Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Author Interview - Alan Denham on One Thousand Worlds

One Thousand Worlds today has the pleasure of interviewing Alan Denham. Alan is co-author with Graham Buckby of several books (four published so far) set in a world of carefully structured magic. We like to tell the stories, so we don't get too involved with violence, the puzzles are more interesting - and the magic is fun.

Alan and Graham were featured on this blog, in November 2013. You can see that post here.

Interview with Alan Denham, co-author of:-

Tell us about your latest book.
Latest?  That’s difficult.  Most of my writing (all my published writing) is co-authored with an old friend, Graham Buckby – and stuff gets written, rewritten, argued over, put on one side for three or four years, argued over again . . .  Latest published (Shades of Gold) was among the first actually written, many years ago, and it has been hacked about a lot in the mean time.

How many books have you written?
I have had a hand in about six, maybe seven.  Three of the four we have published so far, the other one is pretty well pure Graham – see above. It’s difficult to keep track!   Those four are Shades of Smoke, Shades of Gold, Shades of Magic, and Clissa’s Lay - all on Amazon and Smashwords.  Find links and more details on our website at

What are you working on at the moment?
At one point we decided we needed some short stories, and we each wrote a few.  One of mine (mostly mine – Graham tweaked it quite a bit!) looked good enough to be a stand-alone short, and also to be the first chapter of a larger book. The short version is already published (‘New Beginnings’, in Shades of Magic) and now I am working – very slowly, it is not going well - on the development.

What are the most important attributes to remaining sane as a writer?
Sane?  Whoever said I was sane?

What do you want to be when you grow up?
Who said I have to grow up?

If you could meet any of your own characters, who would it be?
Cormell, from Shades of Smoke.  He isn’t me, but we have things in common – and no, I am not going to explain any further.

So what inspired your world?
Now that’s a long story! 
First answer:- As we said on our website, Graham started writing first, then I tried because I thought if Graham could do it then so could I . . . but it was harder than I thought!  However, we found that some of my ideas, my frameworks, polished up with Graham’s tweaks and background improvements worked rather well.  Then we spent YEARS treating the world as a private joke, until one day we realised we had something good.

Alternative answer – I have to refer to specific parts of our work.  Could I talk about Cormell? (Shades of Smoke).  He started because we wanted a short story.  It didn’t work – once we started he wanted to be quite a major character.  He is an Illusionist – an artist -  mostly working in coloured smoke.

That idea originally came from something I read when I was about 15.  It was in one of those big yellow Gollancz SF books from the early 1960s, and I can’t remember whether the story I read was a short or a full length, or who it was by – probably Pohl or Anderson – but one small scene made quite an impression, and this is what grew out of it.  Cormell is also a leatherworker, partly because a decent character needs some hinterland, some backstory, and partly because it was only after my father died that I discovered he had been quite an artist in embossed leather when he was young – but he never taught me how!  I got quite annoyed about that.  I work in wood, instead – there is one relevant picture on the website, and some more if you search for my name at

As for our other work – Thales, our ‘magician’ (he would hate to be called that!) is a user of the old ‘Like-to-Like, Part-to-Whole’ style of magic that is probably the easiest way to write ‘magic-with-rules’ that can be made to look like science, and is also a relatively ‘weak’ form of magic – so the users can’t just wave their arms and achieve miracles, they must prepare, and work at what they do, and apply some logic – so the reader can see the twists.  Vordan, the Assassin, started off as a stereotype – gentleman thug/murderer for hire – but we soon realised he also needed some complexity and some backstory, so we made his Assassin’s Guild grow up into an organisation having some law enforcement and policing responsibilities – and then we gave him a conscience, to make life even more difficult for him!

However – after all that, I also have to admit that the principal motivation for writing all these stories was to have a bit of a romp – adventures without the militarism and violence that characterises far too much of modern SF and Fantasy, and also without the elves, dwarves, unicorns and talking dragons that characterise much of the rest.

So your books deal with magic – and anything else?
Nuome is a mediaeval sort of world – lots of Fantasy is set in this sort of environment – it could go on into Sword and Sorcery, like the old ‘Grey Mouser’ series – or various forms of magic.  We have a world that is a failed colony.  I suppose there are hints of Dragonflight in there somewhere – but this colony has failed because our magic, the old ‘Like-to-Like, Part-to-Whole’ is endemic in all the raw materials of the world.  So when the colonists try to build an electrical generator using locally-mined copper for the wire, they get power surges that burn out other equipment.  When they try for an oil-based plastics industry, the plastics are reluctant to form – and then all go at once, so the machines get clogged.  As they go back to more and more primitive technologies, the blacksmiths discover that they can save fuel by softening or even melting quite a lot of iron by working on a small piece and letting that influence the rest – but they also learn to store their metal stockpiles a safe distance from their working area!  This is going to lock them in a technological stage just short of steam power – they are stuck!

That’s the scientific/magical background.  Socially, they develop a mediaeval-style society – fairly severe poverty by our standards, swords and armour – so the trappings of wealth and social status are very important.  They have no advanced communications – and that means problems with what we would regard as basic law enforcement.  It is a society that will accept ‘vengeance’ as a reasonable way to behave, if kept in proportion to the original offence.   We have also given them a medical condition that restricts the birthrate and hence keeps the population fairly low – and under those conditions, some restrictive religions are likely to develop, akin to the worst excesses of the Catholic Church in the days of The Inquisition.  

What did you read when you were young, and what do you read now?
I discovered SF  in my early teens – or maybe even younger if you count one extremely battered children’s space adventure by W.E Johns.  I was reading fairly ‘hard’ SF for preference – Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Niven.  I didn’t read much Fantasy at that time – things like Anderson’s Broken Sword felt too much like a simple reworking of Norse mythology, and I never took to Conan or The Grey Mouser.  I rather liked Tolkien, but regarded it as a ‘one off’ – way different from the rest of the genre.  And I had no time at all for Moorcock’s Elric stories – they just didn’t appeal to me.  I read early McCaffrey, but didn’t much like her later stuff.   And Zelazny’s Amber series, of course – that also stands out from the crowd, enormously!  Then I read Cadfael (of course- didn’t everybody?) and some police procedurals (Stuart Pawson).  I suppose that was about it until I hit my late forties.  I was a Pratchett addict by then, of course – but by then Graham had started writing on the F/SF boundary, and I had joined in.  Now, I read a lot more Fantasy, but I still read SF.  I don’t think there is a clear separation between those two – they are opposite ends of a scale.  That said, there are not many works around the middle of the scale, but what there is, I generally like.

You write as a hobby rather than as a career – what are you professionally, and do you have any other hobbies?
That’s going to be another long answer!  Professionally, I am retired.  I spent most of my career in education, and most of that as a Science Teacher in Junior schools, with children aged 8-13 (ish) – but that went wrong back in the late 1990s, I ran into a bullying boss and didn’t learn to keep my head down (I kept my professional integrity instead, but I lost the job) – so I did the last 12 years as an Open University Tutor. The final outcome is that I have taught all ages from 4 to 90, all abilities from Special Needs to real Spectacular High Flyers (are you reading this Elliott?) and a fairly wide range of subjects at Junior school level, and computing at first year University level, and tutor’s professional development for Adult and Community Education.  Quite a career!

As for the ‘other hobbies’ – I took up woodcarving about 20 years ago, and my work now sells in a small gallery in Rothbury, Northumberland (England!).  Yes, I know I said I wasn’t too impressed with dragons in Fantasy books, but woodcarving is different, OK?

Connect with Alan Denham on Goodreads

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