Saturday, August 27, 2011

Interview With Andy Frankham-Allen

Journey To The Heart of Luna, episode 1 of the first season of Space: 1889 and Beyond, has been proofed and edited. A little bit of formating and it will ship . . . or transmit, I guess. Old mindsets die hard. Look for the release by mid-week.

In honor of the release, I interviewed Andy Frankham-Allen, the author of the first novella as well as the series editor. He interviewed me at about the same time and you can read it here.

Here is my interview with him.

FRANK: Andy, I’m always interested in what drew people to Steampunk in general and Space: 1889 particular, as well their early experiences with it. Yours are pretty unique, as I recall, but I’m not sure I’ve ever heard the full story. Would you mind sharing that?

ANDY: My introduction to Space: 1889 came very much out of left-field. Role Playing Games, or gaming of any kind (beyond card games and such things as Monopoly), have never really held any interest for me. I remember in the late ‘80s a friend of mine would pretty much force me into playing Warhammer, but I got bored of that game very quickly. Loved the miniatures, though! I’d been aware of steampunk (although not by name) for some time; having grown up with Doctor Who the idea of merging Victoriana with science fiction was a well-known concept, and one I have always enjoyed. To this day I absolutely adore 19th century literature, in particular the scientific romances of that era.

In 2005 I was at the birthday party for Big Finish Productions, having contributed to one of their Doctor Who short story anthologies (more came later), and I got talking with producer John Ainsworth about working on a new series of audio dramas based on the ever-popular Doctor Who companion, Sarah Jane Smith. The task set before me, writing a series of four audio plays, was quite daunting at the time so I enlisted the help of another budding author. We produced some test scripts, and planned out a series of stories... Things were advancing very well, but our plans got abruptly curtailed when Elisabeth Sladen (who played Sarah) decided she no longer wished to do the kind of series we had in mind. And so that was, essentially, the end of that. John, though, having experienced how quick my co-author and I turned around a script, thought we would be suitable for something else and asked us instead if we’d like to work on a ‘stand by’ script for this series he was making for his own audio company, Noise Monster Productions. The series in question was Space: 1889. We immediately said yes, and then looked at each other with worried frowns on our faces. Neither of us has heard of the property!

So, what followed was some hasty research, including my co-author purchasing the game book (as it was quite a hefty tome we decided only one of us would purchase it, and then photocopy and send the other the relevant material). Evidently this worked out quite well, as we soon knocked up an outline based on the game story, ‘On Gossamer’s Wings’, which got approved, contracts signed, and the script written. This all happened quite quickly really, in less than three months as I recall, but the gestation period between finishing the first draft of the script and recording took a hell of a lot longer.

And thus I became exposed, and ultimately enticed, into the universe of Space: 1889! Although I came into the property knowing nothing, I left the audio project with a desire to do more. For a few years I had in the back of mind an inkling that it would work so well as a series of books. So, naturally, when the opportunity to turn that into a reality came, I jumped on it. But more about that later.

FRANK: Aside from the gadgetry, which all of us love, what do you see as the defining elements of Steampunk? I’m not as interested in what all Steampunk may or may not have in common, but rather what you think it ought to have in common, or be about.

ANDY: For me, steampunk is more about the adventure. About taking Victorian values, the whole mindset of that time, out into the vastness of space. It has endless possibilities, of which the universe of Space: 1889 is but one. I love that in steampunk we get to downgrade all the science fiction ideas we now take for granted, break them back down to their most basic levels and play with them as if they’re brand new once again. The gadgets interest me less than the ideas that you can play with in the steampunk genre. Once we’ve established the universe of Space: 1889 in series one, we’ll then get to explore the ideas behind steampunk a whole lot more; really break the mould a little.

FRANK: You're the editor of the Space: 1889 & Beyond EBook series, but that understates your role. You were really at the center of the project from its genesis forward. Since how the EPublishing world works is a mystery to about 99% of folks, I bet they would be interested in hearing how the project came into existence.

