Thursday, September 19, 2013

Interview with David Barnett, author of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl - September 19, 2013

Please welcome David Barnett to The Qwillery. David's most recent novel is Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl.

TQ:  Welcome to The Qwillery.

David:  Well, thank you for having me! I quite like the big full moon you have here all the time; I think the light’s quite flattering.

TQ:  Why and when did you start writing and what is the most challenging thing for you about writing?

David:  I suppose, like probably a lot of other writers, I was one of those kids who read voraciously and writing my own stories just seemed a natural, automatic extension of that. It never really occurred to me, though, that “writing” could be a job, or at least a vocation to aspire to. I wrote a truly awful fantasy novel when I was about 17 which is locked in a leather case in my attic and will never come down from there. I don’t even think I sent it off to anyone. I just thought writers were people other than me. I suppose I started writing “properly”, ie with an intention to get published, when I reached the age of about 29 or 30 – I think I felt I’d had enough “life” by that point to be able to put something into my writing. As to the most challenging thing – finding time to write. No, that’s not correct, making time to write. With a full-time day job (as a journalist) and a family, writing fiction has to be slotted into life, and that generally means you’ll find me hunched over a keyboard very late at night.

TQ:  What was your inspiration for Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl?

David:  A whole bunch of stuff – Victorian adventure novels, pulp fiction, the penny dreadful story papers of the Victorian era, modern adventure classics such as the Indiana Jones movies. I threw all of that into the pot and Gideon Smith is what came out – I wanted to write something with a lot of derring-do and adventure, but with contemporary sensibilities. Hence it’s not just adventure for adventure’s sake, but a mild look at the nature of heroism, too. Though without getting in the way of the adventure!

TQ:  How did you develop your world for this novel? How much research did you do?

David:  I knew I wanted an alternate-history setting, and that started with the basis of the British Empire pretty much as it was in 1890, but with a little more influence in the rest of the world. The “steampunk” trappings of advanced technology (for the era) are there to expedite the story, not merely as flavouring. Thus we have airships, which help me move my characters quickly around the globe, and automatons. Perhaps the biggest alternate-history idea is that the American revolution never really happened and Britain retained control over the East Coast of America. There are lots of factions in Gideon’s America, with New Spain holding what we know as Mexico and a breakaway Japanese faction on the West Coast. That is explained in more detail in the second book. Naturally, all this required a lot of research, but once I was happy that what I wanted to do could be logically extrapolated from what really happened, I threw most of it out of the window and let my imagination take full flight.

TQ:  How did you decide which historical figures you wanted to appear in the novel?

David:  I knew that Bram Stoker was going to be a major character from the off because I wanted the book to leap off from the point he – in real life – was holidaying in Whitby and got the inspiration to write Dracula, in July 1890. After that other real-life figures – and characters from Victorian fiction – kept popping up. If they fit the narrative and the story then I’m happy to have them on board, but I don’t want to shoe-horn real personages in just for the sake of it.

TQ:  You have quite a bit happening to your two main characters. How did you keep their separate plots separate and then did you find it difficult to bring them back together?

David:  It wasn’t really difficult, to be honest; Gideon and Bram Stoker’s stories are entwined at the beginning and then diverge, coming together again for the final act. To be honest, Gideon was always meant to be the focus of the novel but other characters – Stoker especially – began to establish themselves more and more during the writing of it. I’m quite a loose planner, preferring to create a framework for the novel and then letting the story breathe a bit and take its own directions, so I was quite pleased (and somewhat relieved) when it seemed to all work out.

TQ:  You have managed to successfully merge traditional fantasy elements with steampunk. How did you stop yourself going to far in one direction or the other?

David:  It was an intuitive thing, really. I didn’t measure the different elements out as though I was baking a cake; it was more a case of what felt right. Gideon’s world isn’t a great deal different from ours, aside from the alternate history and the different tech. But to the average person, who can’t afford to fly in airships and never sees an automaton or anything wondrous, it’s pretty much just the Victorian era as it was experienced in real life. The supernatural and fantastical elements happen in the shadows and below the surface.

TQ:  You leave us with quite a cliff hanger at the end of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl. Is there a series planned or will you leave this to our imagination?

David:  There is indeed – two sequels, in fact. Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon will be published by Tor in 2014, and picks up the story straight from the end of the first book, taking Gideon off to explore America. Book three is due out in 2015 and brings Gideon back to London to explore the seamy underworld – quite literally – of the seat of the British Empire. Obviously I can’t give too much away as book one has only just come out, but there might be dinosaurs. And giant steampunk robots. That’s all I’m saying.

TQ:  Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.

David:  No, thank you! It was lovely to be here!

Gideon Smith

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
Gideon Smith 1
Tor, September 10, 2013
Trade Paperback and eBook, 352 pages

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work. Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day...but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?

David Barnett's Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!

You may find the review of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl here.

There are 2 Gideon Smith short stories:

Work Sets You Free
Tor, August 21, 2013
eBook, 32 pages

"Work Sets You Free", by David Barnett, is an original short story featuring the protagonist of the forthcoming novel Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl (Tor Books [US] and Snowbooks [UK], September 2013). Gideon is a young fisherman in Yorkshire, England, in an alternate 1890, who embarks on a journey to find Captain Lucian Trigger, the famed Hero of the Empire, to deal with a mystery plaguing his home village. This story takes place as the naive Gideon sets off for London, but on the way encounters a very dark side to the British Empire's insatiable hunger for resources...

Business as Usual
Tor, September 4, 2013
eBook, 32 pages

Spring, 1890, and England needs a hero. Gideon Smith is yet to step up to the role as public protector of the Empire, but in the background and the shadows, Mr Walsingham pulls strings to keep the often outlandish threats to Britain and her interests at bay. It is a role that lies heavy on his shoulders, and here we find him composing his end-of-year report to Queen Victoria. Business As Usual is a standalone short story that takes place some months before the events of the forthcoming steampunk/Victoriana novel from Tor Books (Snowbooks in the UK), Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, which is published in September.

About David

DAVID BARNETT is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired. He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!. His website can be found at

Website  ~   Twitter  @davidmbarnett  ~  Google+


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