diumenge, 3 de maig del 2015

Adrian Tchaikovsky: “Science fiction and fantasy are colonizing the mainstream”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.                                                      Photo: Anna Guxens.

Adrian Tchaikovsky thinks he was very lucky when a publishing house became interested in his 10-volume fantasy saga Shadows of the Apt. “They weren’t looking for someone with just one book, and I had four written in the series, so because they knew they could release them as quickly as they wanted to, that was what got me in the print”, confesses the author.
Having studied zoology and psychology and being a lawyer, besides a writer, Tchaikovsky seems to be very far from the Tolkien’s canon. In fact, his novels are much darker than Tolkien’s, and even break the boundaries of the genre, since they have a strong fantasy core at the beginning, that slowly turns into science fiction by the end. What’s more, Shadows of the Apt’s backbone are the insects, a very fresh idea within the fantasy literature that first came into his mind during his school years. “My teachers were very despaired and they told me all this insect nonsense would never get me anywhere, and it has!”
Adria’s News interviews this writer who changed his name from Czajkowski to Tchaikovsky in order to let people remember it easily and discover what are his future plans now that he has published the last volume of the saga.

Last year I interviewed your fellow writer Joe Abercrombie and it was very fun because before the interview I tweeted I was about to meet him and you replied me and said: “Be careful with this guy. He bites!” so I wanted to know if you bite too!
[Laugh]. Oh, no. I’m lovely. I’m very peaceable.

I am very curious about your pen name. Why did you change it to Tchaikovsky?
Well, Tchaikovsky with the Polish spelling [Czajkowski] is just really difficult for people in England. The spelling of it confuses them, and if you are a writer, you need people to be able know what your name sounds like from saying it, so the Russian spelling, which is what I’ve got, because of the composer people is used to it, so it’s a simpler name. I kind of always knew I was never going to be published using the real spelling of my name.

May I assume, then, that you like Russian music from the Romanticism period?
Well, yes, a bit, but still I kind of feel I’m leaning too much on someone else’s popularity! [Laugh].

Pen name “I always knew I was never going to be published using the real spelling of my name”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.                                                     Photo: Anna Guxens.

I read that in Poland you published under your Polish name, first, although in the end they didn’t allow it anymore, so I bet you were a bit upset…
Well, upset is a bit strong. I think my Polish publishers were very keen to make sure people would knew that I was the English Adrian Tchaikovsky and to do that you need to keep the same spelling. It’s understandable, but it’s a little bit of a shame.

You spent 15 years trying to get published before you finally reached this goal. Which was your secret for not giving it up?
Well, for 15 years I was convinced that there was a secret with capital ‘S’. You get to think of all sorts of weird things. You get to think if there is a particular way I should be pitching that I am not doing, or if there are forms I am not putting in the manuscript and would allow me doing secret connections within the industry… At the end of the day just comes down to keep trying, and trying, and trying. When I look back at some of the first stuff I was trying to get published, is not actually very good. I’m learning all the time, and each one is hopefully better than the last one. It sort of comes down to just plugging a way, and it comes down to look. I got an agent, because he liked the manuscript, and I got the publisher because of that time they weren’t looking for someone with just one book; I had four written in the series, and because they knew they could release them as quickly as they wanted to, that was what got me in the print. So I had a lot of luck in getting published because of this combination of cards I had in my hand.

There were four books at the beginning, which where auto conclusive, right?
Yes, the first four of the ten make a story on their own. You can read those and get a perfectly satisfied conclusion to them.

Tradition “There is still a Tolkien interpretation of a lot of these things that people keep going back to”

Adrian Tchaikovsky. Photo: Anna Guxens.

How was, then, enlarging them into ten?
There are always loose ends, unless you are basically destroying the world, which sometimes you do, but there are enough loose ends. The next three books –five, six and seven– are the fall out from the first series. The main characters are dealing with what they lost and with the changes that they’ve gone through. And then, eight, nine, ten are, essentially, the war coming back. The bad guys recover from the defeat and they’ve advanced their technology and you get the final confrontation in books nine and ten.

We were saying it was hard for you to start publishing books, but then, between 2008 and 2013 you released a lot of them!
Well, if you think I must have been writing for about 2005, it makes it sound a little bit less precautious, but yes, I seem to write fairly fast, though there are several writers that certainly write much faster than me, like Adam Roberts, who writes incredibly fast, I don’t know how they do it. But with me, I plan out a lot in advance, which that means when I am writing that goes faster and I tend to be constantly working on my head what is happening next in the books, so as soon as I sit down it’s ready to get flight. And that’s how to write good stuff quickly.

