Continuing our discontinuous series of “blog tour” posts featuring fellow members of the Codex Writers online community.
British writer Colin Harvey has been a freelance writer since 2007, after a career in marketing that included launching Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream in Iceland and various other products in Australia and North America. He reviewed fiction for Strange Horizons for six years, and served on the Management Committee of the Speculative Literature Foundation for five. His short stories have appeared in Albedo One, Apex, Interzone and Speculations, and his anthology Killers was nominated for the Black Quill Award and the British Fantasy Award.
Your most recent novel, Damage Time, came out late last year, but when did you get the idea for it? Did you start work on it right away, or did you set the idea aside for a while?
I started writing what would eventually become Damage Time shortly after Worldcon 2005. Kim Stanley Robinson had been chairing a series of panels on ‘Life in 2050,’ and as is often the case, Worldcon had energised me. I did the old Astounding trick of extrapolating various aspects of life, such as the extension of the round the clock lifestyle and gridlocked traffic, taking a line starting say twenty or thirty years ago, running it to the ‘now’ of the novel. At that time it was called ‘Memory,’ which should give people who’ve read it a clue as to what the priority always was.
To be honest, by early 2006 I’d shelved it, partly because I’d just sold a novel — Lightning Days (to Swimming Kangaroo Books) –and was working on revising The Silk Palace, the next novel I was working on. The other reason was because I didn’t have the skills I needed at that point to do the concept justice. It took me another two or three years of reading books like Beyond Hubbard’s Peak, The Geography of Nowhere and The Long Emergency to give me the confidence to tackle my future New York.
Did you have to overcome any major obstacle(s) while working on Damage Time?
I’m trying to think back to the writing, and there weren’t really any obstacles. Unless you count that I had seven and a half months in which to deliver something to the publisher — Angry Robot needed books in a hurry at the time, as they were setting up! I knew I could deliver something, but I really, really wanted to deliver something special, not any old rubbish … so the biggest challenge was to make it as good as I could, in so little time. And the only way to do that was to work really, really hard!
What was the biggest surprise you got out of working on Damage Time? Is there anything in particular you hope your readers get out of the book?
I think that I was surprised at the refreshingly tolerant attitude of many Muslims toward trans people — in some instances South East Asians would actually talk of three genders. I fully expected fire and brimstone toward them, but in fact the attitude of many Muslims toward people who are different puts that of some so-called Christians to shame. I’m hoping that however much of a jackass Shah might appear at first that this tolerance comes through, and that he doesn’t come across as simplistic.
I admit that some of us “so-called Christians” would do well to remember that Jesus never rejected anyone he came across, but let’s leave our relative (in)tolerance as a topic for another day. For now, what are you working on these days? And did you learn anything from writing Damage Time that you’re applying to your current projects?
I’ve just finished a third novel for Angry Robot which is called Ultramassive and returns us to the universe of Winter Song. I think what I took from writing Damage Time is that I can write to a tight deadline — for any novelist suddenly faced with having to write a book to a schedule, the first time is a daunting challenge. Next up, I’m just about to start reading for an SF anthology for Aeon Press called Transtories which will be published in Autumn 2011.
I appreciate Colin taking the time to help us understand more about the process of crafting a novel — it’s not as easy as it looks!
Eric Brown of The Guardian reviewed Damage Time and called it “a gritty police procedural set in a near-future New York.” He wrote,
In this world, citizens can record their memories and post them on the net, and [Detective Pete] Shah is an expert at reading and decoding these posted memories as an aid to solving crimes – but someone wants Shah and his skill out of the way. The strength of the novel lies not only in the depiction of a detailed future of hardship and privation, but in the expert characterisation of Shah: a lone figure whose origins leave him open to prejudice within the police department, and whose problematic relationship with an intersexual courtesan reveals his own deep-seated prejudices.
(Damage Time cover art.)