In 2012, I had my first steampunk experience with Lavie Tidhar and his novel, The Bookman. Since it’s inception, Lavie has gone on to accomplish quite a bit including nabbing the 2012 World Fantasy Award for his breakthrough novel, Osama.
Here’s Lavie’s bio:
Lavie Tidhar grew up on a kibbutz in Israel and has since lived in South Africa, the UK, Vanuatu and Laos. He is currently residing back in London. He won the World Fantasy Award in 2012 for Best Novel, for Osama, and the British Fantasy Award 2012 for Best Novella, for Gorel & The Pot-Bellied God. He was nominated, variously, a BSFA Award, a Sidewise Award, Israel’s Geffen Award, the Airship Award, and the Sturgeon and Campbell Awards.
First of all, I want to say it’s a pleasure to interview you for Every Read Thing. Your novel, The Bookman, blew me away last year. If you could, tell us about your Bookman series.
Thank you! I’ll be delighted to.
The mixing of historical figures and fictional characters within an alternate 19th century London is undeniably original. What inspired you in crafting this novel?
I’m not sure if it’s entirely original… part of the inspiration for The Bookman was all the books that went before – it’s very much a book about books, as the title may suggest. And part of the mix was that I love what Kim Newman did in Anno Dracula mixing up historical and fictional characters. I “stole” the lizard queen from Paul di Filippo, pirates from Tim Powers, and on and on… I wanted to kind of take all the bits I really loved and mash them together!
With supporting characters like Jules Verne and Karl Marx running around in your universe, did you find yourself involved in a fair amount of research? Or were you already reasonably knowledgeable when it came to their personality traits and accomplishments?
Well, I think part of the original inspiration for what became steampunk – what Powers and Blaylock and Jeter were doing – was a love of the old novels, like the books of Jules Verne and so on – a love of the sort of classic books you read as a child. It was only reasonable to extend it further and have Verne actually appear in the book. With Karl Marx, well, it’s impossible to imagine Victorian London without Marx in it, really. And I used to drink in the Red Lion pub in Soho, where Marx actually wrote Das Kapital. So in a way, you don’t even need to make stuff up – it’s all already there!
The Bookman was my first foray into steam punk and judging by how much I enjoyed it, a great place to start. Are there any other steam punk novels that you’re a fan of?
Well, like I said, I’ve been a fan of the original steampunk – Tim Powers’ The Anubis Gates, James P. Blaylock’s Homunculus – I also like Paul Di Filippo’s very strange The Steampunk Trilogy a great deal, and of Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula books (the first of which is arguably steampunk). I don’t read so much the stuff called steampunk that is published today, to be honest. It seems to be a bit more cynical, if that makes sense.
Judging by your catalog, you do not appear to be a man who is content with staying within the walls of one genre. Do you find it a challenging dabbling in different genres or is it easy to move around once an idea strikes you?
Oh, I’d hate to be confined! I find that it’s easier to move around in short fiction than it is in novels, but I’d certainly prefer to write a different book each time. Even in the Bookman Histories, you know – the first book is an adventure novel, the second one is a noir murder mystery and the third one is a spy novel. And the new stuff is very different, again.
The covers for all of the Bookman Histories novels are beautifully crafted. Did you have any input into their initial design or did you give the artist free reign?
I love David Frankland’s work – I still remember his original covers for Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines books. So I was delighted that Angry Robot asked him to do the covers – he would have been my number one choice. I did have input into the covers, too – in so much as choosing the basic elements / scenes from the books. I just adore the cover of The Great Game with those Martian tripods…
I love being able to work with artists. I had two graphic projects out in 2012 – Going to the Moon, with Paul McCaffery, which is a sort of picture book about a boy with Tourette’s who wants to go to the moon, and Adolf Hitler’s “I Dream of Ants!”, a one-shot comic with Neil Struthers.
Winning a World Fantasy Award for your novel, Osama, must have been a surreal experience. Do you feel that there’s any pressure being put on you to follow up that novel?
It was a bit surreal, yes! Though I can’t say I feel any pressure. I’m happy to write what I want to write – it’s why I don’t necessarily love having a book contract, where you have to satisfy a publisher as well as yourself. But saying that, the direction my work is taking now is more along the lines of Osama than The Bookman.
I’ve read a few novels published through Angry Robot Books and have been thoroughly impressed. I feel they’re putting out some of the most original storytelling around right now. How did you come to find yourself aligned with them?
My agent worked with them (I was living in Laos at the time so… a long way away from any interaction with publishers) and he thought they’d like the book, and they did. They do beautiful books, don’t they!
Who is your favorite author?
I’ll opt for Shimon Adaf. He’s an Israeli writer, and I hope you get to see his first novel in translation, Sunburnt Faces, soon. He’s incredible, and I learn a lot from reading each of his books.
What’s your favorite book?
Wow, I don’t know. But I don’t think you can go too wrong with Philip Larkin’s Collected Poems.
What’s the best book you read in 2012?
That’s easier – 2012 was the first year I recorded what I was reading! I think possibly the best was The Lonely Londoners by Sam Selvon, which I picked off the shelf at random, in the library, but just blew me away. And in genre, I loved the Strugatsky Brothers’ Roadside Picnic. Just wonderful.
What’s next for Lavie Tidhar in 2013?
Another busy year! I have a new novel, Martian Sands, coming out from PS Publishing in the UK, in hardcover in April. It kind of combines Martian pulp, and time travel, and the Holocaust… it’s a bit weird.
I have another new novel coming out this year, but I can’t talk about it yet. It’s a very cool (I think!) weird thriller, in the same vein as Osama, sort of.
And I’m working on some possible comics projects and, as of now, it looks like I’m signing to write a film that’s going to shoot in the spring. Busy!
Check out Lavie’s blog – http://www.lavietidhar.wordpress.com
Follow him on Twitter – @lavietidhar