Joshua Winning takes us into the rules of the world of Sentinel…
Creating magical worlds is one of the great joys of writing. Growing up, I loved escaping into Narnia and the alternate Oxford of His Dark Materials. When I started writing the Sentinel Trilogy, one of the most exciting things was creating my own world and finding ways to make it different to anything else.
Here are some of the hard and fast rules I drew up to define this scary new world…
It’s the real world, but not
Blame Buffy, but I’m in love with the idea that the supernatural is just hiding behind everyday things, patiently waiting, watching… That’s why I chose to set The Sentinel Trilogy in present-day Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds, two places I’ve lived and know inside out. I got sort of a macabre thrill out of finding ways to use real locations in the story, but give them a magical twist – such as the lion statues outside the Fitzwilliam Museum. And at other times, I revelled in going full Michael Bay on the places I grew up. There’s a reason book two’s called Ruins.
Not everybody is magical
This was really important because I hate it when stories start out with seemingly ‘normal’ people but then, by the end, everybody has some sort of superpower. That was a big problem I had with True Blood; I think I stopped watching the show when they introduced a cheetah lady. It’s fun when you have a handful of characters with special abilities, but if EVERYBODY’S special, NOBODY is. So Sentinel has a lot of non-magical characters who keep things grounded – and dangerous.
Monsters show us the dark side of humanity
The scariest monsters are often the ones you can’t quite get your head around. They have an uncanny quality, like the Pale Man in Pan’s Labyrinth. With Sentinel, I looked for ways to create monsters that are halfway between humans and SOMETHING ELSE. So there’s the demon Diltraa, which lives in the body of a little boy, and the Faceless Man, who sounds exactly as his name suggests…
Magic is messy
One of my favourite shows is Charmed, and something that show did really well was portraying the consequences of magic. Use it badly or for the wrong reason and it’ll blow up in your face. That’s very much a factor in Sentinel. Magic has a mind of its own. Oh, you want to bring somebody back from the dead? OK, now they’re stuck in the body of a cat! Ta-dah you’re welcome!
The Sentinels aren’t perfect
This was the really fun part. The big question at the start of the first book is, Who are the Sentinels? Gradually, we come to learn they’re guardians and demon hunters, but they’re also everyday people. They’re your neighbour or your co-worker. They’re hiding in plain sight and they mess up A LOT. It was really fun to figure out how being a demon hunter AND a regular Joe would change a person, how they viewed the world, how they reacted to danger. Flawed heroes are always the most interesting, and I really wanted to achieve that here.
And here are some other things I love that are a big part of the Sentinel Trilogy…
- Hidden rooms
- Old-fashioned tech that does cool stuff
- HAVE I SAID CATS
- Crotchety old people who have a heart of gold
- DOGS (I don’t discriminate)
- Action scenes that feel blockbuster
- CA– oh, you get it