When I first sent in those handful of pitches to Abaddon books for their Afterblight Chronicles, a series I’d been following since Simon Spurrier’s excellent The Culled, I never for a second imagined I’d still be writing about the one that was picked by their commissioning editor at the time, Jon Oliver. I remember the day vividly when Jon rang and said to me, “So, Paul – how’d you fancy writing a book for us then?” The idea that had caught his eye, and the novel that I’d eventually end up writing, was the post-apocalyptic Robin Hood story Arrowhead. The year was 2007 and things would never be the same again.
I’d worked up a chapter breakdown for Jon, so I had a guideline to follow myself – aside from the original template of the Robin Hood legend, of course. I’d grown up myself watching Richard Carpenter’s wonderful Robin of Sherwood (and one of my most cherished memories is of the email the late Kip sent me, telling me that he’d read and loved Arrowhead – he’d even given it to his grandson to read). But I’d also grown up, literally, in the shadow of Sherwood Forest. Bank holidays were spent there with my parents, looking around the museum and visitors’ centre, going to see the Major Oak… And in a strange sort of way, I always felt like I was at home there. So, maybe it was just a coincidence that I ended up writing my version of Hood, or maybe it was always destined to happen.
Following that breakdown, I began to feel my way through the story and put flesh on the bare bones of the characters. De Falaise was already down on paper, brought to life in the sample chapter I’d sent with the original synopsis pitch. A proper old school villain, just like the previous incarnations of the Sheriff. God, I loved writing him – and I still do (as you’ll have seen if you’ve already bought and read the new novella, Flaming Arrow). Ex-copper Robert came next, and did I put him through Hell or what? Ninety percent of the world’s population might have been killed off by the A-B Virus, but I brought that incredibly large number home to my main character by showing – in flashback – the torment he had to go through losing his wife and son to the disease, while he remained immune. But I had to do it, honest. It was the only way to get him to Sherwood, so he could learn the skills he’d need, not only to survive out there living off the land, but also to battle the forces of evil later on.
Looking back at that harrowing chapter now, I’m not quite sure how I had the balls to put him through all that. I mean, I set his dog on fire for Heaven’s sake! Who does that? Writers, that’s who. People who are trying to set up their characters, to show how they became the way they are. I needed to show what had broken Robert, in order to fix him again – in order to give him a purpose. He was a lot more brooding back in those days, but can you really blame him? It was before he encountered folk like Mark and Bill (my answer to Much the Miller’s Son and Will Scarlet), before he became friends with Jack and the Reverend Tate (my Little John and Friar Tuck). Before he met Mary… his Marian. I mean, he was never going to be the life and soul of the party, but he did cheer up then… a bit. Part of that was down to the knowledge he always had that these events were replaying themselves and he couldn’t do a damn thing about it. He’d been chosen to be the new Hooded Man and that was that.
Over the course of the next couple of books, Broken Arrow and Arrowland, I took Robert on even more of a journey. I had him tackling a Satanic cult whose members didn’t seem to feel pain and had skulls for faces; I had him trying to stop an invasion by a new self-styled Tsar from Russia. But all of that paled into insignificance compared with the threat to his relationship with Mary in the form of newcomer Adele. All this while struggling, not only to keep the peace via his fledgling ‘police force’ The Rangers, but also with his own ‘living legend’ status.
I put him through tortures at the hands of the cannibalistic witch known only as The Widow, had his home broken into by an assassin called Shadow – who was just as good, if not better than Robert with a bow and arrow – and even threw him out of a helicopter to leave him hanging from the back of a fighter jet. Yeah, I had to wonder if I’d gone too far that time. But, it all made him stronger I feel. It all made him the person I’d eventually write about in Flaming Arrow (and, to think, Jon had to talk me out of killing him off in the second book – what a mistake that would have been; as Jon wisely said to me, “When you’ve got a hero like this, you don’t get rid of him that quickly.”)
All of which brings us neatly up to the present, and the reason for this blog – for which I need to thank Paul Simpson at Sci-Fi Bulletin, who gave the first book such a glowing review for DreamWatch Presents Total Sci-Fi and has been a staunch supporter of the adventures ever since. After the Hooded Man omnibus did so well in 2013, I was approached by the new Abaddon editor David Thomas Moore and asked if I’d like to do a novella which caught up with Robert and co. several years after the events at the end of Arrowland. I immediately said yes, because I’d been starting to wonder myself what might have happened to them. It gave me the opportunity to write about an older Robert, looking back on what he’d achieved and maybe thinking about retiring, passing on the baton to the younger generation. However, as so often happens, things don’t really go according to plan and – once again – the Hooded Man is called upon to spring into action. Well, perhaps not ‘spring’ as he is getting on a bit now, but he’s still not someone to trifle with.
Although he’s slightly older than me in this one, I do feel as though I can relate to him as much now as ever. Almost ten years later, I like to think we’ve grown older together, that we’ve taken this journey together. And, while I’m no hero myself – I couldn’t begin to imagine doing half the things Robert has done (the guy took down a frigging Apache attack helicopter with a bolas once… and yes, it is possible, I’m assured) – I do feel honoured to have been his chronicler all this time. He’s my character, but he’s also my friend, and I reckon I know him better than anyone, even Mary. So, I do hope you’ve enjoyed reading this little insight and will enjoy reading the latest instalment. If you haven’t read any of the tales, they’re all still there waiting for you to get stuck in. I guarantee you a rollocking ride if nothing else.
But will it be the end of the journey for Robert? I hear you ask. Only time will tell…