Ten books is quite a big number, so I wanted to know, since you have just mentioned you are fond of carefully planning, if you knew at the beginning there would be ten books?
It was gonna be nine or ten. The first four were originally gonna be three, and then they kind of stretched out a bit and we had to split them up. But it was always gonna be that kind of number. At the time, when I was writing we had the Steven Erikson series and George R.R. Martin’s one, both of them very huge, so it looked like at the time ten books was not that unusual. What happened is that it’s been a bit of a spike and people are now writing again three books, four books… And the problem is it’s been a privilege to have ten books in which to tell a long complex story with a lot of characters and subplots. The difficult thing as a writer is once you are in there you are kind of locked in, and it has been very difficult not to have something new out. But I can’t say: “Hey, read my new book! It’s book seven in the series!” because there’s no way to understand what’s going on. So I’m currently working on a new series. I think it’s gonna have four or maybe five books. Ten is a big investment.

Origins “If I was writing the first book again I would probably introduce the fantasy thing more gently than I did”

Adrià Guxens (interviewer) and Adrian Tchaikovsky.    Photo: Anna Guxens.

Because of this, are you going to come back to the same world once you finish the series?
Oh, yes! Absolutely! There’s so much in the world I haven’t really been able to talk about. There is some stuff I haven’t been able to put in the books despite wanting to get it out there, whether it is in children stories or in a new series of novels.

In your books, characters have insect features. Where you the kind of kid who had fun playing with worms and spiders?
When I was at school, from the earliest time, everything we did, I would get insects in there. We would be doing History of Victorian England and I would have little ants and spiders on the margins of the book. My teachers despaired of me because they couldn’t get me focus on what I was supposed to learn. They told me all this insect nonsense would never get me anywhere, and it has! [Laugh].

You have studied zoology and psychology, but you are a lawyer and a writer, so how can all these things get combined?
I’m a writer first and foremost. If you gonna have a job to make in to me, the lawyer is a good one because it has a lot of variety and is more interesting than other jobs. My problem with zoology at the end of the day was the practical aspect of it, since I wasn’t very good at dissections because I am very clumsy, frankly! I didn’t have the requisite coordination to do that work. And with psychology I got very disillusioned words. A lot of psychologists, once you look under the hood, kind of come across of a bit of slight of hands. You do things with statistics to make things look like “this is this and that is that”. Once I came out from my degree I got very disillusioned because you go in hoping you would find out how the human mind works, and you don’t, because we don’t know how the human mind works! [Laugh].

Speed “I tend to be constantly working on my head what is happening next and that’s how to write good stuff quickly”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.               Photo: Anna Guxens.

I think you are not very keen on dragons, elves and dwarfs…
I like seeing elves, dwarfs, dragons or any of the fantasy archetypes used intelligently and used originally. I mentioned on the talk yesterday Naomi Novik, who does fantastic dragon stuff that is completely new and different, and I’m very happy to read that. But the problem is there is still a Tolkien interpretation of a lot of these things that people keep going back to. It’s been done very well, there’s nothing virtuous in going back and doing those things again. I like role-playing games and I like computer games, but if you look at the dwarfs in Warhammer games or in The World of Warcraft games, for example, they are Tolkien dwarfs! They got the same traits over and over again. You can still have fun with them, but I like to break new ground, I like to create new worlds, and that’s why I created the insect characters. In the new series that I’m working on I have a society in which everyone is a shape-shifter. So the way I work is I start with the new aspects of the world, like the magic… Essentially, one turns to write first the plot, in my case it would be “everyone is a shape-shifter”, but what relation do they have with the natural world? With politics, with economy? We need that because that kind of thing creates the plot. That’s another reason my books suddenly come very quickly, since they flow very naturally because the logic of the world is over.

It’s interesting how your books begin as a fantasy series and end up turning into a science fiction saga. Was that on purpose or you found it while writing them?
I think it followed just naturally from the logic, because I got technology going on. I got a war, and during the war technology of both sides advances as they develop inventions and counter inventions. In the third book you have the first kind of air battle, with flying machines, and the technology is not like ours at all, it is kind of clockwork, steam and that sort of thing, but you can get a lot of echoes of real world history in them, but with different solutions to the same problem, because they have different tools at their disposal. Once you start that, if you are going to follow this through, then you are gonna get this sort of more science fiction advance of technology. You are gonna get a world that is going to change completely during the series because of all these inventions.

Length “Ten books is a big investment”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.                                                       Photo: Anna Guxens.

Yesterday you also were talking about the circular inherent trend in fantasy books.
Yes. Fantasy stories tend to use a very circular narrative where everything is lovely and then the Dark Lord turns back and everything is terrible and then the Dark Lord is defeated and everything goes back. A few characters have died, a few characters may have to go to the west, or whatever, but everything is really back as it should be. It is a very conservative narrative. It is a very medieval narrative; there is the idea that there is a proper way of things. In the world of the insects this is not true because all these inventions are not going to go away, and you know that the world as we leave in the book ten, politically has completely changed, socially has changed and everyone’s horizons has been broaden. It’s an odd result of travelling and having a world war, because it’s gonna change people, and certainly at the beginning of the book the people from my main city, are quite insular and they think they are the center of the world, so they expect people to come to them. They think they don’t need to worry about what is other people doing out there, because if it is important someone will come and tell them, and obviously war makes people become refugees and makes them fight between them. That’s how the world works. I think there’s a very comforting narrative in fantasy where you can go back to the Golden Age, which doesn’t appeal to me, really.

