Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Anatomy of a Novel: The Laws of Magic

Anatomy of a Novel: The Laws of Magic
Guest post by Michael Pryor

1. Covers.
Even if we don’t admit it, we all judge books by their covers. As an author, the whole issue of covers is fraught, nervous making stuff. What’s the book going to look like on the shelf? Once the book is picked up, the writing can do its work, but if the cover is off-putting, have I wasted all my efforts?
Fortunately, Random House have some superbly talented people. When I saw the black and gold first draft of Blaze of Glory, I was excited. The deliberately old-fashioned, distressed look was perfect. The subsequent covers maintained this look and feel and added to the early twentieth century atmosphere of the books. 
Then Zoe Walton, my editor at Random, had the brainwave to repackage the series, giving them new covers. I was torn, as I loved the cool and mysterious black covers, but when the roughs for the high impact, new, colourful covers came my way, I was knocked out.

2. Edwardiana
Because this series is set in a world very much like ours in 1910,  I’ve had to do a great deal of research to get details right. Big details like political movements and international diplomacy became jumping off points for my imagination, as I could tweak and rearrange things to make my plot work. Small details like the way people lived became vital in creating the overall mood of the books. I had to research clothes, food, modes of transport, forms of address, furniture, architecture and more. It became fascinating, and I’ve bookmarked a treasury of websites as well as devoting a special part of my bookshelf. I’ve been helped by the fact that this Edwardian era was a boom time for photography. I don’t lack for photo references, and some of them provide fascinating details of faces, clothes and attitudes.

3. Sherlock Holmes
Preparing for writing Blaze of Glory, I sat down and read the entire corpus of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. I made notes, primarily about turns of speech and small domestic details, but mostly I soaked in the rhythm of the prose, the shape of the sentences. Later, I enjoyed the whole Jeremy Brett depiction of Holmes. Even though I love the classic Basil Rathbone version, and I am enjoying the Robert Downey and Benedict Cumerbatch takes on the great detective, I think Jeremy Brett was the definitive screen Holmes.

4. H.G. Wells
Wells is one of the great influences for anyone writing speculative fiction. Doubly so for me, in that he was living at the time my books are set. His life, too, is fascinating, and an example of what a rich and surprising time it was.

5. C.B. Fry
The Edwardian superman. He played cricket and soccer for England, held a number of world records in athletics, was a first class classical scholar, a fine writer, a dazzling conversationalist and an extraordinary human being. He was so renowned that at one time he was offered the vacant kingship of Albania, which he declined. When I hear people tut-tut at how some characters in some books are too good to be true, I think of C.B Fry.

6. Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Strictly, IKB is a Victorian figure, not an Edwardian one, but in many sense he is the patron of Steampunk. His audacious engineering feats, his outrageous undertakings, exemplify the sense of derring-do, of pushing past horizons, of forthright modernity, that typify Steampunk. And, possibly, he has the coolest name of all time.

7. Airships
If IKB is the most potent human symbol of Steampunk, then the airship is its most powerful visual signifier. Steampunk loves airships and their stately, impossible grandeur. Remarkable, remarkable creations.

1 comment:

  1. I do love the new covers. They're very reach-out-and-grab-me.