Tate, Hope, The Unliked, and Cicatrix City

So, while I’m buried deep in a new book (and still partially facially paralyzed). I thought I’d revisit the last books. I don’t know if I had a lot of time for reflection while writing them. So here are some notes and thoughts on bits of the Night Bound Land and Death Works books. If they’re a bit mixed up, I’m sorry. I’ll be splitting them up and putting them on their respective book pages some time down the track.

The City of Tate.

Tate was always a city that loomed. In my mind, and hopefully on the page.

I kind of imagined it as that first real classic cinematic fantasy city The Emerald City* in The Wizard of OZ, but a darker version of it.

Tate was less a part of the landscape than something forced on it, visually, politically, environmentally. In the time of the Night Bound Land the city not only loomed it fumed with a dark and terrible energy and heat. – despite its frozen walls and roads.

I originally described it as a looking like a wedding cake. But then I picked up Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines. And there was his description of his city looking like a great big old wedding cake. So scratch that. (But it still does, dammit.).

Tate is ultimately a city at war with its landscape. A war that it cannot hope to win.

People often draw similarities between this and William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land and the Last Redoubt. I was aware of the book, I even have a copy somewhere, but I haven’t read it -well, I tried, but let’s say that I didn’t get very far. That said, the sense of creeping horror, of a force monstrous, relentless, and slowly winning is very much part of the SF DNA.

I got to destroy a lot of cities in the Night Bound Land, but Tate’s destruction was the most fun. Tate was the Metropolis most prepared, and the most set up for failure. It set the tone of the books.

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Tate – she looms and fumes.

I also have the beginnings of a novella set in Tate from a Sweepers perspective. I’ll get to it soon, I promise.

*Metropolis is there, too. But Metropolis is far more like Mirrlees-on-Weep. It’s also part of the SF DNA.

Hope

All of my books are hopeful. I’m really not that much of a pessimist. I don’t see any of these books as being absent of hope. But I do like to undercut humour with tragedy and vice versa. The one thing I hope I never do is write books that are pompous. My books are about frailty.

 

Characters being not particularly likeable.

 

I like to write about people that I don’t necessarily like. Steven, for example, contains a lot of the elements of my personality that I dislike. He starts off as a somewhat selfish slacker who thinks he’s funnier, brighter, more rebellious and a better worker than he actually is. He is terribly flawed, and as the books progress he shifts from folly to understanding his flaws, to actually doing something about them – even if those actions are directed through the prism of his flawed characteristics. He’s not exactly a hero, or an anti-hero (he’s never quite cool enough for that, there’s too much of the klutz in him) just a flawed individual who steps up and tries to do their best.

Hell, we’re all fragile and prickly. We’re all a bit broken, a bit annoying, a bit foolish. It’s those elements that make characters fun to write about – and read.

You could say the same about David, I guess. All David wants is peace and quiet. And he never really gets it. David, Margaret, Medicine Paul, Mayor Stade, Mother Graine and Kara Jade, all of them live in a world toppling into destruction. They’re doing the best they can in the face of impulses of despair, hedonism and doubt. The world of Shale itself is somewhat punch drunk. I wanted the first book to shudder, to feel almost uncertain of its own narrative, the second book was about action in the face on uncertainty. Of course, Roil being one of my first books I don’t quite think I managed to pull it off, but then again, I wouldn’t change it. You’re meant to feel as if the world is shaky that it’s crumbling, and that your guides aren’t quite what they should be. I kept snipping back the beginning of the book (and the backstory) because one, I wanted to start in the action of the story, and two I wanted it to feel as if there was a chasm of knowledge behind the reader. The histories in each chapter opening were deliberately contradictory. They were supposed to obfuscate as much as illuminate.

This by the way is no defence of the books, just an observation of my intent (which is constantly mutable during the writing of a book). The reader’s just as entitled to the throw the book against the wall and yell – that totally sucks shit. Are there things I would change about the books? Yeah, but not much.

Shale is as real to me as the Brisbane in the Death Works books. These characters still stomp around in my brain. I really do adore them.

 

 

Cicatrix City

This is the ultimate urban space of the Pomp. The blood of a Pomp will send a Stirrer back to their city in the Underworld. It’s the lock on the door that a dead body presents to the undead. Cicatrix City is the lines on the palm of a Pomp, the scars that produce a map of their pomping career.  Scars are a mark of the living, of a life lived. Look  at your own flesh and you and you will see this. Every scar is a story.

Look at a Pomp’s hand and you will see this.

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You won’t see that on Google Maps.

So, my Urban Fantasy, is contained in a hand which has seen the sketch marks of a Pomp’s blade.

I’m working my way through other elements of the books, so there’ll be plenty more of these over the next few weeks – with added lame drawings.

And, yes, there are plans for new stories in both of these worlds.

