My debut novel The Wolf is billed as a fantasy, but definitely has elements of an alternate history. It starts from the premise that multiple species of human survived the Ice Age, and that this changed the subsequent timeline of our world. Working out what would have changed and why has been one of the most enjoyable parts of writing it. First: how did these alternate human species survive? It seemed most likely that the climate would be slightly different in this world I was building, creating environments in which different species of human could cling on in various refuges. This is why the outline of Albion, the version of Britain in which the book is set, is slightly different. Sea levels are lower than they are today, uncovering some of the surrounding land and now-submerged territories like Doggerland (known as Yawland in the book).
Coming up with names for a fantasy world can be a challenge. Apart from anything, if you plunge a reader into a world which exists only inside your own head, it can be quite disorientating. You can end up stumbling over the unfamiliar words, wracking your mind desperately as to who or what the author is referring to. For my alternate version of Europe, I wanted names familiar enough to ground you, but different enough that their etymology was still convincing, and which let you know this is a skewed version of our own timeline.
First, Europe itself needed a name. I often find inspiration in etymology, and I spotted one (rather unlikely) theory that Europe originally comes from Ereb: a term meaning dark. The idea is that when observed from the Middle East, Europe is in the west, making it The Land of the Setting Sun. The land of the dark. This name appealed for several reasons. First, it matched the tone of the world I was trying to create: both familiar and gritty. Second, it worked with the alternate history of Erebos. In this timeline, we (modern humans) still arrived from the east, out of Africa. So Erebos might’ve been the ancient name they gave to this new continent as they arrived. The land of darkness, filled with strange human forms. Lastly, there’s something poetic about The Land of the Setting Sun. Erebos it was.
After arriving in this landscape, we encountered a new race of human, familiar but also eerily, profoundly different. They too needed a name, which I ended up finding in the Bible. It mentioned several giant races: the Rephaim, the Nephilim and the Anakim. I’ve always wondered whether Biblical stories have their origin in cultural legends. Perhaps the story of Noah and the flood is based on some kind of cultural memory of the catastrophic rise in sea-levels after the Ice Age. I wondered the same about these giant races. Maybe (just maybe) those are based on some distant cultural memory of the Neanderthals, or Denisovans – a prehistoric species of man like us, but somehow other. I liked that idea, and the nod it gave to the Neanderthals, who I drew on heavily for inspiration. The Anakim they became.
Of course, the survival of this extra species of human altered more than names. It changed pretty much everything. Though this book is set in an equivalent period to the Dark Ages (you can date it from the appearance of an unusually powerful aurora at the beginning, caused by a solar flare which appears in several historical chronicles) much of the technology is quite advanced. For example, many warriors have access to plate armour. Nothing advances human technology quite as swiftly as competition, and there is no competition so intense as warfare. The constant grinding conflict between these different species has forced them both to develop new weapons, superior metallurgy and tactics. It also changed the dynamic between modern human societies. Faced with the external threat of the Anakim, the comparatively small differences between their cultures were forgotten, and they live much more peaceably together than they have managed in our own history. Some kingdoms collapsed and fragmented under pressure from their Anakim neighbours. Others like Iberia, a combination of Spain and Portugal, were unified by the threatening presence of an Anakim population based in Gibraltar.
It’s fun, this author thing. Creating a new world is great, but it’s even better if other people invest in it with you, and a little sympathy to your reader goes a long way!
Brand Manager and Head of the Realm at Hachette Australia Books. Mutant power: Aggressive humour. Lifelong Trekkie (I don’t find that offensive) comic book reader and former proud bookseller. Likes: Literary, contemporary and speculative fiction. Dislikes: Haters. Ideal date: My birthday.