A Life Of Fiction XVII

 

For those of you new to this WordPress site, this site is about me and my writing – and a little about my role-playing, as well. It gives readers a chance to sample my work before purchasing it on the Kindle store; and gives me the chance to say a little about the genesis of each novel, or about the process of writing in general.

My influences: Elsewhere on this site, in the description of some of my novels, I have talked about some of the ideas behind my gas-lamp fantasy novels. But, in this blog, I would like to talk about some of the specific books and authors who have influenced the creation of my gas-lamp fantasy world.

I think that the works of Jules Verne have probably influenced the genesis of my Victorian fantasy world as much as the oeuvre of any other author. It has extended to my using Jules Verne as a character in my world. But the Jules Verne of my world is not an author, but a wizard and inventor. Verne plays an important part in that it was he who first came up with land ironclads – what we call tanks in our world – launching them against a surprised Prussian army at the Battle of Sedan in 1870, in the Franco-Prussian War. Those land ironclads, along with cannons which he had devised, proved decisive, causing an overwhelming victory for the French.

In our world the French lost the Franco-Prussian War. But this is a counter-factual world, where history has followed different paths. Prussia went into isolationism, accompanied by a big military build up, as a result of losing that war, preventing the creation of a single German state. Prussia, in my world, is basically the North Korea of 1894-95.

Jules Verne was to play another role, in the first gas-lamp fantasy novel which I wrote, He Sees His World In Red, as the heroes, at one point, endeavour to free Jules Verne, who has been a prisoner of the Prussians for the years. Featuring Verne so heavily was, in part, a tribute to an author who ideas I have borrowed, shall we say. In fact, in a novel which I am working on at the moment – The Mole Machine, featuring Professor Meerschaum – the creator of that device has actually built it partially incorporating designs stolen from Verne’s lodgings in Paris. There are three Meerschaum novels planned. They are, in part, a tribute to the enormous influence which Verne has had on fantasy fiction.

I have not actually read a great deal of Jules Verne; probably far less than I should have. I am as familiar with films based on his works as the actual source material. But that does not prevent him from being a towering literary figure, on whose shoulders I stand.

I think that he wrote over fifty of his Voyages Extraordinaires. The novels which I have read are A Journey To The Centre Of The Earth and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea. But, due to films and other media, I am familiar with other works, such as From The Earth To The Moon, Around The World In Eighty Days and The Mysterious Island. His novels are a great source of ideas. But readers should be warned that they do not read like modern fantasy novels. Not that they are badly written – far from it – but Verne was very much a writer of his time, and while I recommend reading at least one of his works, readers should not go in expecting action on every page.

Other authors who have been a direct influence on my gas-lamp fantasy stories include H Rider Haggard, specifically the novels She and King Solomon’s Mines. I like the idea of lost, hidden civilisations, and there are a fair few which feature in my work. His novels were set at the time when people were still filling in the white gaps on the maps, and where it still seemed theoretically possible that there might be wondrous places in Africa or elsewhere still to find.

H G Wells’ scientific romances were other books which I loved to read as a kid. The ones which any lover of such works should seek out are The Time Machine, The Invisible Man, The Island of Dr Moreau and The War of the Worlds. He had such a wonderful imagination, and is so important in the history of science fiction, that it would be hard for a person writing Victorian-set fantasy novels not to be influenced by him. Well, I haven’t had any invisible men, alien invasions or time machines in my books, but I have certainly been influenced by the sense of wonder his stories evoked in me.

Then there is Edgar Rice Burroughs. When I was a teenager I loved reading the Edgar Rice Burroughs novels, whether Tarzan of the Apes or At The Earth’s Core or The Land That Time Forgot. He might not technically have been the greatest writer the world has produced, but his books fizzed with adventure, which is what teenage boys want to read about, isn’t it? With Burroughs we are entering the era of the pulp magazines, and I guess that my Duffield and Parkinson novels are influenced by the adventure stories of the pulps.

Another major influence is, of course, the great Sir Arthur Conan Doyle: not just the Sherlock Holmes stories, which are set when my novels begin, but also the Professor Challenger stories, which are set a little later. When writing He Sees His World In Red I decided that Holmes would remain a fictional character, although his adventures are referenced in my work. In my role-playing game, based on my novels, I have given GMs the option of using Sherlock Holmes or Moriarty as characters, however. Rather than Sherlock Holmes I use Conan Doyle as a character, in the novel The Rift, where Briggs and Prenderghast go hunting for dinosaurs, in my tribute to The Lost World. Well, The Rift is not just a pastiche (I hope), but a tribute to all such novels of hidden locations, not just The Lost World but also novels like Allan Quatermain. There is a lot more than just dinosaurs hidden in The Rift

The last of what I consider the great authors of the period to have had a big influence on the creation of my gas-lamp fantasy world is William Hope Hodgson. He wrote in the Edwardian, rather than Victorian era, and not everybody will be familiar with him, I guess. He wrote such works as The House on the Borderland, The Night Land and Carnacki the Ghost-Finder. The last is a collection of stories concerning an Edwardian ghost-buster. What I like about those stories is that, usually, the ghosts have been faked by living people, for some reason. But, occasionally, the ghosts are real. It leaves the reader guessing, not knowing quite what to expect.

Then there are other Victorian or nineteenth century (or early twentieth century) authors who I have read and must have had some influence on me, and my style: I tip my non-existent hat to Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, J Sheridan Le Fanu and Lord Dunsany, all of whom helped inspire and nurture a love of fantastical fiction within me.

Role-playing games have also been an influence on my world; the games themselves, of course, have been influenced by works of writers such as Jules Verne and H Rider Haggard. The three games which probably have most influenced my gas-lamp fantasy writing are probably Castle Falkenstein, Space 1889 and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. While the first two may seem obvious influences, being set in the nineteenth century, AD&D may seem less likely. But without AD&D I would never have got into role-playing in the first place. I also like the idea of magic – what is called Magick in my books – although the wizards of my novels are far weaker than any fantasy mage. But that is by choice as if Magick was as powerful as in AD&D you would not have technology develop. Who needs technology when wizards can do just about anything?

All writers are a result of what they have experienced, and what they have read. Nothing exists in a vacuum. Without Jules Verne we would not have Steampunk novels such as The Difference Engine. Everything is influenced by what has gone before; and those influences listed above are some of my inspiration. But what is important is not simply to copy the past and plagiarise, but to retell old themes and tropes in new and interesting ways. That, I hope, is what I have done.

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