Although his new novel Empress of the Fall takes place in a fantastical fictional world, the different countries David Hair has called home inform his books.

Born in Tauranga, the 52-year-old drew on the myths and legends of New Zealand for the Aotearoa series. Having moved first to India and now Thailand with his wife, who works for the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment at the New Zealand Embassy, Hair has spent a large part of the past decade living abroad. It's an experience he has channelled into both his young adult series The Return of Ravana and more recently The Moontide Quartet.

"It's quite good that I've got a portable career," he says. "The writing took off at the same time as I shifted to India. I'd had my first book, The Bone Tiki, sitting in a drawer for a while, and as I was leaving the country, one of the last things I did was to post it off to a couple of publishers. It was accepted by HarperCollins and everything rolled from there in terms of writing taking over my life."

Admitting he would never have embarked on the novels if he hadn't been lived there and been exposed to the culture, the four books that make up The Return of Ravana are based exclusively in India and feature an entirely Indian cast.


"India especially has had a huge impact on how I think about the world and what I write about," says Hair, who also lived in Britain for a period in the 1980s. "I've always had an interest in going to different parts of the world, and had travelled a wee bit in the past, but mostly in Europe, so getting a look at the East has been highly influential."

The first instalment in The Sunsurge Quartet, Empress of the Fall takes place in the same mythological land as The Moontide Quartet. He wanted to explore "a kind of East-meets-West culture clash in a world that closely resembles ours," so Urte is divided into two distinct continents: the cold and wet Yuros, whose people are pale-skinned, and the mostly arid, equatorial Ahmedhassa, whose inhabitants have darker skin.

"Some people have asked why I didn't make it more distinctly different with different races or species of human beings," says Hair, who crucially chose not to include any elves, dwarfs or similar mythical creatures.

It felt false to do that, he says, because he wanted to write something that said something about our world as well as being an escapist fantasy. It can be read by people who just want to read it purely as a fantasy but it also has some reflections that will hopefully make readers curious about what happened in the Crusades or other events of history.

As he spent 10 years completing a part-time BA in History and Classical Studies while holding down jobs at the Bank of New Zealand and various insurance companies, Hair's academic and professional achievements have also impacted on his novels.

"I was in marketing and had to write a lot of investment commentaries, so I've always tried to see the whole picture of something," he says. "That means not only are you looking at the personalities and personal lives of your characters, you're also looking at the bigger picture in terms of military and the economics of the time and you've also got the philosophies and beliefs of the culture as well."

Given this, Hair was determined to make his invented realm as recognisable as possible.
"It's such a hefty story already that I didn't want to make it another 30 per cent longer by having to describe cultures that people have never experienced.

"I deliberately used real-world terms, like saris and bindis, so that people would read them and know what they meant. I wanted the reading experience to be as instinctive and streamlined as possible. I wanted to provide a context for people to think about, such as where they stand on the clash between East and West."

Comparing her to a character out of a fairytale, Empress of the Fall centres around Lyra Vereinen, who ascends to the throne of Yuros on the death of her uncle, the Emperor Constant.

Hair describes Lyra as having a kind of Sleeping Beauty element because she's been plucked from a dreamlike existence in a convent and suddenly must deal with the real world "in all its glory".

"It's about what happens when somebody, who many would say is unsuited to being placed in a role of leadership, has it thrust upon them by circumstance and then has to cope with the situation and with other people's ambitions."

Although Urte has no direct link to his homeland, Hair believes coming from New Zealand has impacted on his writing.

"It has that Kiwi outlook of what's fair play, getting a balanced approach to a problem and trying to see both sides of an argument. We see ourselves as geopolitically quasi-neutral about a lot of things and that kind of attitude perhaps comes through in the story.

"In Empress of the Fall, I've tried to be even-handed, so there are villains on both sides. I guess it's about the struggle between good and evil, which is spread pretty evenly over the East and the West, rather than condemning one particular side. "That's the Kiwi way."

The Sunsurge Quartet: Empress of the Fall
by David Hair
(Hachette, $30)