B|t|B: Steampunk Week – Interview with Steampunk Author Mark Hodder

Hello fellow Book worms and Page turners, Today post is the first of a series of interview with Steampunk Authors, specially hand picked to go alongside their book reviews for Steampunk week. So we begin with Mark Hodder!

Mark Hodder,  Is an English Steampunk Author, who has since left the dull grey skies on England for the sunnier warmer climate of Spain (cant say I blame him really). He is mostly known for his six-part Steampunk series ‘Burton & Swinburne’ which kicks off with The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, a review of which you can read here. and ends with his final novel , The Rise of the Automated Aristocrats, is due to be released later this month!.

would like to take this opportunity before we start to again thank Mark for taking the time and effort to answering my quizzie questions! .. so with my usual waffling over let’s get on with the main event shall we!

Please introduce yourself to our readers, and tell us what do you feel makes a great storyteller, well … great?
I’m a British-born writer of speculative fiction. I live in Valencia, Spain, with my partner and our twins, who’re just approaching their second birthday. I used to work in London as a freelance copywriter and as a web editor for the BBC. I’d wanted to be a novelist since the age of eleven, so always sought jobs that involved writing, figuring that if I couldn’t get published, I could at least practice the craft. I ended up practicing for far too long! Then, in 2007, I had a near-miss with the 7/7 terrorist attack (I was on the tube train in front of the one that got bombed). It drew a line under my London experience, and, the following year, I abandoned the rat race to seek a more tranquil existence in a better climate. That’s when everything “clicked” and The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack was born. It went on the win the Philip K. Dick Award, which was an incredible confidence booster. Seven novels later, do I know what makes a great storyteller? Yes. Characters. Deep, complex, richly imagined characters. Have them challenged. Have them suffer. Have them pushed beyond their limits and broken. Have them fight back with inner strength and resources they didn’t know they possessed. That, I believe, is the heart of any good story.
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When you are writing do you have any specific methods to how you plan your working, writing, & researching?
I begin with a premise, which is usually in the form of a question. For example, what if a time traveller accidentally alters the past and, by doing so, makes his own future existence impossible? I then create characters. They also grow out of questions: what if a native of the past realises that the history he’s inhabiting isn’t as it should be? Why does he notice when no one else does? Because he’s an outsider. He doesn’t fit in.
Once I have my hero and my villain, I give them each a motive. In Spring Heeled Jack, the villain wants to recreate his home, while the hero wants his current environment to feel like home. Related, but different, motives that must, inevitably, clash.
I begin outlining the plot using a three-act structure. I keep it pretty vague because I know from experience that, once I begin writing, the plot will stray from the structure. When you’re fully invested in your characters, they will, at some point, take over and lead the story in directions you hadn’t anticipated. All you can do is go with the flow.
So, I start hammering at the keyboard and usually write about 2,000 words a day, twice that on a good one. Four or five chapters in, I go back to revise and edit. Then four or five more chapters. Revise. Edit. And so forth.
The middle of the novel is always the hardest. I haven’t yet worked out why. Certainly, though, by the time I reach it, a theme has emerged. In the Burton & Swinburne series, the theme concerns the nature of time and how we deal with the consequences of our actions. My themes grow organically from the story. I never impose them from the start.
As for research, I do it as and when required, and the Internet usually provides whatever info I need.
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The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack, not to mention the entire series thus far, for me has been a defined, zany and thoroughly imaginative set of stories, How on earth did you originally come up with the concept/idea for such a world, not to mention the continuous storyline?