In your books you have a technological and weapon race, and we find that in our world too, between the USA, China, Russia… Are you worried about this?
[Thinks for a while] It’s a very difficult question. Obviously, I was born during the Cold War and just about when I was going to university was when the Berlin Wall came down and the nuclear threat took a step back, and now the world seems to be going in a very bad direction, but it’s not exactly the most modern technology is driving that! What I find more interesting are things like artificial intelligence, genetic engineering or communication. We are living in a science fiction world right now but we take a lot of it for granted. Who knows where we’ll be in ten years time! I mean, I don’t think we are gonna be in the singularity [Laugh]. I am a fantasy writer and we are meant to be very backward looking, I find the possibility of what might just be around the corner very exciting.

Fresh air “A lot of fantasy stories tend to be very conservative and I like to break new ground”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.                                                        Photo: Anna Guxens.

I wanted to ask, since you are quite young, still…
[He jumps in] That’s very kind of you to say! [Laugh].

So I wanted to know if you think the Shadows of the Apt series will be the set of books you will be remembered by?
I guess it’s a bit of a win-win situation. It would be nice to say “I’m gonna go and do something I would surpass it”, but I am happy with the series if that is the thing. As long as I can keep making a living out of it it’ll be OK! [Laugh].

Do you imagine the series to become a movie, a TV series or a videogame?
Let’s take Game of Thrones, because it’s the perfect introductory fantasy for people who are not fantasy fans, because it has a lot of familiar concepts, and the fantasy is introduced slowly and gently, so that people can get on with the concept. The problem of going with Shadows of the Apt for a film is that it’s got some very hard concepts right at the beginning: you get the insect kingdom, the insect powers, the technology… If I was writing the first book again I would probably introduce all this more gently than I did, but it’ll be lovely see it in a screen, although I think it’d make a better manga-type cartoon than a film, but it is a long shot.

Why do you think there is still a prejudice against fantasy and science fiction?
Serious literature, turns his nose up and basically there is this idea fantasy is just for children, and then you grow up and you start reading proper books about people dying of drug overdoses in Glasgow or whatever, but I think that’s changing, and I think you have a generation of people who grew up reading it, who are now the grown ups. There’s a lot of money in being a geek these days, that’s why we get all these nostalgic science fiction shows that people are bringing back. Doctor Who is the classic example, so although there is still this kind of literary elite who feels it’s all beneath them, I think that’s shrinking. That’s on the way out. There’ve always been some science fiction authors who get treated seriously, like Frank Herbert or Asimov, but I think we are gonna see more and more. And then you got people like Adam Roberts, who I think is one of the few science fiction authors who’s been treated seriously, academically. We are colonizing the mainstream.

Society “We are living in a science fiction world right now but we take a lot of it for granted”

Adrian Tchaikovsky.                                                     Photo: Anna Guxens.

Do you know if your books will be translated soon into Spanish?
Not yet. I’m really hoping that there’ll be interest from coming here and that will happen. I would be delighted to get a Spanish language edition out there. Cross fingers, and if people are interested reading this interview, they may contact Spanish publishers and say ‘Hey’ [Laugh].

You have already tiptoed briefly about your future writing endeavors, but I wanted to get deeper on this, especially in terms of what is going to be really the next thing of yours we’ll be able to read?
So I’ve finished Shadows of the Apt. In the English language the last book came out last month. So early next year [the beginning of 2015] I have a book out called Guns of the Dawn, which is secondly world fantasy that’s got kind of a Napoleonic theme. My tagline is “Jane Austen meets Bernard Cornwell”. The situation in the books is very much like the heroin of Sense and Sensibility, except she gets drafted into the army because they need soldiers. She goes to war and the war part is really vicious. I’ve written a lot of books about war, something that may not be that useful in fantasy, but this is bringing the war to someone who would never have thought of herself as a soldier and then seeing her change.

It has echoes from Mulan, then…
Well… Except she’s not pretending to be a man and she is not going after her fiancé. She is doing it for her, so it’s an exploration of patriotism. And then after that, about midway to next year [2015] I’ve got my first proper science fiction, which I’d like to say it’s called Portia’s Children, but it would probably not be called Portia’s Children, since I am actually discussing it with my publisher and may end up being called Inheritance. It’s a story about a man who is lost in the space in a spaceship carrying the remain of the human population and going out to planets Then, at the time the humans get there, non-human civilization has already evolved in a planet and there’s the classic clash of cultures.

Spanish edition “If people are interested reading this interview, they may contact Spanish publishers and say ‘Hey’”

Adrià Guxens and Adrian Tchaikovsky.                          Photo: Anna Guxens.

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