Friday, March 7, 2014

Interview: Chris Nuttall (Part 2)

Friend of the Update, Chris Nuttall, returns for another chat (see his first interview here). Enjoy:

Welcome back, Chris. What have you been up to since we last chatted?

Well, I've been writing more Kindle books, including the spectacularly successful Ark Royal, and sold more books to both Elsewhen Press and Twilight Times Books.  And I've moved to Manchester for around six months.

Tell us about Schooled in Magic.

Schooled in Magic follows the adventures of Emily, a teenage girl, outcast and history nut who is accidentally kidnapped by a power-mad magician from another dimension.  Rescued by another magician, she finds herself sent to school to study magic – and plunged into a whirlwind of social change and dark magic that will either save or damn her.

Yes, I imagine quite a few people will claim it’s a Harry Potter clone.  But, in truth, SIM and its sequels have a life of their own.

Who designed the cover?

Brad Fraunfelter.  I’m quite pleased with it.

How does it relate to alternate history?

In many ways, the story resembles Lest Darkness Fall, where a single person is tossed backwards in time and armed with future knowledge that may (or may not) make a difference.  Emily is a history nut and it shows, as she draws comparisons between the Allied Lands of the Nameless World (the "namelessness" of the world is an important plot point and not laziness on the part of the author) and the history of our own world.  For example, one of Emily's (eventual) friends is in a position that has more than a little in common with Mary Tudor (aka Bloody Mary) or Mary Queen of Scots.

Ever wondered what changes someone could work in the past?  Emily will show you – and the likely effects they might have.


Social change caused by the invention of new technology has always fascinated me.  The spread of the printing press, for example, spurred on religious and political developments in Europe (for better or worse, of course, is up to the reader).  A darker example is the Cotton Gin, which actually made slavery profitable once again and accidentally ensured the development of the slavery block in the American south.

And every change will be bound to upset someone.  One fairly minor change Emily introduces is stirrups, which assist people in remaining on horseback.  But this will upset the nobility because they had experience riding without them, allowing them to remain dominant on the battlefield.  Now, commoners without a lifetime of practice can handle horses too.

This is mirrored in our world.  The development of file-sharing software undermined the music and video firms, partly because they failed to adapt to the new reality.  Scribes resented the arrival of the printing press (and the English alphabet) because anyone could use them and they would be put out of work.

Emily will be dealing with the consequences of her actions for a long time to come.

You are a very prolific author and well-known in the alternate history community. Yet you don't write many pure alternate history works. Why is that?

That’s a hard question to answer.  I think part of it is because much of the really interesting periods of history have been mined out, so there isn't much you can write that’s pure AH without either copying someone, echoing real history or slipping up in some ways.  The Invasion of 1950, which was set in a Nazi Victory World, was pretty different to real history, but developing a long-term series out of it would either mimic real history or become utterly unrecognizable.

There’s plenty of room for drama in a Nazi-occupied Britain, I admit, and I wouldn't mind setting a story there.  But there would always be problems making it realistic without warping history to a point where it could teach us nothing.

That said, I’m currently working on a long-term plan for a Nazi Civil War story that would take place in an alternate 1980s (or thereabouts) but it may be quite some time before it is actually finalized.  And there would be political issues.  Anyone who lives in a Nazi Germany that survived the war will have to ape Nazi beliefs at the very least, while the underpinnings of those beliefs would have seemed confirmed by the war.

These people might resent the Nazi Party, but they wouldn't be nice people (by our standards) and they might either embrace the Holocaust or simply be unaware that it ever took place, or that there were ever such people as Jews.  And I would prefer to avoid a flame war that would result from such so-called support for Nazism.

I guess its linked to humanity’s desire to boil all issues down to a single point.  Slavery, for example, in the Confederated States.  But, even without slavery, there was little to admire in the Confederated States of America.

But I have a series of fantasy steampunk/alternate history on the go right now.  The Royal Sorceress now has a sequel, The Great Game.

I've also been asked to submit a time travel-based short story for a collected book, so I've written out a story called "A Word in Pompey’s Ear", which features someone being sent back in time to change the outcome of Caesar’s Civil War.  I may go back to the idea and turn it into a full-sized novel or novella at some point, but it would require a hell of a lot more research.

Got any new books in the work?

Lots – I always have ideas.  I've just finished (and posted on Kindle) A Learning Experience, which features a group of ex-military Americans capturing an alien starship and starting their own country while trying to defend the Earth against alien attack.  I’m currently writing The Nelson Touch, which is Ark Royal II; after that the third Royal Sorceress book.

What are you reading now?

History, mainly.  I bought quite a lot of books on the Roman Empire during my time in Malaysia, all of which were shipped to the UK.  So I’m going through them one by one.  Fiction-wise, not that much at the moment, apart from a handful of kindle authors.

How do you feel to be the first person to be interviewed more than once on The Update?

Very honored <grin>.

How can readers find out more about your books?

I operate a website with tons of free books and samples, a Facebook page, a mailing list and a discussion board.  Updates – including free promotional officers – generally come through Facebook, so anyone who follows the page should see them.

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