Please welcome Steven Savile to the blog! He kindly answered a few of my questions about his new book, Sunfail.
What inspired you to write Sunfail? Will you tell us a little about it?
I’ve always been slightly fascinated/slightly horrified by the weird phenomena we’ve been seeing in the world around us over the last few years, the flocks of birds falling out of the sky, the animals fleeing yellowstone, the super storms, the idea that nature is changing the world around us if you like. They’ve got the feeling of portents, precursors of something to come. A lot of what we do when we sit down to write is ask What If? But this time it was more of a Why? Why is all of this stuff happening? Obviously I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I did do a lot of research into possible causes for these natural events, and what might link them, and the science behind Sunfail… well, it’s more science than make believe, which might surprise some readers.
Tell us more about Jake Carter? Why do you think readers will root for him?
Jake’s an everyman hero, he’s you or me. Sure he’s got a certain skill set, you need a certain kind of background to willingly throw yourself into the kind of lone ranger man on a mission to save the world story like this, but I liked the idea that he wasn’t some uber hero. He’s served in the armed forces and come out into a normal life, taken a normal job, and is dealing with normal problems when a ghost from his past reaches out to ask for his forgiveness and admits she isn’t who he thought she was. It’s one phone call that completely changes his life. The one quality it was vital he had stubbornness. He’s like a dog with a bone. When things start to happen he doesn’t just walk away. There’s a lot of stuff that’s not overtly in your face about Jake, I think, but comes out through his actions. There’s the Edmund Burke notion that all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing, sure, but there’s other strands of thought at play too, like his notion that The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion and Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though but for one year, never can willingly abandon it. They may be distressed in the midst of all their power; but they will never look to any thing but power for their relief. I was particularly taken with his idea You can never plan the future by the past, too, as you might notice. All of these things were going round inside my head when I was working on Jake as a character, and the people he was going up against, but it was this last Burke quote that lay behind the enemy Jake’s up against: In doing good, we are generally cold, and languid, and sluggish; and of all things afraid of being too much in the right. But the works of malice and injustice are quite in another style. They are finished with a bold, masterly hand; touched as they are with the spirit of those vehement passions that call forth all our energies, whenever we oppress and persecute.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
I think writing is a fascinating career choice in that it means for a short time we become experts in any given subject as we throw ourselves into a crash course on ancient languages, end of the world cults, mythology, astrophysics, you name it. I spent about six months gathering all sorts of stuff from natural phenomena that could work as portents in the book to military strategy for how the US would react to an attack on a military base, etc. You end up amassing an amazing list of contacts with very interesting careers who end up giving you incredible ideas just from general conversation. I never like to just ‘wave my hand’ and make something up, so for instance I’ve got a guy – Dr Phil Kaldon – who is my go-to physicist. Any whacky idea I come up with I’ll email Dr Phil and say ‘Hey man, I’m thinking I want to do this crazy thing’ and he’ll come up with the most ingenious work around that’s proper science that can explain my slightly bizarre imagination. I’ve got a guy who trained intelligence officers, who will point out some really telling detail about, say, combat or how an ex-military guy would react in given situations along psychological profiles, etc. I’m a great believer in getting the facts right so if you know the stuff I’m talking about you’ll know it’s right, then when I tell you a lie you’re more likely to willingly go along with it, rather than if you think ‘this guy’s a moron’ from page one, you know?
Have you always wanted to be a writer? Will you tell us more about yourself and your background?
