The Godless, known as Verflucht: Ära der Götter in German, has been released, a full month in Germany before the British edition (and a month and a week before the American). As can be seen by the image I nicked off German Amazon, you can ever read the inside of it, assuming you speak German.
At any rate, the german publisher, Piper, have linked an interview with me that I did late last year, and I thought, as a little mini celebration of the book finally being out there for the nation that won the World Cup, that I would provide the untranslated interview below. My German, being perhaps the worse German of anyone on the planet, I answered the questions in English, but to give you a confusing sense of whatthefuck, I kept all the titles in German.
Here we go:
Ben, thanks for doing this interview. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you’ve become a writer?
Hey, no problems. I’m always happy to talk.
I live in Sydney, Australia, with my partner, the photographer, Nikilyn Nevins. We have a cat and a bunch of books. Because the cat resists all organisation, we organise our bookshelves in strange new orders. Currently, we have our books organised by the date of birth of the author, which has, upon occasion, seen me email an author with a polite but invasive question about their birth.
As for an author, I suppose I became one due to a complete inability to stick around in another job. I was once a projectionist, and for a while I thought about becoming an academic (I have a doctorate), and I fell into teaching here and there for a while. But all of it was just something to do while I wrote. My first love has always been literature, and no matter where I have been personally, that has always been part of me.
I got told a while back by a friend that I’ve done the walk of a writer hard, and it has had its ups and downs, no lie there. I came close to packing it in a few years ago, but I have always been able to find that love, and hold onto it. At the end of the day, no matter what I will say about craft, about research, about art, about anything relating to writing and how to get there, if you don’t have that love, you’re kinda out of luck.
Your novel Verflucht will finally be out in Germany soon. What is it about?
Verflucht is set in a world where the gods have died, and their corpses lie on the ground.
They went to war, thousands of years ago, an act that had terrible repercussions for all the mortal life beneath them. At one point, the sun shattered, and the world was plunged into darkness for a week, which resulted in famine and starvation. At another, a giant god died in the ocean, and its blood turned it black and poisonous.
Yet, after this, mortal life continued, and adapted. The corpses of the gods became part of the landscape, and society entered a post-divine existence, of a sort. There are men and women who believe they will be gods, men and women who had said they were gods, and men and women who fear any return of them.
Mireea, where the bulk of Verflucht is set, is a city built on the Mountains of Ger. They are basically a huge cairn that covers the corpse of Ger, a giant god who controlled the elements. The people living on him built a city out of a gold rush and have become a trading city, one of the most prosperous in the world. However, they are on the cusp of being invaded by the Leerans, a nation who have fallen under the control of old priests, and intend to reshape the world in the eye of the gods, again. The only problem, of course, is that Lady Wagan, the ruler of Mireea, doesn’t want to give up her city. She has hired mercenaries, armed her populace, and told the Captain of the Spine to do whatever is necessary. Once you know him, you’ll realise why that’s a problem for the Leerans.
Verflucht’s narrative is split between three characters, creating an ensemble cast. The first, Ayae, is a cartographer’s apprentice. The second is Zaifyr, is a stranger who comes to the city alone, only to find himself drawn into the politics of the war, and the third is Bueralan, is the leader of a group of saboteurs who have been hired to slow down the Leeran Army, if they can.
Verflucht is your first “classic” fantasy novel. After all the other projects you have done, why have you entered the fantasy-genre?
I grew up reading fantasy and, in many ways, its my first and original love. The very first book I ever bought with my own money was Margaret Weis and Tracey Hickman’s Dragon’s of Autumn Twilight. I still have the tattered paperback with me. My oldest friend, who once told a boyfriend that he has known me longer than his partner had been alive (we met in the first grade) bought the second of the series, and for years I only ever had the first and third. Years ago he gave me the second book, and I still have it.
I kind of drifted away from classic fantasy in my early twenties. There was no real reason for it, just one of those things that happened. I discovered other writers, other genres, and a lot of my writing went that way. I was hugely interested in racial representation and experimental writing, for example, and Black Sheep and Twenty-Six Lies/One Truth represent that. Still, it would be wrong to say I didn’t do anything fantasy based. For a long time I tried to get a series of short stories up and running similar to Fritz Leiber’s Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series, with characters called Allandros and Balor. I sold about half a dozen, I think, but for all the time I put into it, the rewards were pretty slim. I think maybe half a dozen people read them, really.
