Little Ideas

John Scalzi’s wonderful science fiction blog, Whatever, has a section called Big Idea, where authors discuss the idea that sparked their novels.  I submitted an essay for Big Idea but John said that since Shadowmagic  is published in the UK that his American readers would find it too difficult to buy it (even though it’s sold through Oh well, Whatever’s loss is Gratuitous Socks’ gain.

Here is my essay   Little Ideas.

Paperback cover 3

Little Ideas

There was no Big Idea for Shadowmagic, just a lot of little ones that added up.

I have always loved first person narratives about a serious situation where the main character keeps his/her sense of humour: Corwin in Nine Princes in Amber, Jim diGriz in the Stainless Steel Rat and (even though, John, I read your book after I wrote Shadowmagic) John Perry in Old Man’s War.  For my first Little Idea, I wanted to create a character like that.

My second Little Idea was to try and create a book that would be as captivating for my 12 year old son as Roger Zelazny’s Amber series was for me at that age.  While writing Shadowmagic I spent half my time trying not to just transcribe Nine Princes in Amber – hopefully I succeeded.  What I did take away was a first person character that was transported into a fantastic situation where he didn’t have a clue as to what was going on.   The reader learns at the same time as the character.

Little Idea three, came from a video game I used to play on the Atari ST – Dudgeon Master.  DN had an interactive map that only revealed new areas of the dudgeon after you found them.   The idea of a land that appeared fully formed only after the rightful king found it was a big part of the first plotting of Shadowmagic.  As the book became fully formed, that idea almost disappeared.  But if I can give a reader just a tiny experience of the feeling I had, in the wee hours of the morning, as I screamed at the sight of a giant dungeon rat appearing on my monitor – I’ve done my job.

Four, Macbeth.  Don’t worry folks, there are no thys and forsooths in Shadowmagic but the idea of a character that allows a soothsayer’s prophesy to shape their life -only to find that the prophesy was completely different to what was expected – has always intrigued me.

Five, and this is a biggie, was a play I saw, years ago, in a little theatre in Cork, Ireland.  It was called Women in Arms and I don’t even know who wrote it.  It was a play about a group of people who told stories from Irish mythology to keep their spirits up.  From that I learned of the ancient Irish texts like: The Tain and the Ulster Cycle.  Stories, that I think, put the Arthurian stuff to shame.  Through my love of Irish mythology I found the myth from the O’Neil clan about how the Red Hand of Ulster came to be on the flag of Northern Ireland.  Telling it would be a spoiler but trust me – it’s a good one.

Six, I wanted Conor, my main character, to realise that his father was much more than he thought.  I’m a dad- cut me a break.

Lastly, I wanted it to have humour.  I make my living as a stand-up comedian and humour is literally my life.  I’m a firm believer that there is no situation so dire or so tragic that still doesn’t allow or need a good joke.  It gets me in trouble at funerals sometimes but I still hold firm to that philosophy.

I wrote Shadowmagic just to see if I could.  I didn’t even expect it to be published but the response I have received from it has been amazing.  It’s given me faith in my writing and (if I may be overly dramatic) it has changed my life.  I won’t make that claim for you readers but I’m sure you will like it.

John Lenahan


Product Description from

A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different. Conor thought he was an average teenager. OK, so his father only had one hand, spoke to him in ancient languages and was a bit on the eccentric side but, other than that, life was fairly normal. Until, that is, two Celtic warriors on horseback and wearing full armour appear at his front door and try to kill him. After that, things get pretty weird. Shadowmagic is a fantasy adventure for young adults (although grown ups will like it too). Written by one of the most popular magicians in the country it brings a fresh approach to the genre and will have a broad appeal beyond the fantasy sections.

About the Author
John Lenahan is a popular TV magician who became the first person in 85 years to be expelled from the Magic Circle. He has had a prime time BBC1 TV show called ‘Secrets Of Magic’ and also a BBC2 series ‘Stuff The White Rabbit’. He was the voice of the toaster in ‘Red Dwarf’ and has made guest appearances on numerous variety shows. He has toured with Jack Dee, Lenny Henry and Victoria Wood. Shadowmagic was an award-winning podcast novel prior to being signed to Harper Collins

Have a look at Shadowmagic’s  reviews on

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4 Responses to “Little Ideas”

  1. Arnel Says:

    I’ll check amazon for Shadowmagic now. Thanks 🙂

  2. Andy Taylor Says:

    In case you’re interested, John, Dungeon Master is now available for free as a program called “Return to Chaos”. It’s a lovingly rewritten version of the original game plus the sequels. Available here:

    Annoyingly it’s Windows only, but I’ve just found a Mac version for me to play.

  3. johnlenahan Says:

    Cool andy

  4. Craig Says:

    John I liked the article very much. For those of us who have heard and have read Shadowmagic I can not see the boundries of sales to be a drawback. It’s availble online and read by you. I had no hesitation on ordering the limited version when it came out. Still won’t let the kids touch it. I guess they don’t understand that in relvealing this work to the world audience that it would be little time before it was a world wide novel. Great story and stil waiting on #2.

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