Den Patrick was born in Dorset in 1975 and shares a birthday with Bram Stoker. He has at various times been an editor, burlesque reviewer and Games Workshop staffer. He lives and works in London, and The Boy With the Porcelain Blade is his first novel.
Thank you, Den, for taking the time to chat with us.
My pleasure, thanks for having me on the blog.
First off, I’d like to explore the origins of the world you have created in The Boy With the Porcelain Blade. We get a potted part-history/part-mythology during the novel, but give us some insight into Landfall and the wonderful Demesne, a castle like no other I’ve ever encountered in fiction.
The world really grew around the characters. My agent asked for more world building after she read the draft I submitted to her. I knew there were four great Houses; Contadino for the famers and teamsters, Erudito, a House of scholars and teachers, House Prospero for the artisans and merchants, and lastly House Fontein, the soldiers. I love the idea of feuding Houses, something I enjoyed in Dune. As I re-drafted the novel the secondary characters, the history and the Houses gained depth. It was quite an organic process and Landfall grows each time I sit down to write a new book.
The Orfano (of which Lucien, the book’s protagonist is one) are strange, misshapen foundlings who appear on the steps of the great houses every few years. No one knows where they come from, which causes a lot of unease. The reclusive King has set down an edict where the Orfano are protected, which only adds to the suspicion and distrust.
There’s something very familiar about this world in which we find ourselves: Italian seems to be the language of choice, and the histories seem to be our own (as evidenced by the names of the drakes, and their origins). Was this a deliberate decision, and should we read anything in to it?
I suppose I was attempting a cultural shorthand. The Italian Renaissance is packed with warring city states, vendetta and politics. By using Italian as the old tongue of Landfall I’d hoped to create that sort of atmosphere. Giving the characters Italian names just reinforced that cultural shorthand.
The histories and mythic names are shared with our own, and that’s something I may explore more deeply one day. I’ve always liked the fact you never really know if Gormenghast is set on this world or is a secondary world of it’s own.
The ceramic blades are an interesting concept. What’s the origin?
So, this is a massively geeky answer. I love Star Wars and one of the things about TIE fighters is that they are fragile (no shields) and are reliant on the Star Destroyers that carry them. They have no landing gear and can’t travel between systems like say the X-wing. A TIE fighter creates reliance by the pilot for the officers commanding him, he needs them.
So it goes with ceramic blades. You’re reliant on House Fontein to receive a new blade should you break your own. You’ll reach a fairly short end the moment you come into contact with someone wielding a steel blade should you disobey or openly rebel.
And lastly the literary metaphor, if you’re into that; Lucien is ferocious, but he’s also very young. Teenage years are a strange time when we think we’re indestructible but are often quite fragile.
There is a hugely political element to the story: the four major houses collected together in a single space; the "floating" nature of the Orfano and the adoption process that sees them enter Houses when they come of age. How much of this existed before the story, and how much developed as you progressed through the plot? Is there any pressure, given the popularity of the Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones) series, to produce "political fantasy" to keep the readers engaged?
I’ve never read A Song of Ice and Fire. Don’t tell anyone, OK? Otherwise people won’t believe I’m a proper Fantasy author. I do love the TV show though.
A lot the Houses really grew as I fleshed out the plot. I surprised myself with how political it became. I do remember watching a lot of West Wing when I wrote the first book, so maybe that bled in subconsciously.
Lord Marino. I’m offering the name without further comment, but I can’t help but think we might begin to see the world outside of Landfall as this series progresses. Can you give us some hints about what might be in the near future for Lucien and friends?
The action stays firmly focused on Demesne for the next two books. Book two has a new point of view character, but I can’t tell you who for reasons of spoileryness. Book three has two female point of view characters. I have two stand alone novels planned, and both take place in the new town of San Marino, but I’ve no idea if I’ll have the chance to write them. Lucien will pop up from time to time as a secondary character, but the new books will all have new lead characters.
What authors or works have influenced you as a writer?
I really love Jon Courtney Grimwood’s economy. He does so much with so little and the dynamics he creates between characters is fantastic. Richard Morgan has this bruising swagger to his writing, it’s so hard boiled, so spoiling for a fight, it makes his writing electric. Chris Wooding has this wonderful sense of fun and adventure, the Ketty Jay books are so good. China Miéville is obviously a master craftsman of prose and ideas. Steph Swainston has this incredible world populated with grizzled, often cynical, frequently flawed characters. And then there’s Joe Abercrombie, of course.
And as a follow-on, is there one book (or more than one) that you wish you had written?
I don’t want to write other people’s books, I’m having way too much fun writing my own.
What does a typical (writing) day in the life of Den Patrick look like?
Short controlled bursts, just like the Colonial Marines. I try and write 500 words, then break for a coffee, shower, bacon sandwich or whatever. Then another 500, another break, another 500 and so on. By 13:00 I’m a bit brain dead, so I’ll have lunch and watch an episode of something. In the afternoon I’ll re-read what I wrote that morning and tidy it up.
And what advice would you have for people hoping to pursue fiction-writing as a career?
Write everything. Write reviews, write articles, write comic scripts, write outside of your genre of choice. Study storytelling in all it’s forms be it novels, film, comics, television or theatre. The more you write the more you think about words and how to best communicate an idea through that medium.
What are you reading now, and is it for business or pleasure?
I’m reading Jen Williams’ The Copper Promise. And it’s very much for pleasure, and a lot of fun.
If The Boy With the Porcelain Blade ever makes the jump from page to screen, do you have any dream casts/directors/whatever?
I’d like the score to composed by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross. I always imagined Duchess Prospero as Monica Bellucci. Gary Oldman would make an astounding Virmyre. Romola Garai for Camelia. In fact everyone who appeared in The Hour is fantastic. I struggle to think of people for the younger characters.
And finally, on a lighter note…
If you could meet any writer (dead or alive) over the beverage of your choice for a chat, who would it be, and what would you talk about (and which beverage might be best suited)?
My tastes are very contemporary, so I’m lucky in that I get to chat to authors I admire at conventions. I forgot to mention Scott Lynch earlier when I listed my influences. So yeah, Scott Lynch, a single malt, and as for what we’d talk about… who knows?
Thank you once again, Den, for taking time out to share your thoughts.