Here on 'Ralph's Rant's' you'll find information about my Sci-Fi (#SciFi), Epic Fantasy (#EpicFantasy), or Sword and Sorcery (#SwordandSorcery) Novels as well as reviews of other authors books. You'll also find interviews with New Pulp Authors and artists displayed here. and of course there is my almost daily blog posts called 'Your Daily Ralph" There's always something new to find here at Ralph's Rants. Become a member of this blog and get a heads up when there's new content.
Friday, January 20, 2017
Ralphs Rants presents a new Interview with Author Extraordinaire- Ian Watson!
Interview with Ian
Hello Ian, how are you?It’s been a while.
It has. In the interim I’ve become a full hermit, packing
the second (and last) child off to university, so for the first time since my
early twenties I’m living quite alone. Since I also work from home most of the
time I now have no schedule whatsoever and can wake, sleep, and eat when I
like. My body clock has given up. My productivity has slightly risen. And if I
want to I can fly off to anywhere in the world on a whim without needing to
even make arrangements to feed a cat. It’s an odd, disconnected way of life but
it is having interesting effects on my writing.
I see you have a few new books out. Let’s talk about
I’ve been much slower at putting books out this past twelve
months. In 2015 I picked up thirteen publishing credits and so hit my target of
an average of one book (or story in an anthology) a month. I missed it by one
book in 2014. But my 2016 goal was to rework a lot of old material sitting on
my hard drive into something useful and fit for submitting. So now I have
volumes 1,2,3,5, and 7 of a King Arthur series ready for beta reading and
volumes 1,2,and 3 or a different 13-volume fantasy epic about ready. But
neither project is anything like complete enough to think about publishing. So
this year has been pretty quiet for new works from me.
The first one I want to talk about is Sherlock Holmes and
How did you come about with the idea of melding a fictional
character (Holmes) with one who actually existed and astounded audiences for
All e-mails from Ron Fortier, Editor in Chief of Airship
27 press, come with screaming capitals titles. Always. And one day such a
message arrived in my in-box shouting SHERLOCK HOLMES AND HARRY HOUDINI –
to this I’d done a lot of Holmes stories for Airship 27’s ongoing
anthology series, SHERLOCK HOLMES, CONSULTING DETECTIVE. There are eight
volumes out now, all with stories from me in there, and three more sitting in
the pipeline. Most of my stories were also collected into a single anthology,
SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERIES volume 1, and are also on audiobook. I’ve even got
two nice “Best Short Story” trophies for a couple of my efforts. So I’m pretty
well established with Holmes.
one Airship 27 anthology out under the title THE AMAZING HARRY HOUDINI. That’s
based on the fictional persona of Houdini that appeared in some pulp magazines
during the showman’s lifetime – one was penned by H.P. Lovecraft – and features
the swashbuckling, fraud-exposing, crimefighting action adventurer escapologist
on his 1900s European tour.
contributed one of those stories too, so I suppose I was the natural go-to
author for Ron to send his screaming capitals at when he wanted a team-up book.
Did you have to research Houdini? I know you are a Holmes
expert in many ways, but Houdini must have been a new endeavor.Tell us about it?
The Houdini anthology writer’s guide was clear that we
were writing the fictional hero not the historical man, but I do like to touch
on as much real-life and real-world stuff as is possible to support to
narrative. Houdini’s friend, manager, and general amanuensis Martin Beck was a
real person, and he appears in the fictional adventures as a trusty right-hand
man, trying to keep Houdini on a tour schedule and manage the press and theatre
bookings while Harry insists on heading off into the next mystery. Houdini’s
expertise was informed by his youthful exploits as trapeze stunt-boy Ehric,
King of the Air, as a stage magician, and even as a street-fighter. His rivalry
with competitor showmen who borrowed his act is a matter of record; he really
did turn up at competitors shows to make fools of them! All of that makes it
into the novel.
So what kind of adventure do these two men find themselves
on, and how do they meet?
Holmes and Houdini are both starring solo acts, so the
story is divided into four sections. Part One is a Sherlock Holmes mystery, one
that begins with a mysterious package delivered on the anniversary of Professor
Moriarty’s death. Part Two is a Houdini adventure that ends with him hunted for
sport by an effete, elite, gentleman’s club. Part Three primarily focuses on
the team up of the sidekicks. Dr Watson and Mr Beck get to compare notes and
tips for coping with difficult best friends who insist on chasing villains,
even while Watson and Beck go off and chase villains together. And finally, in
Part Four, the two great men finally get to meet and pool their resources and
abilities to deliver the show of a lifetime.
Does the story take place in England or in the US?
It’s in London, set during 1902. That was near the end of
Holmes’ career and near the beginning of Houdini’s. There’s a helpful gap at
that time in Dr Watson’s accounts as published by his literary agent (and
Houdini’s real life friend) Arthur Conan Doyle, and Houdini was in England
making his reputation.
