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What's in a World?
An Interview with Stan Nicholls

conducted by Sandy Auden

© Stan Nicholls
Stan Nicholls
Stan Nicholls
From 1971 to 1973, Stan Nicholls co-owned and managed Bookends, a general/specialist science fiction book shop in West London. In 1973 he became a MS reader for Sphere Books, then for Penguin and Rider Books. Later, he joined the Forbidden Planet retail chain in 1976 and stayed until 1981. He's been a full-time freelance writer since 1981 with work appearing in such diverse markets as The Guardian, The Independent, Daily Mirror, Film Monthly, Rolling Stone, Interzone, Comic World and North London Independent local newspaper groups. In 1995, he began working as Advisory Editor for Little, Brown's science fiction imprint, Orbit. He is a freelance copywriter, contributing to several major advertising campaigns for agencies including Saatchi & Saatchi.

Stan Nicholls Website
ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Orcs: First Blood

Even the best Fantasy adventure can feel insubstantial if the world around it lacks detail or logic. It's something that author Stan Nicholls understands well. His new novel Quicksilver Rising introduces outlaw Reeth Caldason, a man seeking a cure to an affliction that renders him dangerous to himself, and to those around him, at regular intervals. When a magician is murdered by the government, Reeth meets the magician's apprentice, Kutch, and together they embark for Bhealfa's capital city to find the one society that just might be able to help them both.

Quicksilver Rising showcases Nicholls's skill at developing a well thought-out and intriguing Fantasy setting. He may make it look easy, but it takes some determined hard graft at times. Like the geographical aspects of Bhealfa, for example...

'When I'm planning a book I take special care to get the geography right,' Nicholl's starts. 'You see, I'm someone who once offered to navigate on a car journey from London to Devon and got us halfway to Portsmouth. A person who for years thought north was whichever way I happened to be facing. I'm not kidding! A sense of direction, let alone geography, is not my strong point.

'So with a book, I have to work out where every location is in relation to the others, and I might even draw a crude map for myself. But I don't very much care for maps in fantasy novels. They remind me a bit too much of school textbooks, I suppose, and I can't help feeling that if a writer's done their job properly the reader shouldn't need a map beyond the one you put in their head. I'd go and bring you some examples of what I mean, but I'm not sure I could find my workroom...'

Magic, on the other hand, is something Nicholls finds easier to include in his new world -- especially for Reeth Caldason, whose violent fits are of magical origin, and for the apprentice Kutch, who has more magical skills than he is aware of. 'Essentially, what I came up with,' Nicholls explains, 'was a world where magic was all-pervasive both in the sense of its abundance and as a social signifier. Magic as commodity, currency, technology, and, most importantly, as the prop for a class system. A culture where you quite literally get the magic you can afford; where your social status is reflected in the quality of the sorcery you pay for.

'I already had the main thrust of the story, which concerns a world dominated by two equally matched empires and the efforts of a diverse Resistance movement to oppose their tyranny, and I knew all the characters that were going to populate the story, including Reeth, Kutch and the renegade soldier Serrah. But layering-in that particular form of magic crystallised everything, and nicely illustrated the value system of the world. None of this necessarily leaps into your head fully-formed though, you have to work at it.'

Through Nicholl's world walk all manner of characters, be they wizards or prostitutes or opera singers. They're all drawn together against a common political oppressor. 'And like real people, my characters bleed, spit, swear and break wind,' says Nicholls. 'They laugh too. Humour is one of the range of emotions people display in any given situation, even dire ones. Especially dire ones, very often. It's as essential a part of the human psyche as love, hate, compassion, revenge, stupidity, strength, weakness or any other facet, and as such it'll always feature in my writing. They also get unexpectedly pregnant, have mood swings, act contrary, and display obstinacy as much as kindness and heroism. At least I hope that's how they come across.

'The aim is to avoid putting unnecessary barriers between readers and what you're trying to say to them,' says Nicholls, summarising his overall approach. 'In that respect I'm a little down on overly long, densely written fantasy tomes. I tend to think that most of those doorstops would benefit from being cut by at least a third, and maybe the authors' Thesauruses shouldn't be quite so near to hand either. I like to keep it clear, keep it moving, and cut the crap.'

(This interview first appeared on Sci Fi Channel Europe.)

Copyright © 2005 by Sandy Auden

Sandy Auden is currently working as an enthusiastic reviewer for SFX magazine; a tireless news hound for Starburst magazine; a diligent interviewer/reviewer for The Third Alternative and Interzone magazines and a combination of all the above for The Alien Online. She spends her spare time lying down with a cold flannel on her forehead. Visit her site at The Auden Interviews.

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