PAT KELLEHER is the author of Abaddon's upcoming new series, 'No Man's World' - which starts with Black Hand Gang, due to be released on June 15th!
WESTON OCHSE is the Bram Stoker Award-winning author of Abaddon's zombie horror novel, Empire of Salt. He lives in Arizona, and gave us a dead scorpion when we met him in Brighton. No, really! Okay, it was in the form of a glittery souvenir paperweight...
In march, we had Pat Kelleher interview Weston Ochse to celebrate the release of Empire of Salt! Well, with Pat's Black Hand Gang just around the corner, it's time for Weston to get his own back!
Weston: How did you meet the folks at Abaddon? I assume it was the same dark room selection committee involving shaving cream, steel wool, hula hoops and the Greatest Hits of Abba played at disorienting decibels that I went through.
Pat: You got a selection committee!? You lucky bugger. I was press ganged. I've known fellow Abaddon author Mike Wild for years now. We regularly sit in the pub, drinking pints of Everson's Old Fusilier, batting ideas around, world-building and the like. Little did I suspect I was being groomed (don't take drinks from writers, kids). After one particularly heavy session I woke in an unfamiliar basement chained to a radiator with only the lurid green light of an ancient word processor for company. If I make my daily allotted word count they feed me. If sales are good on Black Hand Gang they've promised me a window.
The truth? When Mike mentioned that the mariner character in the Kerberos world bible was still up for grabs he suggested I put in a pitch. I was hammering it out when I'd found out that Jon Oliver had taken it on, so having just missed my chance at writing for the Kerberos series and not having a zombie or post-apocalyptic idea in my head, when I heard that Abaddon had a one line brief rattling around about WW1 soldiers I seized on it with alacrity, jumping through all the usual hoops of a pitch, a world bible, a sample chapter and chapter breakdown before securing the commission. Throughout the whole process Jon was enthusiastic and encouraging and there was a flurry of emails with Simon Parr, their designer as we thrashed out ideas and sourced reference material for a really a cool cover.* But other than that I have still to meet any of them in the flesh. Strange, that.
The idea of a WWI unit being transported to a hostile planet is intriguing. Can you describe the genesis of the novel?
It's a local war memorial; a bronze statue of a Tommy on a plinth that made an indelible impression on me when I first saw it in childhood, it's a great uncle who died at the Third Battle of Ypres, it's TV documentaries about the Great War containing haunting interviews with survivors.
Beyond that, the initial spark of the story was based in fact, well, I say fact, in that there had been a WW1 battalion that actually vanished in battle; the First 5th Norfolks who, contemporary myth had it, advanced into a cloud at Gallipoli and never came out. The myth persisted in the popular press for a few years but after the war, when the truth was eventually uncovered it was altogether more prosaic and tragic than the legend would have you believe. Nevertheless, the magical 'what if' seed had been planted.**
I felt, as a new Abaddon series, it should have its own distinct tone, something they hadn't done before, and took my initial cues from the books of the period, back when Science Fiction was still called 'Scientific Romance'. Black Hand Gang continues the tradition of those stories, but totally Abaddoned up. Fast paced action and imperialist adventure for the 21st century. If it helps, imagine Charley's War drawn by Kevin O'Neill. I put together a three page pitch and fired it off on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, 2008, the one hundredth anniversary of the Armistice, precisely. Talk about a niche marketing opportunity.
And if this was going to be a First World War battalion, then I really wanted to nail that reality, otherwise it might as well be anybody on an alien planet, so I pored over field manuals, I read journals, diaries, contemporary accounts. I began cherry-picking things from the period that looked interesting; Tesla was claiming to have received extraterrestrial radio signals, there was the rise of the Labour Movement, the General Strike, women's suffrage, Anarchist bombing and shootings and, as I read, the men in the 13th Battalion of the Pennine Fusiliers took on a life of their own. They signed up, made the oath and took the Abaddon shilling, the poor sods. But the War was only half of it.
I always knew the planet was going to be a badass place. Most stories of this period are presented by the author with a mysterious provenance, a journalistic first hand account, letters, an unpublished journal, and so it was with the 13th Pennine Fusiliers. Once I realised that this provenance included silent black and white film, I finally knew that this was the planet, the grainy footage of which would go on to inspire a thousand pulp science fiction magazine covers; untamed and inhospitable even for its indigenous inhabitants: a harsh environment of unforgiving habitats populated by dangerous plants and beasts. Then it just became a case of mashing the two together.
