An Alternative Interview

Once upon a time (1994), there was a very promising magazine called Alternate Worlds, all about 'alternative histories'. I subscribed and they commissioned an interview from me. Then it vanished into its own alternative world and was never heard of again - despite many enquiries.

Waste not, want not ....

Q ) How long did you take in writing A DANGEROUS ENERGY (ADE)?

A ) Initially two years - combined with full time study, if you can call being an undergraduate at a British University full time anything. Thereafter it lay dormant for a while, before being fairly extensively revised prior to typing (by a commercial typist - I couldn't do it, not having a word processor in those days) and four copies being very grandly bound in thick red covers by a bookbinder friend of my brother's. The bound books also contained four or five illustrations by a talented friend of mine (who is now a very successful author himself). I suppose I went to all that trouble (and expense at a time I could ill-afford it) because I basically thought that that was as far as the book would go. Later on an agent suggested some 'scene-setting' preliminaries for the book which I duly did (the Oxford University History degree examination paper at the start of ADE). Then in 1991 I entered it for the Victor Gollancz/ BBC Bookshelf First Fantasy Novel Competition and to my abiding joy and relief it won. The editorial process preceding publication in 1992 naturally involved yet more changes and additions. All in all the book has accompanied me for more years than I care to admit.

Q ) What prompted you to write this particular story ?

A ) The idea for the book very slightly (mere months) post-dates my writing a 'role-playing game' set in the alternate world described by ADE At the time I was quite heavily engaged in 'role-playing', graduating from Dungeons and Dragons as per its first appearance in the UK, to my own 'D&D' based Dale game, and then to the incomparable Empire of the Petal Throne by Prof M.A.R. Barker, published then by - I think - TSR. I then became more and more fascinated by the ADE alternative history which had occurred to me - i.e. where 'magic' worked and had been codified, and where the Reformation had failed both ideologically and militarily. It seemed an obvious progression at the time to construct a game system round the notion, if only because the 'gunpowder and advanced society' type background would make a refreshing change from the usual pseudo-medieval style contexts for most role-playing universes (in those days, I hasten to add). The notion coincided with a fortuitous (in retrospect) period of unemployment and so my Continuum game got written and had its debut in 1977 or 1978. It proved a success with my circle of friends and was played intensively for years after until marriages, mortgages and offspring intervened. Even now it gets hauled out for one-off games on holidays and such. I suppose I owe the wealth of detail worked out for the Continuum world (only a fraction of which makes its way into ADE) to the years of development involved in role-playing through it.

By the bye, and strange as it may seem, the whole idea derives from just one image which occurred to me, out of the blue, (I can even pinpoint the spot on the walk I was taking at the time) of a sorcerer, in vaguely 'Victorian' dress, sitting in an English country tavern. It all evolved from that ....

Q ) How did you determine the events of your alternative world ?

A ) I suppose it's true to say that - thanks to my father - my one great interest is history. My extensive reading in the subject over the years and my studies (actually I did archaeology at university but it's an associated field) provided the mental background for ADE. Speaking specifically of English history, I've concluded that much of what has been written by most historians (until very recently) about the period from the Reformation to the 'Glorious Revolution' (which was neither) in 1688 was, at best, mistaken, or more often, perpetuated falsehoods constructed in the interest of a narrow elite. James II, for instance, has had a 'hatchet-job' done on him by writers like Macaulay which makes that visited on Richard II (crook-back, princes-in-the-Tower murderer etc.) look like mild criticism. The English history of that period as I was taught it now strikes me as the amending testimony of the victors, fuelled by guilt. In short: 'it ain't necessarily so' and historians like J.J. Scarisbrick and Eamon Duffy are now pointing this out. So, in answer to your question, I saw that things could very easily (and perhaps should) have gone another way. There were an abundant wealth of opportunities for events to take a different course, such as Mary I having a child, Elizabeth I dying 'early', Cromwell emigrating to the New World, James II not having a nose-bleed in 1688 and chucking William of Orange back where he came from .... and so on. Of course, the most profound and changing alteration in the world I've described is the harnessing of the powers of the mind (or 'magic') somewhen after the fall of the Western Roman Empire. All the other amendments are nothing by comparison.

Q ) How many stories do you expect to write in this storyline?

A ) Three books, insha' Allah and publishers permitting. Not a trilogy as such but three linked volumes. Gollancz have offered me a contract for the second, To Build Jerusalem (TBJ), which should appear later this year or early in '95. TBJ is set, coincidentally enough, in 1995 and whereas ADE spanned the long life of a man in the English Church apparatus, the second describes just a few months of quite high level power politics. My aim over the full series is to provide a wide overview of this world but from differing perspectives. As I say, they are all intimately connected and characters and events in one make appearances in the others, but they are not automatically perceived in the same manner. Just to whet your appetite, TBJ concerns insurrection in England and the 'science' of magic, hitherto considered a 'tame' and useful instrument, showing signs of independence ....

Q ) What other writing have you done and had published?

A ) As to 'biography' all I wish to admit is I'm a tenth generation (at least) south-west Surrey aboriginal, married to Liz, father to Joseph, Rebecca and Esther - all of which I'm rather proud of. In addition, there also happens to be on my charge list:

Upward of a dozen short stories in anthologies in the UK, Germany and the USA both 'small-press' and 'mainstream'. They were mostly 'ghost stories', in the broadest sense of the genre, and part of my interminable Binscombe Tales series about supernatural events in a modern English village.

The novel Popes and Phantoms, published by Gollancz in 1993, which supposedly 'wreaked stylish havoc on Renaissance Italy' according to Time Out - if you believe such people. It dealt with historic personages but was heavily visited by magic, monsters and the elf-folk.

At the moment I'm half-way through writing a novel set in the England of 1685 and concerning the Battle of Sedgemoor (provisionally titled Elves and Muskets, it has since appeared as The Royal Changeling). Again, this involves a world superficially like our own, but beneath the surface strange forces are showing their faces .... As you might presume from my comments above, there's the distinct possibility of the very maximum 'havoc' being wreaked on the received 'Whig' interpretation of English history.


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