Earlier this year I had the pleasure of reading Liberator, the sequel to Richard Harland’s YA steampunk novel, Worldshaker. Having loved Liberator just as much as Worldshaker, I contacted Richard and asked him for an interview. Here it is…
Did you always plan to (or at least hope to) write a second book? Or was Worldshaker meant to be a stand-alone novel?
It happened the way it usually happens for me. I planned Worldshaker as a stand-alone, but on the way through writing it, I started to think about possible future developments. By the time I reached the end, I knew what strands I needed to leave open to bud the sequel from.
The big difference this time was that I actually planned a sequel and a third book, making a trilogy. But my publisher said too much time would have passed by the time book two appeared, so why not create a duology rather than a trilogy? When I started putting the material for books two and three together, it locked in perfectly. That was never planned at all.
Was it difficult getting back into the heads of the characters for the sequel?
No, but then I didn’t have to get back to them in the same place where I’d left them. Liberator starts three months after the end of Worldshaker, and the whole situation has changed in those three months. So it was more a matter of working out how the characters would have adapted in their new circumstances. Which took a whole lot of thinking and imagining — but it was great fun, new creation and not just more of the same.
Worldshaker was very well-timed, as steampunk was rising in popularity. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
The only conscious decision was that I didn’t start writing Worldshaker until I could see some hope of getting it published in Australia — and that depended on the first signs of the steampunk trend appearing. But I’d already been planning the novel for ten years, like a private hobby. Steampunk was what I’d always wanted to write — I just didn’t know it could be called ‘steampunk’!
Maybe I was also lucky that it took me five years to write. Jay Lake told me at the Melbourne Worldcon that he thought his steampunk novel Mainspring (great imagination, I highly recommend it!) came out too early, before steampunk really hit its straps.
I love the way you people your novels with bizarre characters — they’re often weird, but with enough grounding that the reader still cares about what happens to them. Do you consciously plan to include ‘odd’ characters, or do they just come out that way?
I guess I create the kind of characters I love reading about in other people’s books. Larger than life, high energy … Fabulous monsters! But I’m glad you feel they’re always grounded, because I do base them on real people and real traits in myself and others — only carried to extremes. Worldshaker and Liberator are very Dickensian novels in many ways, but I try to avoid Dickensian caricatures.
I hope the reader cares about them, because I do — very very much!
You’ve written quite a few books over the years. While they have all been successful, it’s Worldshaker and Liberator that seem to have propelled you into the limelight, both here in Australia and overseas. What is it about these books?
They’re my best books, for sure, and from what people have said, they’re the most compulsively readable. I aim to write a story that’s impossible to put down! But it’s also the sheer luck of producing the right story at the right time. The planets have come into alignment for me!
Has the success of Worldshaker and Liberator changed your life as an author? Are publishers now banging on your door, vying for your next book?
Well, at least I don’t have to worry about finding a publisher. The time when success really came home to me was when I did the tours of US and UK for Worldshaker — getting put up at the ritziest hotels, expense account, escorted everywhere, chauffeured limousines. For four weeks I felt like a rock star!
But no, nothing much has really changed. I still start writing straight after breakfast, I still get caught up in the world of what I’m writing — still the same boring writer’s routine. The outside world at home is the same as it always was, and the inside world, the world I get into in my head … Truth is, I enjoy that more than any rock star existence!
You refer to Worldshaker and Liberator as a duology. That implies no more sequels. But the end of Liberator, while finishing the story, would certainly allow for more. Is there any chance of a third book?
Not immediately. I’d like to come back to further developments of the story at some stage, but Col and Riff won’t feature as main characters any more. After all, their romance has wrapped up — what more can they do after that?
I’ve started work on another steampunk novel. I think it’s the same world as Worldshaker and Liberator, but a different time and place (without the juggernauts). I’m very very excited about this one!
George’s bit at the end
Tune in next time for a bit of Dracula down under.
Catch ya later, George
PS. Follow me on Twitter.