One author that I’ve heard loads and loads of great things about is Adrian Tchaikovsky. This first series was the massive Shadows of the Apt series, which was comprised of ten books and which was peopled by insect-kinden, people who took on various insect characteristics. Being a wuss when it comes to anything with more than four legs and since the series was already on book four by the time I heard about it, I never got into it. I did however read some of Tchaikovsky’s work as he had a short story in Two Hundred and Twenty One Baker Streets, last year’s speculative Sherlock Holmes anthology from Solaris. I really enjoyed his story The Final Conjuration and it made me curious to read more of his work. Enter Guns of the Dawn. A standalone book unconnected to his previous series and set in a regency-esque secondary world. I was sold and I have the book waiting on my to be read pile to be consumed soon. In the meantime, I present you with the following Author Query.
Let’s start with the basics. Who is Adrian Tchaikovsky?
Sounds like the prelude to some terribly tedious biography: “The Adrian Tchaikovsky I knew…” I really need to either invent some terribly fascinating past for myself (“Little known younger (by about a century) brother of Pyotr Ilyich, Adrian fled the Russian Revolution and found sanctuary within a beehive, from which derives his abiding love of insects…”) or a suitably flippant answer (“Adrian Tchaikovsky is an enormous angry beard that writes about cockroaches fighting each other or something.”) I am… Actually, I am still in the habit of thinking of myself as a “new” author, but with 11 novels under my belt that is becoming rather hard to sustain. I emerged from a long and mostly well-deserved literary obscurity in 2008 with the first Shadows of the Apt novel, Empire in Black and Gold and have since fought against a reputation for being prolific. Shadows of the Apt is a grand mélange of epic fantasy, steampunk, espionage and dark magic that follows the insect-kinden – humans with insect powers and attributes – as they race up the tech tree from medieval to modern in the course of the wars of the Wasp Empire. I have also written a considerable number of short stories for various magazines and anthologies, but it’s definitely SOTA that I’m known for. My new-minted Guns of the Dawn is the first piece of long-form fiction from me that takes up a different setting.
How would you introduce people to Emily Marshwic and her story?
Emily is not actually Eliza Bennett with the serial numbers filed off, but the two of them would probably get on quite well. She is the middle of three sisters born to a declining but still fairly posh family in a strongly Regency setting. She believes in doing what is right, and has constant clashes with the odious Mr Northway, the local governor. Her nation is embroiled in a savage war with its sibling state, which wants to export its new and bloody-handed republicanism to its neighbor. When the war starts going very badly, there is a woman’s draft, and Emily goes to serve proudly, only to discover that the war is both terrible and terribly run, and nothing she has been told is necessarily true. Emily Marshwic is what happens when a grim and twisted setting meets a very straight and principled character, and neither of them survive the collision intact.
How strange was it to write a standalone in a completely new world after spending so much time in the world of Shadows of the Apt?
I think the word you’re looking for is “terrifying.” Also “exhilarating.” You build up a head of ideas whilst working on a long series and, whilst I love the insect-kinden and have every intention of returning to their exploits, there are literary places even the Beetle-kinden can’t colonise. The idea of Guns of the Dawn had been going through various permutations in my head and on the page even before Empire came out, and it was a book I very much wanted to bring to an audience (or readership, as there’s no audiobook yet). When you’ve had a series on the go as long as SOTA, though, the prospect of stepping out from its shadow (sorry) is profoundly unnerving. I obviously hope the kinden fans will come with me to a different setting, but I’m aware that people get attached to characters and to series, but not always to the authors behind them. So I’m very much crossing my fingers that Guns – and my SF novel Children of Time that’s out in June – will find their feet with readers.
What drew you to writing a historical fantasy set in a Regency England?
It’s worth noting that Guns isn’t actually set in Regency England, but in a secondary world that strongly resembles it. As for why that historical influence, I am honestly not 100% sure. Certainly the original idea for the book predated either reading or watching any Austen, although I had surely seen Sean Bean as Sharpe by then. My initial attempts to kick the story off didn’t get far, and it’s possible that, had they actually gone somewhere, the setting might have been considerably less regency-y. However, between that try and the first actual draft I’d most definitely seen the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice, I read some Austen, and I had a friend whose postgrad was in the politics of the period, and so I became very alive to the possibilities there. As I’ve said elsewhere, there is a perfect coming together in the Regency – a literary explosion that gives us unparalleled access to the details of people’s lives, a period that is not yet rendered grimy and dowdy by the full thrust of the industrial revolution, and the glories and horrors of a war fought across much of the world.
