A Conversation with C.G. Ayling, author of ‘Malmaxa I. Beltamar’s War’

With children African, English and American, and myself born and raised in a country of five names, I consider myself… a citizen of the world.

My wife and four children think of me simply as a thorny old man – and thus my symbol…

One of the most influential people in my life was my Godfather. A man of absolute integrity, remarkable intellect, and fine character. He taught me tolerance, and intolerance, together. He showed me that every conflict has are two sides, if not more. It was thanks to time spent with him that I developed a guiding principle in my life, namely that the most fundamental sign of intelligence is the ability to change one’s mind. It is to honor him that I use his name as my pseudonym, yet I know my efforts fall far short of what he deserved.

In my memory, C.G.Ayling lives forever. Is that not as close as any man can come to immortality?

Visit his website at www.cgayling.com/malmaxa.

Q: Thank you for this interview, Charles. Can you tell us what your book, Beltamar’s War, is all about?

A:  Briefly, Beltamar’s War is about personal character development, both in the young, and the old.  I believe we all continue to grow throughout life and that the things making us blossom into who we are today, or might become tomorrow, are our interactions with others.  The people we love, those we despise, and everyone in between, hold enormous power over us – they determine the course of our existence, although indirectly.  The true catalysts of personality change are our interactions with others.  Beltamar’s War explores the little and the large things that force each of its characters to grow into who they might eventually become.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about your main and supporting characters?

A: These roles change as the tale progresses.  Liaju, the principle protagonist, finds herself plagued by troubling dreams heralding the imminent demise of her people, the Seizen.  Although all Liaju’s dreams share identical elements, no one is able to decipher them – until a waking dream unfolds before her.  Liaju’s vision set the scene for the entire Malmaxa series, of which Beltamar’s War is the first novel.  I place particular emphasis on how it affects her family, along with an ever-broadening circle of people.  Jalgar, Liaju’s father, does his best to guide her, however he soon realizes his un-matched daughter is a prophet with wisdom far exceeding his own.  As a father, one of Jalgar’s duties is to “match” Liaju.  Initially, a match seems analogous to marriage – however, as Malmaxa progresses it becomes clear a match is only superficially similar to marriage.  Along with continual character development, Malmaxa is gradually exposed as the tale progresses – be warned, Beltamar’s War is not a tale of instant gratification.

Q: Do you tend to base your characters on real people or are they totally from your imagination?

A: Thank you for making me smile.  Most characters in Beltamar’s War, even the villain, are based on someone I cherish.  That said, each character exhibited an uncanny ability to grow during writing.  Sometimes into something far different than the person on whom they were based.  Interestingly, the ultimate heroine of the entire series grew from thoughts of my then un-conceived granddaughter.  I didn’t even know her name, or that she would be a she when I first began developing the story.  With Eden’s birth, she practically took over the tale – I even kept her name.  Naturally, this means that although Eden is based on a real person, her character is entirely imaginary – or is it?  Time will tell…

Beltamar's WarQ: Are you consciously aware of the plot before you begin a novel, or do you discover it as you write?

A: In the case of the Malmaxa series, I developed the overall tale, along with a functional, believable culture long before I put pen to paper.  When I began writing Beltamar’s War took a completely different path between beginning and the ultimate end – I’m thoroughly enjoying the sights I see on this other road.  Indeed, one of the most powerful roles in the tale, namely the villain, had no place during concept.  He only came into being when my mother, one of my proofreaders, asked, “How can a story have no villain?”  So… yes, I knew the tale intimately before beginning, yet I continue to discover it anew as I write.

Q: Your book is set in Malmaxa.  Can you tell us why you chose this place in particular?

A: Beltamar’s War takes place in Malmaxa, a world at once foreign, and disturbingly familiar.  Malmaxa seems to be ancient, which leads one to expect primitive people who’ll exhibit primal behavior.  This is both deliberately deceptive and metaphoric – within our world are people very much like the characters in Malmaxa.  They may appear different to us, speak languages we can’t understand, and follow cultural idioms we find foreign – yet they are all people.  As such, things universal to humanity motivate the characters in Malmaxa – friendship, love, desire, jealousy, a quest for truth, greed, fear and all the emotions capable of twisting us from who we think we are, into who we truly become.  Essentially, Malmaxa is a fantasy setting because it lets me entice readers to explore individual character from a perspective outside our comfortable, safe, and familiar existence.  Philosophically, I believe the familiarity of everyday life allows people to judge the behavior of others.  When they are in a foreign environment, they are far more receptive of differences.  Malmaxa is most definitely a foreign environment.