ANDY: Are you sitting comfortably? Good, then I’ll begin... To fully respond I need to go back to 2006, when it finally came time to record my Space: 1889 audio play, The Lunar Inheritance.

Quite a few months had passed between the initial drafts of the script and recording; by the time Noise Monster was in the position to proceed with the play I had been involved with a couple of other writing projects; thus my head was no longer in the Space: 1889 game. For me it was an old project, and so my co-writer took up the majority of the initial rewrites. We had big plans for that story (plans we didn’t share with anyone, not even our producer!), setting up a bigger story-arch that would play out in a later story, explaining the origins of the Moon Men, which we called Silanteans. Their home world was the planet we know as Vulcan, the remains of which form the asteroid belt just beyond Mars. This we were going to link to the mystery of Atlantis, which would be revealed as another colony of survivors from Silantis, hence the similarity between the name Silanteans and Atlanteans. Alas, these plans came to nothing due to the fact that Noise Monster’s involvement with Space: 1889 ended with The Lunar Inheritance, and as a result I’ve always felt sorry for that story, since it’s now looked on as something of an adventure-by-numbers. It’s good, does what it needs to do, but it’s not the big story it was supposed to be. Ever since I’ve always been convinced that more could be done with the fictional world of Space: 1889, and have always wanted to somehow become involved in a prose series.

In the last few years I have sounded out a few authors about the potential of a series of books, but very little came of those enquiries, until mid-way through 2010. By this time I had become involved with Untreed Reads Publishing; an independent ePublisher with the best distribution of any ePublisher. Editor-in-Chief, Jay Hartman, sent out an email asking for steampunk stories. We have all seen the emergence of steampunk as a very popular sub-genre, and Jay knew that as a publisher at the forefront of e-commerce, his company needed to release steampunk stories. This was, for me, the perfect opportunity. Even as I sent out the initial email to Jay about Space: 1889 I knew I was about to step on a path that could potentially lead to something big. It was a daunting prospect, but as Jay always says about me, I don’t believe in failure.

Jay was very much up for the idea of a series based on Space: 1889, and so he left it to me to sound Frank out, after all I was known to Frank via my work on the audio series. Frank was very interested in the ideas I presented to him, and so I put him and Jay in touch. The legal side of things were little to do with me, as my purview was the creative side of the project. My contract was signed first, and so away I went, plotting out the series and developing the main characters. My intention was create a series that would go beyond the year 1889, and thus the title of the series was born, basing it initially on the gaming stories found in the original game books. I was, and am, keen on making the series familiar enough to the old guard who have remained loyal to the property while at the same time creating something fresh and new, pushing the boundaries on the established universe created by Frank. Once Frank and I had agreed on the direction of the series (and I want to point out that I have it planned out, in broad strokes, right up until the end the third season, and possibly even beyond that), it was down to me to find the creative team to work on series one with me.

It’s been a tough old path to get where we are now, and I have lost several authors along the way, due to commitments elsewhere and, in one or two cases, because it has been discovered that the universe of Space: 1889 is difficult to get into from a creative point of view (at least at this juncture. I anticipate this will improve as the series progresses). Of course, I have now got my full team in place, and 90% of series one has been written.

One thing I thought was essential from the off was to re-design the logo, since the logo had been the same for a good twenty years, and I felt it was time to say “here we are, with something a little different”. Again Frank was up for it (one thing I can say about Frank throughout the development of this series, he’s always been open to my ideas, no matter how wild they may be), as long as he got to approve the final design. We went through about twenty-six possible versions! Curiously Frank and I were drawn to the same elements of two particular designs, which our designer duly merged together to create the now official logo. To me this a big big deal, as it shows people from the outset that we’re not simply creating an addition to the established property, but we’re branching out with something that hasn’t quite be seen by the loyal followers of Space: 1889. Not only that, but everyone involved, all the way up from Frank, Jay and I right down to the contracted authors and designers, totally believes in the future of this series. We’re taking it very seriously, and are committed to its success, but that’s not to say we won’t be having some fun along the way.

