An Interview with STEPHEN HUNT

HuntStephen-AuthorPicLet’s start with an introduction: Who is Stephen Hunt?

Him? He’s me, he is! Professionally, I was usually found knocking around the publishing world (albeit with side-ventures into pharmaceuticals, banking and the computing industry at Apple). I set up one of the first websites for a magazine, Nature.com, back when nobody apart from scientists knew what the Web was. I worked for the Financial Times as an editor and publisher and ran a swathe of their online operations for a while. Now, I guess I’m just the geek with seven genre novels behind him.

Your next novel, In Dark Service, is due to be published by Gollancz in May 2014. It’s the first in a new series, no? How would you introduce the series to new readers?

The new series is called The Far-Called Sequence. The first novel, In Dark Service, has at its heart the tale of two families – the Carnehans and Landors – stuck in the nub-end of a backward, rural kingdom. Slavers attack the town they live in and carry away all the youngsters to sell. The town mounts a rescue expedition, hampered by the fact that the world, Pellas, is an amazingly large one, and their lost people could be anywhere in it. Those taken have to survive as slaves in a hellish environment. Those in the rescue expedition face their own kind of hell as they struggle to track down their missing loved ones.

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What inspired you to write the series? And where do you draw your inspiration from in general?

I often take a comic-book series called the Trigan Empire (which I grew up with) as my starting point for inspiration. It has gorgeous illustrations – each panel like an oil painting in its own right – by Don Lawrence, and stories by Mike Butterworth. Every issue they would go off to some distant, exotic land, and the characters would have marvellous adventures that blew my young impressionable mind. If I can achieve even half of that feeling for my readers with the new Far-Called series, then it’s ‘job done’ as far as I’m concerned.

How does this novel (in terms of story and approach) differ from your previous series, The Jackelian Novels?

The main difference between the Jackelian series and the Far-Called sequence is that the Jackelian books were structured in a similar way to Sir Terry’s Discworld novels – all set in the same world, but each novel’s plot standing alone on its own, with a motley crew of characters who would dip in an out of the books. The Far-Called sequence is closer to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones – you’ll need to start with the first book, and move on through the books sequentially to get the most from it. Same characters and a single, coherent plot arc.

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How were you introduced to reading and genre fiction?

My father is a massive fantasy and science fiction reader, so I was very lucky in that I grew up with a library filled with all the post-war pulps and genre classics. Arthur C. Clarke, Clifford D. Simak, Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, E.E. Doc Smith, Fritz Leiber, Jack Williamson, Robert E. Howard, Tolkien, Harry Harrison. You name it, we had it, and I read it!

How do you enjoy being a writer and working within the publishing industry?

It’s better than working for a living!

What’s it like, being a professional author? Is it what you expected? Do you have any specific working, writing, researching practices?

Because I had twenty years of service in white collar open plan offices, I find I can write best somewhere like a museum or a coffee shop, where there are other people and a bit of a buzz to surround me as I write. The lack of human contact and interaction is the thing that gets to me the most, compared to my previous career(s). Of course, you have social networking, which you can kid yourself doubles as your ‘marketing’ – but the world of online distraction is a bit too disruptive to the task of writing a novel, so I try and resist being over-attached to the web, either by phone or laptop.

When did you realize you wanted to be an author, and what was your first foray into writing? Do you still look back on it fondly?

I actually started writing fiction in university, encouraged by actually being published in print in various eighties game magazines – computer and RPG, mainly. I thought: “Well, if they’ll pay for my articles, why not my fiction?” No training or academic background in the field. I just went out and did it.

What’s your opinion of the genre today, and where do you see your work fitting into it?

It’s interesting times, with the many changes brought about by online book-selling, the failing real-world retail, and the advent of e-books. As far as the genre goes, I’d be happy if my work’s just slotted into whatever corner is labelled, “Fantasy – not many Elves, Halflings or Dragons.”

What are you reading at the moment (fiction, non-fiction)?

I always have about ten books on the go at any one point. I’ve just finished How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big: Kind of the Story of My Life by Scott Adams, which was very amusing. I’ve nearly finished One Summer: America 1927 by Bill Bryson, and The Black Dahlia by James Ellroy, not to mention the thought-provoking Who Owns The Future? by Jaron Lanier.

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What’s something readers might be surprised to learn about you?

That I’m a failed comic-book illustrator who once studied part-time at Saint Martins but dropped out when I changed employer, and the new bunch wouldn’t allow me the time off to continue my studies.

What are you most looking forward to in the next twelve months?

Why, starting the next novel of course!

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In Dark Service is published on May 15th 2014, by Gollancz. It is included as part of the Gollancz 2014 Debuts eBook promotion, and will be available for just £1.99 from now until the end of the first week of publication.

For more on Stephen Hunt’s writing, be sure to follow him on Twitter and check out his review website, SF Crowsnest.

Upcoming: Gollancz Debuts 2014

I’ve already featured Edward Cox’s upcoming debut, The Relic Guild, and Den Patrick’s The Boy With the Porcelain Blade, but I thought it would be good to take a quick look at Gollancz’s other 2014 debuts. All of the novels will be included in the £1.99 eBook promotion. So, in order of release, here are Gollancz’s other four 2014 debuts…

HuntS-FCS1-InDarkServiceUKStephen Hunt’s In Dark Service (May 15)

Carter has been kidnapped. Enslaved. But he’s determined to fight to the end.

Jacob is a pacifist. His family destroyed. He’s about to choose the path of violence to reclaim his son.

