Steve McHugh‘s been writing from an early age, his first completed story was done in an English lesson. Unfortunately, after the teacher read it, he had to have a chat with the head of the year about the violent content and bad language. The follow up ‘One boy and his frog’ was less concerning to his teachers and got him an A. It wasn’t for another decade that he would start work on a full length novel about a centuries-old sorcerer, Crimes Against Magic, the first book in The Hellequin Chronicles. The second book in the series is Born of Hatred and the latest is With Silent Screams. You can follow Steve at his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter as @StevejMchugh.
by Steve McHugh
Back in 1986 there was a film called Highlander. For those of you who haven’t seen it, just take my word for the awesomeness that was contained within that 90 mins. Now, when it first came out I was nowhere near old enough to watch it, so I probably didn’t see it until I was 10ish in 1989. But apart from having Queen do the soundtrack and having a Frenchman play a Scotsman and a Scotsman play a Spaniard, the thing that stuck with me the most were the flashbacks.
The main character, Connor Macleod (of the Clan Macleod) was a 500 year old Scottish warrior and the story followed his battle against an evil nemesis in 1980s New York. But throughout the story there were flashbacks to previous parts of his life, from the Highlands of Scotland to Nazi Germany.
I found it incredibly interesting that we got to see parts of his life throughout the ages. And then when the Highlander TV show started in ’92 (with Duncan Macleod) they kept the idea of each episode having flashbacks to the main character’s 500+ years of life.
So, when it came to write my own books, I knew I was going to use the idea. The main character, Nathan Garrett, is a 1600-year-old sorcerer, so that gave me a huge scope to add the flashback portions of his life into the book.
I wanted the flashbacks to have a relevance to the storyline of the current time, be that introducing characters or situations that were still in the modern portion of the book. The hard part was figuring out what setting to use. Less than a quarter of the book would be set in the flashback sequences, but they still had to make sense and tie in with the modern story.
For Crimes Against Magic (the first book in the Hellequin Chronicles) it took me a while to work out the exact date that I wanted to use. I had the idea of setting it during the Hundred Years War in the 15th century, but didn’t really know more than that. Over a few weeks I managed to narrow it down to the battle of Agincourt in 1415, but I didn’t want to use the battle itself as some would have noticed if there was a sorcerer flinging fire about the place. So after some research (and reading the wonderful Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell), I settled on the 1414 destruction of the city of Soissons. From there the flashback came pretty easily, as did having it sync up with the current story.
My second book, Born of Hatred was a little easier. I wanted to write it in the late 19th century in America. I researched the country, getting closer and closer to the state that worked and eventually settling on Montana. At the time, Montana wasn’t part of the United States, so that gave me a few plot ideas and then managed to set the whole flashback in stone.
Book 3, With Silent Screams was the book that has given me the most trouble with the flashbacks. I originally had it down as being 1970s Wisconsin and even wrote it in that way, but over time it changed to 1970s Maine for various story reasons that just made sense.
I usually know what the flashback story will be before I go searching for a time period, albeit a loose idea that isn’t cemented in place until I have the exact date. Then the research on that date and place starts. Sometimes that means I have to change the date or place slightly, but at some point it clicks and then it usually works out pretty well.
I have several more books plotted out in the same series, and have already got ideas for the flashback parts for each one. Sometimes I think I’m just making my life harder for myself, but then I realise that I really do love writing the flashback parts and all the research that goes into making them engaging. Besides when you have a 1600 year old character to write, you might as well make use of his huge life to do things you could never do with a human character.