Leicestershire-born Chris Wooding signed his first book deal aged 19, and now aged 32 he's written 16 books. His latest, Retribution Falls, is the first novel set in a new universe which he hopes will become and ongoing series. It represents a shift towards lighter, pulpy writing for him - "a swashbuckling, action-packed caper starring a group of sarcastic, cynical, wisecracking liars" is how he describes it - set in a retro-fantasy world.
SFX caught up with up recently and quizzed him about it:
SFX: Without spoiling the plot for us, can you give us a little bit of an introduction to the story?
Wooding: "Darian Frey is the ineffectual leader of a dysfunctional bunch of layabouts and losers who sometimes get around to a bit of sky piracy. Together they are the crew of the airship Ketty Jay. When a too-good-to-be-true job turns out to be, well, too good to be true, Frey finds himself suddenly public enemy number one. Somebody has set up the crew of the Ketty Jay, and they have to find out who and why before the Navy catch and hang the lot of them. Capers ensue."
SFX: Is your lead character based on anybody? How did you come up with him?
Wooding: "He’s actually based on an English guy I met one night in a bar in Madrid. He looked like a Gillette model, all rugged and very stylish and so on, but he was blind drunk and telling the most outrageous lies in a loud voice to everyone in the bar. Like how he got caught up in a fight between Japanese and Chinese businessmen in London, and they all pulled samurai swords and started killing each other in front of him. I found myself thinking: why does he need to lie about his obviously fictional exploits in order to impress everyone? Why does a guy who looks as good as he does have such low self-esteem? And Darian Frey was born…"
SFX: How much has Steampunk played a part in your inspiration?
Wooding: "Steampunk has been an influence but that’s mainly because Retribution Falls harks back to pre-WW1 pulp adventures and Steampunk does too. The setting is vaguely Victorian-era and I’m using macro-technology rather than micro, so there’s naturally a lot of crossover, but it wasn’t intended as a Steampunk book. More like a retro-fantasy Pirates Of The Caribbean in the sky."
SFX: Have you had a chance to meet your readers and conventions and signings? Have you had good feedback to the book so far?
Wooding: "I have, and the feedback for the book has been great. I think people have responded to the tone of it. It’s nice to read a book every so often that doesn’t take itself too seriously. I was having a hell of a lot of fun writing it, and I think that’s come through in the text."
SFX: What do you think is the key to writing good high-adventure SF stories?
Wooding: "Shed a little of that 21st Century cynicism and loosen up. Other than that, you need pace, tight plotting, a dash of humour and a lot of heart. Add a pinch of cinnamon and you’re done."
SFX: Where's the genre at right now - should we all be putting our money on airships and sky pirates as the Next Big Thing?
Wooding: "I wouldn’t bet on it. Steampunk has been hovering around for a long while and it’s never really caught on in a big way. What we are seeing more of is a move towards more character-driven stories, like the works of Rothfuss and Abercrombie. Stories with a heavy focus on character development. That style isn’t genre specific, it’s just good writing, and readers are responding to it. The two I’ve mentioned have been fantasy books, but I like to think that Retribution Falls shows it can be done with other genres too."
SFX: How many books have you got planned in this new series?
Wooding: "Since every book will be a standalone, it’s difficult to say exactly. But I have plenty of ideas: Retribution Falls only shows the tip of the iceberg regarding the world it’s set in. So we’ll see. The next is provisionally called The Black Lung Captain and comes out next year."
SFX: What are your pet hates about SF and fantasy at the moment, and how are you avoiding them in your writing?
Wooding: "My pet hates are different for both genres. I hate SF books that think all you need to make a book is cool technology and mind-bending ideas, without a decent plot or characters. And I hate when fantasy books are allowed to ramble off into five hundred page diatribes which don’t advance the story one bit. I guess I just avoid those pitfalls by being aware of them. And because five hundred pages is a lot and I’d rather be economical, thanks."
SFX: We recently ran a writing competition in the mag - any tips for newbie writers on where they should begin?
Wooding: "It doesn’t matter what you begin with, what matters is that you write, anything and everything. Everything you write makes you better. But if you really need a tip, here’s one: a good story begins in opposition to its ending. That means you work out how it finishes first, and then begin the story as far away from that point – in terms of character development – as you can. Take Dickens’ A Christmas Carol as an example. If you want your character to learn the value of generosity, then start him off as a miser. The rest, as they say, writes itself."
SFX: Thanks Chris!
Check out Chris Wooding's official website here . Retribution Falls is published by Gollancz and is available now.