Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Automatons and Aerostats - An Interview with David Barnett

Today's guest is David Barnett, author of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.

How long was Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl in your head before you put pen to paper?
Gideon was one of those weird books that kind of burst forth fully formed; well, not really, obviously, but as soon as I started thinking about what I wanted to do I almost immediately had the bones of the story mapped out. It was only when I started putting flesh on the bones that it emerged I was sort of writing about the nature of heroism and heroes.

How did you hook up with Tor?
When I’d finished the first book, or at least the first full draft of it, I sent it to my amazing agent John Jarrold who started to put it out. Claire Eddy at Tor came back very quickly and expressed interest, and we decided to work with them, which was an excellent decision. Claire is an excellent editor and Tor are right behind the Gideon books.  The book will be published simultaneously in the UK by Snowbooks, and Emma Barnes there has done a great job on a completely different cover design.

What are the big inspirations behind Gideon Smith?
Not so much current steampunk fiction but more Victorian adventure literature in general and specifically the pulps and penny dreadful – Boy’s Own adventure stories, the derring-do of square-jawed, flag-waving defenders of the Empire, which I wanted to get under the skin of.

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl isn't your first trip to the rodeo. What made you want to write a steampunk book?
I never sat down and said, “Right, going to do steampunk next”. I wanted to write a full-blooded, head-down, charging at 100mph adventure story, but with modern literary sensibilities. The Victorian era fit the bill nicely as the world was still a new, exciting and in some cases undiscovered place, but society and people are recognizable to us today. The steampunk gloss came from necessity – I wanted to shift characters across the world pretty quickly, and the old steampunk trope of airships came in handy for that. Then I started messing about with alternate history, and Gideon’s world kind of emerged from that.

How many books in the series do you have planned?
Tor have bought three Gideon novels. The second one is Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, out in June 2014, and the third is as yet untitled but out, I think, in February 2015. They’re all standalone novels but they do form part of a longer story arc. I reckon six books in total should tell the first story arc, but whether that happens largely depends, I suppose, on sales of the first three.

Who would you cast in a Gideon Smith movie?
I answered this question recently on a blog post (with pictures!)

What are you reading now? 
Just been re-reading a load of Kerouac novels for a piece I did for the Guardian newspaper; currently reading Charles Stross’s The Bloodline Feud (first two books of his Family Trade series). Think I’ll be looking at Ben Aaronovitch’s Broken Homes next.

What is your favorite book of all time?
God, impossible to say. Changes on a daily basis. I do always have a soft spot for Kerouac’s On The Road, and I re-read Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes every Halloween. I also love RA Lafferty’s Fourth Mansions, which is bonkers.

What writer would you say is your biggest influence?
I don’t think I am inspired by actual books or writing, but very often by writers and what they say, if that makes sense? In other words, I don’t look at other books and think, Hmm, I’d like to write something like that. I recently interviewed Neil Gaiman and found him hugely inspiring – he started off in newspapers and I work as a journalist by day, and pretty much every thing he says about writing and creativity chimes with me.

Is there a particular book that made you want to be a writer?
Probably John Irving’s The World According To Garp. Beautiful, weird and human.

Any non-series books in the works? 
Yeah, I’ve got a few that I wrote pre-Gideon which weren’t published which I still think are great, though they probably need a fresh look at them. I’ve got stacks of ideas and half-started works, but it kind of depends on how Gideon does, whether Tor want any more books out of me, and what they’d like to see. Everything I write has some kind of fantastical elements, but I can’t see at the moment that I’d write non-Gideon steampunk.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?
Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl was the seventh book that I submitted to my agent John Jarrold, and the first one to get a major publishing deal. Some writers are overnight successes and earn six-figure sums based on one chapter of a book. I’m not one of those writers, and probably no-one reading this is either. An obvious piece of advice: If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to write. A perhaps less-obvious piece of advice: If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to keep writing, even when you’ve papered your spare room with rejection slips and it feels like the whole world is telling you it isn't worth the effort.

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