Abaddon Books

Journal of the Plague Year: Adrian Tchaikovsky interview

5 years ago

Hello again friends, and welcome back to final part of our Journal of the Plague Year interview series. I'm sure you all know the drill by now, but just in case you ended up here by taking a wrong turn somewhere between google and facebook (we've all been there, don't worry - you're safe now) please do pull up a chair and catch up with part one and two in series first. We'll give you a moment, there's no rush.

All good? Fantastic, then let me pass you on to the more than capable hands of Abaddon editor David Moore and Adrian Tchaikovsky, author of the The Bloody Deluge.

DM: Eastern Europe is an area not well represented in English-language fiction. What does the region have to offer to English readers?

AT: Eastern Europe (or, from the Polish perspective, Central Europe) is a cornucopia of history that simply doesn’t filter much into English sensibilities. There are centuries of struggle and tragedy and heroic incident east of where the Iron Curtain once stood that people in the West simply don’t hear about, unless they’ve read Michener or Zamoyski, say. And some of it is frankly a gift for a writer of speculative fiction. The siege of Jasna Gora during the original Deluge – the Swedish invasion of Poland – is like something out of David Gemmell – the single monastery holding out against the invading army until the people rise up and drive them out – ok, that is a massively simplified summary, but still. And in Russia, of course, you’ve got Alexander Nevsky and his fight against the Teutonic Knights – the battle on the ice, all of that. For a writer, there is an enormous store of material there waiting to be tapped, that is going to be unfamiliar and fresh to most English-language readers.

DM: Faith versus scepticism is a big theme in your story, represented at the extremes by Rev. Calumn and Dr. Weber and by more moderate voices among the inmates at Jasna Góra. Is this an important subject for you? Where do you stand?

AT: Is it an important subject for me? I guess I would be very happy to live in a world where faith wasn’t a constant source of global friction, but that’s not going to happen any time soon. In Deluge I’ve tried to provide a range of possibilities rather than casting the debate in black and white. Calumn is a TV evangelist, an opportunist fopr whom religion is a way of holding on to power and influence, both before and after the fall, and needless to say he’s not a very nice man. Abbot Leszek is more complex, and I can’t really say too much about him without spoilers, but he’s certainly not an unblemished soul by any means. Emil Weber, though... I mean, to a certain extent, Weber is a Dawkins-style figure. He is an atheist who sees the rational world being overtaken by a new wave of religious extremism in the wake of the plague. He has the good of humanity at heart, but he has no compromise in him, so he is constantly striking sparks from anyone who disagrees with him. And he’s right. Weber is absolutely right in his concerns about the way the future could go, and I think in his position I would have exactly the same fears – of a new dark age of ignorance – I just wouldn’t necessarily have the utter – and sometimes insufferable – courage of my convictions in the way that he does.

DM: Katy Lewkowitz is an awesome hero, at a time when female characterisation is very much a hot topic in genre. What makes a good female hero? What do you look for?

AT: What makes a good female hero: depth, strengths, weaknesses, moments of testing, doubts, triumphs and failures. And being female. For a male hero, the same, but substitute “male” for that last. I write a lot of female protagonists, which at base I think is probably a reaction to fantasy fiction having a preponderance of male protagonists, because I’m awkward like that. I probably write about heroic insect-characters for the same reason. I have seen various pros and cons advanced for male or female protagonists, and mostly these get mired very quickly in gender stereotyping. I don’t think there’s any barrier to having female characters – heroes, villains or spear-carriers - especially in fantasy where the author controls so many more of the variables. Once you’ve uncoupled yourself from that standard image of the hero as automatically male (white, able, cis, etc.), it allows for much more diverse writing – and I don’t mean diverse in a ‘politically correct’ sort of a way, just diverse. As a writer, there’s never a downside to having more options.

DM: You’re best known as a fantasy author. What was it like, writing in the post-apocalypse genre?

AT: Challenging. I’m very used to playing in a world where I get to call all the shots. Suddenly I’m writing in the real world, even if it’s a real world that’s gone completely to hell. There are all sorts of pre-set constants I’ve got to work with. I had to scrabble around for material on Jasna Gora, for example, to get the physical layout as accurate as I could (and I’m sure that people will find stuff that’s wrong anyway, and then I’ll never hear the end of it) – and that’s harder than you’d think because most of what people write about it focuses on small details – particular relics and treasures – rather than giving you a wargames-ready battle map. I also spent far too long with Google Earth working out roadmaps and routes over the German-Polish border.

DM: And was this your first work in a shared world? What are the pitfalls?

AT: Well, I got a good brief and a chance to ready some of the earlier novels, and I think that gave me a sufficient mental toolkit to approach the series. Also, of course, one of the reasons I took the action to Poland was that nobody else had been there, so I had a freer hand than if I’d wanted to set things in the US or the UK. From the brief, I saw that there was an existing mention of right-wing extremism erupting in Germany, but no hard details, and so I took that and ran with it, hopefully in a direction other than the obvious.

In Adrian Tchaikovsky's The Bloody Deluge, Katy Lewlowitz and her friend and old tutor Dr. Emil Weber, fleeing the depredations of the so-called New Teutonic Order, take refuge among the strangely anachronistic survivors at the monastery of Jasna Góra in Western Poland. A battle of faith ensues, that could decide the future of humankind...

The Bloody Deluge is the third novella in the coming post-apocalyptic omnibus collection Journal of the Plague Year out 3rd July 2014 (UK) and 12th August 2014 (US).

Order: UK | US | DRM-free