Read Part One here.
Read Part Two here.
Airship Ambassador: What was one memorable story while writing this story?
Peter Bunzl: It’s somewhat astonishing as an author when a character appears as you write them. It’s almost as if they’re alive already and they jump off the page. Of course, that rarely happens, but it did in the case of Malkin. One of the first sequences I wrote was an early scene, where he’s running through the woods, trying to escape a gang of men. When I put down the opening lines of that scene, I didn’t know who the character was, where he was going, or why he was being chased.
After I’d written a page I stopped and wondered what kind of animal might find himself in that situation. Immediately, I knew he was a fox: a scruffy opinionated fellow, with his own thoughts and ideas about everything, and that fed into his voice. As he complained about the indignity of being chased through the woods like a common scavenger it was like he’d popped out of a thicket of words and onto the page.
AA: That’s a pretty fun origin story! Are there any plans for more adventures?
PB: I am working on a sequel to Cogheart at the moment. It features all the same characters, plus some new ones. There’s an escaped convict and a woman from the past, who are both searching for a missing locket that holds a secret. It’s called Moonlocket and is due out next year.
AA: What kind of research went into creating the Cogheart world?
PB: I researched quite a lot into airships and automata, but I’m not particularly technically minded, that sort of detail washes over me. Steampunk doesn’t have to be authentically accurate anyway, so I felt free to make up bits and pieces around the basics of airships and inventions.
One thing did stick out in my research: I found the most intriguing audio interview with an English woman who’d flown on the Graf Zeppelin when she was a girl. She described the view from the lounge windows – people waving as they flew over the coast of Spain – and how she was shown the interior of the balloon and even the flight deck, it sounded magical. I hope one day they bring back airship flights and we can all experience that again!
AA: That is a captivating experience to hear in that kind of interview, and then to imagine what that would be like. There are pictures and news reels, but that’s a whole added dimension to hear someone’s story firsthand. What elements did you specifically include so readers could feel the Cogheart history?
PB: The best way to discover detail in a story is through the characters and what they see, hear and experience as they go on their adventure. This is how I try to give information out about the Cogheart world. Through their conversations I think you discover a lot about the history of mechanicals and the technology of Cogheart, but there are still mysteries and hopefully that leaves space to develop further stories.
AA: Which gets us back to hearing someone’s personal story, firsthand. How long did it take to write, and rewrite, Cogheart? What were the deadlines and publishing schedule like for you?
PB: It took three years, altogether. In the beginning I would show sections to the different writers groups I was in. One day when I’d finished the second or third draft, a few of them said to me: ‘just send it’. I did and it got some rejections, so I worked on the story some more for six months and I sent it out again. On that second round of submissions I got a couple of full requests and nice personal replies, and that helped me hold my nerve through some rejections and near-misses until I found an agent who loved my story and saw potential in it.
After I’d written another draft with my agent, she sent it out to publishers. A month later, we had five offers, which was a dream scenario! I had to make a choice and I chose Usborne because I loved their take on the story and their visual pitch for the book.
For most of 2015, I was working on the story with my editors at Usborne. They were pretty nice about deadlines, for them the important thing is getting the book right. I try to hit my deadlines anyway – near as I can – it’s good form after all!
AA: Ack, deadlines. A necessary evil, though, otherwise most of us probably wouldn’t get things finished. Your experience with Usborne is encouraging to know that quality came first. There still needs to be a product, but a good product, and that’s a win for everyone. Every author I’ve talked with has a different journey to seeing their works in print. What was your publishing experience like?
PB: There have been so many magnificent moments… seeing the gorgeous cover art by Kath Millichope and Becca Stadtlander for the first time, stands out as one of them. It truly captures the adventure and excitement of the story. Getting proofs and reading your words in a proper book is amazing too, second only to seeing the final book. We were doing a promotional event that day and Becky, one of my editors, pulled a finished copy from her bag and handed it to me! Glimpsing it in shops and reading the stellar reviews coming in from other authors and bloggers. But the biggest highlight of all is when you meet a kid who’s read the book and loved it, and tells you so.
AA: What a rewarding feeling and sense of accomplishment – seeing something which started off so abstract to become something you could actually hold in your hands. If someone likes “X”, then they’ll like Cogheart. What is “X”?
PB: His Dark Materials.
We’ll break here in chatting with Peter. Join us next time when he talks about writing and feedback.
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