Paul Kane: What’s different about this book compared to your other Noreela novels?
Tim Lebbon: This is a standalone novel, set in the world of Noreela. I’ve previously explored part of Noreelan history in the two novels Dusk and Dawn (Bantam Spectra, USA), but Fallen is set 4,000 years before those books, and it’s a self-contained story. It’s scope is also more contained – the first two were big, sprawling war novels, in effect, whereas Fallen concentrates on a much smaller cast of characters. And although the implications of what they’re seeking are immense, it’s a very personal story.
Paul Kane: Did you enjoy the experience of creating your own world and timeline?
Tim Lebbon: It’s fantastic fun. I can have sentient tumbleweed, man-eating plants, buried gods, giant flying scorpion-monsters, arcane curses, and wasps the size of your head. Writing the Noreela novels has been hugely enjoyable, and with Fallen I discovered a new momentum. I think that was partly because I’d worked in this world before and was starting to know it better, but Fallen also revealed a lot more of the world to me, and allowed me to stretch my imagination a little with some of the geographies and societies (especially the Great Divide and what exists there…without giving away too much!) I love writing contemporary horror novels, but there’s something about the freedom of writing in a fantasy land that is addictive. It’s also hugely exciting when that land takes on a life of its own, as Noreela has done for me…it feels like a very real world now, and I can’t wait to go and discover some more. Like the main characters in Fallen, I feel like an explorer only just touching on the extremes of Noreela.
Paul Kane: Has the popularity of your fantasy books taken you by surprise?
Tim Lebbon: It’s very gratifying. They’ve done well in the USA, Dusk and Dawn sold in Germany, and now seeing Fallen published in the UK by Allison & Busby is a huge thrill. I don’t think they’ve necessarily made a massive, immediate impact, but Dusk has been reprinted 5 or 6 times now in the USA, and I think that’s a good sign that people are talking about the books. It’s still selling well over two years since first publication…can’t ask for more than that.
Paul Kane: How do you feel about the fan art that comes in (on display at your dedicated ‘Tales of Noreela’ site?)
Tim Lebbon: I love it, and I’m flattered that so many talented artists have felt inspired enough by Noreela to work on something. When I created that part of the website, I wasn’t sure what the reaction would be, but I’m been very excited by the work I’ve seen.
Paul Kane: Who’s your favourite character in this one, and why?
Tim Lebbon:Fallen effectively has two main characters, Ramus Rheel and Nomi Hyden. I like both of them equally, but for different reasons: Ramus is strong, determined and focussed on what he wants; Nomi is a damaged character who only comes to realise that through the course of the book, and she wants to put her mistakes right. I love the interaction between these two. Their relationship is extremely complex, and I had a lot of fun writing about the two of them. It was a challenge, but I think it paid off.
Paul Kane: What’s your next Noreela project likely to be?
Tim Lebbon: There’s a new novel called The Island due next summer from Bantam Spectra (USA). No news of a UK release as yet, but watch this space!
Extract from Chapter One
Allison & Busby hardback, August 11th 2008, £19.99 RRP
Author’s Note: Ramus and Nomi are Voyagers, explorers who spend their time planning and embarking upon great journeys across the young land of Noreela. They have been approached by Ten, a wanderer who claims to have been south as far as the Great Divide, a cliff that rises into the clouds and spans the whole of Noreela east to west. But Ramus doubts him. In the following extract, Ten tells his tale … and then shows them proof.
“I’ve spent a long time walking back and forth before the Divide,” Ten began. “It draws you. I know I said earlier that it’s … terrifying, but there’s an attraction as well. It pulls you in and holds you close, and sometimes it just won’t let go.
“The first time I saw it, I was about twenty. I had a run-in with a band of marauders on the Pavissian Steppes, and I went south to get away from them. I knew what was supposed to be there, but I was young and feisty, and I’d just killed my first man.”
He trailed off, pouring more cydrax and looking at Nomi and Ramus. Trying to see if we’re shocked, Ramus thought. Nomi is, I can see that. But I hope she won’t give him the satisfaction.
