Nick Setchfield's debut novel is available now from Titan books. It is a page turning blend of fantasy and espionage. Set in various locations across Europe in the early 1960s as British agent Christopher Winter flees London only to find himself caught up in a race to discover an occult secret which will give the nation that uses it unimaginable power.
I love both – and I especially love Live And Let Die, the Bond book that edges closest to the supernatural. It has such a heady flavour. Spy stories and dark fantasy seemed like such a wonderfully combustible combination and I thought smashing them together on the page would be immense fun. But here’s the thing: they actually fit together beautifully. The realms of espionage and the occult have so many parallels. Both of them operate in the shadows, in the margins. And spies have a sense of tradecraft, of ritual, just like magicians. Codes are spells, right? A collection of runes that can unlock the truth… The more I explored the history of the two worlds the more in common they seemed to have and the more excited I became at the possibilities. When I discovered that the motto of the British Intelligence service was semper occultus – all is secret – it felt like a sign that I was on the right track. The next day I saw the first of the silent men, standing in my street, but I’m not entirely comfortable talking about that, so let’s move on.
Who are the writers that inspire you?
So many! I’ve always loved Ray Bradbury: god, the magic he performs with words, it’s dazzling. Big heart and big imagination, too, whether he’s writing about Mars or Green Town, Illinois. Joan Aiken was an early favourite. Another absolute sorcerer with words and just a name I associate with the spines of Puffin paperbacks on the school bookshelf, and all the escape that they promised (even the name Aiken had something marvellously witchy and cryptic about it – I’ve never met anyone called Aiken. Have you?). Ian Fleming and MR James, of course. I love the sweep of Fleming’s writing and the understated but tangible dread of James’ stuff (“His mouth was full of sand and stones, and his teeth and jaws were broken to bits. I only glanced once at his face.” – A Warning To The Curious). And I have to mention Neil Gaiman, too, not just for his craft but face-to-face inspiration. I interviewed him when American Gods came out, way back in 2001, and that conversation lit something inside me. I knew I had to try writing a book of my own. It’s taken a while, but here we are.
What are your top tips for writers of speculative fiction?
Well, I’ve only written the one book so far, so I expect Imposter Syndrome to strike me down at any moment if I try and sound too wise about this. But here’s the essential thing I learned: stay in touch with the things that thrill you, and use the things that thrill you to power your own work. I wear my influences on my sleeve in The War in the Dark: James Bond, Indiana Jones, Hitchcock, the British school of occult writers. And in each case I remembered why I adored that stuff in the first place. Even when I was using a bloodied teaspoon to scrape words from my screaming skull – usually at ten o’clock each evening – what kept me going was the thought that I was writing what I loved. So embrace your inspirations. But don’t just Xerox them. Turn them into triggers. Work out ways to twist them or collide them or otherwise put your own, distinct stamp on them, because people are waiting for your voice. Synthesise your influences and make something new from them.
Can we look forward to more adventures for Christopher Winter?
I can’t even promise he’ll survive this adventure… I mean, he’s good, but the forces ranged against him are so powerful that I fear for his chances. But if he does make it to the end of this book then yes, there’ll be a whole new world of magic and terror waiting for him in the next one.
Thanks so much Nick for answering my questions and Lydia and Titan books for inviting me to take part in the blog tour. See the banner for more details.