Author interview: Adrian Tchaikovsky

New author Adrian Tchaikovsky is published today by Pan Macmillan . His novel Empire in Black and Gold is set in a fantasy world where human civilisations are influenced by insect characteristics. There's a review in issue 172 , and here we thought it would be good to speak to the man himself, and ask him to give you a flavour of what's in store:

SFX: Can you list five words that describe your writing?
Adrian Tchaikovsky:
"Character-driven, fast, emotive, action-packed, entomological. I can hyphenate, can't I?"

SFX: Sure, why not! Without giving too much away, what's the basic premise of your new novel?
AT:
"The Lowlands of the insect-kinden are a mess of warring city-states, each against its neighbour, but the Beetle-kinden, with their social and technological advances, have slowly been civilising the place, spreading enlightenment, trade, an end to slavery, the value of learning. The Beetles are complacent, though, and of them all, only one man is willing to face up to the fact that the Lowlands' close neighbour, the Wasp-kinden Empire, is gearing up for a war of conquest. The book follows that man, Stenwold Maker, as he tries to open the eyes of the Lowlands, and tries to thwart the Empire's first opening moves against his people. As the Wasps are well aware of the message he's been spreading, one of their first moves is to try and get rid of him..."

SFX: What was your biggest challenge in envisioning the fantasy world of Empire in Black and Gold?
AT:
"There are some big differences between the world of the insect-kinden and the real one (or a lot of other fantasy worlds). The wildlife is completely different - there are no wild vertebrates at all - and that has a knock-on effect on how people live, what they eat and what they make things out of, and even what figures of speech they use. Then again, there's no religion as we would understand it, and that also has a massive impact on the characters' language, especially what they say when they hit their thumb with a hammer. It's been difficult to distance myself from everyday expressions and modes of speech that would make no sense in their word. In addition to that, as the characters all have an insect aspect to them, the challenge is to stress the fact that they're all still human, despite the occasional wings and claws."

SFX: So what is it about insects that inspires you?
AT:
"I've liked insects since I was a child. Keep your birds and rabbits and squirrels - when you're young insects are the safari in your back garden. Insects are completely alien, but at the same time they can be used to hold a mirror up to us - their toiling industry, their bloody-minded perseverance, the cruelty of the microcosm that they live in. The heroes and villains of Empire in Black and Gold are human, but their insect natures give a lot of scope in characterisation."

SFX: Okay, tell us a little bit about your characters. What do you like about them? How much of you is in them?
AT:
"There are no outright heroes and villains. One thing I was very keen on was to make sure that the Wasps, who are the aggressors, aren't evil by nature. They have a savage and warmongering civilisation, but individual Wasps can be as good or bad as anyone else. Thalric, the main villain who drives the plot of Empire has his virtues, not least his faith in and loyalty to the Empire that he serves. Similarly the heroes have their dark sides. Nobody's perfect."

SFX: What's the weirdest thing you've done in the name of research?
AT:
"In a word: larping. Live role-playing. It may seen an odd thing to write off as research, but there are very few hobbies that allow you to experience an five-hundred a side freeform field battle or an honour duel or a night raid, and for a fantasy writer it can be useful hands-on experience."

SFX: You were born in Lincolnshire, but you share a surname with the Russian composer. Is it a pen-name, or does your family trace its history to other lands?
AT:
"Ah, the name. Well, the name's got a story behind it. You see, my real name is such that I have to spell it to people about ten times every day, so what you see on the cover of the book is the most easily recognised alternative spelling of that. My family are originally from Poland - my grandfather came over during the war - and I'm very proud of my heritage; but on the other hand, having a name that nobody in this country seems to be able to pronounce would make it difficult for people to ask for the book in the shops."

SFX: We recently ran a writing competition in the mag - any tips for newbie writers on where they should begin?
AT:
"Don't give up, mainly. It took me a long while or writing and submitting and being knocked back before I got to this point. And always be open to criticism. Learning to take criticism as something other than a personal attack is vital, because when you do end up talking to an agent or a publisher there'll always be things that they bring you up on."

SFX: Do you have any pet hates about modern fantasy fiction?
AT:
"Elves and dragons! No, elves and dragons can be done very well, honestly. There are plenty of interesting ways to use elves and dragons. There are also a few dull ways to use elves and dragons, and those ways seem to be by far the more prevalent in today's market, sadly."

SFX: How long until the next in the series is published?
AT:
"I believe we're looking for a February 2009 release for Dragonfly Falling (book two) and autumn 2009 for book three."

SFX: Thank you, Adrian!

You can find out more about Adrian Tchaikovsky at his personal blog . Remember Empire in Black and Gold is published today (Friday 4 July) in paperback and as an ebook by Pan Macmillan . Check out SFX regularly for more author interviews and book reviews . A
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