GUEST BLOG Author Den Patrick on optimism in fiction

There should always be light at the end of the tunnel, says the author of the The Boy With The Porcelain Blade

This is a guest blog by author Den Patrick whose new book The Boy With The Porcelain Blade is published on Thursday 20 March…

Like many readers of this fine periodical (opens in new tab) , I was raised on a steady diet of Star Wars . We videotaped it from the television one Christmas, complete with advertising breaks. Life was simpler back then. Stormtroopers were bad, Vader was very bad. Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie and the droids were good. And there was an optimism to that first film. There’s even a feeling of optimism at the end of Empire , when things have gone very wrong indeed.

Optimism has fallen out of fashion since those early days of lightsaber wielding shenanigans. Narratives are “dark”, characters are flawed, realities are gritty. Bad things happen to good people. And why not? Art should imitate life after all, and life can be anything but optimistic.

A few years ago I found myself staring down the barrel of the redundancy gun. That period of redundancy lasted six months and birthed the first draft of what would become The Boy With The Porcelain Blade . I found work in a bookstore, where I learnt the full meaning of the word frugal. Then the first bit of light – Gollancz bought the War-Fighting Manuals, three short books about the art of war. The store let me work four days a week and I steadfastly worked through each tome. I kept working and the light kept getting brighter, namely in the form of one Juliet Mushens. Juliet was an agent on the verge of going places with a strong love of fantasy who offered me representation. She helped reshape my novel and we submitted it with baited breath. When the book deal for The Erebus Sequence came I couldn’t have been happier, except once more I was staring down the barrel of another redundancy gun. It was a bittersweet time, but one that saw me take the leap into writing full time. I’ve been writing full time for ten months now.

Did you notice the happy ending there? I like happy endings and I’m not ashamed to say it. I think characters, both in fiction and real life, deserve a payoff for their story arc or journey. I’m not so naive to think that tragedies don’t occur, but I want to communicate through fiction that sense of optimism I loved so much when I watched Star Wars . Make good friends, train with a crotchety old dude in a swamp, learn valuable lessons, cross swords with your dad (but rescue him from the Death Star).

So it goes with The Boy With The Porcelain Blade . Lucien lives in a world dark with mystery and intrigue, his very origins are unknown. Life is dangerous on the island of Landfall, survival is not guaranteed. As the novel progresses we see Lucien make friends, learn some lessons, both about himself, the Great Houses, and the vast, shadowy castle of Demesne. And there’s a good deal of crossing of swords and rescuing too. Life can be grim and gritty and dark, but there should always be a light at the end of the tunnel.

Den Patrick’s The Boy With The Porcelain Blade is published by Gollancz next week in hardback and as an ebook (opens in new tab) . Read book reviews and author interviews every month in SFX magazine .

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