I can remember when I was seventeen walking into the garden in Prudhoe where we lived while my dad was out in the garden building a giant rockery and saying that I’d decided what I wanted to be – a writer – though initially I’d thought about sports journalism as I am a massive sports fan, you name it I watch it. Actually consume is probably a better word. It took me a while, a lot of false starts, a lot of nearly’s. I got my first agent aged 20, sold my first novel the same year, but Sting’s rain forest crusade pretty much killed me dead. Paper prices in the UK went through the roof so over 18 months a paperback went from 49p to 4.99 and the publisher who’d signed me cut 28 first time novelists from their roster. I think it was 28. I’m a bit sketchy on the number these days, it was a long time ago now. I then went 8 or 9 years unable to sell a thing, dumped by my agent, and thinking it was all over before it had begun. I got a ‘normal’ job working for the Ministry of Defence in the UK, working with guys on the nuclear subs, liaising with generals out in the gulf for supply issues around the time of the first Gulf War, all sorts of interesting bits and bobs that all fall under the Official Secrets Act, but I wasn’t a good fit for the job. I ended up quitting and going back to university to pursue a phd, which led me to teaching in Sweden where I live now. I’d pretty much given up the writing having done a few bits, like kids adaptations of Return of the Jedi and Jurassic Park – easy reader things – and having done three or four books that had sold only to have the publishers bought out or go bankrupt or the book just be too timely and the release schedule too slow (a kids guide to the internet in 1996…) but I keep writing in the background, and things gradually started to change. I went full time in 2005, so I’m on my ten year anniversary and have written for all sorts of popular media franchises, games, tv shows, you name it. But Sunfail marks a bit of a change in direction: it’s me, for me, not hiding behind a game or a comic or something else.
What’s one of the first things you can remember writing?
Ha, I remember my first attempt at a novel – it was called “Old Yawn and the Wizard’s Banana”… the idea being wizards draw their magic from fruit, stuff grown from the earth and filled with its nutrients and powers, and a prestigious old wizard had cast a rain spell which had been going now for 437 days straight because he’d been kidnapped by demonic gangsters… and his daughter had come to our private investigators to hire them to find him so that they could finally put an end to the downpour… it was a comedy noir, I guess you’d call it. It had loads of terrible lines in it, really bad humour. I’ve still got it. No one will ever see it. Ever.
What authors or books have inspired you the most?
My favourite authors – as in the ones I’ve loved longest – are Jonathan Carroll and Clive Barker, both because they have a wonderful unique way of seeing the world and really believe there’s still magic out there to be found if you only know where to look. I can’t recommend these guys enough. For Carroll it’s his entire Answered Prayers sequence, Bones of the Moon, Sleeping in Flame, Child Across the Sky, etc just fabulous. For Barker… it’s Weaveworld. It was my favourite novel when I was 18. I read it again on my 40th birthday, risking going back to an old favourite, and loved it even more, but for entirely different reasons. Where 18 year old me had been blown away by the imagination on display 40 year old me was struck by the beauty of the language, the poetry and personal philosophies inside those pages. Weaveworld is a monumental achievement.
If you could experience one book again for the first time, which one would it be?
Weaveworld. For all the reasons listed above.
What are you currently reading?
I’m in the last 40 pages of Roger Hobb’s brilliant Ghostman.
What’s next for you? Is there anything else you’d like to share?
In terms of what I’m writing right now, I’m working on a crime novel, Parallel Lines, which is a bit quirky, a bit offbeat, and then I’ve got a very British mythical-fantasy novel, but in terms of releases, I’ve got a Sherlock Holmes novel coming from Titan next year, and a brand new hardcover fantasy coming from St Martins called Glass Town.
Dogs howl in the streets, running wild. Birds fall dead from the sky. Even the sun itself is failing. As darkness descends all hell breaks loose and terrorists strike hard and fast, taking out the army base at Fort Hamilton, Brooklyn, leaving Manhattan vulnerable.
Jake Carter is an NYC subway electrician and former Special Forces operative. When he finds two young men spraying graffiti across the subway station walls, he realizes their marks aren’t gang tags or band names: they are a message, a call to arms spelled out in a lost language. The Hidden are communicating with each other. The end of the world has arrived, and it’s being orchestrated by those unseen–for profit.
Carter finds himself dragged into a world of conspiracy and menace by a woman he hasn’t spoken to in over a decade: Sandra Keane, his ex-girlfriend, is one of the few who knows what’s going on. She has just turned against her paymasters, and now she’s running for her life with nowhere left to hide. With Sandra, Carter must answer some impossible questions: How do you fight an enemy you cannot see? How do you defeat ghosts? How do you stop some of the richest and most powerful men in the world when they own the shadows? And most important of all, how do you stay alive when the world around you is dying?