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Why I partnered with the band Twelve Foot Ninja to write a couple of epic grim-dark fantasy novels

Updated: Oct 9

NOTE: The copy below is adapted from Nicholas Snelling's author afterword in The Wyvern and the Wolf.


The story of how this unwieldy tome (or, should I say, tomes) ever came about in the first place is something of an epic in itself, but here’s my crack at an abridged version in order to set the record straight once and for all…


Way back in 2014, I received a phone call out of the blue from a mad scientist / maestro / polymath who goes by the handle of Stevic Mackay. He and I had mutual friends gained from my own misspent youth (and, let’s face it, an ill-advised proportion of my professional adulthood) gigging around Melbourne. Stevic’s former band, Flow, and my old band, SEVEN, even played a show together once at The Evelyn Hotel in Fitzroy sometime in the mid-naughties.


In the years since, I had worked as an editor in the publishing world before making an ungainly side-step into the advertising industry. Somewhere along the way, as an erstwhile music journo, I had covered Stevic’s new fusion-metal band, Twelve Foot Ninja. I was a fan of the band’s two EPs and first album, Silent Machine. And perhaps Stevic was also a fan of some of the complimentary reviews I had penned for them, who knows? I’m really not sure what in the world possessed him to approach me, though I’m certain he’s had cause to regret it several times since. Whatever the reason might have been, he had an intriguing proposition for me.

Stevic explained that as part of the promotion of the aforementioned record he had released an accompanying comic book. The comic was an illustrator’s interpretation of a much larger story that Stevic and his girlfriend Fiona Permezel (later to become his wife) had initially developed together. Their work included an unpublished novella and a considerable portfolio of artwork.

Set in a fantastical world full of feudal Japanese tropes, Stevic and Fi's concept featured, funnily enough, a giant shinobi warrior – yes, the band’s namesake. I was surprised to learn that Stevic had dreamed up the character of this eponymous oversized ninja several years before he ever formed the band. But as hare-brained as it all might have sounded, Stevic was deadly serious. He had a vision. In fact, he aimed to pitch the concept to some Hollywood animation studios and, long story short, he asked if I would be interested in wordsmithing his story treatment?

To be 100% clear, though, to this day I have never read that initial novella or comic. Which is why the storyline in The Wyvern and the Wolf is not only very different to Stevic's story, but has been written (and ideated) entirely by me as the book's author.


Nonetheless, what Stevic did impart back then what the basic gist of what he always wanted the story to be about. That included briefing me on the seven characters he had developed. They were the story’s primary protagonist, Kiyoshi; his adoptive brother, Noboru; Noboru’s ruthless father, Masaru; the Goddess Lumei; the Emperor Uur, Grencho (aka ‘the Beast’); and one more character who has yet to appear in the books, Attroa.


Without giving away any spoilers, Stevic and Fi’s original concept was in many ways your classic ‘Hero’s Journey’. A precocious young hero suffers an unspeakable tragedy and is thrust into an unfamiliar environment, whereupon he is taken under the wing of a mentor, makes both new enemies and new allies, and then comes into possession of a power that he wields to fight evil, while eventually coming to terms with his initial wound.


In that sense, it arguably ticked every box in what some say constitutes the “perfect story”. That’s what attracted me to it, that’s what I saw shining underneath everything in the material presented to me, and that’s why I ultimately agreed to write it. Even so, at that very early stage, I still changed and added to many aspects of the story in the new treatment I wrote of the story quite a lot. Other parts, I kept more or less intact.

Regardless, Stevic liked what I wrote, at which point we partnered up and he asked me to expand my treatment to an episodic breakdown for an animated TV series. He then went and pitched that story to some studios while his band were touring the US.


In the end, he got some bites, but the folks he spoke to really wanted to see a ‘proof of concept’ first. Namely, a graphic novel version. So, he came back to me again and asked if I would like to write that.


I did, yes. Except that by then, things had changed. Namely, my ideas for the story had metastasised into something, well… bigger and very different. Not only did I now wish to turn the proposed graphic novel into a proper novel (which eventually evolved into a series of novels), but I had detoured considerably from the original concept. Instead, I had gone off and written what I refer to rather fondly as ‘a prequel to a back story to an origin’s tale’ – and importantly, one that was set in a considerably darker and more expansive universe, with a whole new series of events and a broadened cast of villains and heroes.


What had started off as purely a creative challenge for me had instead become an obsession for building an entirely new and vast world. I had plunged head-first down a diprotodon-sized hole of my own digging. And to complicate matters (almost terminally so), I had not written the titular 'big ninja' to appear in my first few books at all.


That all said, as varying as some of Stevic and my ideas were, and despite the wild, grim tangent I had embarked upon, our combined belief in what this could one day become was always aligned. And I hope it still is.

Even so, as anyone who has ever written a book will tell you, it takes a long time to do it well. So I was pedantic. I was picky. I took my time and sometimes, well, life got in the way. What all that meant was instead of the novel coming out in time for Twelve Foot Ninja’s second album, Outlier, the project was postponed. And shelved. And held back. And delayed. And postponed again. Over a seven-year stretch, much blood was spilled and many darlings killed (and not just on the page, either). Until now…


Though it must have been an incredibly frustrating wait for all concerned, the end result is that here I am, at long last, with The Wyvern and the Wolf to release in conjunction with Twelve Foot Ninja’s third album, Vengeance. Assuming the novel is well-received by the band’s die-hard fans, fantasy buffs and book lovers alike, there’s a lot more of the story waiting in the wings.


Suffice to say, all our fingers and toes are collectively crossed that you—the reader and the fan—dig this epic tale. I sure as hell hope it was worth me haemorrhaging all over my keyboard for the last seven years.


Trust me when I say there’s a veritable shit-tonne more to come… provided that you want it.


N.








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