Their world has changed for ever. Between them, they’re going to avenge it.

Jacob Carnehan has settled down. He’s living a comfortable, quiet life, obeying the law and minding his own business while raising his son Carter… on those occasions when he isn’t having to bail him out of one scrape or another. His days of adventure are – thankfully – long behind him.

Carter Carnehan is going out of his mind with boredom. He’s bored by his humdrum life, frustrated that his father won’t live a little, and longs for the bright lights and excitement of anywhere-but-here. He’s longing for an opportunity to escape, and test himself against whatever the world has to offer.

Carter is going to get his opportunity. He’s caught up in a village fight, kidnapped by slavers and, before he knows it, is swept to another land. A lowly slave, surrounded by technology he doesn’t understand, his wish has come true: it’s him vs. the world. He can try to escape, he can try to lead his fellow slaves, or he can accept the inevitable and try to make the most of the short, brutal existence remaining to him.

… Unless Jacob gets to him first and, no matter the odds, he intends to. No one kidnaps his son and gets away with it – and if it come to it, he’ll force Kings to help him on his way, he’ll fight, steal, blackmail and betray his friends in the name of bringing Carter home.

Wars will be started. Empires will fall. And the Carnehan family will be reunited, one way or another…

I’ve never read anything by Stephen Hunt, but they’ve all sounded great – this is not his debut novel, just his Gollancz debut.

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WallaceJ-BarricadeUKJon Wallace’s Barricade (June 19)

A kinetic, violent and hugely intelligent SF road thriller – a desperate journey through a ruined future world.

Kenstibec was genetically engineered to build a new world, but the apocalypse forced a career change. These days he drives a taxi instead.

A fast-paced, droll and disturbing novel, BARRICADE is a savage road trip across the dystopian landscape of post-apocalypse Britain; narrated by the cold-blooded yet magnetic antihero, Kenstibec.

Kenstibec is a member of the “Ficial” race, a breed of merciless super-humans. Their war on humanity has left Britain a wasteland, where Ficials hide in barricaded cities, besieged by tribes of human survivors. Originally optimised for construction, Kenstibec earns his keep as a taxi driver, running any Ficial who will pay from one surrounded city to another.

The trips are always eventful, but this will be his toughest yet. His fare is a narcissistic journalist who’s touchy about her luggage. His human guide is constantly plotting to kill him. And that’s just the start of his troubles.

On his journey he encounters ten-foot killer rats, a mutant king with a TV fixation, a drug-crazed army, and even the creator of the Ficial race. He also finds time to uncover a terrible plot to destroy his species for good – and humanity too.

This sounds like a pretty cool SF novel.

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Caltabiano-SeventhMissHatfieldUKAnna Caltabiano’s The Seventh Miss Hatfield (July 17)

A spellbinding debut from a hugely talented young author, featuring time-travel, 19th-century New York, unrequited love and a mysterious portrait…

Rebecca, a 15-year-old American, isn’t entirely happy with her life, comfortable though it is. Still, even she knows that she shouldn’t talk to strangers. So when her mysterious neighbour Miss Hatfield asked her in for a chat and a drink, Rebecca wasn’t entirely sure why she said yes. It was a decision that was to change everything.

For Miss Hatfield is immortal. And now, thanks to a drop of water from the Fountain of Youth, Rebecca is as well. But this gift might be more of a curse, and it comes with a price. Rebecca is beginning to lose her personality, to take on the aspects of her neighbour. She is becoming the next Miss Hatfield.

But before the process goes too far, Rebecca must travel back in time to turn-of-the-century New York and steal a painting, a picture which might provide a clue to the whereabouts of the source of immortality. A clue which must remain hidden from the world. In order to retrieve the painting, Rebecca must infiltrate a wealthy household, learn more about the head of the family, and find an opportunity to escape. Before her journey is through, she will also have – rather reluctantly – fallen in love. But how can she stay with the boy she cares for, when she must return to her own time before her time-travelling has a fatal effect on her body? And would she rather stay and die in love, or leave and live alone?

And who is the mysterious stranger who shadows her from place to place? A hunter for the secret of immortality – or someone who has already found it?

How cool is that cover GIF? I’m really intrigued by this novel. Sounds different, and should be a stand-out of the summer.

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JacobsJH-IncorruptiblesUKJohn Hornor Jacobs’s The Incorruptibles (August 14)

On the edges of the Empire, life is hard – and men must be harder.

In the contested and unexplored territories at the edge of the Empire, a boat is making its laborious way up stream. Riding along the banks are the mercenaries hired to protect it – from raiders, bandits and, most of all, the stretchers, elf-like natives who kill any intruders into their territory. The mercenaries know this is dangerous, deadly work. But it is what they do.

In the boat the drunk governor of the territories and his sons and daughters make merry. They believe that their status makes them untouchable. They are wrong. And with them is a mysterious, beautiful young woman, who is the key to peace between warring nations and survival for the Empire. When a callow mercenary saves the life of the Governor on an ill-fated hunting party, the two groups are thrown together.

For Fisk and Shoe – two tough, honourable mercenaries surrounded by corruption, who know they can always and only rely on each other – their young companion appears to be playing with fire. The nobles have the power, and crossing them is always risky.

And although love is a wonderful thing, sometimes the best decision is to walk away. Because no matter how untouchable or deadly you may be, the stretchers have other plans.

I have been hearing a lot of great things about this novel. Can. Not. Wait to read it.

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