Author Stefan Bachmann, whose debut novel The Peculiar released this past Tuesday, kindly sat down and answered some questions for us. He talks steampunk, writing, life as an author and college student, and other goodies. Enjoy!
1: For those who are unfamiliar with The Peculiar, tell us a little bit about the book in your own words.
Sure! The Peculiar is a Gothic/steampunk/alternate-history book set in a 19th century where faeries and English live in a fragile, uneasy peace, and clockwork and magic are at constant odds. It’s about a changeling and an aristocrat and their adventures to stop a dastardly plot and a string of gruesome murders, and in the process save their own lives and the lives of their families.
I actually have no clue where the folklore interest came from. Maybe from reading George MacDonald fairy tales when I was younger? I know I’ve liked European folklore for a long time, but I think I became specifically interested in the sinister English faery after reading Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrel a few years ago. In that book, the faeries are very secretive and aloof, and I started to wonder what would happen if their whole civilization were brought out into the open and forced together with a Victorian society. That question became the basic premise of The Peculiar.
3: The alternate England you created is both rich with detail and filled with tons of fun, unique elements. Take us though the process of bringing the world of The Peculiar to life.
Thank you! A lot of the time the weird details just pop up as I’m writing. I suppose if something is regular, say a fan, or a sweets shop, I try to find an aspect of it that’s irregular or humorous in some way and expand on that, but it’s hard to really pinpoint the way it happens. It always seems just right, though, when it does.
4: There’s a great Steampunk presence throughout the book. Were you intending it to have the steampunk themes from the start, or did that evolve as the story did?
I’ve been interested in steampunk for a long, long time (more on that in the guest post tomorrow), and because I basically wanted this book to have all the things I liked in it, I guess I did plan to use steampunk from the start. At first it was just a superficial thing; I wanted a few clockwork gadgets and some steam-carriages running around, because they’re cool, you know, and then I figured out things have to be there for reasons. (Surprise, surprise.) So I had to make it all make sense within the world, and I think it does now.
5: One of the things I like about the story is the way you alternate between Bartholomew Kettle, a Peculiar, and Arthur Jelliby, a normal young man just trying to right a wrong. What was it like getting into the heads of these two different characters? Was one harder to write than the other?
I’m not sure whether one was harder to write than the other, but I think I liked Mr Jelliby more as a character. Bartholomew is very put-upon and sad early in the book, with nothing to think about except how to survive the dangers and loneliness of the faery slums. Mr. Jelliby, on the other hand, starts off carefree and slightly silly, so obviously I liked the happy character more. That’s not quite fair to Bartholomew since I was the one who decided he should be put-upon and sad in the first place, but I guess writers are just mean that way.
6: How much of your Fae history is based on common myth, and how much did you just make up? Did you have to do any research for the book?
Most of the faery bits are based at least partly on real lore, but since the details in folk-stories are often vague I had a lot of space to make up my own things. I did do a lot of research, though, mostly into Victorian customs. And London city maps. Lotssss of London city maps.
I’m also a student at the Zürich Conservatory of Music. I play piano, organ, different sorts of recorders, and some scratchy, not-very-nice violin. I would like to be a film composer someday, but we shall see.
8: You’re in college at the moment; how do you balance work for school and being a writer? What’s your writing routine like?
I don’t balance it at all, unfortunately. I try to write about an hour a day, if I can. Lately, though, with concerts and book-release things happening, I’ve gotten a bit behind.
9: What’s currently on your to-read shelf? Any good suggestions from recent reads?
Right now I’m finishing up The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson. It’s a non-fiction book about the summer directly before World War I, and it’s really fantastic if you’re interested in the minutiae of that time like I am. For 2012 releases, my favorites thus far are Splendors and Glooms by Amy Laura Schlitz, and Summer and Bird by Katherine Catmull. They’re both technically for children, but they’re so well-written and memorable you definitely don’t have to be a child to enjoy them.
10: What are you working on at the moment? Any tidbits you can share?
I’m waiting for my revision notes for the second (and last) of these faery books, and I’m also playing around with some ideas for new books.
I’m very excited about getting back to work on Book 2, though. It’s different from Book 1 in a lot of ways, mainly because while The Peculiar is set entirely in England, much of Book 2 takes place in the Old Country – the faerys’ land – and it’s a very strange and shadowy place indeed. Without giving anything away, Book 2 involves houses full of monsters, forests that go on forever, madness and magic and abandoned cities, and a deep dark river full of pale people.
Thanks for having me on Lytherus!