A positive buzz appears to surround newcomer Adrian Tchaikovsky's fantasy debut, Empire in Black and Gold, and the novel is being talked about on a number of forums of late. When Robert gave the book two thumbs up, I knew I needed to learn a bit more about the author.
So here's a Q&A meant to give Tchaikovsky the opportunity to introduce himself and his work. For more info about Empire in Black and Gold: Canada, USA, Europe.
- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD?
Empire is about progress. The world of the insect kinden was once dominated by superstition, slavery and magician-lords, but a revolution of the mechanically-inclined ended that and ushered in a new age of supposed enlightenment and science. Now the fruits of that age are ripe: the Wasp Empire, with its legions of airborne warriors supported by automotives, flying machines and advanced weaponry, is rolling across the world. The cities of the Lowlands are either occupied with their own struggles or too blinkered to see the danger, and so Stenwold Maker, a Beetle-kinden statesman and spymaster, takes it on himself to open their eyes.
- Tell us a little more about yourself. What's the 411 on Adrian Tchaikovsky?
You learn something new every day. I had to look '411' up. Well, I've gone from Lincolnshire to Reading to Leeds, studied Psychology and now practice law, so something of a chequered career. I'm also a sometime (bad) actor, keen Larper and occasional cartoonist.
- Can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?
The key was getting an agent. I'm something of an old hand at the book submission game, but had never had much luck approaching publishers before. It's a very hit and miss business. I'd been flogging the manuscript for Empire about all the usual channels (just like several manuscripts before), but this time I struck lucky, and a chap called Simon Kavanagh got hold of it and decided he liked it. He then proceeded to tear strips off it until he was happy to tout it to publishers. There followed a lot of him working hard and me fretting and bothering him at every opportunity, and at last came the news that Macmillan had made an offer.
- What can readers expect from the upcoming sequels?
Escalation! Well, anyone who's read the first book should get the sense that the world is much bigger than the slice of it you see within Empire. As the Wasps march across the map, the scope of the books will broaden, and readers will get to see more of places, concepts and kinden that have only been mentioned in passing before. There's always something new.
- What's the progress report on the next volume? Any tentative release date yet?
Actually it was a major selling point for my agent to bring to the table that I had books 1-3 already complete (or at least draft-complete). That means that we can have a fairly snappy release schedule - book 2 is Dragonfly Falling which should hit the shelves February 2009, with book 3 six months after that.
- Will you be touring to promote the book this summer? If so, are there any specific dates that have been confirmed as of yet?
Been and gone, unfortunately. For a new writer, I think publishers are a bit leery of putting them out for signings too much, because it looks very sad if they're sat there with nobody turning up. The worst I heard was one new writer who went to a convention to sign, and got the table next to Terry Pratchett: a queue of people long enough to go to the moon and back, and not one of them sparing the poor bloke a glance. Still, I did a signing at Waterstones in Reading, and had a very respectable turnout - the store sold almost every copy they got in, which has to be good. There was a reading/signing in Garforth too, near Leeds, in support of the local independent bookshop.
- What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD and the rest of the series in the first place?
The world of the insect kinden has been around in my imagination a long time, being slowly added to and modified. I started working on it before coming to University, and it's been simmering away for years while I wrote other stuff. Insects, basically: I've always had a thing for insects, but they get a very bad press, and so I thought I should do something about it. On the other hand I didn't want to do some kind of Watership Down for earwigs, and so what evolved was the world of the kinden: races of human beings that each cleave to an insect totem, and draw their character and their powers from that insect. Once you have that, and you see just how many Wasp-kinden you've just called into existence, the rest of the plot tends to drive itself.
- What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Originality of ideas is very important to me, although you can be as original as you like and still fall flat if you've not got good characters, so maybe I should say that. Or good plotting. Being the UK's premier insect-based genre writer?
- Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD and its sequels?
No Elves. No Dragons. All right, some wizards, but not a beard or pointy hat amongst them. No princes disguised as stableboys slaying evil overlords according to their immaculate destinies. Also, more enormous insects than is traditional. Seriously, though, what I was most concerned to avoid was the standard fantasy world, both the Prince Valiant-Merrie England-MGM sort of knights and twee little kingdoms that seems to be all the flesh left on the bones of both Tolkien and Mallory, and also the circular history concept, whereby absolutely everything in the world's past is relevant to the current plot, and at the end of it everything's resolved and everything goes back to the way it was, save for the stableboy who may or may not now be the prince. I'm keen for the world to live, to be bigger than any and all of the books, and for the events that shape that world to leave it different, changed. Otherwise, what's the point?
- In light of the current market, are you tempted to write one of those enormous fantasy epics which continue to be the most successful series at the moment?
Well, following on from the above, the world will go on, whether I write about it or not. I'd quite like to continue to chronicle it for as long as possible. Whilst there are three books currently in the offing, the possibility of (x) more volumes in the saga can't be ruled out.
- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?
We're back to progress. You can't ignore the net community especially if you're writing fantasy, where your readership is on average extremely technically Apt. The chance to actually get direct feedback from the people who are actually buying and reading the book is both exciting and intimidating.
- Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award/Hugo Award? Why, exactly?
Interesting question. I'd guess the award would be a lasting feather in your cap, whereas the bestseller list would mean that more people were actually reading. Ask me again should either of them actually be on the horizon.
- What authors make you shake your head in admiration? Many fantasy authors don't read much inside the genre. Is it the case with you?
I can't put this strongly enough: I read fantasy. If you go on my site, I write about fantasy. I credit the authors deserve the credit. Mervyn Peake, for example. Mary Gentle. China Mieville. Gaiman, Erikson and M. John Harrison. Also some American authors like Peter S. Beagle and Gene Wolfe. Especially Gene Wolfe. Writers who have done something different with the genre.
- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces EMPIRE IN BLACK AND GOLD?
Covers are important. People judge books by them, after all. A lot of fantasy books go out with "man on horse in front of castle" covers. For Empire it was very important to everyone that there be a human figure there, because we wanted no confusion about how human the insect-kinden actually were, and the image we ended up with is a good rendition of one of the Wasp light airborne, perhaps even the villain/anti-hero, Thalric.
- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?
It would be wonderfully rugged of me to say that, heedless of blame or praise, I cling to the inviolable purity of my calling and manfully ignore everything that people are saying about me (or aren't saying about me, which Mr Wilde reckoned was worse). It would also be untrue. Let's face it - an author new to the shelves thinks of very little other than "are people reading my book?", and I'm lucky/unlucky enough to live in a time when a search engine will keep me as informed as I could wish about the subject any time I want.
- Honestly, do you believe that the speculative fiction genre will ever come to be recognized as veritable literature? Truth be told, in my opinion there has never been this many good books/series as we have right now, and yet there is still very little respect (not to say none) associated with the genre.
People are very snobby about genres - even some fantasy authors, as you've noted - and this is while a novel like, let's say, The Time Traveller's Wife can be mainstream and win prizes as a mainstream literary venture, despite the fact that, let's face it, it's an entertaining piece of speculative science-fiction. On this basis there's more than simple content building a wall between mainstream and genre fiction, and unfortunately, fight the good fight as all of us may, I suspect that division is going to be insurmountable. Which is a shame, because the division is artificial. All fiction is speculative, because those people aren't real, those acts were not enacted. Fiction set in the "real world" is still reinventing that world.
- Anything you wish to add?
Just to say, for people who have enjoyed the book, there will be short stories and art added to the http://shadowsoftheapt.com/ website, to tide readers over between Empire and Dragonfly.