The Time's Arrow author talks about writing a novel with a bit of help from his readers.
Time’s Arrow , the latest novel in Abaddon Books’ Pax Britannia series, is a little different from previous titles. Originally published in three parts in e-book form, Time’s Arrow invited its readers to vote on how the story should progress after each of the first two instalments. As the story is collected for the first time, SFX talks to author Jonathan Green about the challenges of writing a book without knowing how it would end.
SFX : Time’s Arrow was published in an unusual way. How did that work?
Jonathan Green: “It was going to be the eighth Ulysses Quicksilver adventure, but it was going to be a while between that and the previous title. So I suggested, ‘Why don’t we do it in three parts, as e-books?’ But the USP is that at the end of each part – well, part one and part two – people can go online and vote on how the story continues. So it was a marriage of the gamebook and the novel. Obviously, it’s very easy to say that to a publisher and they say, ‘Yeah, that’s great.’ Because the only person it inconvenienced was me. I’ve never written a novel where I don’t know how it’s going to end, so that was quite challenging. I had an outline, and I needed characters to get from A to B but it was the bit in-between which could change. It significantly changed the story, but there was a natural narrative flow and as it worked out, it’s gone exactly how I would have hoped, which I couldn’t have predicted.
“The tricky thing will be to see what people make of it now it’s out as a single edition. Does it read like a novel that was written in one go? It’s tricky with foreshadowing and things like that. Obviously when you write a novel, you suddenly think of something halfway through, but then you can go back and put it in. You can’t do that with this format.
“As a writer, it’s nice to be challenged, and to keep things fresh and exciting. It all leads back into when people say to me, ‘Which is your favourite book that you’ve written?’ I always say, ‘The next one.’ Because that’s what excites me. I’m proud of various books for different reasons, but by the time they’ve come out, I might have written them a year ago and read them four times already, so that’s not giving me the buzz any more.”
SFX : Did you go back and change things for the collected edition, or is what we’re seeing what was published originally?
Jonathan Green: “Yes, what you’re seeing is what was published. I thought it would be dishonest, having said to people, this is what we’re going to do. It is an experiment. I don’t think anybody tried it before. I suppose maybe Dickens. That was part of the inspiration, because it is obviously faux-Victorian, it was inspired by the fact that Dickens published on a monthly basis, and sometimes changed his story depending on audience reaction.
SFX : How long did Time’s Arrow run to in the end?
Jonathan Green: “It’s about 70,000 words. For some people that would be considered quite short these days. Not that long ago, that was your typical pulp novel length, so it fits the format. Jon Oliver, my editor, is very good. He’s very tough on me and keeps it really tight. It makes for a much better story. It is a pulp-y read, but it’s also a page-turner. It keeps it punchy.”
SFX : What’s next for Ulysses Quicksilver?
Jonathan Green: “Actually, I’m not sure. I know where I’d like to take it. I have an overarching plan, but the next Pax Britannia thing I’m writing is a spin-off. For one of my books I did my version of steampunk Batman, and it’s unashamedly meant to be that. That’s a running joke throughout. He lasted through one book. Then he made it into the start of the fifth book. And he’s still there, so it’s going to be a spin-off story featuring him.”
Pax Britannia: Time’s Arrow is available now from Abaddon Books .
• Read our previous interview with Jonathan Green .