” The Wolves of Vimy” features in Kneeling in the Silver Light. Here, the author, David Jon Fuller, writes about his story.
The Great War started a hundred years ago. What is the link between your story in Silver Light and that war?
My story is set during the Battle of Vimy Ridge in 1917. That was the first time all divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together as single force. It’s a battle that has taken on more significance for Canada as a nation, which prior to the First World War had no major standing army, because it represented a victory for the country as a whole, than it did strategically for the Allies in the war.
It was still an example of a new approach to trench warfare, though, with the combination of extensive preliminary bombardment and a coordinated rolling barrage — and as it turned out, at Vimy the German forces could not make use of their new doctrine of “defence in depth.” Both contributed to the battle’s outcome.
The question of when the final assault on the German lines would begin is central to the short story I wrote.
What concerns did you have when it came to writing your story, how you planned to cover the subject matter? Were you worried that the anthology might have become too much like a regular “horror” book?
I had a number of concerns — the main being context and accuracy, on top of trying to tell a good story. I wanted to explore the differences among the Canadian soldiers, particularly the white soldiers of European descent and those of Aboriginal descent.
A short story doesn’t have a lot of room to get into a lot of detail, but significantly, there was a tradition of First Nations fighting along with the British in various wars in North America, and many Aboriginal soldiers considered their WWI service to the King, not necessarily to Canada.
In addition to paying attention to cultural context like this, I wanted to get the details right, right down to dates and timelines and, say, what a Prussian officer’s uniform looked like. Dean, I’m sure, can attest that even in the editing process I was asking for little changes such as specifying a Ross rifle over a Lee-Enfield (which was also partly to correct an error I’d let slip through about using a Colt, which was totally wrong on my part).
I wanted to include a sense of horror that included the dread of anticipation — given the context of the bombardment and where I put the characters, they have a lot to worry about. I’m not so interested in writing about gore — I’m not sure in and of itself it’s that frightening, however viscerally shocking it can be — so I concentrated on other aspects of the battle that I thought might be horrifying, to both sides.
Another factor was writing a story that not only served as a prequel to another I’d written (“A Deeper Echo,” published in Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction From the Margins of History ) but would also stand on its own. The Long Hidden story was set in 1919 and was very different in tone; for Kneeling in the Silver Light I hoped to write a story set earlier that would properly link up with the other one, while still being a proper dark fantasy/horror story. I’ll leave it to readers to decide whether I succeeded in hopping genres with these stories.
When writing stories what’s your usual arena (SF, fantasy, historical, etc)? Did writing (your story) for Silver Light create difficulties because of the change to the war genre?
I write mostly urban fantasy, so it was a challenge to write a darker kind of tale. This was also my first attempt at military fiction! Research is key in any historical fiction, and with military fiction, if you are going to put the readers in the boots of a soldier in a given era, there are a lot of day-to-day details that you could potentially get wrong and which can also be hard to track down. I had already been writing a number of historical urban fantasy stories, so I was already researching the era and had an idea where I could find some good sources of information; but knowing what to use and how to weave it in to an exciting story was tough.
What’s your preferred choice of reading matter? And do you rather go for novels or short stories?
I enjoy novels, short stories, and a lot of non-fiction, especially books on history, science and pop culture. For fiction I enjoy fantasy, urban fantasy and occasionally some horror. What I really love is a story that mashes up genres or blends familiar tropes up to make something unusual.
Which writer would you invite to dinner, and why?
The late Roger Zelazny, just to get him talking about history and technology. I’d also love to tell him how I keep coming back to his Amber novels at various stages of my life.
What other question should I have asked?
“What’s your favourite ale?” To which I would have answered, for the purposes of this story: Newcastle Werewolf Ale, which I got to try for the first time while visiting Maui last year, which is where I wrote most of “The Wolves of Vimy”. Sadly, for whatever reason, this seasonal fall ale is not available in Manitoba.
Anything exciting happening on your literary horizon?
I have a novel out on submission which is set in the same world as “The Wolves of Vimy” — though set in a very different era (1987, in Winnipeg) and with a very different tone. We’ll see whether I can find a home for it. I also have other stories in the upcoming anthologies Tesseracts 18: Wrestling with Gods (EDGE/Hades Publications) and Guns and Romances (Crossroad Press).
(Photo copyright (c) Mike Deal)