Q: Does the setting play a major part in the development of your story?

A: Another tricky question!  In that the characters could not be formed without it – yes, the fantasy setting is crucial.  Alternatively, the physical locality is almost entirely undefined – in fact, I’ve been criticized for not revealing more of the place.  In creating Malmaxa, my principle objective was to create an environment in which what people are, and what they will become, is more important than where they happen to be.  Likely this is ambitious, but I try to make the tale accessible to everyone – if Malmaxa is a place, my desire is that it might easily be where each reader dwells.

Q: Open the book to page 69.  What is happening?

A: A perfect description of how I choose the books I read – by flipping them to a random page, where they either hold my attention, or are cast aside.  Page 69…  Ryntam, Eden’s mother, is suspicious of the nefarious activities of the Scribes.  Ryntam’s twin, a Symbologist named Daniskira, is intimately associated with two Scribes – a matched pair named Kareena and Seinath.  Intent on questioning Kareena alone, Ryntam separates her from Seinath by using the pretext of walking to the fountain for refreshment, while they discuss Eden’s approaching education.  Ryntam has mentally formulated questions intended to trick Kareena into confirming her suspicions of Scribes.  As with many similarly contrived circumstances – things don’t go quite the way Ryntam plans…

Q: Can you give us one of your best excerpts?

A: The parts I enjoy most are too emotive and crucial to the tale, I’m afraid they’d spoil things for readers.  However, here’s one that won’t betray the story.  Eden and her cousin Selene have been charged with ensuring no one disturbs the rest of their exhausted Aunt Liaju.  When the two young girls become thirsty, Eden volunteers to fetch water from inside the house – unfortunately for Eden, her mischievous nature takes over…

Eden entered the house carefully.  From the incident with her grandfather, she knew that the door would squeak if she opened it too fast or too wide.  Slowly, she squeezed inside without making a sound.  When the door swung shut, it left the room deeply shadowed.  She stood motionless, heart pounding while her eyes adjusted to the relative darkness.  This was much more exciting than sitting outside waiting for something – anything – to happen.

There were two separate cupboards, one on each side of the hearth, as in all dwellings.  A beam of diffused light, illuminating the cupboard on her left, drew her toward it.  Reaching out, she opened it carefully, fearful of it creaking.  The doors opened soundlessly, on well-oiled leather hinges – it seemed nana kept her home in better order than her mama did.

Her eyes having adjusted to the semi-darkness, Eden peered inside – only to discover she had chosen the wrong cupboard.  The shelves arrayed before her were filled with fired clay jars of varying size, all with their lids closed tight, and sealed with beeswax.  Unable to resist the glamorous demon Temptation, Eden stretched for the biggest, most finely decorated urn.  It stood proud, on the top shelf.  Its bulk gave her pause – reluctantly she released it, picking a smaller, more accessible jar instead.

A little annoyed at being forced to settle for anything other than best, Eden carried the jar filled with unknown treasures toward the table.  As it clinked onto the table, she noticed the water pitcher.  It had been present, in plain sight, all along.  Remembering her purpose here was gathering water, she glanced irritably at the pitcher.  Reluctantly, she began turning around to replace the mysterious jar.

A moment’s hesitation and Eden turned instead to the fire, the need to identify her treasure overcoming her.  Reaching the smoldering hearth, she picked up a knife lying close enough to the embers that its blade was hot to the touch.  Holding it gingerly, she turned and crept back to the table.

Guilt, and Conscience, chided her every step.

Without warning, the door creaked open with a horrific screech.  Popping her head inside, Selene whispered, “What’s taking so long?”

Selene’s voice seemed to boom in the stillness.  Barely suppressing her scream of fright, Eden glared at Selene and whispered, “Quiet!  Do you want to wake the whole house?  Keep watch outside!”

Q: Thank you so much for this interview, Charles.  We wish you much success!

A: Thank you!  I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed an interview as much as this.  I hope I’ve enticed your readers to delve into my literal world – they can Google Malmaxa, or visit my blog, cgayling.com, for more information.





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