Read part one here.
Airship Ambassador: What are some of the interesting and important details within the world of Equus?
Kate Story: I tried hard to keep the reality of the diversity of the place and time alive in the story. We have Fleming, a Scottish immigrant who really believes in this project of Canada and the British Empire; three Newfoundland boys; a Mi’kmaq guide; a Scottish cook; and an Englishman. I also tried to imbue the landscape with a sense of the vanished Beothuk people of Newfoundland; the last of the Beothuk died a few years before Fleming first came to Canada. I also tried to describe that landscape the way I experienced it growing up – as vast, and sort of alive in its own right. And beautiful – I love the wilderness of the island. Against all that is the technology, the steampunk and the actual technologies of the time.
AA: Without giving spoilers, what interesting things will readers find along the way?
KS: I wove some folklore into the steampunk! But I can’t say more lest…
AA: Right, right. How did elements of your own life play into Equus?
KS: My father worked as a surveyor in Newfoundland as a teenager, and I stole some of his stories about his experiences, especially having such a long stride. He was tall, and so was Fleming, and surveyors used to count their strides. My father always came up with a lower count than anyone else, and I imagine that’d be true of Fleming too.
The Beothuk element is something that has always been inside me too. I grew up near what was very probably the final resting place of Shawnawdithit, the last of the Beothuk people (her body. Shamefully, although typical of the time, they sent her skull to England, where it disappeared during the Blitz).
So as a misfit kid I always wondered if the spirits of that people lived still in the wild places of Newfoundland. A sort of longing, I think, for the extinction of that people to prove to be untrue. And then the folklore element (ABOUT WHICH I WILL SAY NOTHING MORE LEST I UNLEASH SPOILERS) is something that haunts me.
AA: Oooohhh, almost had a spoiler hint! What kind of back story is there for Equus which didn’t make it into the final book?
KS: Oh, Lord, so much. I wanted to go on about Fleming’s invention of standard time, his passage across sea (he kept a terrific journal), more about the Pork and Beans War, but you know, you have to pick your battles. I also did a tremendous amount of research about surveying, of which 0.23456% made it into the story. I am still anxiously awaiting the letter from a surveyor telling me I am full of crap… nothing so far.
AA: Can readers looks forward to any more stories with Fleming, or the railroad expansion?
KS: I wouldn’t have said so when I started the project, but now I am in love with Fleming and with that period in Newfoundland history. And steampunk is a terrific enabler. The devices don’t have to actually work – there’s often a strong element of fantasy in steampunk. That encourages me, not being an engineer myself.
AA: Very glad to hear all of that. When people read Equus, what would you like for them to take away from the story and the characters that they could apply to their own lives?
KS: Something goes in, something comes out. There is a flow to the universe which the Empire-based cultures have lost touch with, in many ways, and there’s a price to pay for that.
AA: How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Equus? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?
KS: It’s hard to remember now. I read a great deal about Fleming, and surveying, read a sampling of steampunk (to larn my ignorant arse about the genre), read about the history of Canada and the US in that period, read about the expansion of the Canadian railroad. Thought I knew what my story was going to be about. Threw out what I’d thought. Started again. Wrote a draft. Wrote another draft. Got feedback from my excellent writing group. Rewrote again, and again.
Dominik was very good at staying in touch with writers and his editorial suggestions were careful, considered, and clear. And kind! We had plenty of time to implement his suggestions and edits. It was a very pleasant experience. If I’d written about a topic I’d have any clue about beforehand, it would have taken a lot less time. But I’m glad I took this on.
AA: What kind of research and balance went into creating the Equus world?
KS: There was a lot of research, and at a certain point you start hearing the voice of your story. I was nervous about using a real person like Fleming who has left behind so much source material. But then I got the story – this untold part of his life where I speculate he had some kind of breakdown. I am very much in debt to a book by Clark Blaise “Time Lord: The Remarkable Canadian Who Missed his Train, and Changed the World.” Read this book if you are interested in Fleming or this period in history at all! You’ll see where I got some of my ideas and themes for my story in that book for sure.
AA: What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Equus history?
KS: The US/Canadian border. I thought that would be a shoo-in, but have been discouraged by many Ontario and Western readers being completely ignorant of that big old bulge… I guess if you haven’t had to drive around it, it’s dead to you. The idea of the railroad – I think all Canadians and Americans have some kind of imaginary identification with it as a tool of Empire and modernity. The relationship between the Indigenous peoples and the settlers. The boreal forest. And I tried to get as specific as I could about the Theodolite without boring the tits off everyone.
Let’s pause in our chat with Kate, Join us next time when she talks about the publishing process.
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