Thursday, July 7, 2016

Interview with Robert Harkess, author of A Meeting of Minds

Today at the Speculative Fiction Showcase we have great pleasure in talking to Robert Harkess, author of A Meeting of Minds and more. 

How do you fit writing in round your day job?

With difficulty. Some days I get a quiet morning and so squeeze in an hour or so before I start, and possibly even an hour at lunch (when I actually get lunch). Working in IT Operations tends to be somewhat random, and reminds you why plumbers make good money (…cos it ain't all water that flows down hill, if you get what I mean). In the world of IT, Operations is the room at the end of the pipe.

What made you write fantasy first of all?

Not sure I did. I mean, if you go back to before the internet (yes, I did try writing that long ago and no, I wasn’t still at school no matter how good my photo looks) I guess I was writing epic fantasy then, but not recently. My first (and first published!) novel was SF. That was where I really got stuck in to reading; EE Doc Smith, Hugh Walters (who nobody has ever heard of now but wrote optimistically of the British Space Industry back in the forever ago). I’d read other adventure stuff, but I always came back to SF, looking out for the garish yellow spines of the Gollancz books. 

Tell us about the Warrior Stone Books. Are they steampunk, or more cross-genre?

If I’m brutally honest, the Warrior Stone Trilogy is a mash, with Urban Fantasy coming out slightly on top and Steampunk as a rather piquant dipping sauce on the side.

Warrior Stone is about magic, and worlds the rest of us don’t know or can’t remember. It’s about coming to an understanding that the grown up world has teeth, and can hurt you. It’s about understanding that regardless of what power you have, the responsibility for your actions is still yours, and that you are in turn responsible for how your actions impact others. Of course, this is all wrapped up in riotous adventure, romance, and a lot of fighting monsters.

I frequently write cross-genre, which perhaps is contributing to why I don’t have a multi-million dollar book deal with a big-six publisher yet.

Your new novel, Amunet, will be coming out soon with Kristell Ink. Is this set in a new world? What can you tell us about it?

I am absurdly proud of this book. It does indeed have its own universe. Building the universe is one of the most rewarding parts of the creative process and, if you do it right, one of the least seen. Having said that, I get why other authors (Joe Abercrombie and Iain M Banks spring to mind) try to squeeze as many stories out of a ‘world’ as they can. It takes a lot of time and effort. Who am I trying to fool. I’m hoping to get at least two more out of this new world.

Amunet is set in a two- or three- step away alternate reality. Not huge changes, but Britain is a catholic nation, not protestant, and of course you have all the technological trappings of Steampunk. There really are demons, and people can speak to the dead. It’s very much frowned upon, but it happens. In fact, Harry - our hero - is training with his father to learn how to track down mediums and turn them over to the British Inquisition.

Amunet lives in a world of spirits and magic. She has come to Britain to search for the one who can help her find and rescue her kidnapped mother. Things start to get interesting when Harry saves her from an attempted assassination.

What is steampunk, and how do you distinguish it from dieselpunk, gaslight and neo-Victorian?

Steampunk, like all the others you mention, together with definitions like middle grade and young adult and new adult are marketing tags, and sadly people (and some publishers) feel it is essential for a writer to fit neatly into one and only one of these over-defined boxes. I guess, in some ways, it makes it easier for people to find what they are looking for, either online or in bookshops, but I also worry that it confines people, and narrows down their reading experience. I love the idea I’ve seen on Facebook of offering books wrapped in brown paper with nothing more then a brief description written on the outside.

Maybe that’s why I’m a poor scribbler living in a dusty garret room in the shadier end of the cheap part of town. Figuratively. If someone offers me a huge amount of money to fit into a box I my change my mind, but for now I want to write what I want to write. 

But back to steampunk. Firstly, steampunk’s not really about steam. If anything it should be called electropunk. Dieselpunk is fairly eponymous, but in terms of useful definitions it should probably be called ‘deco-punk’, or ‘flapperpunk’. To be honest I’ve never heard of the other two terms, but again it sounds like marketing people trying to ‘bring something new to the market'.

But if you were to hold a Mk 22 Anti-Incursion Weapon to my head, I would define my particular definition of steampunk as being set in the late Georgian thru Victorian era, taking strongly and selectively from perceived values and behaviours of the day, and making great use of technology-feasible concepts extrapolated from the fertile inventiveness of the period. 

