I get very attached to people. Although I love introducing new characters, both as protagonists and as support, there are certain stalwarts I come back to time and again. Especially the Traveller.
I’ve known the Traveller since I was at school, when I wrote a poem about a man doomed to eternal wandering. He originally had a name, but I very soon decided that was just the local word for “traveller”, which gradually came to be his actual name, sometimes translated when he stayed in one place long enough for the origin of what he was called to be forgotten.
Originally, he was a minor character in my (still unfinished) trilogy The Winter Legend. His role has considerably increased over the years, but he’s still a supporting character. From the 90s, though, I started writing short stories about incidents in his backstory – or sometimes his future story.
One of the things that has changed over the years was the whole “doomed to eternal wandering” concept. Maybe it’s the privilege of a teenager to present a romantic image of immortality’s curse, but the older I’ve got, the harder it’s been to see the downside. Thousands of years of life and the freedom to wander all over the world – yes, I’d take a curse like that.
So now the Traveller is a restless explorer, born with an insatiable curiosity about the world and the lifespan to indulge it, together with a moral imperative that drags him, sometimes willingly, sometimes reluctantly, into helping the oppressed. He sails on an enchanted ship, Searcher, that he can crew purely with his will. Rather like I’d love to be, if I were less lazy.
Three characters, I think, have influenced the Traveller most, sometimes consciously, sometimes less so. One clear parallel is Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner. Like the Mariner, the Traveller is an immortal who sails on a magical ship; he’s atoning, to some extent, for something in his past; he has “strange powers of speech”. And his personal emblem is an albatross in flight.
On the other hand, in some ways he’s the complete opposite. He’s in control of his ship, rather than being a helpless passenger; the trauma he’s suffered wasn’t of his own making; and, instead of enduring a curse that forces him to wander, the Traveller loves his life.
Another strong influence was a largely forgotten S&S series from 70s by Karl Edward Wagner, featuring a character called Kane. Supposedly the Biblical Cain wandering through the prediluvian world, Kane is sometimes the hero of his stories and sometimes the villain, but what attracted me most was the way that each story is set in different lands and a different era, although we sometimes get echoes of kingdoms seen in another story. Kane, though, is very much a morally ambiguous anti-hero, and what I wanted to do was created a similar series with a hero – human and flawed, but an idealist.
(Incidentally, if anyone’s looking for a great S&S series, I can thoroughly recommend Kane, if you can get hold of the books.)
The third influence shouldn’t have been a surprise, but it didn’t occur to me till someone else pointed it out. I’ve been a huge fan of Doctor Who ever since I watched the first episode as a young child, the day after Kennedy was shot, and the Traveller bears more than a passing resemblance to the Doctor. Both are inveterate wanderers and incorrigible meddlers, travelling in miraculous craft, sometimes alone and sometimes with companions.
I’m quite happy about the similarities, but some are strangely coincidental. Two major parallels – the gift for understanding and speaking any language, and the terrible war that haunts the hero – didn’t appear in Doctor Who until I’d already written about their equivalents for the Traveller. I certainly wasn’t influenced by Doctor Who in those respects, and I’m assuming Russell T. Davies hadn’t read any Traveller stories.
Not counting stories where he appears as a supporting character, the Traveller features so far in sixteen short stories and a novel, At An Uncertain Hour. So far, the novel and six of the stories have been published, though I have a collection of the Traveller’s stories contracted.
He’s also spawned two spin-off series, as well as many individual tales set in the same world. One features Eltava, a companion and lover from early in the Traveller’s life. She was intended simply as a cameo in the novel, but she wouldn’t lie down afterwards. I’ve now written seven stories about her, six of which have been published and one recently accepted by Aoife’s Kiss. Eltava is, perhaps, more of an action hero than the Traveller, who prefers to out-think his enemies if he can.
The other series is about two teenage sorcerers and troublemakers called Karaghr and Failiu, whose saga begins with an encounter with the Traveller. These are somewhat lighter in tone, though with dark undercurrents, and so far all three have been published – most recently, The Temple of Taak-Resh was published as an ebook by Darwin’s Evolutions.
The Traveller’s world – it has no name, though I sometimes jokingly refer to it as the Travellerverse – is extensive, both geographically and historically. So far, I’ve written stories that go back to their neolithic era, and stories from their computer age (in one case, both of those in the same story). The City of Ferrid, a story of a Victorian-style era of steam-trains and factories, was published as a chap-book by Crystal Codices, but is sadly now out of print.
I said earlier that the Traveller lives the kind of life I somewhat envy, so is he “really” me? No, I don’t think so. I never deliberately base characters specifically on any real person, least of all myself – I both write and read to explore the other-than-me, not to psychoanalyse myself. Of course, all characters are, to some extent, built out of the people I’ve known, but not in a straightforward way. All my experience, direct and indirect, together with things I’ve read and thought, goes into a vast melting-pot, and what comes out when I write, though made of that experience, bears little resemblance to the raw materials,
No, the Traveller is, I’d say, more like a friend – someone I have plenty in common with, but who can show me things I’d never find in myself. Still, we do have plenty of similarities, especially in outlook. While the Traveller acknowledges many regrets in his long, strange life, he insists that “a life without regrets is a life not lived.” Rather than dwelling on the past, on what he’s lost, his eyes are on the next opportunity, the next friend or lover, the land that might lie just over the horizon. He keeps going forward, never losing his curiosity and his joy in life. Though I can’t live forever, I hope I always have the will to do the same.
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