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News Spotlight -- Genre Books and Media
by Sandy Auden

Mike Carey on the latest supernatural exploits of exorcist Felix Castor in The Naming of the Beasts; Mick Sims and Len Maynard leave their safe house to reveal the truth about Department 18; and Mark Newton reveals his light touch during an interview about Nights of Villjamur.

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Material for possible inclusion here should be sent to Sandy Auden at SFSiteNews@live.co.uk.

September 2009
Mike Carey talks Beastly Nomenclature

The Naming of the Beasts Mike Carey's fifth Felix Castor novel, The Naming of the Beasts, is released this month and continues the adventures of the wry-humoured exorcist with a habit of getting himself into trouble.

This time there's an innocent woman lying dead while her daughter is comatose; Castor's remaining friends are in fear of their lives; and there's a demon loose on the streets. That demon is Asmodeus and he's walking free in a body belonging to Castor's best friend Rafi -- unfortunately, if Fix stops the demon, Rafi dies.

It's been a fascinating journey, through many mysteries, to bring Castor to this deadly state of affairs. From the very start, events have moulded the exorcist and forced him to grow but how much does Mike Carey think Castor has changed over the series and how much will he change before the story arc completes in book six? "I think a lot of the most profound changes happen very early on, in (book one) The Devil You Know. That's when Castor decides that shooting first and asking questions later really isn't good enough, and starts to ask the big questions about what he's doing and what's happening around him. Once that's happened, a lot of other things seem to flow from it, almost inevitably, and we follow out the consequences in the subsequent books.

"Some of the consequences involve Castor's relationships with other characters -- especially his brother, Matthew. Others relate to how he does his job, and the kind of work he takes on -- or refuses to take on. Nothing can ever be so free and easy for him now.

"It's fair to say that one of Castor's defining characteristics is that -- although he sometimes tries -- he can never drown out a sense of responsibility for past screw-ups. It's not just that he's compromised, it's that he knows he is and wants to buy his way free -- find an honourable way of setting some of that ancient baggage down.

"In Book Six he confronts his oldest mistake, and maybe is offered the possibility of atoning for it. But what's on the line goes far beyond his conscience and his personal crisis: it has to do with those big questions again, and why the dead are here among us in the first place. This is the biggest thing Castor's ever done, or tried to do, and he has to come out of it -- if he comes out at all -- a different man."

With the start of the story back in 2006, there's been ample time for the narrative to gain a mind of its own and move off in an entirely different way to what was originally intended. "Actually it's all flowed with miraculous, almost scary ease. I think that's because of how I approached the storytelling -- stuff I learned when I was writing Lucifer.

"Neil Gaiman once said to me that writing a monthly book is a skill that you can only pick up by doing it. From the outside, it's impossible to see the complex interplay of planning and serendipity that makes up the finished product. I realised from about the start of the second year of Lucifer that he was right, and that it was probably true of any kind of serial storytelling. Some things you always know you want to get to, others happen because a great idea hits you out of nowhere, or because a blatant plot contrivance grows in the telling and turns into something interesting and worthwhile. "You know that expression that AI gurus use -- fuzzy logic? Well when you write a series, you need a fuzzy blueprint -- one that's capable of being radically changed in certain areas without falling apart."

How does Jenna-Jayne and her despicable research facility fit into that fuzzy logic? "She's the other half of the Faustian pact that Castor has to make. Once he realises that there's no way he can take Asmodeus down on his own, he goes to Jenna-Jane and -- with emotions you can probably imagine -- asks for her help. But of course, the very essence of that kind of deal is that you end up paying way more than you thought you would.

"Again, as soon as I introduced Jenna-Jane, way back in Vicious Circle, I knew there had to be a book where she and Castor seriously locked horns. Despite the fact that they're nominally on the same side here, this is that book."

And the next book will be the final climactic volume where we find out why the dead are rising. Thankfully, we won't have to wait too long it: "Book Six is fully planned out and ready to go. I'll be writing it over the next six months."

And while he's doing that, Carey has a lot of other things to work on too. "They're mostly comic book projects. The Unwritten, my new Vertigo series, is taking up a lot of my time (very pleasurably). I'm writing X-Men Legacy for Marvel, along with a Human Torch miniseries and an adaptation of the Orson Scott Card novel, Ender's Shadow. I'm also writing a movie screenplay which is coming together really nicely and doing some work on a computer game scenario for Electronic Arts. It's a great mix of projects, really -- no overlap, so in theory at least I flex a lot of different creative muscles and avoid getting stale and samey."

The Naming of the Beasts is released by Orbit books on September 3rd 2009.

