David Barnett burst upon the fantasy scene with Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. Publishers Weekly declaring, “Fans of pulp adventure and steampunk settings will enjoy this strong series.” And with this third book, he has continue the pulse-pounding excitement and swashbuckling adventure in fine fashion.
Hi, Mr. Barnett, thanks for taking the time to stop by. Let’s get right to the questions.
Who is your favorite speculative fiction author– besides yourself, of course? 🙂
I wouldn’t even be in my top ten favourite authors! You want me to choose just one? That’s an impossible task! It kind of depends on what mood I’m in. Neil Gaiman, for sure, because he can pretty much turn his hand to anything, and he infuses his speculative stuff with so much humanity. Nick Harkaway, for kind of the same-but-different reasons – he’s so original and imaginative. I love Sarah Pinborough’s stuff as well – she’s another massively prolific and diverse author. As is Lauren Beukes. And Sarah Lotz. You’d better stop me now…
The best book you have ever read is ______? Why did you love it?
Oh, come on! My favourite book of all time?! Seriously?! Well, probably On the Road by Jack Kerouac, actually. But in more spec fic terms… I’ll stick my neck out and say Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury. Why? It’s a classic. It’s overflowing with ideas and suspense and wonder and, most importantly, humanity.
A favorite fantasy author of mine was quoted as saying people write about what they think is cool? Is that true with Gideon Smith for you?
I think if you don’t believe in the inherent coolness of what you’re writing, it’s not going to come across as written from the heart. It’s got to be cool to you, if no-one else, so that you’re engaged and inspired and firing on all cylinders. With a bit of luck, other people are going to find what you write cool as well. That’s why the Gideon Smith books are a potpourri of ideas and concepts and characters… I’m a firm believer in throwing everything including the kitchen sink at a novel. You don’t want to short-change the reader!
How long was the idea for this series percolating in your mind before you actually put it down onto paper?
The central idea came to me pretty quickly and from then on it grew like The Blob in the Steve McQueen film, rolling over all kinds of ideas and concepts and sucking them in and expanding beyond all sanity. I like to have one plot strand and then see what tributaries come off it during the writing.
Is it fair to categorize Gideon Smith as steampunk?
How long have you got? This is a hobby horse of mine. I have no problem with “steampunk” but I don’t think it’s a useful descriptor of books such as the Gideon Smith series any more, even though the very term was coined to describe a literary sub-genre. I think steampunk is now more of a lifestyle aesthetic, one that celebrates the splendidness of a Victorian era that never was. I think my books are a little darker and explore social issues a bit more, so I’d probably just call them “Victorian fantasy”. Or maybe just “books”.
Conventions: love them or leave them?
I do like conventions. I like the sense of being with “your people”, I like the discussions, the debates, the panels. Mostly I like seeing people in the bar, though.
While Gideon is obviously the star of the show, Aloysius Bent has turned into something of a Yoda-type character and a fan favorite. Did you envision this role for him?
Ha ha, he’d hate that, if he even knew who Yoda was. Bent started off as a bit of comedy relief, and to everyone’s surprise – mine especially – he developed and grew over the series. I love him to bits, despite his foul language, his lack of personal hygiene and his dubious ideas. He’s a pretty good moral touchstone for the series, especially when it comes to bringing authority to account.
I’ve read you did an extensive back story for Gideon’s world; any plans to release that at some point for alternate history lovers?
I did – my editor at Tor, Claire Eddy, kept asking so many questions about fairly random and casual references I kept throwing in to the first book that I drew up a sort of “secret history” of Gideon’s world. It’s a bit of a mess, though – a file full of notes and timelines, scraps of paper, Post-It notes. Might be interesting to kick it into shape and put out there.
The cover art for the books have been amazing. How much (if any) input do you get into those type of creative decisions, i.e. covers, layout, et cetera?
I totally let them get on with it. Nekro is the Spanish artist who does the Tor covers and he’s amazing. I’m constantly awed by what he turns out. And the British editions are a more decorative affair, designed lovingly by Snowbooks’ boss Emma Barnes, and I love them to bits as well for different reasons.
Future plans for the series?
Ideally I’d like to write another three Gideon books to finish off the story arc. That rather depends on sales though… so you all know what to do!
Favorite steampunk or Victorian fantasy book/series?
I do like Mark Hodder’s Burton and Swinburne series, and George Mann’s Newbury and Hobbes. But rolling it back to the early days of contemporary steampunk… KW Jeter’s Morlock Night, James P Blaylock’s Homonculus, anything by Tim Powers… these should be on any discerning steampunk reader’s shelf. Not forgetting The Difference Engine by Bruce Sterling and William Gibson, of course… but you’ve already got several copies of that, right?
Have you felt any pressure to be more active on social media to promote your book? And if so, how do you feel about adding that to your other tasks as an author?
I like social media, especially Twitter, because essentially I’m lazy and can’t be bothered to do full-length blog posts. I do struggle with trying not to over-promote though – social media is best if it’s interactive rather than an endless and boring series of plugs.
Best advice you received which has helped you during the tough times of trying to get published?
I think that would be from my agent John Jarrold, and it can be boiled down to: “You ain’t gonna get published unless you write something publishable.” Which isn’t hugely helpful (those are my words, not his directly) but then again, nobody said getting published was easy. No-one has a right to be published, and I really don’t like people who have a sense of entitlement about their work. It’s a business, at the end of the day, and you’re only going to get published if people think they can sell enough of your book to make it worthwhile.
How do you define success as a writer? Sales? Adoration? Creative satisfaction?
All of those would be nice, but you know what the best thing is ever? Getting an email or tweet from someone who says something like “I picked up your book and didn’t think it was going to be my thing but I stayed up all night reading it”. Money can’t buy the satisfaction you get from that sort of thing.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring authors – besides writing as much as possible?
Yes. READ as much as possible. And read outside the genre in which you’re writing. Learn how stories are put together by reading them. Read crime, and romance, and classics, and literary novels and thrillers. Then bring something new to the table using what you’ve learned.
About the Author:
DAVID BARNETT is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired. He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!