There is a group, kind of like those who insist all SF should be ‘hard’ and realistic, that insist steampunk is about anti-colonialism, anti-slavery, and the struggle of the lower classes against their imperialist masters, but I disagree with that. That is a social commentary based on facts of the real world, not the fantasy of alternate worlds. It is, perhaps, a similar problem to the term ‘Urban Fantasy’. This originally defined gritty magical stories in a contemporary metropolitan setting (see Harry Dresden), but several year ago the term got confused with and became an alternative to paranormal romance, so a slightly less saccharine version of Twilight (see Kim Harrison’s excellent Hollows series)

Why does steam power continue to fascinate us even now?  

Because, I think, we can see it work. Internal combustion and electric are humming boxes, but steam engines and trains, have bits that move and wiggle and shoot back and forth with great whooshing and clanking. And they tend to be intimidatingly big, too.

What does blogging mean to you?

It means something I’m convinced I should do more often, and that gives me huge guilt trips when somebody mentions it and I realise how long it is since I posted anything.

I envy people who can blog regularly. I envy them even more if they can say anything witty, intelligent, or funny as they do so. Sadly, I make no claims at competence with any of these.

What authors have influenced you?

Off the top of my head, though this would probably change if I took too long to think about it:
Pat Cadigan, EE Doc Smith, Asimov, Heinlein, Brunner, Eddings, Iain Banks in both modes, Douglas Adams, Simon R Green, Jim Butcher, Tolkien, Fiest, Phillip K Dick, Spider Robinson, Robyn Hobbs, Anne McCaffrey, Blyton, Julian May, Kim Harrison…

Every book every writer reads influences them, consciously or unconsciously, sooner or later. It might be a new style that leaves a footprint, or an idea that sparks an idea, that sparks a story. We all borrow from each other to some extent. Sometimes it's not for the better. I read a lot if Heinlein and Doc Smith. Writing in the style of either today would have serious repercussions for an author. Even though at the time many of Heinlein’s ideas of cultural evolution were considered revolutionary, now they are looked on with less comfort.

Apple or PC?

Apple for writing and general use, PC for gaming

Do you use Scrivener or Word? Or another word-processing program? Or even pen and paper?

Ideas and initial concepts pen and ink, first draft and first edit on scrivener, second edit and collaboration word. Never make it easy, eh?

Do you have any pets? Do they influence your writing?

I have two cats, one of which is a rescue cat and who influences my writing by either insisting on lap time or walking back and forth across the keyboard.

Would you rather see your stories on the big screen or the little screen?

I’d rather see them on bookshelves, but my style would probably work better as a movie than a series.

Are you hooked on any of the shows on the sci-fi channel? If so, which one(s)?

Not really. Everything I start to get attached to on Syfy. I am deeply attached to Penny Dreadful, though.

What is your favourite Science Fiction (or Fantasy) film?

Blade Runner, closely followed by The Matrix I

Are you a Luddite? Or do you prefer to be on the bleeding edge of technology?

I work in IT so I kind of get it rammed down my throat. I used to be gadget mad, but these days I am more interested in it doing what it's supposed to reliably rather than the bling/shiny factor. My partner says this is incontrovertible proof I am getting old. I reject this assertion, as I have no intention of growing up any time soon.

Do you cook? What is your best/favourite/most popular recipe?

I love to cook. I bake a mean loaf of bread, scare up a good chilli, and do the caveman BBQ with panache. My signature dish, though, is a modification on the theme of Cullen Skink.

Do you have your own office, study or writing space, or can you write in a cafe or the library?

I have an office but, absurdly, I rarely use it to write. Its nickname is ‘The Room of Infinite Distractions’, which probably accounts for this. When the mood is upon me I can write anywhere. My favourite spot is the kitchen table, though, where I can look out into my garden.

What writer, living or dead, would you most like to meet?

Oddly, I don’t think I would. One hears so often that one’s heroes have feet very much of clay – unpalatable views or antisocial personalities – that I think I would prefer to live in blissful ignorance. I revered David Eddings for many years, and then I read ‘The Rivan Codex’, and it burst my bubble so badly I am only just re-reading the Belgariad after at least fifteen years.

If you could have any director to shoot the film of your book(s), who would you choose?

Can't really answer that, as I am not much of a film buff. I barely pay attention to the names of the actors.

On a scale of 1-10, how eccentric are you?

I’d like to think I was a 7, but I’m probably more like a 3 in real life. Maybe a 4 on a good day.

Do you consider yourself a slave to the muse?

I’d say not. Sadly, the muggle world has to take precedence, for the time being at least.

About Robert Harkess:


Robert grudgingly shares his writing time with his real-world job, where he does things with computers and bosses people about. He lives just north of London with a wonderful wife and two attention-seeking dragons shape-shifted into the forms of conventional felines. He blogs, a nasty habit that many have tried to break him of, at and many of his books can be found at

No comments:

Post a Comment