Update September 2012: Bryan’s been busy since the last time he was in the Spotlight, penning his second middle grade historical fantasy novel in the Alex Mortimer series. “Alex Mortimer & The Tombs of Atlantis” launches using a unique “crowd funding” concept. Read more about this update…
YA author Bryan Dearsley penned an historical fiction packed with adventure, engaging readers, in a fantasy land unlike any before. The Beast of Wildeor is part steam punk, part magical realism and full-on action; another book in the series is forthcoming. Here Dearsley dishes about dirigibles, swamp creatures, and antique desks.
Q) Tell us about your YA, The Beast of Wildeor. Did the subject of historical fiction pick you, or did you go in search of it? And what kind of research did you do to prepare for the characters, setting, and upcoming sequel?
A) The Beast of Wildeor deals with the first big adventure to befall Alex Mortimer, who at first glance seems the unlikeliest of heroes. I pretty much wrote the story for the biggest kid of all – me. (Which might account for the number of adults who are really enjoying the story!)
While much of what happens evolved as I wrote, I did have certain “landmark” events that I needed to have happen. The book first is the sinking of RMS Lusitania by a torpedo in 1915. Once I had this key event in place – the sinking was needed to make Alex an orphan and to create a little mystery – I was able to uncover all kinds of fascinating events that Alex could get involved in (sometimes even cause). I felt like an archeologist.
And the machinery! While there’s a dash of steam-punk in the book, I didn’t have to make any of it up. The technological advances (and sometimes failures) in 1929 alone, when the book really gets going, were incredible. The Graf Zeppelin, a giant airship, was about to be the first aircraft to fly around the world, and the world’s largest flying boat (more a ship, really) had its maiden flight – it had 12 engines plus an engine room, and to turn in flight everyone had to shuffle to one side or the other. I even wrote a scene based on an old photo of a guy fixing a floatplane engine while in flight, all part of an attempt to keep the plane in the air for two whole weeks without landing (they succeeded).
It was also a time when creatures like the Sasquatch were making headlines, as well as the Loch Ness Monster. I made a point of deliberately looking for something new and fresh to say about each of them. You’ve never met a Sasquatch like this one (or should I say “these”?). I’ve also had some fun with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.
Q) You’ve packed a lot into this one story. Switching gears, what books have influenced you? If you could have dinner with any writer in the world, past or present, who would you choose to eat with, and what would the conversation sound like?
A) My family moved to England when I was 11 and a whole world of possibilities opened up for me. History came to life. I recall my dad taking me to the coast and telling me all about the German army that lay just across the channel ready to invade. Next minute, he was showing me where the Romans landed. My best friend even had a perfectly straight Roman road running through his backyard. To top it all, the school I went to was founded in 604 ad. Imagine, that’s 1408 years ago!
As a boy, I gobbled up all kinds of books. Stuff on the many conflicts in Europe, classics by Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens, fantasy including Tolkien and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders series… and British comic books. I developed a real passion for boys’ comic books, and remember heading down to the newsagents every Sunday to get my fix. This crazy mix is all there in my writing…
Okay, now the dinner. Let’s make it a dinner party, shall we? Winston Churchill was a writer as well as a politician (it’s how he got started, sending back dispatches from Africa), so he’s got the history angle covered. I’d have to have Roald Dahl there to share how he managed to write the best books for kids, ever. Tolkien to cover fantasy and to find out what he thinks of the film versions of the books. And someone living to round things off… probably JK Rowling so I could get her tipsy and have her promise to help turn my book into a movie.
Q) Too Funny! But sounds like a great plan. Since we’re jumping into your muse, would you offer us some insight into your writing process? What would we find most surprising about your writing space, what’s the best location and time for inspiration, and where’s the wackiest place you’ve ever created a scene or penned dialogue?
A) My biggest breakthrough came when I started applying the writing techniques I’d developed while working for magazines and newspapers over the past 20 years to the novel writing process. Most articles I write are anywhere between 800 to 1500 words. The moment I applied this rule to the length of each chapter in the novel, everything became a heck of a lot rosier. The story’s pace picked up, too. Big time. Not only was it more fun to read, it was also a lot more fun to write.
I’ve never liked routine very much, so I write the books when I can squeeze in time between writing for clients. The most surprising thing about my writing space – apart from the fact I’m usually in my pjs – is the fact it’s tidy. The first thing I did after deciding to write a novel was treat myself to one of those wonderful antique-style mahogany desks, without the silly glass they kept insisting I buy to protect the surface. No way! This is a tool, a place of blood, sweat and tears, and will be suitably scuffed and scarred by the time I’m done with it. Just like the old desk I had at school, only without the names of every student who’d sat there over the past 200 years carved into it.
Inspiration and ideas are everywhere, but I do get some of the best ideas when travelling. Researching a book is so much fun. The second book, The Tombs of Atlantis, sees Alex cross the Atlantic to Britain, spending time in Scotland and England before ending up in Wales. I had the good fortune to visit Wales for a couple of weeks recently on a press trip. It was one of the most incredibly exciting trips of my life. Everywhere I turned I found some thing or some place that I knew Alex had to encounter. Places like Dinas Emrys where the English and Welsh dragons fought! It was almost as if I was following in his footsteps.
While the website is under construction, you can find The Beast of the Wildeor on Facebook…