*

Finally you can buy my books from Avid Reader here

Amazon here (while you’re at it, why not write a review. Night’s Engines could do with a few – hey that rhymes)

and Angry Robot for DRM free versions of the Night Bound Land here

Two Weeks In

Two weeks of Bell’s Palsy has been a curious thing. I can almost forget I have it until I need to speak, or eat, or drink – there’s been a few spills. Fortunately writing is a relatively solitary activity, so I’ve not had to push it too hard other than at Avid, and people can still understand what I’m saying (except, when I try and say Bell’s Palsy, hah!).

As far as medical conditions go it has been very mild. Other than not being able to close my eye (but drops and gel seem to be keeping discomfort and dryness at bay). Though that said, I’d still rather not have it.

On the writing front, the new book is coming along rather nicely. This draft looks like it should be finished in the next month, which pleases me greatly. I’m very happy with this, and the next book I’m working on*, and writing, consistently writing always makes me a happier person – even if what I’m writing is dark or even depressing.

I don’t think there is a better way to play for me. And I’m lucky that I’ve had it almost all my life as comfort, challenge, and therapy.

Have decided to revisit the Death Works and Night Bound Land books here, too. Partly because I think there’s still plenty of stories left in those worlds (seriously, one way or another there’s another six books worth of Death Works and the NBL has some stories fore and aft of the novels that I’d really like to play with) and partly to build a little scaffolding around them. And hey, I reckon they’re actually good little books. So if there’s anything you’d like me to expand upon let me know. I’ll work it out as we go along.

Finally, here’s a little sketch of our house guest of the last month – and who has just headed home.

 

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*yeah, I’m always looking ahead.

Launched

 

Had a ball at my book party yesterday, launched the book, made a Trent lookalike read (thanks Jess) and talked Spec Fic and books with some wonderful people. Thanks to everyone that could make it on a school night – and the first night of Dark Knight Rises, no less – and thanks for all the well wishes. Sweater vests, beards, and hats were in abundance, and someone had even made a Pieo/Okkervil River t-shirt.

It was great to see Rowena (who was there at the start) and Kylie Chan who launched Roil so wonderfully.

Book launches are at once incredibly stressful, and lovely, but this one was the most relaxed I’ve had (maybe I’m getting better at them, or drinking more). Thanks to Krissy Kneen for MCing, and bringing order to the whole affair. Krissy is an amazing person, I’ve written of my admiration for her writing and her energy before, but I want to say that I am so proud to have her not just as a colleague but a dear friend.

And to work in such a special place as Avid is an utter privilege. Indie bookstores are the backbone of literature in this country, vibrant, fun, and inclusive. I’m so proud to be a part of that. Fiona Stager and those that work around her in the shop and the cafe have made something amazing.

So a good night was had by all – I hope – and that Aortic Red was surprisingly drinkable thanks to Alex Adsett and Paul Landymore for sharing it with me, two of the best friends a fellow could have.

Finally, thanks to Diana without whom none of this could happen. I love her far beyond my meagre talent with words.

Far too many Trents in the house.

 

 

A Little Bit on Names

The Nightbound Land is full of family.  Margaret is my wife’s middle name, the Roslyn Dawn is named after my mother. Reading these books you’re reading a history, my history, and the books are filled with people I care about. Do the people reflect those they’re named after? No.  Are all the names those of close family and friends? Certainly not.

Mr Tope is named after the Verger in Dicken’s the Mystery of Edwin Drood, Cadell is named after Francis Cadell the explorer. The Twelve Metropolises are named after the original founders of Shale – some of them happen to be writers I admire, Carver and *Mirrlees in particular.

The Nightbound Land is one of the most personal things I have ever written, even if it is set on a distant world, in the distant future. Not even fantasy writers can escape themselves in their prose.

 

*that’s Hope Mirrlees author of the wonderful novel Lud-in-the-Mist.

 

Location

I am writing this in the State Library in Brisbane, looking out at the river, which is appropriate enough as it’s where I wrote some of my favourite scenes in the Nightbound Land Duology. I sat in the Red Box and wrote about Vergers and Old Men and the Mothers of the Sky. I built a world up and I tore it down. I write in most places, generally the noiser the better, though I can’t write when the television is playing, that’s dialogue and someone else’s story, and bits of my novels come back to me when I walk across the cultural centre to the State Library, or around Toowong, or the Wintergarden Foodcourt, not because scenes are set there (though sometimes they were) but because for an hour or two I sat down and wrote myself into a story there.

First draft scenes are like first kisses, they mark a place, they become part of the landscape, the history and the map of me. And, I think, that’s why I like to get out and write in different places.

Of course, most of my writing is still done at home – nothing beats the routine of a writing time and place, of bringing your coffee to your desk, and then forgetting about it as the words seduce you, only realizing that time has passed because your coffee is cold, the words have piled up – a little or a lot – and your back is sore.

