Please welcome Dan Abnett and Nik Vincent to the blog! They recently collaborated to bring us Fiefdom, and kindly took some time to answer a few of my questions!
What made you decide to collaborate on Fiefdom? Will you tell us a little about it and what inspired it?
Nik: Kingdom for 2000AD has always been one of my favourites of Dan’s comics, and since I was unlikely ever to write it in that form, I was itching to get hold of it and tell prose stories from the universe. We like to work together if we get the opportunity, so when Abaddon started to talk about the possibility of a Kingdom novel it wasn’t a difficult decision to make.
Dan: The novel is set a hundred years after the comic. The Aux dog soldiers are living in tribal groups in the underground tunnels of Berlin’s railway system. A mini ice-age is upon them, and all they have are their legends. Evelyn War knows what the others do not, that the legends were real, and that Them are about to return and threaten the existence of the Aux.
What were the challenges in writing the novel together? What worked and what didn’t, and how did you divide the writing?
Nik: Dan and I have known each other for over thirty years, and we’re married and have raised children together. We’ve also worked together a lot, probably more than people realise. Writing as a team is a very organic process for us.
Dan has collaborated with other people, but in his previous partnership he was the only writer. Dan and I both put words on the page. We discuss and order ideas until we have a plot. This involves a lot of talking, and it’s usually a lot of fun. It also tends to be fast, because we’re sounding boards for one another.
Dan: When we have something we’re happy with, Nik usually begins the writing and then we play tag. We don’t ‘divide’ up the writing before hand, allotting chapters. Nik writes until I want to take over, or until she wants me to. We write into each others’ work, too. The aim is to produce a seamless piece of writing, so that it’s virtually impossible to tell where one of us has broken off and the other taken over. Nik usually does more research and she always does final edits, otherwise it’s a bit of a free for all. Writing chores can depend on who has more time or enthusiasm for a project. It might depend on, for example, how much one of us, as the reader, likes the other’s work. There’s a section of Fiefdom where Nik kept writing for much longer than we anticipated because I liked what she was doing and I wanted to read more.
What do you both enjoy most about writing, and reading, speculative fiction?
Nik: This will probably sound a little odd in a genre where anything goes, but when it comes to the writing it’s the discipline that attracts me. I think with speculative fiction that really homing in on ideas and themes with clarity is key to good storytelling. Part of the aim with Fiefdom, and one of the main reasons I wanted to write in the Kingdom universe was the simple, lyrical language that Dan adopted in the comic books. That limited language base defined the Aux for me and I wanted to reflect it in the novel, not only in the Aux speech patterns, but in the language I used in the narrative. The same was true of the very straightforward, linear storytelling. Those things seem very simple, but take a degree of intent and discipline. I think to tell any story in this genre the writer begins by outlining a set of rules for herself. I know I do.
On the other hand, when it comes to reading speculative fiction, it’s the anticipation… It’s the very fact that anything really is possible.
Worldbuilding is important in books like Fiefdom. What are a few of your favorite literary “worlds”?
Nik: There are so many. Some of them are real worlds, too. I loved Dickens, as a kid, and he was reproducing a world that was close to the real world of his time, but distorted by the passing of time into something quite fantastical to me. When I began reading SFF in my teens it was always worlds close to the real world that most fascinated me. William Gibson’s Neuromancer fits neatly into that category. Among current writers, I always think Lauren Beukes is very good at worldbuilding.
Dan: Oh, the really obvious because they’re still the finest…. Middle Earth, Narnia, Arrakis, The Many-Coloured Land…
What authors or novels have influenced you the most in your writing, and in life?
Nik: I think it’s the stuff that I go back to. Ursula le Guin, Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Lovecraft. I’m currently a big fan of Kelly Link’s short stories and of anything Kaaron Warren writes.
Dan: My list is pretty well the same as Nik’s, possibly with the addition of Jack Vance, John Buchan, Martin Cruz Smith and a slew of comic books.
If you could experience one book again for the very first time, which one would it be?
