Chris Humphreys has been a story-teller from a young age. This creativity has allowed him to pursue a career in acting that has seen him on shows like Andromeda, Gadget and the Gadgetinis, Once Upon A Time, The Adventures of Shirley Holmes, and more, as well as driven him to professionally write. Some of his novels being Jack Absolute, The French Executioner, The Runestone Saga books, to most recently The Tapestry Trilogy. Wanting to learn more about his career and recent novel, I was able to interview Humphreys for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: Growing up, what stories did you love? Are there any you still enjoy revisiting?
Chris Humphreys: I especially loved the swashbucklers. You know, the swordfighting ones like ‘The Three Musketeers’ and ‘Zorro’. One of the earliest photos of me is in a ‘Zorro’ costume – I lived in Los Angeles at the time. Funny thing, as an actor I appeared in both shows – ‘Musketeers’ on stage and ‘Zorro’ on TV, sword-fighting in both… but I played the villains not the heroes! Durn.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to pursue a career as a creator? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Humphreys: I was always a story-teller, even as a child, organizing my friends in games of warriors and heroes. Coming from a family of actors, my Mum really didn’t want me to follow the family trade. I was going to go to university and study history, my other passion. Then at 17 I got cast in the lead in the school play – and all the genes kicked in. Ah ha, I thought. A career in story-telling.
Yanes: Much of your writing career focused on historical fiction. Why did you decide to expand into fantasy fiction?
Humphreys: I’ve always just loved a good story, whatever the genre. I read my share of Narnia and Tolkien as a pre-teen and teen. After that I tended to stick to history – but then I discovered Stephen Donaldson’s Thomas Covenant books and realized just how epic fantasy could be. I like epic! That set me off – with The Runestone Saga first, then The Tapestry Trilogy. Now I am now writing high epic fantasy as well with Smoke in the Glass and The Coming of the Dark – the first two parts of the Immortals’ Blood trilogy.
Yanes: You’ve also spent a lot of time in the world of theater. How do you think acting and directing have helped you become a better novelist?
Humphreys: I’ve spent my life telling stories for a living. All kinds – I’ve played Hamlet, a gladiator and commanded a star fleet, amongst others. I have had to get into lots of characters’ heads and that gives me a way into the ones I create. I always say when I write a character that I want to give them something to play. Almost as if they were in a movie. I did too many bad scripts where there was nothing to play. So I always try to make my characters fully rounded, have variation and complexity.
Yanes: Your latest project are the novels in The Tapestry Trilogy. What was the inspiration for this story?
Humphreys: The ring on my finger. I was literally sitting at my desk, wondering what to write next and was fiddling with the ring that has been on my finger since I was 18. It is a rampant unicorn – the family crest! So I asked myself: what does a unicorn mean? I searched online – and the first things I found were: a unicorn is unconquerable – but can be tamed by a maiden. It can cure illness and disease with a touch of its horn. (Where’s a unicorn right now when we need one?).
And then I found the stunning Unicorn Tapestries in the Cloister Museum in New York. Medieval woven masterpieces they are also a mystery: no one knows who wove them, for whom, on what occasion. I decided I knew: the ancestor of a ‘maiden’ in New York wove them – and left a gate in them, a portal between our world and Goloth, the Land of the Fabulous Beast, where all our myths live. And Elayne, present day Manhattan young lady and descendent of the Weaver, is summoned through the tapestry by Moonspill, a 500-year-old unicorn, because he needs help.
Yanes: Elayne is a fantastic character. How did you go about shaping her?
Humphreys: I love that idea that the mythologist, Joseph Campbell talks about, the Hero’s Journey. An early stage of that is ‘the hero refuses the call’. I liked that Elayne can’t believe what is happening to her, the world she’s been called to, and this unicorn asking her to do things she can’t do, like be a hero. But Elayne has a core of steel she just needs to find. And big motivation: her dad is dying of cancer. And remember that thing about a unicorn curing illness? Well, you have to read the book. But someone growing into her role, finding her strength against great odds… her choices shaped her for me.
Yanes: Additionally, your world building in The Tapestry Trilogy novels is fantastic. How did you develop these settings?
Humphreys: Oh, thanks so much. I was very inspired by mythology, especially about fabulous beasts. What kind of world would they come from? And the tapestries were key – that mystery of their weaving? It was late 15th century so I thought a lot about a primitive world that gets… invaded by a clever medieval European. What would change, what would not, how would the two worlds blend. Imagining that combination gave me those settings.
Yanes: On this note, are you a heavy outliner/planner or do you just write by the seat of your pants?
Humphreys: I don’t outline much. I really like to take the journey with my characters, have them react to circumstance. I’ll have a rough idea of situation – the history of the Tapestries for example and Elayne’s father having cancer, and some myths around unicorns. Then I’ll put the characters into them, and see how they react. Character-in-action is how I develop them – for the first draft. Once I have that, I can go back and see what worked, what didn’t, what I still need to explore. I do a full outline after my first draft.
Yanes: As you took these novels from idea to finished books, was there a character that came to life in an unexpected way?
Humphreys: Leo. I don’t want to give too much away but I am very interested in change, if people even can. A journey from tyrant to… something else, is quite the journey.
Yanes: When people finish reading these novels, what do you hope they take away from the experience?
Humphreys: Wow. Well, I really just hope they had a good time. Cried a bit, laughed, put the books down at 3AM. And that perhaps they seek out those Tapestries and have a look, even go see them. So worth it.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Humphreys: I’ve always got a few ideas on the go. Right now I am about to publish a modern thriller called One London Day about a hit, and its repercussions over one day in London (where I grew up). I am also working on a WW2 novel loosely based on my parents’ story: my dad was a fighter pilot and my mother was a spy! (Surprised I ended up as a storyteller?)