Genres: Stirring The Pot
I was a reader for decades before I began to really work at becoming a writer. Ever since I was a boy I read anything I could get my hands on, history and science and poetry and every kind of fiction, Wuthering Heights to The Thirty Nine Steps, Kemlo of the Space Lanes to Dr No to Crime and Punishment. As I’ve got older I’ve never stopped doing that. I’ve never bothered about compartmentalisation and literary hierarchies, what was proper and what was not, what I was ‘supposed’ to read. I was just as happy with Conan the Barbarian as I was with One Day In The Life of Ivan Denisovich.
And when I finally started to write seriously, all this stuff I ‘d been reading for so long kept bubbling up and spilling out onto the page. My ideas crept out into the light of consciousness surrounded by echoes, resemblances, memories and allusions. My efforts at young adult fiction ended up with bits of Iris Murdoch in them (presences, gravities, ghosts I couldn’t get out of my head). I’d write a sentence in a science fiction story and realise it sounded a bit like Ted Hughes or Angela Carter or John le Carré .
When you’re learning to write you’re often told to clear out all that stuff, stick to one genre and find your own voice. I just couldn’t do that. It didn’t work for me at all. It didn’t feel right. Until I realised that this was my voice, and genre-mixing was my genre. What I needed to do was take control of it and use it. Make it work and make it good.
I’d always loved thrillers and fantasy and myth and modern novels and poetry, and I’d always had a bit of an obsession with Russia, and when I set out to write what has become the Wolfhound Century trilogy, I just used all of that, all at once. The world of Wolfhound Century is a kind of Russia, but not an alternative history, more a kind of remaking and reimagining with faint echoes of Nabokov and Doctor Zhivago and War and Peace, the poems of Mayakovsky and Anna Akhmatova, The Battleship Potemkin.
The trilogy follows the rise and fall of a revolutionary terrorist and would-be despot who’s more than a little like Stalin, and move in time from a world that feels something like Petersburg around 1905 to something like 1950s Moscow; from horse-drawn cabs on rainy streets to huge concrete towers under a roaring sun. But it’s not a history of the Soviet Union. It’s a place where the strange joyful distortions of reality in the paintings of Chagall are really happening on the streets. It’s a place where the giants and witches and wind spirits of Slavic folklore are really there, and involved. It’s a huge continent that edges off into endless forest, a place of secret police and totalitarian propaganda, towering modernist skyscrapers and revolutionary artists.
For plot-structure and lead characters I drew from the well of thriller writing, because that’s the genre above all, I think, through which the western imaginative engagement with the Soviet Union is prismed, and because I love writing action like that; it’s exciting. In the early phases the thriller mode calls up writers like Joseph Conrad, Eric Ambler and early Graham Greene. Seedy backstreet shops and transcontinental railways. Later you get aeroplanes (to me, that’s St Expury and Capt. W E Johns) and shades of Ian Fleming and Martin Cruz Smith.
But these aren’t allusions and references you need to get to understand the books: it’s about imaginative feel and flavour. In the end the characters are what matter, the characters who take risks and accept danger out of integrity and for the sake of their own humanity, characters who deepen and grow.
Peter Higgins is the author of the very excellent “The Wolfhound Century” Trilogy of novels. If you’ve not heard of the series before we have an introduction to the series and a free extract of the first book here. If you are familiar with the series you are no doubt excited about the third book in the series which came out on May 21st! Here is the blurb to remind you why you should be heading down to your favourite book shop to pick it up:
RADIANT STATE returns to Higgins’ alternate Russia, steeped in the myth and history that defined the state in the 20th Century. The novel sees Kantor’s elaborate plan reach its horrifying and glorious potential, reaching beyond the boundaries of the world. With the powers of the earth and the fallen angel still looming, will Vissarion and Maroussia survive the onslaught, or will this truly be the end of their stories?
Widely lauded for his skill in combining a driving plot and lyrical writing style with the myth and history of 20th-century Russia, Higgins has created a rich, breathing society. Now with incredible new covers by Jeffrey Alan Love, the WOLFHOUND CENTURY series is some of the most original fiction of recent years, and has been compared to the works of China Mieville and Jeff Vandermeer.
“An amazing, fast-paced story in a fantasy world poised dangerously on the edge of quantum probability, a world where angels war with reality” – PETER F. HAMILTON
“Higgins’s world is a truly original creation, Russian cosmism and Slavic mythology filtered through steampunk and le Carre. What really captured me was his beautiful style and language: his metaphors and associations flow smoothly like the waters of the Mir, and, like Lom without his angel stone, make you see the world in a new way.” – HANNU RAJANIEMI