Nik: Again, there are so many, but it might well be Frank Herbert’s Dune. Other than Huxley, Wells and Orwell, and some gothic horror, I hadn’t really read any genre fiction before I met Dan, and he gave me a lot of his favourite books to read. I guess that explains our similar tastes to some degree. Dune was the first epic SF novel that I read and it opened up a whole new world of possibilities in fiction for me.
Dan: Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. Still my favourite book.
Nik: This his is so tricky. Top of the list would have to be Sir Peter Ustinov. I saw him interviewed for the first time when I was eight or nine, and I always say he was the first man I ever fell in love with. It was his capacity for storytelling. I know Kaaron Warren a little, but we’ve never met; I’d love to sit at a table with her. I’ve always been too much of a talker, so I’d want to surround myself with people I’d want to listen to. I’d love to see Ian Rankin again. We sat in an office together for a couple of years in the 80s. I always liked him, and he was one of the first people ever to give me really solid writing advice. I haven’t seen him for a long time, although we occasionally cross paths on the social networks and by e-mail. And Lucy Newlyn, Dan’s old professor at Oxford. She’s a poet. I adore her. We have a large table at home, Dan’s a good cook. Of course, it would actually be possible to put this dinner party together, with the exception of Sir Peter; I might just have to organise it one of these days.
Dan: As Nik says, the tables big, so I’d have to add Gene Hackman, because that’s where it all started 🙂 Tom Lehrer, William Shatner, Ray Bradbury, Tina Fey, David Lynch… uhm, I think the conversation’s going to go in some odd directions.
You’re both extremely busy, but when you manage to find some downtime, how do you like to spend it?
Nik: We have two regular spots most weeks when we take a few hours out of our schedule. On Sundays we buy the papers and sit down to a big breakfast. We read the news, but tend to concentrate on the review, magazine and culture sections of the papers. Last Sunday Dan pointed out a mini-review section of five great science books. An idea popped into my head for a novel, right there at the breakfast table; it led to an animated conversation and another idea. Half an hour later we were back in the office writing up those ideas for later use. So, watch this space.
Dan: On Monday evenings our favourite cocktail mixer tends bar, so that’s where you’ll find us. The bar’s never very busy on Mondays, so it’s dealer’s choice. Paul is responsible for recipes for the Piston Broke and the Tequila Mockingbird, both cocktail’s named by me in one of my other strips for 2000AD, Sinister Dexter. Our local bar is the only place in the World you can order either of those cocktails.
What’s next for you both?
Nik: We’re currently collaborating on a Tomb Raider novel due out later in the year called “The Ten Thousand Immortals”. Then we’re working on solo projects for a little while. I’ve got a short story in the works, and several ideas that I’m very keen to get started on, including a horror novel, some more SF, and possibly a thriller.
Dan: I’m writing Guardians 3000 for Marvel, a companion title to Guardians of the Galaxy, which features the original Guardians characters as they first appeared in 1968. I’m working on several games, including Alien Isolation. I have two creator owned comics coming out: Wild’s End for Boom! and Dark Ages for Dark Horse, both drawn by INJ Culbard. Plus secret stuff I can’t talk about yet. The latest Gaunt’s Ghost novel, Warmaster for the Black Library is also in the works.
The last of humanity has taken refuge in hibernation at the poles, hiding from the giant invading insects that have conquered the Earth. Defending these outposts against bug attacks are genetically engineered dog soldiers, loyal and unquestioning to the Masters’ voices in their heads. At least they were, but things have changed on the Earth. The Masters voices have gone and a new peace has arrived in the northern hemisphere. The legend of a masterless rogue soldier from the distant South has spread, and in the new Fiefdoms of old Germany something very dangerous is about to happen.
In a not-too-distant future, amongst ruins in the the ancient city of Berlin the Aux’s live in clans, fighting amongst themselves. Their ancient enemey, Them – giant marauding insects, are a folk memory. Young Evelyn War however will be the first to realise that this quiet is not what it seems, that the Auxs themselves, having been bred for hand-hand combat in a war long-thought to be over, and now idling violently in peace in the subways and collapsing buildings Europe, must set aside their petty hostilities if they are to face the battle to come. Evelyn is the only one to see the oncoming storm, but the clan leaders and her elders do not believe her warnings, and time is running short.