But I didn’t write a classic fantasy novel until Verflucht. Before it, I wrote a novel called Beneath the Red Sun, and it is really that novel that gave rise to it, because it was that book that almost saw me quit writing. I had written it before the global financial crisis a few years back, and I had an editor who was interested in it. That editor never read it, and since things weren’t working out with my agent as well as I thought they would, I left, intent on getting a new one. The global financial crisis happened around then, and everything slowed down, but eventually, I found a second editor interested and with an offer – only for that to fall through before a contract was signed. I didn’t have an agent then, but I got one shortly after. When that didn’t work out, she stopped returning my emails and calls, and soon enough, ditched me in a fine, impersonal email, leaving me with nowhere to go, really.
It was a pretty shit time and I was forced to take a step back and try and figure out what I was doing here and what I wanted.
In that time, I went back to a lot of the books I read as a kid, the things I loved, the reason I became a writer. I went searching for this fantasy novel I wrote when I was sixteen, but the drive it was on was long gone, the paper copy long lost. I took a big step back from the online life of being a writer, which was, I thought, becoming a negative place for myself. I just holed up and thought long and hard about what I wanted. During this time, one of my friends got married up in Darwin, and I flew up there for it. Darwin is this small little city with lots of outlying suburbs, and it takes forever to get anywhere, but that’s okay, because the heat is all lazy tropics heat, and one day, while my friend and I were driving round before her marriage, I was day dreaming about immortals fighting, and long, century like feuds, and the books I’d been writing, and I thought, I should make one more go at this.
When I got back to Sydney, I still thought it was a good idea. A fantasy novel that took all the stuff I loved as a kid, and put all the things I loved into it as an adult, and somehow, at the end of it, I had a new agent, a new publishing deal, and here I was, writing fantasy books and as happy as I’d ever been as a writer.
You probably thought that answer was going to be a simple one, yeah?
Do you have a complete outline for the whole series or do you allow the plot and character to evolve during the writing? How does your writing process work?
I know how it ends, to a degree. I know the very final scene in the book, but the faces in that scene change, and alter, occasionally.
I’m not huge on complete outlines. I tend to map a little, and then let everything evolve as it does. Mostly, this is due to the fact that I am a terrible re-writer. After I write an original scene, I will rewrite it like five, six times, before I rewrite the whole novel, and whole scenes again. Nothing really looks like it does when I first start it, though by the end, there’s less and less as everything falls into its outcome. But yeah, I rewrite a lot, and I tend to stop once I cannot stand the sight of it anymore.
On a day to day level, when I’m not teaching, I tend to rewrite, edit the previous days work in the morning, and write new words in the afternoon. If I’m handling about a thousand words of new work each day, I think I’m doing alright.
What’s the fantasy and sf community like in Australia? Is it as big as in Europe or the US? Are you in touch with other fantasy authors?
Australia is pretty small, really. Jonathan Strahan once described it as one phone call wide, one phone call deep, and it hasn’t really changed from that.
As for other authors, a few here and there, but I tend to keep to myself these days. But I’ve known Rjurik Davidson for years, for example.
Any plans for the books as a movie or tv series?
I mean, if it happens, all good, but it isn’t really a priority of mine. I don’t really need my books to be turned into a TV series or a movie. If it had been a desire, I would have written them as that.
What is your next project?
Well, currently I am writing the second book of Children, and then the third. After that, well, I kind of hope I am in a position to continue writing more fantasy books. The world I created is huge and its left me with a lot of cool ideas, but we’ll all have to see how this rounds itself out.
I have a few side projects that I keep going, however. My partner and I are working on a book based on Sydney, a novel that mixes photography and prose together, and I have my Dead American project to keep me busy as well. The fiftieth anniversary of the assassination of JFK has seen an influx of assassination books in the house, and it is very tempting – but you know, its not a priority.
Right now, finish this series, and hope people love it. Everything by the day, y’know?
How can readers reach you if they want to get in touch?
I have a blog, a facebook, and a twitter account. Feel free to come by them and say hi. It’ll be all good, as they say.
Thanks very much, Ben, for taking the time.
No problems at all.
In other news, I know the blog as been a bit quiet, for which I apologise. I have been busy, and when I have not been busy, I have been lazy. However, I have done a bunch of interviews, and pieces, which will be filtering online soon, and in August, my story, ‘Upon the Body’ will be printed in Nightmare Magazine, The Godless will be released, reviews will be linked (the good, the bad, the whatever), and in general, people will no doubt become sick of me.
Something to look forward to, that.