Are there any other historical periods you could see yourself write a historical fantasy in?
Oh hell yes – for a given value of “historical period” as noted above. Shadows of the Apt echoes a number of historical periods and events – the kinden go from a semi-classical setup to one rooted firmly in 20th century history, and they run into similar problems, and solve them with the very different toolkit available to them. I am kicking about a number of other ideas at the moment that have historical links. For example there was a spree of revolutions in Europe in 1848, for example, that promised cataclysmic change to the political setup, and ultimately delivered nothing, but there is enormous potential there as a backdrop for an alt-history or echo history. Will I actually write it? No idea, but the idea is there, jostling for elbow room with all the others. How historical would I actually get? I can’t see myself writing something entirely shorn of the fantastical – I probably wouldn’t get any closer to straight history than, say, Novak’s Temeraire or Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, to give a couple of Regency examples.
Will Guns of the Dawn truly be Emily’s only story or could you see yourself returning to Lascanne and Denland in the future?
I’m in an odd position at the moment, as far as mid-long planning. Shadows of the Apt is done, but the kinden certainly remain in play; I have Guns of the Dawn; I have Children of Time; I have a completely new series (as in, definitely intended to be a series) starting in 2016 with The Tiger and the Wolf. It’s hard to look into these seeds of time and see which grain will grow and which will not. A sequel idea for Guns was certainly forming as I finished the MS, and I would quite like to detail What Emily Did Next, as it’s actually pretty damn interesting. I suspect a lot depends on what sense I have of whether people want it.
What’s next for you? Any appearances or conventions planned?
All the conventions. Well, all right, not actually all of them. I should definitely be at Luxcon, Dysprosium/Eastercon, Nine Worlds, Edge-Lit and Fantasycon this year. I may also be at Octocon and Bristolcon. If anyone reading this particularly wants me at a con, then I have books to promote, and so please give me a shout on Facebook or Twitter or post on shadowsoftheapt.com or something, and maybe it can happen. I get a big kick out of conventions, though – writing is very solitary a lot of the time, especially if you live outside London, and so I value the time I get to spend face to face with readers and fellow writers.
Is there something else you’re passionate about other than writing and books?
Insects, lots and lots of insects. And sword-fighting (German longsword classes at the Leeds Armouries!). I’m actually quite a science buff – particularly evolution, especially where it’s of the speculative or xeno- types. I’m a big fan of Stewart and Cohen’s (of Discworld science fame) writing on alien evolution and I actually dodged a book-signing at Loncon 3 to get to one of the spec evo lectures there – they had Dougal Dixon, who’s been one of my heroes since I was at school, and I got to meet CM Kosemen (of Snaiad fame) – I am infinitely fascinated by evolutionary might-have-beens and might-becomes.
As a book reviewer, I’m all about the book enabling; I can’t help but want to make people read all the good books out there. But I can always use help. What are your top recommendations of books we should look out for in the coming months?
I got an advance copy of Peter Newman’s The Vagrant, and that is extremely good – a post-apocalyptic fantasy with all sorts of nasty stuff going on. I was also lucky enough to get a sneak peak at Justina Robson’s Glorious Angels, which is an amazing and very inventively weird SF book. I know that Adam Christopher’s The Machine Awakes is out soon, which should be fun, and Jen Williams’ Iron Ghosts, sequel to the acclaimed Copper Promise too. Finally, and because I enjoyed Chicks Dig Time Lords so much, I should mention that Companion Piece, a selection of essays about the Doctor’s fellow travelers, is out very shortly as well.
Finally, I have to stay true to my roots and ask a librarian question to finish off with: Do you shelve your books alphabetically, by genre or do you have an ingenious system?
Seriously, alphabetically. What are you, some kind of book deviant? Although “by genre” would be fairly pointless as the vast majority of my books are SFF. Actually, I file graphic novels alphabetically by title, not author, and all DC stuff is under ‘D’ and Marvel under ‘M’ because, you know, cross-continuity, so maybe I’m the book deviant.
Bio: Adrian Tchaikovsky was born in Woodhall Spa, Lincolnshire before heading off to Reading to study psychology and zoology. For reasons unclear even to himself he subsequently ended up in law and has worked as a legal executive in both Reading and Leeds, where he now lives. Married, he is a keen live role-player and occasional amateur actor, has trained in stage-fighting, and keeps no exotic or dangerous pets of any kind, possibly excepting his son.