1. Worldshaker is taking the world by storm – published in UK, US, France and now Germany. One of the things that most impressed me by the book was how well it incorporated lots of important themes – like racism, as well as the impact (environmental and social) that a people can have without even thinking. Was it intentional that you included these themes or did they naturally fall out from the story? What attracted you to a steampunk world?
When you say, did the themes naturally fall out from the story – that’s it, exactly. I started with a world with an extreme class/race division that was always liable to produce those themes, but I didn’t think about them. I created the characters for the world and the story for the characters, and it was only when I started writing and unfolding the story that I realized, hey, I’m saying something about society and politics here! The themes that people have found in the book are all there, and yet it still seems strange to me to hear words like racism, exploitation and social categorization applied. The themes developed themselves – I just followed through on how the characters interacted with each other -- never an abstract thought in my head! I’d like to take credit for the characters and story, and give all credit for the themes to the characters and story.
I’ve always been fascinated with fantasy versions of mechanical things. Just today, I received the exterior and cutaway diagrams for the juggernaut that’ll go into the Simon & Schuster edition of WORLDSHAKER, and I couldn’t help thinking – these are like the designs my best mate and I used to invent when we were kids. Whatever books we read – about WW II fighter planes, or world record speedboats, or medieval crossbows, or whatever – we always started making up our own alternatives. (I wish I still had the exercise books containing all those weirdly detailed drawings!)
I was into steampunk-type machinery before I ever thought of it as steampunk. It crept into the Ferren trilogy with the huge black industrial machinery of the Humen Camp and the Humen army. Come to think of it, the SF world of THE DARK EDGE was all old-fashioned metal, wrought iron in feel if not in name; and the Mobilator in THE BLACK CRUSADE was the most fantastical of fantastical engines (driven by the Adversative Particle Drive). I guess I was always heading towards steampunk long before I knew what I was doing.
Even WORLDSHAKER became steampunk almost by accident. I wanted to create my own different version of Mervyn Peake’s gloomy gothic castle, Gormenghast – and the difference was that I put mine of rollers and had it trundling over land and sea. Once the mechanical side had slipped in, of course it became more and more important.. I developed the notion of juggernauts fifteen years ago – but I didn’t connect my scenario to the early steampunk books of the time, most of which I didn’t read till a long while later.
2. You’ve been a full-time writer for over 10 years now, after Pan Macmillan offered you a contract for a book which had to be completed within a year. Do you think you would have ever taken the plunge into full time writing without the push?
YWell, Pan Macmillan gave me a contract for THE DARK EDGE and wanted me to produce a sequel. Without that, I’d never have jumped into full-time writing. The problem was, the sequel had to be completed within a year and I’m a slow writer, so I needed a full year’s leave from my job as a uni lecturer. I had half a year study leave due, and I thought I could get six months leave without pay – but the uni authorities refused to grant it. I didn’t want to give up as a lecturer, because it was a job I really loved, but in the end I had no choice. Now I’m thankful I was forced to take the plunge, (a) because it’s turned out so well for me; (b) because I’d have had to resign sooner or later anyway; and (c) because if they’d given me the leave I’d asked for, I’d have felt obligated to continue at uni for at least a few more years.
3. You’re currently writing ‘Liberator’, the sequel to Worldshaker, now and I understand it will be bigger, better, AND contain the storyline that you were planning for both books 2 and 3! Are you still planning for a trilogy or will you take it one book at a time? Have you got any other projects planned for 2010?
Yes, LIBERATOR really is a biggie! I’m three quarters of the way through, and I’m so totally immersed in it, it’s hard to think about what comes afterwards. As you say, LIBERATOR combines my ideas for the storylines of two books – but they’ve become so much more in combination. In a single volume, the stories bounce off each other and add to each other – they’ve become a whole new super-story! I can’t believe how I ever thought they wanted to be separate stories in separate books.
I think of WORLDSHAKER and LIBERATOR as a duology – but I definitely haven’t finished with the history of this world. Though I don’t have much time to think about it now, the plan is for a second duology continuing on from the first, but shifting the focus from Col and Riff to two other characters who’ve only played a secondary role so far.
I hope to get started on that project before the end of the year, but first I have to finish LIBERATOR, then revise LIBERATOR, fit in two weeks of author tour in America followed by one and a half weeks of tour in the UK. Somewhere, I HAVE to find quiet time for mulling over ideas for the third book in the series. I’ve never been able to hurry that kind of pre-planning – ideas insist on coming when they want to, not when I need them.
4. Which Australian writers or work would you like to see on the Hugo shortlists this year? What have you enjoyed reading?
I’ve been doing a lot of retrospective reading this year, so I haven’t read nearly as much current stuff as usual. The book I’d most like to see on the Hugo shortlists is D.M. Cornish’s LAMPLIGHTER. Anyone who knows me knows how I rave about the first volume in the MONSTER BLOOD TATTOO trilogy – well, I think LAMPLIGHTER delivers on the promise of the first. It’s a bigger, meatier book, and I just love it.
I’ve been catching up on Michael Pryor’s LAWS OF MAGIC series – not one single book, but a great series that deserves recognition. I haven’t read Scott Westerfeld’s LEVIATHAN yet, but I’d be very surprised if it’s anything less than superb.
Hmm – I guess this proves that , having started writing full-on steampunk, I’m now catching up on reading it.
5. Will you be at Aussiecon 4 in September? If so, what are you most looking forward to about it?
I’ll be at Aussiecon 4 with bells on. My first ever convention was the last worldcon in Melbourne, and it was a daunting experience for me as a newbie author. Very exciting but also daunting. I feel much more a part of the scene now!
I think all Australian spec fic authors will be able to stand tall at Aussiecon 4l. We’ve come a long way in a decade. Back then, there were so few Australian spec fic novels and short stories published overseas. Now so many and so successful! Congratulations, guys!
This interview was conducted as part of the 2010 Snapshot of Australian Speculative Fiction. We'll be blogging interviews from Monday 15 February to Sunday 22 February and archiving them at ASif!: Australian SpecFic in Focus. You can read interviews at:
If you're involved in the Scene and have something to plug, then send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and we'll see what we can do!