball kind), and whether he revised The Pyre at all from its published version. Check back for a review of The Pyre somewhere in the coming weeks.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is David Hair?
I’m a New Zealander, living in Auckland, New Zealand, married with two grown-up children. I’m a former financial services person who finally realised his ambition to write a book, and now I do it for a living. My first novel, a YA fantasy set in New Zealand called The Bone Tiki, won ‘Best First Book’ at the New Zealand Children’s Book Awards, and I ended up writing five sequels. I’ve also written The Return of Ravana series, which also won a New Zealand national award and which I’ll talk about below, and an adult fantasy series called The Moontide Quartet. I’m currently working on a sequel series to Moontide, called The Sunsurge Quartet, and a teen historical fiction book set in World War One.
The Pyre is the first book in The Return of Ravana. How would you introduce people to the series?
It’s a four-book urban fantasy, set in India, which is inspired by The Ramayana, the Indian epic of good versus evil. A group of Indian teenagers find that they have lived many times before, and in the earliest of those previous lives, they fell afoul of an evil entity, who has pursued and killed them in every subsequent life. They must unlock the mysteries of how and why this is happening before their enemy does to save themselves and end the cycle.
The series is set in India. What inspired you to write a story set in that country?
I actually lived in India for nearly four years, from 2007-2010. My wife, Kerry, was posted to the New Zealand embassy in Delhi. I accompanied her, and as partners of diplomats have limited work opportunities, I used my time writing, studying, and learning about the country. The series itself was inspired by visiting Jodphur in Rajasthan, and the giant fortress there, the Mehrangarh, which features heavily in The Pyre. There is a gate there where the handprints of the queens of a dead raja are preserved, taken just before they were thrown onto his funeral pyre in the old and now outlawed custom of sati. That set me off on a train of thought about reincarnation, mythology and history that came together in this series.
From the synopsis of The Pyre on the Jo Fletcher site, it seems as if the book is set in two different timelines. Is that correct? And if so, did you have to do much historical research?
There was lots of research! I’m a history major, and love that sort of thing. In fact every book of the series introduces at least one past life sequence from the previous lives of the protagonists, and carries the reader through some of the major events of Indian history, at the same time solving parts of the mystery of why the protagonists keep being reborn, and then hunted down. Creating the historical sequences was fun for me as a writer, and hopefully readers will enjoy them.
Since the series is being republished by Jo Fletcher Books, did you take the opportunity to tweak the books in any way from their first published form, or are they the same texts as before?
Yes, we did tweak book one; mostly because Jo felt that in its original form it was ‘teen’ in level, while the other three were more ‘YA’. So we’ve upped the complexity and intensity a little for The Pyre, but I imagine the other three will be much closer to the originally published editions. Though maybe not: we’ve not started that process yet! We’ve changed the titles of each book, in recognition that they are subtly different books to the original Indian editions, though the story remains consistent in terms of its events and characterisation.
I’m very grateful to Jo that the series is getting a re-boot, as I’m very proud of it, and I’m looking forward to it receiving greater exposure.
Your previous series, the Moontide Quartet, was written for an adult audience, while The Return of Ravana is a YA series. Does your writing approach differ between the two? And if so, how?
I wrote YA first, then came to adult fantasy second, though my original ambition was always to write the latter. It just so happened that my best idea at the time I began writing was a story better suited to YA. So for me, the challenge was to move from writing YA to writing adult-level stories, with more fully developed ideas, themes, emotional and plot complexity. In a YA book, I try to keep things simpler, faster-moving, and place the action front and centre. With an adult series, especially an epic fantasy like Moontide, I can stretch things out, and add more complexity and emotional nuances. I enjoy them both: YA is like a palette cleanser after the nitty-gritty of an adult novel.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
Living as I do in New Zealand, going to the big famous conventions in the US and the UK is a bit out of reach (unless my books really hit the big time: fingers crossed!). I did get to go to the World Fantasy Convention in Brighton in 2013, and may look to go again in the States sometime in the future if things work out.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Football! By which I mean 11-a-side, round-ball “soccer”, despite living in a rugby-mad country. I’ve played soccer and followed it intently all my life (until my hamstrings gave out a couple of years ago), and was a fairly decent striker on my day with a good scoring record. My favourite team is Leeds United (who are a disaster area at the moment), and when I lived in Wellington I was a season ticket holder at the Wellington Phoenix.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I’m probably six years behind the rest of the world in my reading: I have piles of impulse purchases that I’ve yet to get to. One of my favorite reads recently was Ernest Cline’s Ready Player One, so I’m looking forward to checking out his next. I’m also partial to urban fantasy, and read anything by Ben Aaronovitch, Benedict Jacka, and of course Jim Butcher. I like the easy readability of urban fantasy to help me unwind, after being caught up in my own universe all day. In terms of epic fantasy, my favorite recently is probably R Scott Bakker’s Prince of Nothing series, which has amazing depths of philosophy woven into it. I’ve just started the second series (right on cue, six years after release!).
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Alphabetically, within genre. Both Kerry and I are primarily fantasy/sci-fi readers, so that dominates the (large!) collection, but we’ve a fair few horror, thrillers, historical and general fiction books as well, and I like to keep them separate. We have seven floor-to-ceiling bookcases, and keep anything that we think we might want to read again, or are just proud to own and show off (and lend!). I do like my shelved books to be regular in size and format and get frustrated with series that change in cover art style and size halfway through!
Bio: David Hair is an award-winning writer of fantasy for adult and YA readers. He was born in New Zealand and travelled widely, and after spending time in Britain, then India, he now lives in Auckland, New Zealand, with his wife. His epic fantasy saga The Moontide Quartet and his YA series The Return of Ravana, are published by Jo Fletcher Books.