It’s quite a responsibility to take something that’s so beloved by so many people – not just a story, a hero… but a legend – and do your own thing with it. It’s a legend I grew up with, exposed to the original mythology at an early age via Bank Holiday trips to the most famous of its locations: the home of the Major Oak. But also as a kid watching my favourite take on the mythos, created and mostly written by the late, great Richard Carpenter (he of Catweazle fame), although Holmes and Bond scribe Anthony Horowitz contributed several episodes as well. Those are some big shoes to fill right there, some giant footsteps to follow in…
But, as with everything else, you can only do your best – and write something the way you want to write it. Or, more accurately, write what you’d want to read or watch yourself. After years of trying to build up my own mythologies, where nobody can tap you on the shoulder and say ‘that’s wrong’ or ‘so and so wouldn’t do that’, Abaddon’s Afterblight Chronicles afforded me the opportunity of writing a very different version of that same legend, that same character. A way not only to modernise it, but take it into the future – albeit the very near future…
The post-apocalyptic setting of the Chronicles had already been established in books like Simon Spurrier’s The Culled, and I just figured that if you applied that to Britain things might very well return to how they were in the original Robin Hood’s day: people trying to get by, markets and barter systems, and the strong crushing the weak (but more often than not, the clever and charismatic using the strong to do this). I also figured, or maybe hoped would be a better way of putting it, that heroes would emerge to stand against the bad guys. That heroes would be formed by their surroundings and their circumstances.
It was out of this that both De Falaise – my version of the Sheriff of Nottingham – and ex-copper Robert Stokes – my Hood – grew. That they became pitted against each other. Like Holmes and Moriarty, they always had been and always would be two sides of the same coin. And like the more recent depictions of those two characters, in shows like Sherlock and Elementary, and films like the Guy Ritchie Sherlock Holmes series, it was just a case of trying to do something that was the same but different. That put my individual stamp firmly on the legend.
Hopefully, I managed to do just that in Arrowhead – retelling the old story, but in a different way. Using characters who are similar to those from the other versions, but not the same. Using recognisable settings in a very unusual way. So, while Robert comes into contact with those who will form his own particular band of ‘Merry Men’ and battles De Falaise, he’s also keenly aware of the fact he’s following in the footsteps of others who have done this before, and perhaps even better than him (I could relate; I think that also connected me to Robert even more). And while Sherwood is still very much in the picture, it’s gradually revealed as much more than it ever was: a character in its own right yes, but also someplace that has strange, inexplicable powers – the ability to heal, to show Robert visions of the future in his dreams.
I was younger back then, felt more able to take risks with my fiction – to throw myself into projects without thinking too much about what I was taking on. I’m glad I was, because if I’d thought too much about all of this not only might I have thought twice, I’d also have been second guessing myself every step of the way. Once the first book came out and was well received, it gave me the confidence to expand upon the legend in my own way, taking Robert on further adventures in Broken Arrow and Arrowland; which also thankfully went down pretty well with readers and critics alike, much to my delight. The omnibus edition of all three, Hooded Man, even sold out of its first print run in an incredibly short space of time back in 2013, which gave me even more confidence to plot out and write the next step of the journey for Abaddon when I was approached and asked to return to the material.
Which brings us to Flaming Arrow, a new novella that picks up the story a few years after the events at the end of Arrowland. This book allowed me to write about an older Robert, who’s thinking about retiring and handing over control of the Rangers to his adopted son, Mark – my answer to Much the miller’s son – who is in turn himself dealing with personal problems and the fact that a rebellion is brewing at home. It also allowed me to do a siege tale, which is something I’ve always been interested in approaching – a kind of homage to those same sequences in films like Zulu, Starship Troopers and The Two Towers. All adding to this new, modern take on Robin Hood.
I like to think that at some point down the line, in the future, someone else who enjoyed reading these, maybe even a kid in his early teens – the age I’d have been when I was watching Robin of Sherwood – might be inspired by all this to add their own contribution to the mythos, modernising the legend for their own generation.
Well, I can dream too – right?
Paul Kane is the award-winning, bestselling author and editor of over fifty books – including the Arrowhead trilogy (gathered together in the sellout Hooded Man omnibus, revolving around a post-apocalyptic version of Robin Hood), The Butterfly Man and Other Stories, Hellbound Hearts and The Mammoth Book of Body Horror. His non-fiction books include The Hellraiser Films and Their Legacy and Voices in the Dark, and his genre journalism has appeared in the likes of SFX, Rue Morgue and DeathRay.
He has been a Guest at Alt.Fiction five times, was a Guest at the first SFX Weekender, at Thought Bubble in 2011, Derbyshire Literary Festival and Off the Shelf in 2012, Monster Mash and Event Horizon in 2013, Edge-Lit in 2014 and HorrorCon in 2015, as well as being a panellist at FantasyCon and the World Fantasy Convention. His work has been optioned and adapted for the big and small screen, including for network US television, plus his latest novels are Lunar (set to be turned into a feature film) and the Y.A. story The Rainbow Man (as P.B. Kane).
Forthcoming from him are the collection Monsters and the sequel to RED: Blood RED. He lives in Derbyshire, UK, with his wife Marie O’Regan, his family and a black cat called Mina. Find out more at his site www.shadow-writer.co.uk which has featured Guest Writers such as Stephen King, Neil Gaiman, Charlaine Harris, Dean Koontz and Guillermo del Toro.