How do they get along within the book?Do they hit it right off or are they wary of
Each has an admiration from afar before they meet. Beck
is determined to prevent Houdini issuing his usual challenge that he can escape
anything to Holmes because he doesn’t want that kind of clash. Holmes and
Houdini first meet when each is in disguise so it’s fun to watch them mutually
detecting the other. But there are differences. Holmes is about the solution,
Houdini is about the show; so there are some frictions.
How different was writing this for you compared to your
usual Holmes novels?
I’ve never written a full-length Holmes novel before,
only fifteen short stories and one novella. Full length mystery books require a
lot more plotting work than any other kind of novel I’ve written. Historical
settings require a lot more research than contemporary stories. Holmes stories
are historical mysteries and therefore require the most effort of all!
The thing I tried to bear in mind
was that some readers would be there for Holmes, some for Houdini, and some for
both, so I had to deliver a story where each kind of reader felt they had got
their money’s worth.
Is the villain someone we’ve seen before or is it someone
all together new?
The Far Edge Club appeared in my previous Houdini story,
but the characters in it this time are different. Professor Moriarty is long
gone but still manages to cast a dark shadow over the book. His right-hand agent
Colonel Sebastian Moran, “the second deadliest man in London” after the
Napoleon of Crime himself, was established in-Canon as still being around in
1902, so he also manages to horn in to the story for a few memorable scenes.
Are you planning on teaming Holmes with any other characters
from the real world any time soon?
The other character from the real world in HOLMES AND
HOUDINI is actually Conan Doyle. Holmesians have long enjoyed portraying him as
Watson’s editor and literary agent, and since he was also a friend of Houdini’s
he is a natural linking character. Doyle was a controversial figure in 1902
because of his outspoken support of the British concentration camps (the first
time the term was used) where Boer families were contained during the South
African conflict. He also harboured some ambitions of licensing Houdini’s name
and character for literary works. Since the then-recent Boer war affects the
plotline and since Watson and Beck have things to say about publishing the
exploits of their friends, it seemed only fair to give Doyle a scene or two
But other than that, I’m not
looking for another big Holmes team-up novel – unless one of those all-capitals
e-mails turns up with some really tempting pitch.
Does Watson appear in the story as well?
The Holmes-centric sections of the story are narrated by
Watson in the way that almost all the Canon Holmes stories are. 1902 was a big
year for Watson, too. According to one of the rare accounts Holmes wrote of his
own investigations, that was the year that Watson “deserted him for a wife” –
probably Watson’s second or third marriage depending on how the story
chronology is interpreted.
Now, tell us about ‘Labours of Hercules’
I was writing a different novel with a deadline. I
rebelled. I suddenly decided that I wanted to write this epic fantasy story
instead. I burned through a first draft in about three weeks and, having got it
out of my system, then went back and managed to hit my proper deadline. So
LABOURS OF HERCULES is a book no-one asked for, no-one expected, and no-one was
Is this the traditional Hercules tale of his many labours,
or have you added to it in some way? Rather I should ask, what have you added
Remarkably few of the modern
interpretations or retellings of Hercules capture the complicated shadings of
the character. Not only was he the premiere hero of Greek storytelling
but a flawed, tragic, very much larger-than-life figure even amongst the many
characters who weave about and cross-over in Greek myth.
And central to that, but seldom
referenced now, was Hercules’ darkest hour when he went mad and mistook his
children for enemies and murdered them all. Versions vary but he probably
slaughtered four sons, four nephews, and one of only two daughters he was ever
recorded as fathering (the old tales name a hundred and four of his sons). His
temporary madness was attributed to Hera, but in ten minutes he shattered his
life, his marriage, his reputation, and his future. He was literally a haunted
man, since his slaughtered children could not rest in peace until he atoned for
his crimes. That seemed to me to be the proper place to start his story.
The Labours were Hercules’
penance. He was sentenced to perform ten impossible tasks for the man who hated
him most in all the world, his cousin and rival King Eurystheus, who had stolen
the kingdom that had originally been Hercules’ birthright. He ended up
performing twelve Labours since two were disqualified on technicalities. Each
was a job designed to make him fail or get him killed.
You have to be a pretty tough damned hero to come back
from all that.
I’ve added is the modern telling in a contemporary
storyform. I’ve kept the full rich story presented in the original Greek
sources. There are a great deal of footnotes illustrating where things have
come from and explaining choices I have made between conflicting source
The main difference between
modern readers and ancient ones is that our audience has been trained to expect
the whys and wherefores of how a character acts. So I’ve tried to bring out the
backstory that informs the choices the characters make. Hopefully it offers a
What influenced you to write a Hercules novel?
One of my favourite books is Robert Graves’ The Golden
Fleece, a telling of the story of Jason and the Argonauts. Graves grounds
his story in proper characterizations and motivations, even as he follows the
plotlines and events of the ancient sources. One can read his book as a
straight adventure – even the gods might be allegorical – or as a full-blown
fantasy or as a political thriller. When I came to LABOURS OF HERCULES I tried
to use Graves as my benchmark for how to pitch the tale.
