Horrorscope is the journal of the AHWA.
1 What was your inspiration for writing Worldshaker?
I know this is going to sound corny, but it started with two dreams. In one, I was in this strangely constructed library of many floors, and I just happened to discover a massive volume that turned out to be the sequel to Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. Not the real Titus Alone, but more of the Gormenghast world as I wanted it to be. When I started reading, the story was wonderful, I had it all in my head—until I woke up. Then the excitement disappeared, and so did my memory of the story. Every last skerrick of it! All I had left was the feeling it had given me, a sense of brooding atmosphere and weird dark characters. I wanted to write that novel! – or at least, a novel to give me the same feeling.
That was when I developed the general idea of juggernauts, but the story only crystallised after another dream. I can’t remember where I was, but I was on hands and knees looking down into a half-metre trench like a slot in the floor. I couldn’t believe what someone must’ve just told me, that there were human beings living down there.
Then suddenly I was falling into the slot, down and down. Shapes of metal, cages and pipes on either side, faintly lit by an unearthly green light. I was falling past floor after floor, wire floors that were only a few handbreadths high. And yes, there were human being crawling around on the floors, dirty wretched creatures in rags.
They turned to look at me and I felt their hatred. They meant to tear me limb from limb, probably devour me too. Hands reached out, grabbing at empty air, and still I fell, down and down. I woke up before I hit bottom.
That dream was fifteen years ago, and it goes straight into Worldshaker, in the chapter where Lumbridge drops Col down the manhole into the terrifying world of Below. That was the seed from which the whole story of the novel grew.
2 Worldshaker represents your first major novel release in the US. How do you think the Americans will take to the novel?
Yes, my kids’ fantasy Walter Wants to be a Werewolf was my first American sale, but this is my first sale with big money attached! The size of the advance gives me confidence: Simon & Schuster wouldn’t be paying me that sort of money unless they felt sure of making it a success.
The X-factor is the steampunk sub-culture, which has really taken a grip in the U.S. Steampunk jewellery, steampunk clothes fashion, steampunk art and steampunk music—it’s a whole way of life, that’s just starting to spread to Australia.
3 Are there any similarities between Worldshaker and your novel The Black Crusade?
I’ve been more aware of the differences, but, yes, taking a step back there are similarities. The Black Crusade is comic-macabre, Worldshaker is dark and gothic with threads of character humour. They’re both 19th century-ish in feel and atmosphere, though Worldshaker is more serious about its feel and atmosphere. I suppose there’s even a steampunk element in The Black Crusade, with Ingel Brankel’s fantastical mechanical contraption, the Mobilator. More way-out than the overall steampunkiness of Worldshaker. You could say that The Black Crusade is a series of wild fancies, whereas Worldshaker is a single total claustrophobic world. There’s also a different degree of involvement with the characters, I think. Worldshaker is more of an emotional ride, while The Black Crusade is more grand guignol—shock-laugh-groan.
4 Is Worldshaker part of a series? If so, what do you have in store for readers with the Worldshaker universe?
I never start out writing series—they just grow on me! I started writing Worldshaker as a stand-alone, but on the way through, I couldn’t help thinking about what might happen after the end of this story. The sequel, Liberator, is already fully planned, and I’ll begin writing it as soon as I get the final OK on revisions for the U.S. edition. (I’d never realised before how different editions can send an ongoing story along slightly different tracks, which then have to be re-united. And that’s with some very small revisions—my American editors haven’t asked for drastic changes at all.)
In Liberator, the revolution that brought the ‘Filthies’ to the top in Worldshaker goes into a new phase—as in the historical French and Russian Revolutions. Internal sabotage and external threats create paranoia, and paranoia allows extreme views to dominate. In this case, the fanatics want to wipe out Col and all other remaining Upper Decks people on Liberator (which is the new name for the juggernaut previously known as Worldshaker). We get to see a coaling-station, and the juggernauts of other powers attack Liberator towards the end of the novel. The world will keep on expanding in volume three.
Meanwhile, I’m also planning another novel in the same world (another possible start of a series?), set back in the time when the great juggernauts were under construction at the end of the Fifty Years war. (That’s an exclusive! I haven’t revealed that anywhere else!)
5 Your novels have ranged from horror to science fiction, young adult, and now steampunk. Is there a genre you prefer to write in (and if so, why)?
I like hopping between genres, but the logic of marketing says you should build a brand, so that readers know what they’ll be getting when they see your name on a book. I guess I’ve come to a stage in my career when I need to do a bit of brand building—which luckily coincides with the fact that, of all fantasy sub-genres, steampunk/Victoriana is my most natural territory, my home ground. I have plenty of steampunk writing in me, and it’ll be a long way down the track (gods willing!) before I get bored with it. I’d love to be the Steampunk King!!!
