Den Patrick Interview
If you haven’t heard of Den Patrick yet, wait a few minutes. Because today his series is coming out from Gollancz, and Den’s hitting the fantasy scene like Orcrist.
First up – you’ve got three war manuals coming out this year… what is a war manual?
A war manual is an instructional guide, written by one of the three fantasy races – orcs, elves and dwarves. Each book is set in a High Fantasy world called Naer Evain. They’re written in the style of found objects and detail how one fights a war.
So, you’re basically being encouraged by Gollancz to “world build”. Sounds like a fantasy author’s dream, but how do you make it interesting to readers?
Exactly. I started with a map (what else?) and worked out who lived where and what the main turning points of history were. Each manual is written by an experienced warrior of their race, Sundin Hallestøm for dwarves for example. One of my favourite books, Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, has these wonderful footnotes. That’s definitely a good way of breaking up what could have been quite dry reading. I decided that a human translator would make snarky comments on the races, giving us a human perspective on the world of Naer Evain and the people that live there. There’s also word play around idioms and cultural jokes.
How’d you set out in designing the world? What influences, background materials, soundtracks, scents or other inspirations?
I read Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, which was the touchstone text for all three of the war manuals. The elves have a Zen approach to warfare, so I referred to Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Shunryu Suzuki and Hagakure, the seminal samurai text.
I also read The Hobbit, but more importantly I devoured the Prose Edda, which is really the source for a lot Norse/European-inspired fantasy, particularly Tolkien and Wagner.
I worked at Games Workshop for a few years in my early twenties, and have been into tabletop gaming on and off since I was 12. I also scoured Wikipedia for their entries of Norse mythology. I wouldn’t use Wiki for anything academic, but when you’re making things up it can provide a great source of inspiration.
The dwarf book was written listening to the Halo ODST soundtrack. I think the orcs were probably written to Batman Begins and The Dark Knight. The elves were likely written to an album called Retold by Nest, which is a favourite of mine.
The world designer-designer is Andrew James – how’d you meet him, and what’s he doing with the project?
Andrew, or AJ as I tend to call him, is the illustrator for the War Manuals. I met him when I worked at Titan (the UK magazine and book publisher, not the moon of Saturn). We were both on the comics team and it became evident very quickly that he is incredibly talented. He can produce pencils, ink, do colours, taught me how to letter comic strips, he writes… and he’s great guy that knows about deadlines.
When did you start working on Porcelain?
The Boy with the Porcelain Ears has been a project rattling around in the back of my head for around ten years. I had some ideas but couldn’t find the story that linked them. Then it was March 2011 when I had my eureka moment and things started coming together. I’d been made redundant at that point, so had a lot of time on my hands. The first draft was finished in the October of the same year.
What’s that world like?
I wanted to keep my focus quite tight, so much of the novel is set inside one, huge brooding castle with dimly lit labyrinthine corridors, forgotten towers and cobwebby annexes. It’s very much an Italian Renaissance-style affair, with doublets and hose and lots of intrigue and the occasional duel. There’s a distinctly Gothic undercurrent, but one that’s tempered with a modern outlook. I’m also championing Non-Rapey Fantasy with strong female characters. That’s my sub-genre by the way.
You talk a lot about Gormenghast, and how that’s a huge influence – what specifically inspired you from Peake’s work?
Initially the setting. That huge castle manages to provoke introspection and the weight of expectation. Everyone has duties and requirements in Gormenghast. Every inhabitant is encumbered by tradition.
Another feature was the characters. Just about all of the characters are grotesques, initially awful, settling into weird, and then oddly likeable. I wasn’t able to keep my characters so grotesque (with the exception of Mistress Corvo, the dance teacher, and the Majordomo, perhaps Swordmaster Ginacarlo) I guess I like them all too much. There’s also a lot of climbing out of windows and scurrying over rooftops, like Steerpike.
What’s your writing day like? I’ve heard (or perhaps started) rumors of bacon, pajamas and 15,000 words/hour? How accurate are these?
15,000 words per hour. I wish! I’m like the Colonial Marines from Aliens, short controlled bursts. My day starts with orange juice and coffee, then back to bed and 500-600 words. More coffee and a shower at this point, then another 500-600 words. I’m famished by now, so the bacon sandwich happens. Then, if I’m on a roll, another 500-600 words. I think my best day ever was writing two chapters back to back, which was around 5,000 words. That took a lot of coffee and a lot of bacon.
Why do you use so many big words?
I blame China Miéville. Also, a friend of the family gave me a thesaurus when I was ten, and I used to read it for fun. I was a weird kid.
Salsa or Tango? Salsa (but mild, OK?).
Bacon or sausage? Bacon on brown bread with red onions, natch.
Tolkien or Abercrombie? Abercrombie (I have very contemporary tastes).
Marvel or DC? Marvel (I love Iron Man).
Day or night? Day (give me sunshine and lots of it).
Robots or dinosaurs? Robots (or battle suits).
Shadowdancer or Warcaster? Heh! Shadowdancer every time.