Airship Ambassador: Hi David, thanks for joining us for this interview.
AUTHOR: Hello! I’m extremely happy to be here. Love what you’ve done with the place… all that brass! And so well-polished!
AA: Thanks! I try to keep the Embassy up to snuff in a warm and welcoming environment. This is the second book in a series. What is this one about?
DB: Well, it’s a direct continuation from the first book, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. In that, a young fisherman from the wilds of the Yorkshire coast found himself in the middle of great shenanigans in an alternate, steampunky version of 1890. He ended up becoming the official Hero of the Empire, and this chapter sees him off to America to recover the stolen brass dragon, Apep, an ancient weapon of mass destruction, and the only person who can control it – Maria, the Mechanical Girl of the first book.
AA: What was the motivation for creating Brass Dragon, as well as the whole Gideon Smith series?
DB: I suppose the prime motivation was to write something that was fun, exciting and relevant. I wanted to tap into the pulp-ish literature and movies of yore, but try to give it a sheen of contemporary sensibilities.
AA: That definitely sounds appealing as a format and structure. Authors often talk about how elements of their own lives, the reality and the dreams, make their way into their stories. How did this play into Brass Dragon?
DB: I suppose I drew upon my own love of fantastical literature, and pulps, and comic books, and tried to bring that into the “real” world of Gideon… what if such heroes were real? Would they necessarily be as they’re portrayed in the fictions? And if not, can an ordinary person really become a hero?
AA: Why choose a steampunk world setting for this set of stories?
DB: I wanted to set it in the late Victorian period because it’s just out of living memory, so familiar to us as recent history, but it was still a world of undiscovered territory and great scientific achievement. It was a world on the cusp of the future, really… as I suppose we are today.
AA: What kind of back story is there for Brass Dragon which didn’t make it into this book? Might it come out in the next book?
DB: The Gideon series has an over-arching plot thread which was begun in the first book and is basically the mystery of Maria, who she is and how she came to be. Each book is a standalone adventure that can be enjoyed in its own right, but it’s also a piece of the greater puzzle. So there are hints in both books of things that might not come into play until much later in the series. As for back-story, I did (at my wonderful editor Claire Eddy’s request) draw up a “secret history of the world” which filled in a lot of the historical context, and how things are different in Gideon’s world to ours.
AA: I think it’s always good to have a guide like that, not only for the author to keep track of details, but also if it was released to readers at some point, to fill in those information gaps and trivia which can help make the story world so much richer. What are the plans for the next book? How many books do you have in mind which readers can look forward to?
DB: Well, book three is already written. It’s called Gideon Smith and the Mask of the Ripper and brings Gideon and Co back to London where they get involved in some very dark deeds. As ever, though it’s a standalone novel, it does add some more detail to the big picture. I’m contracted by Tor for three books initially, all of which have been delivered. I think the main story could be told in a six-volume series… but whether that happens depends on the reception to the first three!
AA: When people read Brass Dragon, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
DB: I hope they’ll have fun, but I also hope it’ll make them think a bit. The first book was sort of a meditation on heroism and what makes a hero; Brass Dragon is kind of about freedom, and how we’re all shackled to something, whether we know it or not. Book three explores identity, and whether what we do is more important than what we think we are.
AA: What kind of research, and then balance, went into creating the world of Gideon Smith?
DB: Quite a lot of research, especially into American history. Which I then threw out of the window. But carefully! Gideon’s America is a lot different to what we know – the American Revolution never happened, so Britain still controls the East coast. There’s a new Japanese community based in San Francisco (renamed Nyu Edo), a breakaway faction from the old country established in 1868. And Mexico is known as New Spain, as the Spanish never left. So I had to know what I was riding roughshod over before I did so.
AA: What elements did you include so readers could feel the Brass Dragon history?
DB: There are various points of view, Gideon’s which introduces us to the British-controlled areas and the territories in and around Texas, controlled by feudal warlords, then there’s that of a young Spanish girl and also a family from the Japanese territory, so it hopefully slots together quite nicely.
AA: What are some memorable fan reactions to Brass Dragon which you’ve heard about?
DB: It’s early days yet as the book is only just out, but there have been a couple of great reviews, from Publishers Weekly and others. I was blessed with some fantastic notices for the first book, so here’s hoping…
AA: What kind of attention has Brass Dragon, and the first book, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, generated?
DB: Oh, you know, I can’t walk down the street without being mobbed by gangs of screaming steampunks waving their books to be signed. Note: this is a joke. Seriously, it has got me some gigs at literary festivals and events, and I was given a very warm welcome at the Haworth Steampunk Festival in West Yorkshire last November, which I hope to visit again this year.
AA: Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
DB: A long time in coming! I think Gideon Smith was the seventh novel I submitted to my agent John Jarrold, and the first to get a proper deal. It’s a case of writing the right book at the right time. I wrote the right books at the wrong time previously, or possibly the wrong books at the right time. Gideon Smith seemed to be the right book at the right time. You have to persevere, though. If I’d given up after rejections on the first couple, I’d never have written Gideon Smith.
AA: For the aspiring writer, what lessons did you learn about having an agent and editor, their feedback, and your writing?
DB: Editors and agents are utterly essential for my money. John Jarrold, my agent, is my first reader and tells me what works, what doesn’t, and then does all the hard work in getting it under editors’ noses. Claire Eddy, my agent at Tor, is an absolute gem. Her feedback, suggestions and support make the books so much better and my job so much more pleasurable. Every writer should have a John and a Claire!
AA: If you weren’t author, what else would you be doing now?
DB: I think I’d like to be an archaeologist, the Indiana Jones variety.
We’ll pause here in our chat with David. Join us for part 2 where he talks about writing, location and other interests.