Today we’re talking with author Paul Crilley, whose newest sci-fi novel The Lazarus Machine releases November 6th from Prometheus Books.
1) Tell us a little bit about yourself. How has your past influenced your writing?
Um… let’s see. I was born in Scotland and my family moved to South Africa in the late eighties. My parents had a bit of a fickle nature though, and we moved back to Scotland two years later, only to head back to S.A. again, another two years later.
With all the shifting schools (and countries) I found myself gravitating towards books more and more. I started off with the Hardy Boys, and I think they must have had a big influence on my writing, because all my books seem to have some element of mystery in them.
After the Hardy Boys I moved on to Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Reading those authors was like discovering a whole new world. They opened up fantasy and science fiction to me. Prachett and Adams were a huge influence on my style. Humor is really important to me. I love weaving it into stories. I haven’t written a full-on comedy, but I like to try and get it in there somehow, through the dialogue or the characters. After that it was onto Tolkien, Tad Williams, the Dragonlance books, Raymond E Feist, and David Eddings.
I started writing my own stories when I was 13, and haven’t looked back since. I got my first electric typewriter when I was 15. I remember thinking it was the coolest present ever, which probably goes to show how big a geek I am.
2) Who is your favorite character in The Lazarus Machine? How is that person unique, and how do they grow throughout the book?
You’re putting me on the spot! That’s like asking which of your kids is your favorite. But if I had to pick I think it would be Tweed. I love how awkward he is at the beginning, how he has trouble dealing with people in normal society. This isn’t his fault. His father is a con man, and for reasons of his own has kept Tweed pretty sheltered. But he also brought Tweed up to analyze everything, to not let emotion get in the way, so this combination makes Tweed a bit… odd.
3) What’s it like writing a historical novel set in an alternate world? Did you incorporate historical facts in with the fiction, or is your 1895 a completely different one?
Actually, I originally pitched the series as Sherlock Holmes meets Dr. Who, with some Indiana Jones and James Bond thrown in for good measure.
I mean, in the first couple of chapters alone I have a séance that goes wrong, a gang of villains in weird gas masks, a kidnapping, robotic clockwork spiders, Tesla guns, and the main character hanging from a zeppelin a couple of hundred feet above London.
So yeah, I love Dr. Who. I love that kind of adventure story. One of my earliest TV memories is from the 80s, (or was it late seventies?) when Tom Baker fell out of the TARDIS and regenerated into Peter Davison. (Really boring death for a Time Lord, though.) I don’t miss an episode of the new series, and am still trying to decide whether Tennant or Smith is my favorite. My daughter is just getting to the age where she is interested in that kind of show. I can’t wait to sit down and re-watch all the episodes with her.
5) Personally, I would think that the hardest thing about writing science fiction would be making my world convincing and “real” to my readers. What’s the hardest thing for you about writing a sci-fi novel?
For me, the hardest thing is weaving the technology and the history of the world into the story without actually bringing everything to a grinding halt. You have to sneak it in a bit at a time, so the reader isn’t overwhelmed with info dump.
But I actually think writing straight fantasy is harder. I’ve just finished a fantasy YA novel and it was much harder than Tweed and Nightingale or The Invisible Order, because in fantasy you have to invent everything – the history, the various cultures, magic systems etc. With science fiction, or alternate history, you are given feed lines that you can develop as you see fit. Like the stuff about Charles Babbage in the book. He really did come up with plans for the Difference Engine and the Analytical Machine, and it was only lack of funding that stopped it being built. How different would everything be now if he actually had the money?
6) Being science fiction as well as “historical” fiction, I can imagine you did a lot of different research. Tell us a little bit about that.
It was a lot of fun. Especially the stuff about Tesla, (who features heavily in the second book). The man was fascinating, a true visionary who unfortunately became a bit of a laughing stock, eventually looked upon as the crazed scientist. But he had so much to offer science.
A lot of the research was into early computing languages and such. How they used to send instructions to computers by punching holes in cards and inserting the cards into the computers. Primitive stuff, but it worked.
7) What message do you want readers to glean from The Lazarus Machine?
There are a couple in there. One is that you can’t live all in your head, just as you can’t live all in your heart. Tweed is very cerebral, relies on logic and analysis, while Octavia is much more in touch with her feelings, quick to anger, quick to forgive. She constantly berates Tweed for living his life from the outside so to speak, analyzing everything (which is the way he was brought up by his father), instead of experiencing it. It’s sort of like going on holiday and constantly taking photographs instead of looking at what’s right in front of you. He lives life once removed. While Octavia, on the other hand, lives life to the full. But Octavia has to also realize that being ruled by emotions is just as bad. They both have to realize that there is a middle ground and their friendship with each other is what shows them that.
8) The Lazarus Machine is the first book in a series. Can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on now? Book two, maybe?
Yup. Book two. The working title is The Hollow World, but that is subject to change. It’s not going to be quite as technology-oriented as book one. I’m introducing some - I don’t want to give anything away here – but… mythical elements? Not magic as such, but the unknown. I mean, that’s not such a huge leap, seeing as I already have automatons powered by human souls, but I’m opening up the world a bit. Perhaps a bit of globe-trotting.
So glad you came on the blog today with us!
A pleasure. And thanks for having me!
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