For more information…

Department 18 Revealed - Mick Sims and Len Maynard Sign For New Novel

Mick Sims and Len Maynard have signed the contracts with Leisure publishers for their fourth novel -- a second Department 18 book, called Night Souls.

It wasn't easy to do but, with Maynard and Sims help, we tracked down a representative of Dept 18 and pitched a few questions to them.

Please keep this information safe or we'll have to shoot you.

What is Department 18?

The operative told us: "We operate out of Whitehall in London, England, and are closely associated with the other services M15 and MI6, and are directly under the aegis of the Home Office. Like all branches of the Civil Service, Department 18 is non-political.

"We have a number of teams that investigate cases of the paranormal in Great Britain. Not only do we look after our domestic interests but we also open our resources to various government departments across the globe, sharing our expertise and wide experience in this field.

"The origins of Department 18 can be traced back to a meeting in 1922 between Fletcher Pressman, the munitions millionaire, and Genevieve Madison, an American medium, well-known in the United States for her work in the field of psychic research, and equally for a series of exposes of fake mediums and clairvoyants."

What kind of cases do they investigate?

"Since its creation in the 1920s, Department 18 has tackled a wide range of cases involving the paranormal and associated psychic phenomena. Hauntings, poltergeist activity, demonic possession and many other examples of the paranormal fall under our remit, and we have tackled them all at one stage or another over the past 90 years."

Who is employed by the Dept and what roles do they fulfil?

"Included on our staff are some of the most experienced para-psychologists in the world, as well as some leading clairvoyants, dowsers, empaths and pre-cognitives. The current Head of Department18 is Simon Crozier.

"We are always looking for people with similar gifts to join us. Do you think you have the gift?"

Never mind trying to recruit us -- tell us what previous cases the Dept have been involved with?

"The recent major case was cleared for access under the heading:
CASE STUDY D18 / 2008 171

"And on the Dept18.com website is CLASSIFIED as a CODE VIOLET case, with Level 4 security clearance or higher required for access.

"This highly sensitive piece of Department information has been leaked to the public domain and been published as a work of fiction under the irritatingly accurate name of Black Cathedral. This 'novel' is by long standing supernatural writers L.H. Maynard and M.P.N. Sims, both subject to long term surveillance by the UK Government, primarily through the Department.

"We tried to halt progress but without success as certain incidents are described in full and accurate detail. Personal information about D18 members is revealed, some of it highly sensitive in nature."

What's the current case about?

"The new case is Night Souls. It is the second leaked novel to feature Department 18 and follows our agent Robert Carter in action.

"There is a race of vampire like creatures. The species is called Spiraci from the Latin to breathe. They are called Breathers. They feed on human souls. They have existed since before Man walked the Earth.

"They have evolved over centuries and in the 21st they are split into three factions. John Holly leads a global business that has franchised the feeding. He is organized and ruthless and wants to genetically modify the creature's DNA so they are less dependent on humans. They would have no need for them but would inhabit the planet.

"Rachel Grey runs a second faction and wants to destroy Holly so she can operate the creatures as her forefathers did -- in the traditional manner. This would increase the feeding on humans and destroy them.

"Both groups are a threat to humanity.

"The third group is less organized, barely a group at all. They are led by Jason Pike who wants to stop the other two groups, and have a complete end to the feeding. This is because he was human but was turned by one of Holly's ancestors.

"The action takes place over a three day period."

The operative refused to answer any more questions at this point so we managed to get one quick question in with authors Maynard and Sims before they went back into hiding:

How difficult was the current Night Souls case to document?

"The action moves from England to Poland and back again with visits to America along the way. It was hard to document because Department 18 are so secretive. We first got a tip about the infestation in the apartment complex in Canary Wharf and we were lucky that we had a Poland contact that put us in touch with what was going on over there and further afield.

"Events touch on the subject of modern day slavery, and the figures quoted are accurate, as far as can be guessed at. Millions of men, women and children trafficked around the world for profit and gain. That's a real life horror.

But it's a supernatural thriller, and it's entertainment, and Leisure have it scheduled for June 2010 with a sexy cover."

For more information…

Mark Charan Newton on Nights of Villjamur

The Naming of the Beasts In his first major label debut novel, Nights of Villjamur, Mark Charan Newton takes us to the gates of Villjamur city where an ice age strikes a chain of islands and thousands come to seek sanctuary. It's a place of ancient spires and bridges, a place where banshees wail the deceased and cultists use forgotten technology for their own gain.

