... Joshua Mowll on the Guild of Specialists, universes, and age bands
It was time to share some of those ancient secrets with the world. Now seemed like an excellent moment to do it.
I lock all my doors and windows at night.
I don't. They are a terrifying and clever gang, so who knows? I did wonder if they might be behind some of the recent banking collapses in the UK.
I first thought of the idea for Operation Red Jericho back in 2001, as I was walking across Dartmoor, best known as the eerie location for Conan Doyle's 'The Hound of the Baskervilles.' I didn't see any luminous dogs, but I was struck by an idea for a novel which would combine adventure with sophisticated illustrations, photographs, side notes and appendices. At the same time, I visualized supporting material packed with a dazzling complexity of detail. It seemed obvious, but I couldn't think of an author who had ever tried to combine these two concepts. I knew that I could create the illustrations without too much trouble as I work as a graphic artist for a national newspaper - but the storytelling would be new and uncharted territory for me. I had one other idea which very quickly became a mantra: it had to be the sort of book that I would have wanted to read when I was young.
Yes, absolutely. I had to plot the novels through because it is really one big story divided into three. I had a very good idea of the final scenes when I began, although the detail naturally evolved as I wrote. The story grew and developed on the original plot structure, but writing a trilogy is a bit like playing a game of three dimensional chess - one small change can have huge repercussions later in the story.
I love the 1920's because I think the aircraft, cars and clothes have never looked better, and the feel of the 'Art Deco' age somehow lends itself to good honest adventuring. Remote parts of the world still remained unexplored, and I needed an era where such a big plot could be set. Asia in the 1920s had got all of that. Steampunk wasn't a huge influence on me, although the parallels have often been drawn by others. As I worked on the illustration I began to create my own visual language; When I needed to invent a huge tunnelling machine, I sat down and designed it. If it has a Steampunk 'feel', it is more through coincidence than anything else.
Some of the background material is real, some is not. I like to tread that fine line between fact and fiction. As you discovered, it intrigues the reader, drawing them in and making them wonder what's real. One of my aims with the book was to create lots of technically difficult visual material - diagrams and photographs - which looked as authentic as possible. No author, to my knowledge, has ever tried to do this in fiction.
I designed the Expedient from nothing and then created several photographs to match it. Not easy! Incidentally, my friend who designs yachts inputted my hull data into his computer to see if the ship would float. It did, and was very stable. I'm not sure how many writers would bother going to this length, but all of this goes to create the Guild's own unique universe, I hope.
I lived and breathed every aspect of the Guild for six or seven years. That crazy world is a part of me. I know it so well that I don't need files or software to keep track of it. I can just shut my eyes and I'm there in wide screen and technicolor. I can't get 5.1 surround sound because I'm a bit deaf in my left ear.
I have a new book out next year in the UK called "The Great Space Race", and I'm working on a a strong idea for my fifth novel. These are not connected to the Guild trilogy, but both are moving in a new and exciting direction for me, and they certainly retain much of the trilogy's DNA. To give you a taste, for the Great Space Race I'm building a 3 metre tall rocket and a robot monkey, both to be photographed for the illustrative content.
I have plotted a sequel to the Guild Trilogy although I don't have plans to write it just yet. It would be called The Coterie of St Petersburg Trilogy.
I'm not sure about the politics of age banding. It has good and bad points, but I suspect in the UK it is being driven by the booksellers' needs, rather than the publishers. I would say 9+ is good banding for the Guild Trilogy, but I know plenty of 20+, 30+, 40+ and 50+ who like reading them, so the logic of it isn't entirely clear to me.
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