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’s guest is Gareth Ward, also known as The Great Wardini, our 2018 Sir Julius Vogel Award winner for Best Youth Novel for The Traitor and the Thief, and also Best New Talent. Congratulations Gareth and welcome to the blog.
Thanks. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Tell us about The Traitor and the Thief. What’s it about? Why this book?
The book’s roots come from me sitting at my desk and thinking wouldn’t Sin be an interesting name for a character? Very soon I knew that Sin was an orphan living rough on the streets of a Victorian Steampunk Oxford. Sin is recruited into COG, a clandestine spy organisation trying to stop the next great war. While training as a spy he meets quirky genius Zonda Chubb and together they realise there is a traitor at COG. After an assassination attempt on the founder of COG, Sin realises that someone closest to him could be the traitor. With no other option, Sin is forced into an uneasy alliance with his nemesis, Velvet Von Darque. But can he trust her? And will COG try to bury him with the secrets he discovers?
I guess the subtext of the story is how we tend to use technology to harm rather than help and that war seems to be a driving force behind the advancement of technology. I do hope that I have subtly woven this through the book because first and foremost, I want The Traitor and the Thief to be a great fun read.
Why this book? I have no idea, it’s just the story that came to me.
What characteristics, if any, do you share with your main character Sin?
I would like to be as tough as Sin, but I’m not. Although Sin is a thug and a thief, initially at least, I do think he has a sense of moral justice and loyalty, which I share.
You seem to know a lot about spies.
Did you do a lot of research, or did some of the ideas come from your work in the police?
I’m not sure that I know too much about spies, but I am quite good at making things up. I tend to do the least amount of research I can get away with as I’d rather be writing.
My time in the police has definitely given me much experience to draw upon. You certainly get to see a whole different side of life and you deal with a surprising amount of death.
Care to give us a teaser? A paragraph or two?
When asked to do readings I invariably struggle to know which bit to read. I generally just go with the start, so here it is:
Sin shadowed the steamtram, hiding in the clouds of vapour spurting from the machine’s giant pistons. He couldn’t afford to get caught. Not now. Not today. The Fixer would never forgive him. He crouched lower. Built short and stocky like a pit bull, with a temperament to match he wanted to front up to the Red Blades, not run and hide. But the Fixer said you had to pick the fights you could win, and he was alone on the other gang’s turf.
Sweat trickled down his angular cheeks, leaving pale tracks. He’d run three blocks with the tram and his lungs burned from the steam and smoke. He brushed a tangle of sooty black hair from his eyes, and tried to pick out the Gothic stone archway that offered sanctuary. The tram slowed, then shuddered to a halt. With a near deafening hiss, steam billowed from beneath the carriage. Sin darted through the clouds and into the covered market.
At Conclave III 39th national science fiction, fantasy and horror conference, held in Auckland at Easter, I missed your presentation Mistakes I’ve Made when the session was moved to another time slot. So what did I miss? What is the biggest take away that you hope the audience learned from the presentation?
The biggest take away would be that if you enjoy writing then write, but if you ask people to give you money for your writing you need to make that writing the very best it can be, and that means hardcore editing. There are lots of general editing tips you can apply, but the harder part is to spot your own personal foibles that need stamping down on.
What is the one thing you know being a bookseller that you wish authors knew about the industry? What about the one thing you wish readers knew?
The industry is a production line. You may have put years of work, sweat, tears, and a small piece of your soul into your novel but to the industry it’s just another book. They will go through the same iteration of procedures they need to go through with your book – and then they’re on to the next one. If you’re lucky your book will be on the shelves for 3-6 months, and then it’s gone.
I wish readers understood how bloody hard it is to write a book. You quite often get customers saying in passing ‘I thought I might write a book about ----’ as if it’s a simple process that doesn’t require skill, determination, craft, tears, perseverance and vision.
I’ve heard from librarian friend of mine that people regularly come in to the library asking for a book that they’ve forgotten the name of but it had a blue cover, or they’ll say something like, ‘it’s about a boy with superpowers’ and expect her to guess the title and author. Does that happen to you in your Hawkes Bay Wardini bookstores, too? What’s the funniest/oddest query you’ve ever had from a customer?
You absolutely get that sort of request all the time. Quite often we manage to find the book in question, and invariably the book will be red not the blue mentioned by the customer. We do get many odd requests, in fact we had one just this week where a lady came into the shop and said ‘I want that new book,’ then looked at us expectantly. We waited to see if she was going to give us any more of a clue, but no, that was it.
Name an imaginary Victorian ‘steampunk’ invention you wish existed now.
In The Diabolical Miss Hyde by Viola Carr there is a teleportation device. I would so love to be able to travel instantaneously. I like going places am not a fan of planes.
A kid comes in to your store looking for a steampunk adventure tale, but they’ve already read yours. What/who do you recommend?
I would either go with the Mortal Engines series by Phillip Reeve or the Lockwood & Co series by Jonathan Stroud. Lockwood isn’t actually Steampunk, it’s about ghost hunting, but it is my favourite series in the shop and one of those books that you think I wish I’d written that.
If you could go to the past or future, where would you stay and why?
The future would be too scary by far, so I would definitely go back to Victorian England. Although I said I do minimal research I do read a lot about Victorian times. I try to imagine what it would be like but to actually spend some time in that era would make my writing so much more flavoursome.
Tell us something about you which readers will find surprising.
In a case of mistaken identity, I and five of my friends were once arrested at gunpoint in a raid by about fifty fully suited and booted members of the Munich Police Anti-Terrorist Squad.
Weetbix or cornflakes?
I think you’ll find it’s Weetabix. That middle ‘a’ is terrifically important when you’re originally from England.
Where can we buy The Traitor and the Thief?
Well, in NZ and Australia you can buy it from your local bookshop. It is so important to support your local bookshop so please do. Alternatively you can buy it in NZ from here:
And the rest of the world can get it here:
Thanks for stopping by Gareth!
You’re welcome. Thanks for asking me.
Gareth Ward, a.k.a. The Great Wardini is a magician, hypnotist, storyteller, bookseller and author. He has worked as a Royal Marine Commando, Police Officer, Evil Magician and Zombie. He basically likes jobs where you get to wear really cool hats – as writer and compere of Napier City’s inaugural Steampunk murder mystery evening he wore a rather splendid bowler.
His first novel, The Traitor and the Thief, a rip-roaring young adult Steampunk adventure, won the 2016 Storylines Tessa Duder Award, is a Storylines Notable Book 2018 and won a Sir Julius Vogel Award for Best Youth Fiction.