Creating An Assassin

12th February 2018
5 min read
16th September 2020

Girton Club-Foot, the apprentice assassin who narrates both Age of Assassins and Blood of Assassins (and the final book, King of Assassins which will be out later in the year) always felt like he leapt straight into my mind fully formed. I heard his voice. So when it comes to an article about creating him it presents me with a few difficulties. You'll hear a lot of authors saying one of the questions they fear most is, 'Where do you get your ideas from?'  Some will say it is a bad question, I'm not of that opinion. In fact, I think it's a BRILLIANT question. 

RJ Barker book titles

But it is a very hard one.

A character, is in many ways a reflection of the writer, where they are in life, what is happening, what they are reading and consuming in the media, it's a hugely complex process. So if this article seems to ramble a bit that's because A) Its my nature to ramble and B) I'm deconstructing[1] my own process to some degree. Or spoiling the magic, as it's also called.

Age of Assassins came about after a phone call with an editor about a different book which didn't sell[2] in the end but we talked for a long time about Agatha Christie and a lot of the 'golden age' crime writers. I love crime fiction, and I love a mystery and the idea of doing that within a fantasy world was hugely tempting for me and to do that I needed a detective. But I also wanted to set it in a world roughly analogues to post-romano-Britain-to-the-10th century. Of course, there was a real lack of trenchcoat wearing detectives in that time, I mean, they had trenches, but technology had not yet married it with the idea of a coat and a trilby. So I needed someone who could move about and be a bit mysterious, sneaky, and think in more labyrinthine ways. Y'know, like an assassin. 

I also wanted to make use of the sort of Holmes and Watson relationship where the narrator is essentially a sidekick there to show us how the real detective is thinking. So an apprentice made a lot of sense, they are, by their nature, there to learn what's going on and how things work. But I also wanted him to be a 'good' character. I knew the world around him would be quite downbeat and I am, essentially, a positive and hopeful person; so I wanted that in Girton. And because I wanted there to be an action element Girton had to be capable, so I made him quite far on in his assassin training because the book was never intended to be about him becoming an assassin. Which leads me on to the next bit...

Lastly, and something that had a profound effect on the books, was being a parent. The central relationship is between Girton and his master and it is less master and apprentice than it is mother and child and that is a constantly evolving relationship. In Age of Assassins Girton is, emotionally, a child, very much an innocent and seeing the world for the first time in a lot of ways. He relies on his master. 

In Blood of Assassins that relationship has moved on. Girton still wants a friend and still wants to find a place to fit in but he also thinks he wants to have more freedom, to strike out on his own. He's reached a point where he thinks he knows what he's doing and he's chomping at the bit to do his own thing. But of course, what we think we want and what we actually need are often two different things and that is what powers the plot of the second book. I could tell you more about how the relationship evolves in Blood of Assassins but that would spoil the plot and then, like an assassin, I would have to kill you.   

[1] Because this is a serious piece I knew I had to use the word “deconstructing” at some point. It is an obligation.

[2] An SF book called “A Darkness Against the Stars,” one day it shall be read as I LOVE IT.

RJ Barker lives in Leeds with his wife, son and a collection of questionable taxidermy, odd art, scary music and more books than they have room for. He grew up reading whatever he could get his hands on, and has always been 'that one with the book in his pocket.' Having played in a rock band before deciding he was a rubbish musician RJ returned to his first love, fiction, to find he is rather better at that. As well as his debut epic fantasy novel, Age of Assassins, RJ has written short stories and historical scripts which have been performed across the country. He has the sort of flowing locks any cavalier would be proud of.

Writing stage