Why WWI soldiers? It seems to me that the weapons and technology wouldn't be the best for combating aliens. I haven't read your book yet, but why not more modern weapons, such as SABOT tank rounds or Hellfire Missiles?
Well, if I'm honest, the weapons were never a primary concern. I knew I wanted a Mark 1 tank, putting the date no earlier than September 1916. I knew I wanted the Somme which only left me a two month window. What ever was available up to and including October 31st 1916 would have to do. Those are the weapons with which I and the Pennines were stuck. And to be honest, I really enjoy having those sorts of limitations.
Sure, the weapons might appear crude by today's standards but in their day they were cutting edge, state-of-the-art and really brought the 'Splodey.
You can ratchet up a body count real quick with a Vickers water-cooled machine-gun (and make a cup of tea into the bargain - how British is that?).
And don't even get me started on gas warfare. Heck, manned flight was barely 10 years old and they'd already figured out how to use it to kill people.
German machine-gun tactics had just changed the face of modern warfare for ever. The British response, the Ironclad landship? It was ripped straight from an HG Wells story. This was Science Fiction becoming science fact right there, right then. This was real life steampunk. These weapons may not be the best for combating aliens, but I for one wouldn't want to be on the receiving end.
So while I can't offer you SABOT tank rounds, depleted uranium bullets or daisy cutters I can offer plum puddings, toffee apples, whizz-bangs, minnies and monsters, with a side order of bayonets 'n' British Pluck served up in a rollicking good yarn.
Clearly you enjoy good science fiction. What are a few of your favorite science fiction novels and was there any one in particular that lent more inspiration for Black Hand Gang than others?
I enjoy good fiction full stop. I'm old enough to have read the 'classics'; Asimov, Clarke, Herbert, Bradbury, Harrison. Mind you, back then anything with a Chris Foss cover would do. I read Phillip K Dick, Greg Bear, China Meiville, Dan Abnett but as for individual books? Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle's, The Mote in God's Eye, Ian M Banks Culture novels, Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash, Paul Cornell's Summertime, Maria Doria Russell's The Sparrow, Carl Sagan's Contact. But Science Fiction is not something to which I restrict myself. I've probably read a lot more fantasy than Science Fiction recently and a whole lot more that isn't either. I buy books faster than I can read 'em, all kinds of stuff. I've added several feet of WW1 research to my shelves in the past year or so which I'm still ploughing through so I haven't had time for much else.
But for my main inspiration, you'd have to go back a hundred years or more.
Authors like HG Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Edwin L Arnold, and Rudyard Kipling. If there were any that had a more direct inspiration on the Black Hand Gang I'd say Arthur Conan Doyle's Professor Challenger stories with a soupcon of John Carter and a seasoning of Gullivar Jones, if not in the specifics at least in the spirit. That's not to say that I'm ignoring a century of Science Fiction. It's just that, filtered through a 1916 character you might not immediately recognize some of it.
They certainly wouldn't. We can sit here today and talk about quantum entanglement, wormholes, M-theory and the like, but back then probably only a half a dozen people in the world understood what the hell Einstein was talking about.
What are your plans when Black Hand Gang hits the streets? Are we talking world tour? Over here in America, I've found that I have so many favorite authors who live in England and I get to meet too few of them.
Folks like Tim Lebbon and Simon Clark I get to see regularly when they travel to America. What about you? Is there going to be a Black Hand Intergalactic Megatour so that all your fans in American and points west can shake your hand and thank you for such great writing? What about getting Abaddon to send you on a whirlwind tour of the Hawaiian Islands? I'll carry your bags...
Well, by the time Black Hand Gang comes out I'll be back in the trenches, deep in the mud of the second novel, I might not have time to stick my head above the parapet, so initially at least I'm hoping to develop more of a web presence. I have some ideas I'm working up to that end. Keep checking here for news. And then, yeah, a breath of fresh air would be good. I'd love to get out to some conventions. I'll be popping up wherever I get the chance.
And an American tour would be great, but I suspect the only way that's going to happen in the near future is if I smuggle myself over in Jon's baggage.
In which case you won't be carrying my bags - I will be the bags. Just don't drop me, or worse, leave me unattended.
*Go here to read about Simon's Black Hand Gang cover design at his blog.
**Go here to read about the lost Sandringham battalion.