But there’s a luxury – and it is a luxury, it’s not cheap for me to get into the city – to finding the story in another place, sitting in another chair, as this city filled with people, and tides and motions that sometimes I notice, and sometimes I don’t, moves wonderfully around me, and my words and my stories are the tiniest fraction of the tiniest fraction of the thoughts and dreams of my city.

The cities in the Nightbound Land are all variants of Brisbane. Brisbane made up or dulled down, or taken back to the time when those few stone buildings remaining were not few at all. The Metropolises of Shale are colonial cities like Brisbane, like all cities, I guess.

I write what I know, and what I imagine, and Brisbane is unashamedly the city at the heart of that, even when the story is set on another world in a distant future where everything is going to hell. My wife Diana (Margaret is her middle name, but we’ll discuss names tomorrow) says she can’t walk down Edward St, in the city centre, without thinking of Mirrlees – neither can I. Which leads me back to writing in different locations, and the way the writing, the place, and, yes, the story overlap. It’s a curious sensation, and one of the best side effects of this writing fiction, world building(magpieing) thing that I do.

A teensy bit of Brisbane from the State Library
Oh, and I am finishing this at home, which is appropriate, because it’s where I finished the book, it’s where most of the writing happens, and there’s a mist floating outside that looks kind of Roil-like.

Hmm, I think I’ll take a walk into it and see.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Night’s Engines – It took a While to get Here

It’s a week until Night’s Engines’ launch, in fact, this time next week I expect to be ruddy cheeked and jolly. But this book was something that for a long time I never expected to see the light of day.

The Nightbound Land was a long time coming. All of my stuff is, though some stories takes longer than others, and this story took an awful long time.

When I initially conceived of the Nightbound Land it was called the Festival of Float, and was more of a children’s story – though a really, really dark children’s story.

The initial structure was pretty much as this page suggests below (it’s in a notebook dated 2002). Cadell wasn’t Cadell, but a man called Bartlett Bleaktongue, and he was more of a wizardly sort, and the story started off mentioning toasted cheese sandwiches, and leading into a sort of caper with young David, it was all rather Dickensian light, and there was a talking cat named Jim. Oh, and David worked in a bookstore that he should have inherited but had, somehow, lost. (Hmm, a cat-owning boy who works in a bookstore…). You can see that the structure for Roil is still there, that in its essentials it’s still the same story, but really, it was also very different.

If I had to point at an influence it would have been the book Harm’s Way by Colin Greenland, some of the more whimsical James Blaylock fantasies. But then I wrote the next chapter, Margaret’s chapter, with its Roil drowned city, its great cannons and wire ways, and for the next seven years (while I worked on this and lots of short stories) the book fought between David and Margaret, and Margaret won. Just like the Roil, the darkness swept through everything (or you could say I’m just a gloomy bugger at heart). Though it was always there. Before the caper story, before Margaret and David.

And here’s an early sketch of the boys of Roil – I’ll let you guess who they are. None of them are really like this in the book for one, they’re all rather a bit pale – though that was something that changed, too. I’d like to think that the writing improved as well.

It was also unashamedly Steampunk – the airships (but no aerokin, they came later) and trains and all those steampunkish appurtenances were there – though oddly enough about a year before all this I’d been considering writing a much more traditional epic fantasy along these lines. I’m glad I didn’t, I like the steam and the grit in this story.

 

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A Little Resurfacing

Just coming up for air – between writing, working at Avid, and family visits. I’ve a month or two of crazy busyness ahead, a book to finish, and two books coming out (in case you hadn’t heard).

Still, when a book nears release, you get all sorts of exciting things in the post. Writing isn’t something I dream about, it’s something that I do, and it’s hard work (and fun, really, really fun). But it’s moments like this that you really do dream about, and (five books in) it’s still just as exciting.

This arrived in the post on Friday, and I’d have posted about it before – but, like I said, I was a bit busy.

I’ve been writing for around thirty years, and it’s taken me until I was in my late thirties to experience this, (and I never know which one might be my last) so when I get a chance to hold my book for the first time (even if it’s a proof, the last step before the final book) it’s a real thrill – and a real privilege, a lot of people have worked hard to get the book to this stage, and that’s a lot of faith in a story and a place I made up, in the wonky weird way that I make all things up (including blog posts). Which is why, in this really discursive way (and hey it’s Sunday, and my brain’s a bit mushy) I wanted to post that picture, because it’s a milestone worth celebrating.

The publishing industry (the whole story telling industry) is in a state of flux at the moment, it’s scary (and exciting times). But as a writer who grew up reading SF paperbacks, holding one that you wrote is still one of the most exciting experiences you can have. It certainly makes you feel that you are a small part of a world that you adore. Orbit and Angry Robot have given me that delight, and I can’t tell you how lucky I feel.