Pete Newman’s debut novel The Vagrant is out now from Harper Voyager, with sequel The Malice due in May. He also writes for Albion Online, and co-writes the Hugo-nominated Tea & Jeopardy podcast with wife, author Emma Newman, on which he co-stars as butler Latimer. In his spare time, which is also meant to be used for writing, he tweets as @runpetewrite.
Give us your elevator pitch for The Vagrant!
It’s a fantasy story set in a far future world that has suffered a demonic apocalypse. It features a man who doesn’t speak, a baby, and a goat as its main characters. There are singing swords, and demon knights, and necromantic technology, and lots of dodgy characters. The Vagrant is the first in a trilogy.
I originally wrote The Vagrant as flash fiction, which turned into a serial, then after about 25 episodes, I realised I was writing a novel! I was intending for it to be a standalone work, but over time my brain started going over things and I got a lot more ideas, and thought the world is big enough for there to be more stories. So The Vagrant does work as a standalone story, but it doesn’t dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s. The deal I got was for two books, but then not long into writing the sequel, I realised I wanted to write a third book and, to my delight, my publisher took me up on it! Plans are also afoot for two short stories to come out, one this year, set during the events of The Vagrant and one early next year which is set between The Malice and The Seven.
What was behind your decision to write in the third person with a protagonist who doesn’t speak and how challenging was that?
I felt before writing The Vagrant, I was a bit too reliant on dialogue – I wanted to concentrate on being more atmospheric. It started as an experiment, it was my gut feeling that this character shouldn’t talk at all. I also felt that having an internal dialogue would be like cheating! I wanted the reader to make their own minds up and draw their own conclusions about the character. I also liked that it raised the tension – silence can be really powerful, like for example in films like Seven Samurai, where Kurosawa uses silence to great effect. There’s a shot of this woman who’s watching something awful happening and you can only see the top half of her face but it’s so powerful. I wanted to do something similar with The Vagrant. It was really hard to write though, The Malice was a breeze in comparison!
Have you been surprised by the fandom which has sprung up around The Goat?
It is funny, because there are all these other characters and stuff you really labour over, then everyone loves the goat! I suppose it’s similar to how in Emma’s Split Worlds books, everyone loves the gargoyle, and in Robin Hobb’s series Realm of the Elderlings, everyone loves Nighteyes. I think perhaps it’s because it’s easy to fall in love with characters who are simpler, funnier and just easier to get a handle on. And in fantasy, it’s really common for the hero to have his or her loyal animal familiar – but this is not a world where you would find something nice and cute like a unicorn. I wanted an animal which would not only provide milk for the baby, but was also tough, hence the goat. The goat’s not an ally as such, she pretty much does what she wants. And because she’s an animal, she lives in the moment and doesn’t give up or get depressed or worry. And she’s really mean, which is kind of funny. I didn’t really expect so many people to like her so much, but I am pleased about it. Plus there’s now a goat emoji, so people send me lots of those which is great. (GS note: Pete has since contacted us especially to say he has also now the happy recipient of some Goat Soap).
Yes, basically! Funnily enough, I wrote a blog post on Harper Voyager about the baby which went up today. There were a few reasons I decided to include a baby. The baby adds tension, because it’s rubbish in a combat situation. There are lots of hooded men with swords in fantasy, who are carved from stone and able to kill loads of people all at once, and the Vagrant is not one of those. The baby also raises the question of who it is ok to trust – in this world, babies are rare and highly priced, so other people are always out to steal her – it allows me to show a lot about various characters, as how people act around babies says a lot about them. There’s the trope that babies in fantasy are normally magical or special in some way, which this one isn’t, but it means I can show a different side to the vagrant. And like animals, babies live very much in the moment which is a nice thing, and it allows the adults to find hope as well, as it shows the possibility for a future which is otherwise quite easy to forget. It probably helps that I had recently become a father at the time I was writing it!
Have you seen any cosplay of characters from The Vagrant yet?
I haven’t seen any cosplay, but I’ve been sent fan art of The Hammer and of course the goat which is great! Someone did suggest that I cosplay as the Vagrant, but I felt like it would be very uncool to dress up as my own character!
What can you tell us about The Malice?
(GS note: HERE BE SPOILERS)
It’s a book about consequences of actions.There are two timelines. The current timeline is set about 12-13 years after the end of The Vagrant and looks at the legacy of the Vagrant, how events impacted on society, and ramifications of decisions made by the Vagrant during the course of the book. And there’s the next generation, both human (the baby has grown up quite a bit!) and infernal. Some demons from The Vagrant are still around. The Breach is still there, and something catastrophically bad happens at the start of the book because of that. The other timeline is set a thousand years in the past, and looks at how the Empire of the Winged Eye came to be, what it was like, and what happened in the lead up to the apocalypse. Oh, and the goat is back! There are more goats! It’s full of goaty goodness.
(GS note: SPOILERS END)
Has any of the feedback you’ve received for The Vagrant influenced your writing in The Malice?
Not really, not in terms of reviews anyway. I’d already completed the first draft of The Malice before The Vagrant was released. I deal with the stress of having a book out by writing! This is why I’m currently writing the last book, which is called The Seven. The first draft of that will be finished before The Malice is released, and should be out sometime in 2017.
I think if everyone said the same thing, then I would probably want to make changes, but I’ve not had that kind of consistent criticism.
It’s set in Albion online, in a multiplayer straight fantasy world where players come from a non magical place a bit like our world and explore Albion, which is a magical world. Once they go in to explore they can do things like claim territory, and make allies or join guilds, and there are factions like the undead, or giants, or demonic forces, some of which will like you but most of them don’t.
It was interesting writing Landfall because there’s not one story or one narrative to follow like there would be if I wrote, say, a Batman tie-in. I just took a number of characters and wrote them a bit like they were players who for various reasons begin exploring Albion and have to find their feet and make their mark on the world. In the game, you team up in guilds and you may find other allies or rivals. In the book, it’s the same as people will sometimes switch sides. It’s nothing like The Vagrant! That is very rhythmic and atmospheric. Landfall is very fast and sweary! I had a lot of free rein as I was brought in to write a lot of the game history, so I really had a lot of creative room.
A big thing is why people go to Albion – like Tia is a thug from a family of thugs, she’s basically this middle-aged pirate who wants to better herself. Then there’s Randall, a renegade prince who has some insight into Albion’s magic, and has stolen various things from his family’s library to study it, and his family are now hunting for him. Then there’s William, who was a rising star in the Navy until something happened and he had to jump before he was pushed. It’s great fun!
Do readers need to know anything about the game to enjoy Landfall?
No, you can read the book as a stand alone. If you’ve played the game, you might recognise some guilds or locations or characters, but you don’t need to have played it or have any prior knowledge of it to enjoy the book.
Your alter ego on podcast Tea & Jeopardy, butler Latimer, is described by some as the Jarvis of the podcasting world. Is he supportive of your work?
Latimer’s the very opposite of supportive, unless you consider his locking me in the cellar a plot to keep me off Twitter and focus on my writing.Generally speaking, Latimer and I have as little to do with each other as possible.
Do you have any upcoming work or projects can you tell us about?
There’s the Tea & Jeopardy podcast of course, which is lots of fun and has lots of cool guests and silliness, and we’re eligible for a Hugo again! And it’s free!
Landfall, my tie-in novel, is out now (GS note: keep an eye out for our review!)
The Vagrant is out now in the UK, and out in the US in May. The Malice is out 19 May, and has another really lovely cover by Jaime Jones, who’s also doing covers for the short stories. The Seven is out in 2017.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Pete!
GS Blogger: Michaela Gray (@bookiesnacksize)