“Anyway,” Ten said, and drank some more. “The feistiness didn’t last. I got away from the marauders and kept going south. After a long time I found the Divide … or maybe it found me. It’s a cliff that reaches into the sky.” He looked up into the clear blue above them, shaking his head. “Here the sky has no scale. It’s blue and beautiful, but there’s no real sense of it. There, the Divide touches it, and seems to devour it. The cliff rises higher than the clouds, which seem to shroud its top permanently – if it even has one. It goes east and west as far as you can see, and disappears around the belly of the land. First time I saw it, I spent a whole moon camped a few miles from its base, thinking I would never get away. There was plenty of food; berry bushes, root crops, wild sheebok grazing along the foothills. I ate well. There were flying things that buzzed me, but they never came close again after I shot one down with my crossbow. In the evenings, I’d sit and listen to the tumblers rolling across the plains.” He took another drink.
Tumblers! Ramus thought. I always thought they were legend! But still he reserved judgement. Ten was a good storyteller, yet perhaps that was all he was. Time, as Ramus’s mother had said, would tell.
“That was when I first started thinking for myself. Until then, I’d never truly been a wanderer. I walked, yes. I travelled from here to there, but I spent most of my time simply surviving. There in the shadow of the Divide, I came alive. I spent the nights sitting by my fire and thinking on what the Divide could mean. What was at its top, if it had one? What was behind it?”
“There’s nothing behind it,” Nomi scoffed.
“Then why is it called a Divide?” Ramus asked.
Ten smiled. “So I sat there night after night, a good meal in my belly and the cool night air alive in my senses. I’d been drinking only water for a couple of moons, and I felt so much closer to the land. Almost as if I could plunge my hand into its loam and touch its magic.”
“Pah!” Nomi snorted. “You’re no magichalan.” She regarded such people with derision, Ramus knew, though he could never understand why. She was a Voyager and had seen many strange things in the marshes of Ventgoria. Why not believe in magic?
“No, I’m not. But the Divide makes you appreciate the potential in things. And this whole world is thrumming with potential.”
Nomi chuckled and took a sip of her cydrax.
“How long did you stay there?” Ramus asked.
“Three moons, camped in its shadow. At dawn I’d see a moment of sun, and then only dusk. After a while, I started thinking about finding where it ended.”
“I’ve always heard that there is no end,” Ramus said. “That it goes on, out beyond Noreela’s shores.”
“Maybe,” Ten said. “But the closer I came to the eastern shore, the more treacherous the landscape became. Plain turned to marsh, and then bog. The bogs were venting poisonous gases, and there were creatures in there … huge. I never saw them, but I heard them, and I felt the ground shiver as they rose and rolled. So I worked northward, leaving the Divide’s shadow at last. And by the time I reached the shore, I could no longer see the Divide. The bogs steamed, the clouds closed in, and wherever that cliff struck the coast was out of view.
“I would have stayed there, but the bog gas would have killed me eventually. And if not the gas, those things that lived there.” He opened the third bottle of Cydrax. The alcohol seemed to be having little effect. “I could hear them rising from the bog and dragging themselves towards me. Perhaps they were close. Or perhaps they were a long way off, and larger than I imagined. I didn’t stay to find out.”
“Voyagers have tried sailing past the Divide,” Nomi said.
“Piss,” Ramus said. “They’ve set out with that intention, but no one knows if they succeeded, because they’ve not been seen again.”
Ten nodded, a satisfied smile on his face.
“Maybe they’re still sailing,” Ramus speculated.
“Or maybe,” the wanderer said, “they’re in the stomachs of the bog beasts, or at the bottom of the sea, or washed up rotting against the shore. Noreela is a hungry land.”
“You have a way of making it such an attractive place,” Ramus said, but his interest was piqued. “Go on. What happened next?”
“I went west,” Ten said. “I travelled again in the shadow of the Divide, heading for the western shores. I hoped that there I would find what the east had hidden, but I was wrong.”
