Speculative Fiction Reviews, Interviews, Art and Whatever Else!
I'm giving credit where credits due: fantasy author Gerrard Cowan is not only a heck of a writer, he is also a great guy. Through all the weird in my life during the last few months, that has stalled this interview; he has stuck by it and never made a peep of complaint. He continually put up with me and my hold ups, and I truly appreciate it! You can find his book The Machinery on Amazon, Amazon UK and from HarperCollins. The paperback is out in March 2016 if that's more your style! At any rate, I hope everybody checks out the fantastic work of..
Thanks! Please, everyone, calm down, autographs after the show.
Tell us a bit about yourself! Please include at least one weird fact, so we readers can confirm that authors are in fact human, and not godlike creatures.
I’m from Derry in Ireland, but live in London with my wife and our two kids. I recently became a freelance journalist so am trying to get that going and finishing up The Strategist, the sequel to The Machinery. Weird fact … ummm … I have one short-sighted eye and one long-sighted eye. That’s weird, right?
The Machinery, your debut novel, was selected to be published from the 2012 Harper Voyager digital submissions process - over 5,000 other submissions! Congratulations! What was the process like - not only embarking on writing your first novel, but having it picked up, and traditionally published in a rather untraditional way?
Thanks! It was amazing. The open call was held back in October 2012 and lasted for two weeks. I entered The Machinery, genuinely not expecting it to get picked. My thinking was that it would help me decide if the book was something I should work on a bit more, or if it was time to give up on it, depending on how far it got. Then in February 2014 I got an email saying they wanted to publish the book – I couldn’t believe it!
The publishing process has been wonderful. Two things stand out for me: first is the professional editing, which has really made the book as good as it could be, and second is the cover, which I absolutely love.
Could you tell us about the world you have created in The Machinery, from your point of view?
I wanted it to be kind of surreal. I was always clear that I wasn’t trying to present a warts and all representation of Medieval Europe or some other era: I wanted it to be a kind of crazy world that follows its own rules. So you have masks that let you see into people’s souls, a kind of parallel dimension, and of course a hidden machine that chooses the leaders of the nation.
The Machinery is almost like two different books interwoven into one! It begins as one quite straightforward, and fairly lucid story line.. but then a part of that story line fractures off when Katrina begins her journey to the Underland, and follows a very trippy, down-the-rabbit-hole, dream like path - the part I describe as ‘bat-shit crazy, in a good way!’. Do you need two different mind-sets to write two such completely different structural approaches in one book? Is it hard to swap between the two, or did you write them separately?
Thanks! Hmm, good question. I didn’t write them separately. To be honest, I think the ‘real’ world in the book is a very strange place, too, so I had much the same mind-set for both. The second book ratchets up the bat-shitness even further, I have to say.
There is a great mystery element to The Machinery, not only an actual murder mystery, but there is also a sense of the characters being totally clueless about the world itself; everybody thinks they are on top of it, but then you pull the rug! You leave quite a few things unspoken in the first installment of The Machinery trilogy (which I loved, cause now my brain cogs are in action!!), so are you the kind of writer that wraps everything up in a tight bow by the end of a story (or trilogy in this case), or do you like to leave readers with their own imaginings about some of the elements and stories within the world?
I actually wrote a blog recently on this very subject (http://gerrardcowan.com/2015/10/04/how-much-mystery-should-a-fantasy-novel-have/). I don’t want anyone to feel cheated so I will definitely answer the major questions. However, I like books in which there’s a sense of vast mysteries just beyond our reach, so I wouldn’t want everything to be totally clear. That being said, the book is set in a country that is 10,000 years old, so it would be hard to present all of its history even if I wanted to!
Nearly all of the POV characters in The Machinery go through major changes throughout the novel - some forced, others to forge their own paths. One in particular sets up book number two to be a major scorcher of a story line (I am really looking forward to reading it!) . I was wondering if you know all of these changes, secrets and paths for a character before you set out writing, or do they sometimes surprise you as much as they surprise the reader?
That’s a really good question. Sometimes they surprise me, though the one you’re talking about was always part of the plan. I like to loosely plan everything, but it needs to have enough flexibility to accommodate changes when they present themselves. Sometimes I do find that characters go off in different directions as I write.
Which then leads to the question: are you an Architect, a Gardener, or an Architectural Gardener?
I would say a gardener. I have the basic framework of the garden in mind, but I let the flowers grow as they want. Or something.
I feel like there is a real world parallel in The Machinery, a sort of ‘oh crap, this is what we are creating for our future’ itch! With a worshipped machine given enough sentience to choose our leaders ‘in our best interest’, and the the breaking down of societies that do not fit within its parameters (parameters set by an Overseer!); it feels like an achievable dystopia!. Was that something you had in mind when writing the book, or am I just a crazy Stephen Hawkings AI doomsayer?
Well, there is definitely a political element to it, but I didn’t set out to make any kind of political point. What really interested me was how a different type of political system would work in a fantasy setting: I wanted to look at the actual structure of government, not just the people who occupy the highest rungs on the ladder.
It always intrigues me when an author uses Masks as an integral part of their world and plot line. What is about masks that drew you to use them in The Machinery? Do you love, or fear the idea of masks? (they scare the bejeezus out of me!)
To be honest, I didn’t even realise how many masks I had put into the book until I was a few drafts in, and then I went for it properly and incorporated them as a major element. I like how they are designed to conceal, but at the same time the choice of mask reveals something about the wearer.
Would you want to be one of the Selected on the Plateau? If so, which ‘office’ would you like to hold?
I don’t think I would like to live there. If I had to choose, I think I would go for Strategist. That’s a nice house he or she gets.
If I told you that you had to live within the world of The Machinery for a month, what would you do?
Marvel at your powers, and then start inventing a nearby paradise island where I could retreat.
What are your top 10 obligatory fantasy books/series reads?
Number one is the Gormenghast series: I love the weirdness! Then (in no particular order): Lord of the Rings (obviously), A Song of Ice and Fire (likewise), the Viriconium series, the Narnia books, the Broken Empire series, the Gentleman Bastard sequence, anything by N.K. Jemisin, and anything by Tad Williams. That leaves one more spot. If only I could think of a new fantasy book that readers should immediately turn to …. Hmmmm……
What authors/books/genres are you reading at the moment?
I actually read a lot of non-fiction. In terms of fiction I’ve been spending time catching up with stuff by other writers who came through the same programme as myself. It’s introduced me to genres I normally wouldn’t consider, which has been great.
Are you an e-booker or a dead tree collector, or both? And will The Machinery by released in paperback in the future?
I will normally go for ebook, just so I can start reading RIGHT AWAY, but of course I love good old traditional books, too. Yes, there will be a paperback out in March 2016.
Are you working on anything right now (hopefully the next Machinery novel…)?
Yep, The Strategist is almost ready to be sent to my editor. It should be out in May 2016.
Will we see you out and about at any conventions, bookstores etc. in the future that you would like to mention?
Yes indeed! I will be at FantasyCon in Nottingham in the UK from the 23-25 October. I’m looking forward to it!
Is there anything else you wish to tell the world? About anything at all?
I think we’ve covered everything! Thanks a lot for having me. Oh, one thing – if you read a book, please leave a review. The author will love you for it.
Another author that has survived the Book Frivolity torture experience! All the thanks go to Gerrad Cowan for braving it, and being such a good sport! Remember to go and follow Gerrard's blog at gerrardcowan.com, on the Book'o'Faces at facebook.com/gerrardcowanauthor and @GerrardCowan on Twitts. (and buy his book damnit!)