The creation process went like this: if I’m going to write a novel, it should be about something I like and have knowledge of. What do I like? Sherlock Holmes. Victorian detective. Good, I know a lot about Victorian history, so there’s my setting. Who will be my Holmes? I’ve been fascinated by Sir Richard Francis Burton since I was in my teens. So, Burton as Holmes! Okay, I’m using real historical characters. Who for Watson? In real life, Burton was good friends with Algernon Swinburne. The poet as Watson! What a great contrast. What a fantastic opportunity for a little comedy. Next, who is the villain? In keeping with the heroes, it needs to be someone from real history. Jack the Ripper? No. There are too many ripper stories. What other Victorian villains were there? This is where I had to do some research. It led me to Spring Heeled Jack, a wonderfully mysterious and creepy apparition that, to this day, has never been explained. Problem: Spring Heeled Jack was active thirty years before Burton was in his prime. How could I resolve that? Time travel! And that is where my premise snapped into place. From that point on, it was plain sailing, and the plot unfolded almost of its own volition.
The Strange Affair of Spring Heeled Jack was written as a standalone but proved such a success that I knew I needed to extend the story. Fortunately, there were some dangling threads that enabled the creation of The Curious Case of the Clockwork Man. By that point, I knew I was writing a series, so planned ahead for the next novels.
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Did you find it challenging writing about so many characters that are prominent in our own history?
The only challenge was an internal struggle with regard to the respect I have for these people. Charles Darwin is one of my heroes, yet I turned him into a twisted villain. Charles Babbage was a genius, but I made him a crackpot. Herbert Spencer was an intellectual giant, but I cast him as a vagabond. This thorough distorting of the truth was necessary so I could explore the notion that we’re all a product of our environment, but I couldn’t escape the occasional pang of guilt.
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Speaking of historical characters, what was it that made you decide on the “Dynamic Duo” that is Burton & Swinburne? was it purely derived from their real friendship? or something else?
In real history, their friendship was based on a mutual fascination with the breaking of social boundaries. They were both atypical of their time, both rebellious, and both frowned upon by the authorities. With them, I was able to put the “punk” into steampunk. I was also attracted to the physical contrast. Burton the big, muscular brute. Swinburne, the diminutive, effeminate eccentric. They brought with them real character traits that are fascinating. Burton was just incredible. He could speak uncountable languages, was a master swordsman, had a propensity for disguise, was a writer and scholar, explorer and anthropologist, yet also felt that he didn’t properly belong anywhere. Swinburne was an alcoholic genius, had a condition that meant he felt pain as pleasure, and was totally unpredictable. Just amazing individuals.
I had one critic who complained that I’d made Burton unbelievably talented. Fact is, I never gave him any abilities he didn’t possess for real.
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Could you give us, a little taste of what to expect from your upcoming work “THE RISE OF THE AUTOMATED ARISTOCRATS” & did you experience any issues while writing your latest work?
This is the final book in the series, and it sees our heroes dealing with the consequences of their journey into the future (as told in The Return of the Discontinued Man). We get to visit the real historical versions (as opposed to the alternate history versions) of Burton and Swinburne, and we see Burton resolving an issue that, in real history, resonated for many decades after his death. There are many transformations, and, I hope, a satisfying conclusion that will, perhaps, leave a few readers with happy tears in their eyes.
The only issue I had with this one is that it coincided with the first year of my twins’ existence, which disrupted the writing process. But I have to get used to that. It’s only going to get worse. My son can now reach and operate the door handles, making my office vulnerable to his vandalism.
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And finally, what genres do you like to read and what are you reading at the moment?
Mostly, I read science fiction and detective novels, though I occasionally stray into fantasy, horror, historical, and P. G. Wodehouse. I usually have a fiction and non-fiction book on the go at the same time. The non-fiction will often be for research. I revisit the Sherlock Holmes canon every seven years or so, and I read a lot—a LOT—of Sexton Blake stories. Currently, I’m reading Tarzan of the Apes by Edgar Rice Burroughs (for what must be the fifth or sixth time) and Conversations With The Universe by Simran Singh, which is a book about coincidences and patterns in time (one of my obsessions).

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If you wish to find out more about Mark, you can follow him on Twitter, and have a look at his Official Website, all of which are listed below.

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Website :  Official Website
Twitter:  @MarkHodderBooks

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Until next time, read more books..

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