“What was there?” Nomi asked.
“A jungle. I started in, but the trees soon grew so close together that I could barely pass by. And there were creatures there, too. Spiders as big as my hand; snakes as thick as my thigh; ants; worms with teeth; flies that sucked my blood and left poison in its place. And other things, not animals. Not human. A bad place. I only touched its outer extremes, but I knew it went on for days.”
“So you went north?” Ramus asked. “Tried to skirt the forest but keep the Divide in view? Only the forest grew north as well, and by the time you reached the western shores, the Divide was too far away to see?”
Ten stared at him for some time; so long that Ramus looked away, unnerved. “You don’t believe me,” Ten said.
“I’ve met a lot of wanderers in my time, and they’re known to … elaborate.”
“Ramus,” Nomi said, her voice bearing a warning.
“I’m telling the truth,” Ten said. “If any Voyager had made it back from that place, they’d tell you the same.”
“But you have more to tell,” Ramus said.
Ten glanced at Nomi, reached into his cloak and then decided against it. “I’ll tell you first,” he said. “Then I’ll show you.”
Ramus sat back and crossed his hands on his stomach.
“I walked back along the Divide. Camped here and there, ate well, listened to the tumblers in the north. It took me two moons to gather the courage to do what I knew I must.”
“You climbed,” Nomi said.
Ten nodded slowly. “Up into the foothills first. And then, where the hills ended and the cliffs began, I started up.” He leaned forward, elbows resting on the table, long hair hanging down to either side of his face. “I never got very high, but I found signs that others had climbed before me.”
“What signs?” Ramus asked, but he could already guess.
“Bodies. Or what was left of them. Skeletons mostly, but some were … fresher. Looked as if they’d been chewed. And all badly broken, as if they had climbed higher, then fallen.”
“Fallen,” Ramus whispered. “How many?”
Ten shrugged. “Six? Eight? I climbed eight times at various points along the Divide. I made it three hundred steps high, maybe four hundred, and then …”
“No more routes,” Ramus said. “Like the cliffs were never meant to be climbed.”
Ten shook his head. “Not that, no. I could have gone further on at least two occasions. But every time I found a body, I lost my nerve.”
“So you never got as high as the clouds?”
“And no one else did, either?”
“I can’t know that. If they did, and did not fall, then …”
“Maybe they’re still climbing?”
“Or maybe they reached the top.”
“It’s believed there is no top,” Nomi said.
“Of course,” Ramus said. “If there was a top to the Great Divide, there would be something south of the cliff face. For most Noreelans, that’s unthinkable. It’s been a problem for thinkers for centuries. There are books full of it.”
“You’ve seen these books?” Ten asked.
“A couple. There’s one in the Marrakash Library, not a mile from here. And I know people who keep books to themselves.”
“I could write one,” Ten said. “And I could give it an ending.”
Ramus laughed again. “You tell a good story, wanderer, but you need more than words and hearsay to …”
Ten reached into his cloak again, and this time his eyes were full of purpose. Nomi sat up straighter. She looked at Ramus, her eyes sparkling with something he had only ever rarely seen on her face: the thrill of discovery.
Ten brought out a rolled parchment, tied with a knot of leather.
“What’s this?” Ramus asked.
The knot whispered as it came apart. “I found these close to one of the bodies.”
“What are they?”
The wanderer flattened the parchment pages – three of them – across the table, his hands still obscuring the uppermost page. “The body was broken,” he said. “Every bone shattered, as though he or she had fallen from a great height.” He glanced around, sat back and revealed the pages. “Perhaps all the way from the top.”
Ramus leaned forward and turned his head, and for a heartbeat the images did not register.
And then he saw.
“Well?” Nomi whispered.
Ramus touched the top page and traced the first of the images. “By every fucking god that ever touched Noreela!” he said.
“Not every god,” Ten said. “Just this one.”
(C) Tim Lebbon 2008
© Paul Kane 2003-2017. All rights reserved. Materials (including images) may not be reproduced without express permission from the author.