FRANK: You mentioned making the property more creatively accessible, which is an interesting concept. It’s probably not a hurdle which would even occur to most readers when thinking about putting writers together with an existing world. Would you like to elaborate a bit?

ANDY: Something we’ve found (and I think I speak for most of the writing team) while working on series one was the difficulty in changing a game into an ongoing narrative. The 1889 world created by yourself and others over the years is quite precise, but a lot of it is written in shorthand, in much the same way as, say, the alien worlds of Star Trek are. A race of warriors is indicative of an entire planet. Nonsense of course, since as we know from our own world how varied are the people who, ah, people it. So our task has been to bring it past the shorthand, make it into a universe that is alive. The characters, especially those already featured in the game books, need to breathe. Take Annabelle, for instance, in the game book her profile would lend itself to a stereotypical Victorian Adventuress, very gung-ho and a strong feminist (not that such a term would have been used in the 19th Century), but we need to make her more well-rounded, with flaws and all. As I said, Annabelle needs to breathe, the readers need to relate to her emotional journey throughout the series. No longer will you be able to predict her reaction; no role of the dice will determine her path any more. That’s an example of what I mean by making the property more creatively accessible. By time we come to series two, the universe will be quite well established, a murky world of contradictions, inhabited by real people with real drives.

FRANK: In November of last year, for the first time ever, more eBooks were purchased in the USA than traditional paper books. Within the last month, Borders Book Sellers, on the of the largest book retail chains in the US, closed its doors for good. The book market is evolving very rapidly. As a writer who has been published, and had enviable sales, in both formats, you are ahead of the curve of most authors. Writers tend to focus on the effect of this change on the marketability of their work, and understandably so, but how do you see this affecting readers?

It’s interesting, and a conversation I have had with many people since joining Untreed Reads, this whole print vs. electronic thing. I’m not seeing that it’s having much affect on readers, since the ones who moan about eBooks (from those who says, ‘I prefer to hold a book in my hand’, to the more simply-stated, ‘I hate eBooks!’ right up to a comment I heard today, ‘eBooks won’t last long; it’s just a fad’) have never actually tried to read an eBook. Recently a friend of mine, who was holidaying overseas, posted on Facebook how he was finally ‘getting’ eBooks, like they’d been some big mystery to him previously. EBooks are merely a more efficient way of getting access to your favourite reading material; it’s much convenient to download five books onto an eReader than pack five books into a case when you’re going away for some time, and I think most hardened readers understand that. We live in a world of convenience, and the growth in digital publishing is another example of that. That all said, though, I have found from some people that there’s almost a stigma about eBooks, as if, perhaps, they’re not viewed as real because they’re not in print. It’s a nonsense, of course. Mind you, the ease behind getting published electronically does mean that a lot of authors, who otherwise are not of a standard that they can get a publisher, are getting stuff out there. But that’s a whole different topic...

FRANK: As series editor of Space: 1889 & Beyond you have a lot of influence over where the series goes from here. Without giving any spoilers away, what are your hopes for the series?

ANDY: Well, I can certainly reveal that I have the series planned out for the first three seasons; it’s not an intricate plan – loads of space for the writers to bring new things to the table along the way. What I wish to achieve is, initially, to put all the old guard (those who have followed the property for twenty years) at ease, show them that this is still the same property, the same core universe. But by the second season I have every intention of shaking things up somewhat. I also want to see the series taking all these popular and now-common science fiction ideas, and breaking them back down to their base level, turning them on their heads, and making them something a little new and fresh. The joy of writing in the past! And finally, at least in answer to the question (I have loads of objectives which I won’t reveal!), I want to explore the 19th Century views on sexuality, a theme that’s never too far from most peoples’ minds.

FRANK: Thanks very much, Andy. I thuink I speak for a lot of folks when I say I'm looking forward to what comes next.

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