(Rowankind 2) was published on January 3rd by DAW.
Building Half a WorldBy Jacey Bedford
Thanks to Sally for inviting me to write a blog post for The Qwillery. My fourth book, Silverwolf
, has just been published (by DAW). It’s a historical fantasy. Because I hop back and forth between writing science fiction and fantasy, I’ve been thinking a lot about worldbuilding.
Worldbuilding is nothing new to writers of speculative fiction. We have to do it all the time, make the background to our novels live – and that’s before we start with plot or characterisation. (Though not necessarily ‘before’ in a chronological sense as in my experience they all seem to jumble into my head at the same time.) In a contemporary novel the writer can assume that the reader will take things for granted, especially if the novel is set in a familiar Western culture. We live in a built world with houses, streets, taxicabs, aeroplanes, McDonalds, shops, televisions, the internet, shoes, breakfast cereal. In science fiction and fantasy you don’t necessarily have all that, though you may have some of it. (Will there be McDonalds on the Moon and Mars two centuries hence?)
Worldbuilding is fun because you can simply make stuff up – although, of course, it has to be logical and believable, or at least have verisimilitude. One of the (many) definitions of science fiction is that it should be believably extrapolated from science and physics as we understand them. But if your story is far enough in the future then there comes a point where all bets are off. In my Psi-Tech space opera books, I can launch a flight of fancy (literally) and as long as I make it seem real and logical, I Crossways
.) And I can have my spaceships reach places in super-fast times by using a system of jump gates that make shortcuts through foldspace. The folding space concept isn’t new, of course, I’ve just added a twist to it. A twist that could change everything.
can introduce new concepts, or borrow existing tropes and play with them. I can create new worlds—worlds that have pink grass or are 98% covered in water, worlds that are dangerously exposed to their sun’s rays, or are just coming out of an ice-age. I can invent a space station which houses a million people and is run by a coalition of crimelords. (Hint: it’s called
Worldbuilding for historical fantasy is slightly different. You already have a world, fully formed, which you need to research thoroughly and then you need to add in your own world-bits
while still keeping everything believable. My historical fantasies (The Rowankind Trilogy) is set in 1800 - 1802 in a Britain with magic, but the magic is subtle. At first it just looks like
the straightforward historical 1800. Ross (Rossalinde) Tremayne is an unconventional heroine because she dresses as a man and captains her own privateer ship, but that’s not flying in the face of history. There have been female pirates before. Female everything before.
I found this little newspaper snippet about a cross-dressing female whose gender wasn’t discovered for nine years. That’s not bad going in the days before everyone had personal privacy.
The first Rowankind book, Winterwood
, opens in Plymouth, a town strongly tied to the ocean. I’ve visited there several times, but don’t know it all that well. I was lucky enough to find a series of detailed historical maps on the web (which sadly have disappeared since my original research). They gave me my starting point with street names and an idea of what Sutton Pool looked like at the right point in history. Thanks to Pinterest, I also found a series of Victorian photographs and earlier illustrations showing buildings in Plymouth and especially around the Barbican and Sutton Pool that were old enough to have been there in 1800. (Plymouth took a lot of bomb damage in the Second World War, so Plymouth today doesn’t always map very well on to Plymouth in 1800 except around the water line.)
Having established real, historical Plymouth I then introduced magic into the world. Oh, look over there, there are licensed witches who have their places of business near the market and offer small spells for sale as designated by the Mysterium – the government organisation that regulates magic. Then we discover that Ross is an unregistered witch, something she could hang for if they catch her. The magic unfolds from there.
There’s a race of beings, not quite human, though human enough that people have forgotten that skin that looks ash grey and has grain marks like polished wood is not normal. These are the rowankind, gentle, uncomplaining bond-servants inserted into most middle and upper class houses. Their free labour props up households and businesses, and since we’re thirty years into the Industrial Revolution, they also labour in the early manufacturies, and in peripheral jobs. No one remembers where they came from. They’ve always been there—or have they?
So far, so good. The magic blends in with early nineteenth century life as it really was. The rowankind support the industrial revolution. Nothing much is out of place—yet! As we get deeper into the book we discover more magic lurking in the background of this world. The forests are protected by the Green Man and the Forest Lady. And what’s all this talk about the Fae, surely they are just a legend? Then there’s Corwen, a wolf shapechanger who’s turned his back on his family because he thinks his family has turned its back on him.
It’s like building a wall. The bricks are the reality of history, while the mortar fills up the cracks with whatever you need to build your story. I’ve used real places and real history and built on them. The house where Corwen’s family lives is based on a country house close to where I live. When Corwen and Ross go to London in search of Corwen’s twin brother Freddie, I’ve used real streets and likely houses, plus Ross ship, the Heart of Oak anchors off Wapping Old Stairs on the Thames. These stairs were designed as access to the river in an increasingly built-up London. Wapping Old Stairs are next to a pub called
|Photographed for E. Arnot Robertson's book |
Thames Portrait (Macmillan, 1937).
the Town of Ramsgate, which is still there today. It changed its name a few times, from the Red Cow
, to Ramsgate Town
and then to the Town of Ramsgate
, but the exact dates aren’t recorded. I’ve had to take my chances with guessing what research can’t tell me. With research, you get as close as you can, but sometimes, you still have to guess what the most likely option is.
For instance I needed to know who made the red coats for the British army. I could find out who commissioned them, how much they cost, and even what the rake off for the commissioning officer was, but I couldn’t find out for sure who actually plied the needle and under what conditions. (This is before the army’s factory at Pimlico was opened and before all the information on Victorian East End sweatshops becomes relevant.) In the end I had to make a guess based on what I know of the history of the time and what seems likely. Sweatshop it is, then—only this one is run by goblins
But it’s not just getting the historical facts right.
What you have to remember is that whatever you put into your story is going to make changes to history as we know it. In my world Mad King George is still mad, but that madness has a magical root. Boulton and Watt are still manufacturing steam engines, but how will that change if the factory owners discover that the rowankind can manipulate wind and water? Lighting the cities with gas is only a few years away (London’s first street was lit in 1807), but why would anyone need to invent gas lighting if the streets can be lit by magic? If a ship under full sail can be propelled by a weather witch, why would anyone need to invent the steamship?
All interesting questions which need to be answered.
Ross and Corwen free the rowankind from their bondage. In Silverwolf
they have to deal with the ramifications of their actions. And, yes, the third book, Rowankind
, is already in my head. In the meantime I’m working on Nimbus
, the third Psi-Tech novel, due out in October 2017.
|Cover Art by Larry Rostant|
|Cover Art by Stephan Martiniere|