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Lee Murray's NZ Speculative Fiction Show - Paul Mannering

Welcome to Lee Murray’s New Zealand Speculative Fiction Show, an interview series featuring star acts from NZ’s science fiction, fantasy and horror community, including news, insights, and sneak-peeks of their latest performances.

Today my guest is award-winning writer and editor of speculative fiction, Paul Mannering, whose titles include, the Tankbread horror adventure series (recently re-branded as Deadland), high action thrillers Eat, Hell’s Teeth, Hard Corps, and The Trench.

Welcome Paul!

Let’s start right in the middle of the action. You’re being chased by Godzilla, what do you do?

I scream, Ā, kuso! Ā, kuso! a lot and run like hell.

Even more exciting than a rampaging kaiju is the news that your Drakeforth series of speculative adventure comedies are about to be re-released by IFWG Publishing. It’s great to hear that Engines of Empathy and The Pisces of Fate will soon back in print and online, Paul. And these covers? Who did them? And do they conjure the essence of the series?

The exceptionally talented Luke Spooner is the artist for the new editions. Luke works under the name of Carrion House – so of course that immediately suggests he’s the go-to guy for light-hearted comedy illustrations. 
Luke has a wonderfully sketch-like water colour style to his art that is both precise and wild. He does capture the essence of the books, which while they are meant to be funny, do have a deeper emotional message behind them.

You use the word ‘whimsy’ to describe the Drakeforth series. Is this a whole new genre you’ve invented? What do you mean by whimsical fiction?

I think whimsical fiction has always been with us. Whimsy is technically, ‘playfully quaint or fanciful behaviour or humour.’ My favourite authors, from Douglas Adams to Sir Terry Pratchett, and Jasper Fforde either wrote or are writing in this style for their entire (hugely successful) careers.

Can you tell us something readers might not know about each book?

Each book has a theme beyond the plot.

Engines of Empathy was a satirical look at the way we are all deeply concerned about the environment and the state of the world, but we don’t think twice about where our energy is coming from – as long as our cars run and we can buy the latest toys and gadgets.

Pisces of Fate has a theme of the fallacy colonialism. From a European-centric view, we arrived in the South Pacific and promptly assimilated, enslaved, or otherwise decimated the existing cultures. We assume that our culture and view of the world is superior, because the indigenous people are still mucking about in dugout canoes and haven’t discovered electricity. Therefore we de-value those cultures and this book was about pointing out that just because there’s lots of new things to discover for the white-guy, doesn’t mean that the local population haven’t been aware of these marvels for generations.

What about a short excerpt?

This is from ‘Time of Breath’ – the 3rd book in the Drakeforth series. It’s being written at the same time as the 4th book, because that’s how I roll. It’s also unedited first draft, because how I roll is often like a car crashing through the wire barrier and down a steep embankment while exploding in a fiery inferno.

We descended into a swirling maelstrom of brightly coloured people wearing dusty clothes. They clumped together around a variety of market stalls selling a range of food and vacuum cleaners. Most of the trading seemed to be undertaken in low murmurs, punctuated by the occasional exchange of folded notes.

I truly felt like a tourist among the natives with their loose-fitting dust-and wear clothing. Keeping track of Drakeforth in the bustling market was easy enough, his hat and air of general contempt for the world glowed like an aura.

Flies swarmed and buzzed around a section of the market selling meat. I raised a hand to brush away a fly intent on examining my eyelashes. A breath of chill air raised the hairs on my neck and the dark-haired woman stood beside me. Her icy hand held my wrist in a death grip and I gasped at the sudden shock of it. She shook her head as the fly finished its inspection and flew off to crawl on someone else.

With a deft dip of her other hand she retrieved the guide book from my bag and held it open displaying an easy to follow info graphic that detailed how flies are sacred in Pathia.

The punishment for the crime of striking a fly looked to be painful and messy, even rendered in clip-art icons.

“Thanks…” I whispered, looking around furtively to see if anyone had noticed my brush with the law.

“Put that away,” Drakeforth pushed the book back into my bag.

“Sorry, I almost hit a fly. Apparently, that would be a bad idea.”

“Very bad. Worse is flashing a book around in public. It’s like waving your credit stick or fanning yourself with bundles of cash.”

Are any more Drakeforth novels planned? Tell us about them.

After Time of Breath and Heroes of Heresy, there are at least two more novels planned.

Time of Breath – wraps up Charlotte Pudding’s story arc. Drakeforth and Charlotte travel to Pathia, which is a desert country known for its stone golems, pyramids, knowledge-based economy, and for being where the religion of Arthurianism started. If you have read Death on the Nile, or The Far Pavillions, this is nothing like those books, except for the common features of heat, dust, and the feeling that at any moment someone is going to either die, or a massive crowd will launch into a Bollywood song and dance number.