Hercules was once the most
important hero in literature. Many other hero-stories were rebranded as
Hercules yarns by bards who worked out they got better tips that way. The cult
of Herakles was strong in Hellenic Greece and Hercules had temples in the Roman
period. He was the appointed god of heroes, athletes, courage, health,
agriculture, trade, oracles, and fertility, and the divine protector of
mankind. And yet he is persistently portrayed as a bit of a crude brute, much
more Conan than King Arthur, a lover of women (and possibly men and boys),
quick to anger and quick to compassion, simple yet not stupid, and a force of
nature that cannot be stopped. He’s very different from the sort of smart,
manipulative, savvy heroes I tend to write so he was a new writing challenge.
Is Hercules the only hero within these pages? Or does he
Hercules’ Labours happened at
the very height of the Greek heroic age. During those years he crossed-over
with every single Greek hero of note and a few characters of European and North
African legend as well. He was an alumni of Chiron the Centaur’s school of
heroes, along with Castor and Pollux and other notables. Some of the young men
who followed him on his quests went on to be big heroes in their own rights,
most notably Theseus and Telamon. He took time off to be an Argonaut with
Jason, Argos, Orpheus and co. He bumped into Prometheus the Fire-Giver and a
massive collection of titans and gods. And he met and romanced a fair
proportion of the world’s eligible heroines. All of them are in the
What is your take on Herc? God living in the world of men?
Man cast out by the Gods?Godling who is
not at home in either world?
There’s quite a bit of theology presented in the original
stories, and some slightly dodgy genetics. Hercules’ mother Alcemene thought
she was greeting her victorious kingly bridegroom, but it was Zeus in disguise.
So she became pregnant with Herc, but also with her husband’s son, Hercules’
twin-half-brother! Hercules was mortal but very strong, strangling serpents in
his crib. Alcemene, frightened of Hera’s malice to a bastard born to the Queen
of Heaven’s husband, exposed Hercules to die; but Athena tricked Hera into
finding the boy and suckling him without realising who he was, thus feeding him
with the potential for immortality. Hercules bit down rather hard, by the way,
causing the Milky Way. Eventually a deal was made amongst the gods that
Hercules might win a place in Olympus if he survived a series of trials – and
those turned out to be the Labours. When Hercules finally died he found his way
Hercules really didn’t care much
about any of this. He very much lived in the now, happy with friends, terrible
in war, striding the world like the demigod he was. And yet he was also the end
of that world, that age of mythology. He was Zeus’ last human bastard. He was
the last slayer of mythological monsters. He was the last free-roaming
adventurer. The next generation of Greek heroes were the ones who warred with
the Trojans, a grimmer and more realistic bunch devoid of hydras and minotaurs.
It was Hercules who closed the age of mythology and began the age of men.
Is Herc a troubled, wounded character in your novel? Or has
he risen above that and instead is seeking revenge?
Hercules starts at his lowest ebb, but once he’s out
there kicking monsters he cheers up quite a bit. His motivation for his Labours
is to settle his children to rest in the afterlife. His final task takes him
down to hell. Prometheus and Hera and Athena and Zeus might all have their
agendas for him, might see the Labours as of cosmic significance setting the
future of mankind, preparing Olympus for the last great war with the Titans or
whatever. Hercules just wants to make things as right as he can for children
that he loved and let down and for his first wife with whom he retains a kind
of affectionate-ex relationship. He’s not a big picture thinker, but he’s a
How happy are you with your Hercules interpretation?
I’m content. I think I’ve done justice to the sources and
portrayed a reasonable warts-and-all yet still heroic protagonist. I’ve thought
more about him than Hercules ever would.
Are you considering revisiting Hercules anytime soon? Or was
this a one and done novel?
I’ve told his story. It’s all in there. Next project,
But if people want to decide for
themselves, there’s a sample chapter at
http://www.chillwater.org.uk/writing/hercules_sample.htmOf all the chapters, “Chasing off the
Stymphalian Birds” one actually stands alone pretty well as a short story in
its own right.
Thanks for Joining us here on Ralphs Rants, Ian. Good luck
with both your new books and whatever else you have coming down the pike.Feel free to give us previews to what you
have coming up below, even if it’s just titles.
Probably my next novel will be PREMIUM DELIVERY TO THE
CENTRE OF THE EARTH, a sequel to the light-hearted SF weird science book THE
TRANSDIMENSIONAL TRANSPORT COMPANY. It’s in the can, as they say, but also in
the publishing queue.
After that is SHERLOCK HOLMES
CONSULTING DETECTIVE volume 9, which features my story “The Adventure of the
Failing Light,” in which Holmes and Watson investigate the real-life mystery of
the lonely Scottish island lighthouse whose entire crew vanished without trace.
Also out sometime this year will
be the next Immerse or Die anthology, a volume of savagely competitively
reviewed stories voted for by a panel of critics. It will include an SF story
from me called “Borrowed Lives”.
All my previous stuff and some
samples and previews are on my woefully-simple and uncool website at
Thanks a lot for letting me rant
Ian, It's always a pleasure having you here and talking to you. Thanks for joining us yet again, and I'm already looking forward to the next time!