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An in-depth conversation with Paul Hacker about his maiden fantasy series The Gathering

Fantasy As a Necessary Ingredient of Life


by Vaishnavi Singh


Paul Hacker works on government reports and hence engages in a significant amount of writing and editing at the professional level. His creative approach, however, is relatively new. He began his journey of creative writing about three years ago when he decided to write the first book of The Gathering series.


J.R.R Tolkien, the creator of The Lord of The Rings, one of fantasy’s forerunners, established fantasy as a form of escape. Speculative author Ursula Le Guin wrote, paraphrasing a passage from Tolkien's essay: “If we value the freedom of mind and soul, if we're partisans of liberty, then it's our plain duty to escape, and to take as many people with us as we can!” A writer’s duty, then, is to influence others through their creation. It is not surprising that worldbuilding in stories affects readers as deeply as it does.




Hacker’s The Gathering is a fantasy series which follows the tale of two teenage boys, Vilmare and Rondo. They are thrust into an adventure that becomes more paramount as time goes on. We witness the characters and quests in the world of Stelvose. In an author interview with Ukiyoto, Hacker talked about The Gathering Books 1 and 2.


  • On his writing inspiration


Hacker harbours a deep-seated love for the arts and humanities. Even though he began creative writing not long ago, his broader creative faculties have always been active. Back in 2011, he was in a rock band. He made a short film four years ago called ‘A Gathering,’ which was never released because of a lack of audio. As he revealed, “few eyes have seen it.”


The decision to write a fantasy series, however, was primarily inspired by his grandkids. He wanted to write something for them, to leave behind a legacy of his art, in the form of a genre he loves the most. Having done several things in life, he decided: “I might as well write a book.” He is excited about the prospects of a future, “in the year 2092,” when his great-great-grandkids would pick up this series and get to know more about the man behind the creation.


  • On the choice of the title and theme


Hacker confessed that he did not come up with a title till the first book was about halfway done. The idea of a gathering was appealing to him because “there is always a collective of minds creating something, whether it is nefarious or righteous.” ‘Gathering’ means a group of people coming together, but it also has a mysterious association. It inevitably leads us to assume that an unknown activity is being planned, making it a perfect title for fantasy.


As he went on to write the book, Hacker fell in love with the worldbuilding process. He loves the idea of escape that fantasy offers, a place to run away to when you are tired of life on earth. That is what urged him to choose such a theme for his story. He did not go for a biography because, as he said, “if I write my life story you will sleep in a couple of pages.” After all, fiction is more interesting and entertaining than real life.


  • On his history with roleplaying projects


When Hacker was in high school, his friends introduced him to role-playing games, for example, the immensely popular Dungeons & Dragons. He started loving the idea of assuming the roles of characters in fictional settings. Their group of friends used to get together on weekends and play games that involved a lot of storytelling and lore. Hacker has mentioned in the book’s blurb that his story is inspired by a role-playing project he created with his friends in the early 1980s.


The narrative experienced by a game player is a result of participating in a creative process. As Hitchens and Drachen have theorised in their paper on role-playing games, the “participants in the game are parties to the creation of the narrative.” A single agent does not tell the story, rather all participants have a part to play in this activity.


Just as a role-playing game’s narrative is not made for an audience, but for the people participating, fantasy literature is not possible if a reader does not engage with the worldbuilding. Worlds come alive only and only when we imagine. They are created and experienced by readers as a dynamic process and that process must be understood if these narratives themselves are to be understood. Hacker’s experience with role-playing games and projects definitely helped him develop an understanding of the process. Consequently, he developed an interest in reading fantasy books.


  • On the character-building process


Part of Hacker’s job at the professional level is “understanding human behaviour,” the traits and nuances of mannerisms, and even modes of non-verbal communication. He tried to make his characters lifelike and to accomplish that he used the traits and mannerisms of people he knows in real life.


Hacker said that he does not love superpowered characters as much as other people do. “I prefer frailties,” he added. Real people are defenceless and vulnerable. The appeal of characters, even in fantasy, does not come from their supernatural abilities or affiliations, but from their humanity. We adore Frodo Baggins despite him lacking the usual features of heroism. What matters is that he is gifted with such virtues as common sense, a good heart, and the determination to do his best. Hacker, too, has explored the personalities and vulnerabilities of his characters. In this way, he believes he has done them justice.


When asked about his favourite character, he jokingly said that the smart choice would be to pick the main character. But Hacker has created about 35 characters for the series, each of them with a unique history. Since these characters are his own creation, he likes all of them, but two characters stand out for him. “Lord Victor is conniving, sometimes makes rash decisions, and lacks confidence,” he explained. Deborah O’Neill is another favourite of his, “motherly, menacing, the mama bear who holds things together.”


  • On the message he wished to convey


The plot has a lot to do with making decisions and carrying them out. Hacker believes that “decisions have ramifications. If you're righteous and if you have a moral compass, something positive will come out of it.” He values moral messaging and wanted to convey the intricacies of our choices. Fantasy as a genre is very much concerned with morality. We have stories of world-saving heroes, righteous kings, faithful friends, and people fighting for their rights. Standing up for what you believe in, against all odds, is a popular theme and a respected one, considering we live in a world that combats some form of evil every day.


  • On the global reception of the books


Many readers, impressed with the succinct and compelling storytelling, have suggested that the series should be turned into movies. A professional review of the first book commended its fleshed-out characters. Hacker is delighted at the overall positive feedback he has received so far.


An elaborate job such as creating a different world from scratch requires time and effort. When Hacker started writing, he disconnected himself entirely from all forms of entertainment for two years. His sole focus was his creative process. “I had to discover creative writing as a government official report writer, which is a hard transition but I enjoyed it.”


  • Advice for aspiring writers


Hacker shared a beautiful thought: “If you have a story to tell, let it rip. Just write it.” It is common for new or young writers to experience the imposter syndrome. A general conception of people is that everything has already been said. French author André Gide added to this statement the following words: “But since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”


One must have confidence in their words. It is beneficial to seek out information from people who know about the writing and publishing industry. It is also recommended to find a reader to take a look at your manuscript. He ended his advice with an observation about his own experience as a writer: “I don’t consider myself a writer, I consider myself a storyteller.”


The third book of The Gathering, titled The Knights of Salvation, was released recently. Hacker is already working on a fourth part, which will be the last book of the series. Later, he plans on writing a murder mystery novel with a tinge of science fiction. He will also soon be narrating the audiobooks for the series albeit at the risk of sounding “more medieval-like.” We hope he never loses touch with his imaginative side and that he can inspire more people, especially kids, to indulge in the power of fantasy fiction.


Children fall in love with fantasy at a young age because it promises them a world where imagination is the sole creator and falsities can never win against the truth. The real world can be cruel. It often acts as a sharp pin that bursts one’s bubble of safety. But fantasy and literature never leave us. They always remain, prepared to save us every time we need an escape, a necessary ingredient in living.


[Watch the interview with Ukiyoto publishing here: LIVE WITH PAUL HACKER]

Get a Copy of THE GATHERING BOOK 1, BOOK 2, and BOOK 3 by Paul Hacker.

References:

Guin, Ursula Le, and Susan Wood. The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction. First Edition, Putnam, 1979.


Hitchens, Michael, and Anders Drachen. The Personal Experience of Narratives in Role-Playing Games. www.aaai.org/Papers/Symposia/Spring/2009/SS-09-06/SS09-06-009.pdf. Accessed 27 June 2022.




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