Heroes of Heresy – is a prequel novel – just how did Drakeforth and Arthur become one being? Where did the conspiracy theory about empathic energy come from? What happened to Charlotte’s parents? It’s also got lots of interesting ideas around quantum physics – which is obviously a big part of the Arthurian religion.

After that some more books with different characters, in the same Universe. With the introduction of a psychic detective (who happens to be a pig called, Peeves) and the lady who pretends to be the brains of their private detective agency.

There is a footnote in Time of Breath which suggests the reader should pay attention to a certain section, as it will be important in book five, which will, after publication, be a massive spoiler for the plot of that book.

It’s certainly a Universe I can keep writing in as long as there is a demand and I have the desire. Demand could best be defined as record breaking sales figures, a bidding war between major studios for the film/TV rights, and/or at least one person telling me they enjoy the series.

Zombies have surrounded the house. It’s okay, you’ll just wait them out. And you have three great books with you to occupy the time. They are:

Max Brooks – The Zombie Survival Guide (for reference)

Stephen King – The Drawing Of The Three (it took me 30 years to read book 1 of his Dark Tower series, so it seems like a good use of a lot of spare time).

Gabriel Marquez - 100 Years of Solitude (because I need more irony in my diet)

Quick writing test. Write a paragraph using the following words:



Hall rug


Between the third course (the hot appetizer), and before the pasta was served, Lady Magwhite Saltburn-Smythe gave a ghastly cry. Her arm seized with a violent tremor and she flung her silver spork, laden with the last of the gougeres in paprika marinade, on to the hall rug, where it would no doubt leave a lasting stain.

You’re heavily involved in New Zealand’s speculative writing community. It’s just more work. Why even bother? Tell us about some of the community projects you’re involved in right now.

Getting up in the mornings is just more work. Putting on pants is a daily grind. Remembering to use my Inside Head Voice and not say everything that comes to mind is a marathon effort. Working with other creatives to enhance, promote, support and be hugely excited about speculative fiction in New Zealand and the world – that is pure joy.

What’s your favourite horror movie and why?

There are so many…

In general terms: ‘Night Of The Living Dead’ because at the time it was original. It introduced a modern genre of horror that I love and – mostly – because the ending was grim. It did not end happily. There was no resolution. The world did not recover. I like that kind of nihilism.

Two things you’re good at.

Losing arguments. I’m terrible at not seeing someone else’s side of the argument when they have a valid point. Say I am convinced that that the earth is flat – then someone says, “Well here’s an example of a simple experiment you can do at home that proves the earth is more spherical.”

I tend to go – “Oh. Well, it appears I was wrong. Thanks for that correction.”

People are so used to fighting with others to the point where no one expects to be convinced by anything – it puts them right off. They don’t know how to react. Sincere apologies have the same effect when you have done something stupid.

Seeing things.

I think visually. It is a big driver for my writing style – I tend to write as if I am sitting in a movie theatre, explaining what is happening on screen to someone over the phone. If you can immediately visualise how that would look – then you are probably a visual thinker too.

Two things you’re bad at.

Mathematics – Either it’s the ADHD or that gypsy curse laid on me when I was a baby. I find mathematics (including arithmetic) completely unintelligible. Anything with a structure – numbers, languages, music – the core math behind the structures and form of anything logical makes me feel completely dyslexic.

Lying. I make stuff up constantly – but if someone says “Did you eat my tuna and paprika wrap?” I’d have to admit to it – even if the avocado mayonnaise was already licked off the plate.

Two things you’ve never tried, but they’re on your bucket list.

A. Diving on a coral reef. I have done a lot of diving in my time, but only around New Zealand.

B. Visit Antarctica. It’s the closest I could ever get to an alien world – and it’s not that far away.

What is Brokensea?

Over 10 years ago, Bill Hollweg and I were talking about our plans for a barbarian type character series. Bill was an amazing graphic artist and creator of audio-plays. We founded BrokenSea Audio Productions and with other fantastic creatives – we made cool radio plays.

The name BrokenSea came from the story of SHUN (the barbarian). There was a place in the icy north of his world where the sea ice was broken up – so they called it The Broken Sea.

Bill died a little over a year ago. He is dearly missed.

What writing projects are on the horizon for you?

I have some contracts to complete and some unsold novels to complete. They range from YA sci-fi to Scandanavian Noir Down Under (think The Killing but set in Aoteroa) novels in the works. So many things to write…

What advice would you give anyone wanting to write?

Read everything. Read what you love, then read the stuff you don’t like. Read old stories, new stories. Read articles, blogs, poetry and instruction manuals.

Write everything and remember, not everything you write down has to be a story.

Fill notebooks or computer files with characters, titles, synopses, scenes, paragraphs, quotes, adjectives and poems.

Don’t worry about perfection. Don’t fear rejection. Write what you want to write.

Thank you for stopping by Paul!

Check out Paul’s WEBSITE.

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