I’ve written adult, YA and children’s, but it’s never a big issue for me. Although Worldshaker is marketed as YA, it’s really crossover, just as good for adult reading. I wouldn’t have written a single word differently if I’d planned it for an adult readership. It became YA only because of the age of the two main characters—after making that decision, I never gave another thought to YA or adult. Fantasy easily overleaps those categories anyway.
6 You seem to delight in some weird and wonderful character and place names in your fiction. Which is your favourite (and why)?
I love names! I love mulling over them, muttering madly to myself—until I hit on the name that just has to be this character. When I can’t even think of the character without the name, I know I’ve got it right. I keep a whole file of ‘roots’ for possible names—growing-points, sound-combinations that have an interesting feel to them.
7 With your latest story "A Guided Tour in the Kingdom of the Dead" being picked up for the Year's Best Fantasy anthology, your short fiction continues to go from strength to strength. What is your secret to success in the short form?
Thanks! I think the ‘secret to my success’ is simply continuing to put stories out there. I doubt my stories are getting better—it’s just that I don’t write many of them, so it takes time to build up a reputation.
I’ve never thought of myself as more of a novel-writer than a short story-writer. I got my first lucky break with novels, which is why I stuck to that form for a while. Now I enjoy writing a couple of short stories between every novel—I find it helps to get the creative juices flowing again in the aftermath of finishing a big project.
I’m not the expansive sort of writer that needs novels. There’s a whole lot more happening in my novels, but I still like to tell events as economically as possible, like a short story writer. Van Ikin, the Sydney Morning Herald reviewer, just commented in an email about Worldshaker, that ‘I honestly think not one word is wasted, anywhere’. Very gratifying!
8 Which is your favourite published short story (and why)?
No, I’m lost for an answer, I can’t answer. It’s like novels—my favourite is always my latest. In the case of short stories, that means “Ceasing To Be Visible” (SF), “The Pesky Dead” (fantasy) and “The Fear” (horror). The first two have been accepted for publication in the U.S., the third in Australia, but none has actually appeared in print yet.
9 What motivated you to write 145 pages of writing tips? Has there been any feedback on the tips?
The feedback has been great, I really feel that I’m helping people. I’ve been telling myself for so long that I was crazy to take 4 months off my own writing to produce www.writingtips.com.au, but now, with the feedback, it’s all starting to seem worthwhile.
I can give a number of reasons why I did it, none of them very rational. One is that I had 25 years of writer’s block, and I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through that, if I can help it. Another is that it’s a kind of cosmic thank you for the fact that I can finish novels now—and get them published too.
The third reason is that I did it because I could. I’m an odd sort of writer—or at least, the writer part of me is like other writers (I hope!), but there’s another part that sits outside and sees what the writing part does. It’s like a schizophrenia: the creative side of my head is very visual (everyone always comments on how film-like my novels are), whereas the other side is very analytical. In the twenty-five years when I couldn’t finish a single novel, the analytical side came to the fore—I was an academic and had three books published on very theoretical subjects.
Now, at last, the creative side has come to the fore—but the analytical side still watches and takes notes. I never think about the principles of crafting a story in advance, but I do think about them afterwards. Of all the writers in the world—some mega-successful, with far greater sales than me—I could just be the one best equipped to produce a guide on writing! Well, anyway, I felt I had something to offer, and the feedback so far is telling me I didn’t waste my time.
10 If you could boil your advice down to three tips for aspiring writers, what would they be?
(i) Never give up.
(ii) Never give up.
(iii) NEVER GIVE UP!
11 You have influenced aspiring writers, but who have you been your mentors - the authors you learned from and who continue to inspire your work?
Many, many writers. With Worldshaker so much on my mind right now, I think first of my dark Victoriana favourites. Edgar Allan Poe was a huge influence on me from about 12 to 15. All my stories had sable drapes and guttering candles! Poe led me to the Russian novelist, Dostoevsky—I loved his characters, his madmen, saints and murderers, so extreme and yet so deeply, psychologically true. Much later, Mervyn Peake came along and blew my mind with his amazing gothic imagination.
Oddly, Charles Dickens was never much of an inspiration, even though the obvious adjective for Worldshaker is ‘Dickensian’. I was pushed into reading Dickens at school, too early, and developed an aversion I’ve never totally left behind. I love the idea of Dickens—Dickens as channeled through Mervyn Peake, for example—but I still can’t lose myself in the novels of Dickens himself.
12 Aside from any Worldshaker related novels, What can we next expect from Richard Harland?
I guess I answered that before—more Worldshaker-related novels is what you can expect! Apart from that, short stories of many different kinds, no particular direction—except that I now find my best ideas for short stories need more words to develop, moving towards novella-length.