George Mann is the author of The Affinity Bridge, The Osiris Ritual and Ghosts of Manhattan, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and an original Doctor Who audiobook. He has edited a number of anthologies including The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction, The Solaris Book of New Fantasy and a retrospective collection of Sexton Blake stores, Sexton Blake, Detective. But the creation of Newbury and Hobbes is what he’s best known for… so far.
FTN: Hi George, thanks so much for chatting to us. Let’s get right into it, what drew you to steampunk?
GM: If I’m honest, I never really set out to write ‘steampunk’. In fact, I’m not sure that Newbury & Hobbes really is steampunk, in the conventional sense – there’s quite a lot of ‘steam’, but very little ‘punk’.
I was always more interested in writing a series of Victorian mystery stories set in an alternate history that included fantastical elements drawn from a variety of different genres. The airships and clockwork automata and stuff are very much part of the furniture and texture that help me to achieve that effect. It’s the same with all the black magic and occult stuff I’ve been feeding into the stories over the years. I didn’t want it to be limited in any way. I never wanted to have to say to myself ‘I can’t do X or Y in a Newbury & Hobbes story, because that’s outside the perimeter of a particular genre’.
That’s not to say I’m not a fan of all things steampunk – I love the aesthetic. Which is why I keep returning to it, time and again.
FTN: Are the names of the characters in your novels important?
GM: Hugely! I often start with a name. I had the names ‘Maurice Newbury and Veronica Hobbes’ before I knew who they were, or what world they would inhabit, although the rest came very quickly afterwards. I often find that’s the key to unlocking a story for me, actually – once I have the character’s name, the rest falls into place. It’s the same with the villains in the books, or any time I’m doing something new. The characters usually exist first, and then I concoct stories for them.
The characters usually exist first, and then I concoct stories for them.
FTN: How do you go about researching your novels?
GM: Well, like most writers, I read widely and often. I’ve assembled quite a library of Victorian reference books now, from original, period books, maps and documents, to academic, generalist or art books about the era.
I’m also a member of both the National Trust and English Heritage, and I regularly visit historic buildings in search of inspiration.
For the next book I’ve spent a fair bit of time riding up and down on steam trains!
FTN: Without giving too much away do you have a favorite part of the Executioner’s heart?
GM: I think it has to be that last encounter between Newbury and the Executioner, in the abandoned building, with Veronica already hurt and bleeding on the ground. For a long time I’d been able to see that scene in my mind’s eye, what Newbury does and the ultimate affect it has upon the Executioner. It’s largely symbolic, I suppose, but for me I think it sums up a lot about the themes I was exploring in the book, kind of a culmination of all the threads, particularly of all the chapters that fill in the backstory of the Executioner, why she is as she is, what made her into the monster she’s become – and what it all amounts to in the end.
FTN: Are there any occupational hazards to being a novelist?
GM: Back pain! Erratic income! Loneliness!
Ha! I feel very lucky that I’m able to do this, to write books that people want to read. I wouldn’t give it up for the world, and I can’t imagine ever wanting to stop. But writing a novel is all about hard work. It’s about the daily grind, the sheer effort and force of will to get the words onto the page, and then rewrite them again and again until they’re right. It’s like climbing a mountain, and it takes stamina. But it’s incredibly rewarding. And it’s a hell of a rush when you’re done.
FTN: What question have you always wanted to be asked in an interview? How would you answer that question?
GM: I’ve always wanted to be asked to accept a large offering of gold, rubies and chocolate. And I’d say yes!
Writing is ‘like climbing a mountain, and it takes stamina. But it’s incredibly rewarding. And it’s a hell of a rush when you’re done.’
FTN: What’s next for Newbury and Hobbes?
GM: I’m currently working on the fifth book in the series, The Revenant Express, in which Newbury and Veronica’s sister, Amelia, set out on a fateful voyage across Europe on an immense steam train, in order to receive something key to Veronica’s survival. Following that, there’ll be a sixth book which I’m provisional calling The Albion Initiative. There’s also a Newbury & Hobbes short story collection, The Casebook of Newbury & Hobbes: Volume One, coming in September this year. We’re starting to look at taking the characters into other media, too, with a comic book mini-series in the works, as well as an original audio play. So, plenty more Newbury & Hobbes to come!
FTN: We’re big fans here George and look forward to what comes next both for you and for Newbury & Hobbes