When the Emperor commits suicide, his elder daughter, Rika, is brought home to lead the Jamur Empire, but the sinister Chancellor plans to get rid of her and claim the throne for himself. Meanwhile a senior investigator in the city inquisition must solve the high-profile and savage murder of a city politician, whilst battling evils within his own life; and a handsome and serial womanizer manipulates his way into the imperial residence with a hidden agenda.

Then reports are received that tens of thousands of citizens are dying in a bizarre genocide on the northern islands of the Empire and members of the elite Night Guard are sent to investigate. It seems that, in this land under a red sun, the long winter is bringing more than just snow.

It's an ambitious and complex story and Newton gave us a peek behind the scenes…

What's your background and how did the book come to be published?

It's a long story. I'd been writing consciously in a new weird tradition for some years, until I basically realized that no publisher wanted to take those kinds of fantasies. I had to write something that leant towards more traditional fantasy aesthetics.

The actual genesis originated from a book by little-known SF author Michael Coney -- Hello Summer, Goodbye, which ended with a city/culture retreating into itself. I wondered what that would be like for the start of a novel. So, I built it up from there, whilst stripping away much of the weirdness from another fantasy I was writing.

How long did it take to write?

All in all, about two years. Much of it was creating a new setting or multi-verse, but I already had some words written in that much weirder setting, so it could have taken longer.

How easy was it to fit it round a full time day job?

Not very! I've been fortunate (or unfortunate) to have few other commitments outside of work, so I could knuckle down and get on with the writing. Discipline is the key, just getting some work done each day. Throw out the TV, start declining all those nights out… You have to make sacrifices. After a while it felt natural.

There's lots of layers of story in book one -- how do you keep track of them all?

Perhaps I just get bored easily, but I find it easier to write in that way, rather than just having a few straightforward plots. I enjoy threading in things that people might never spot -- and that's okay because it makes the act of creation more fun. As for keeping track -- that's a mystery to me, too.

There's lots of intrigue going on in the story, with lots of devious manipulations -- how devious are you in real life? And how do you make your book's political manipulations realistic?

Incredibly, I've got your wallet right now in fact. Seriously, I'm less exciting than people might think, so not at all devious -- I'd feel far too guilty if I started acting like that. As for making the political manipulations realistic -- from an early age I've had a healthy cynicism towards politics. When at school, I actually went on work experience with a local MP. Let's just say that it didn't much endear me towards politicians, or indeed the political system…

You only have to dig under the surface of what's said in newspapers to see exactly that spin does its job, which is saddening. Some of what happens in contemporary politics I actually tried to replicate completely, changing only the names. Politics never became the main focus of the novel, deliberately so, but perhaps that's something I can visit later in the series.

And there's even a mystery going on too. Why did you want to include that layer as well?

That was one of the plots reclaimed from my new weird project, and I think mystery very much fits in with the noir mood that this new setting provided. I don't believe genres should be mutually exclusive, but Epic Fantasy more often than not tends to act as if they are. It was a conscious decision to mix things up. Dying Earth fantasy is a very good vehicle in which to play with them all.

And with Jeryd, I wanted to write about a rather useless detective, so he'd have sympathy from the reader -- his life is crumbling around him, and he finds himself in a plot that mirrors Othello. For Jeryd, it's not about the crime -- it never is -- it's about his own sense of melancholy and nostalgia, two very strong undercurrents in the book.

There's a very distinct type of weather in the book. How important do you think the cold is to the atmosphere of your story?

I've never consciously thought about the cold adding to the atmosphere. What I hoped the ice would do is act as a catalyst for the plot, which I suppose gave the book an air of fatalism. Looking back, all I see is typical English skies! But subconsciously I was striving for the city to possess melancholy: the weather is probably an extension of that.

What's going to be happening in book two?

I'll openly say I was more conservative than I like to write, when constructing Nights of Villjamur. It doesn't mean I'm not immensely proud of it -- I am -- but publishing is a business and it's incredibly difficult for new writers to get their foot in the door. So I erred on the side of caution, and it worked.

Now I've got the publication deal, I've set my inner demons free. So book two: much weirder, very much darker, and more violent. Much more original, I hope.

Continuing some of the strands of Nights, it's the story of having to save a city which is already a den of sin, where gangs fight turf wars and trade in bizarre goods. The military are preparing the city for a siege. Oh, and there's a giant serial-killing spider, which ventures on a horrific murder spree…

Nights of Villjamur is out now from Tor UK.

For more information…

Copyright © 2009 Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic interviewer/reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; and a diligent interviewer/reviewer for Interzone magazine and SF Site. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. For background information, visit www.sandyauden.co.uk.


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