Welcome everyone! Today I have an interview with George Mann to share with you all. If that name sounds familiar it is probably due to his epic release this year Wychwood. I have been seeing the Ghost series around for so long without actually picking one up. This series ticks all the boxes for me and I couldn’t risk getting locked into another series; so when Philippa from Titan Books asked me to review the series it was a match made in heaven. I can’t wait to get into this series but for now I have put questions to George Mann and he has gracefully answered them all. I really enjoyed GM’s answers and I hope you do to. First a few details about GM and Ghosts of Empire, then on to the interview.
About George Mann
George Mann is the author of the Newbury and Hobbes and The Ghost series of novels, as well as numerous short stories, novellas and audiobooks. He has written fiction and audio scripts for the BBC’s Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes. He is also a respected anthologist and has edited The Solaris Book of New Science Fiction and The Solaris Book of New Fantasy. He lives near Grantham, UK.
Book Synopsis for Ghosts of Empire
In the aftermath of the events surrounding the Circle of Thoth, and with the political climate easing, Gabriel takes Ginny to London on holiday to recuperate. But he isn’t counting on sinister Russian forces gathering in the London Underground, an old ally who desperately needs his help, or coming face-to-face with the embodiment of Albion itself…
Q&A with George Mann
Could you give us your own personal overview of Ghosts of Empire and what we can expect?
For me, Ghosts of Empire feels like the culmination of a ten year plan. For years, through both my Newbury & Hobbes and Ghost novels, I’ve been building an alternate history, a timeline that diverges from our own in the Victorian era, but is also inhabited by occult horrors and weird invention. In Ghosts of Empire, which I think is the twelfth book I’ve written as part of this overarching sequence, elements of the two series finally come together – although hopefully anyone who picks it up can still enjoy it as a fun adventure novel without the need for any foreknowledge.
The book sees Gabriel Cross – the New York socialite and damaged veteran of WWI, who also masquerades as a vigilante known as the Ghost – taking a holiday with his lover, Ginny, following the events of the previous novel, in which Ginny found herself possessed by a shard of the Egyptian goddess Sekhmet. He’s taken her to London to recover from her ordeal, but in typical fashion for the Ghost, he finds himself drawn into helping an old friend defend London from a dangerous incursion of Tsarist occultists who are attempting to destabilise the British monarchy. In London, we also see him meeting with Sir Maurice Newbury from the Newbury & Hobbes novels, and getting a little glimpse at what’s become of some of those characters, many years down the line.
It’s full of the usual action adventure, too, featuring battles with clockwork automata, Tsarist magicians, the rotten still-living husk of Rasputin and a manifestation of the spirit of Albion itself…
What was the original inspiration for the Ghosts novels?
The Great Gatsby was a huge part of it – I found myself falling in love with those stories of the ‘lost generation’, the jazz, the debauchery, the search for meaning in the aftermath of the horror of war. That played a huge part. But then the original pulps such as The Shadow and The Spider, too, some of the same sources of inspiration that are clear in later heroes such as Batman.
How long does it roughly take to finish a book from draft to finished novel?
Wow. It varies, depending on the book. I usually spend a few months planning, thinking it all over, scratching out notes and scenes. And then the first draft all spills out in a mad torrent, usually over the course of a few weeks. When I reach that point, I’m working all day and all night, just getting the story down, feeling my way through the shape of it. After that, I walk away from it for as long as I can, working on something else, before coming back to it again later. At that point I’m trying to read it through with a dispassionate eye, seeing where it works and where it doesn’t.
Once I have a sense of that, I’ll spend another few weeks reworking it, polishing the prose, cutting chapters, adding new ones, reshaping it into a closer approximation of what will eventually be published. When I’m happy with it, it goes off to my editor, and that then buys me even more time away from the manuscript, which I find is essential for helping the later stages of editing and rewriting. It comes back from my editor with notes, thoughts and suggestions, and I then spend a couple more weeks reworking, tweaking, and taking that feedback into account. It’s then back to the editor, and then usually, at that point, pretty close to what you’re going to see on the printed page.
I am always intrigued when I hear the term Steampunk, what attracted you to this genre?
For me, it’s the aesthetic. All the goggles and airships and clockwork machinery, the high Victoriana. I love all of that. But I’ll be honest – I’m not entirely sure what I do *is* actually steampunk, in that I don’t think there’s very much ‘punk’ in it. When I look at the movement as a whole, it’s all about craft and creation, about repurposing, and grass roots, and what I’m really doing is writing occult adventure/mystery novels that wilfully borrow that aesthetic. Perhaps I need to inject a bit more punk!
Gabriel (The Ghost) sounds like a fantastic character! What is your favourite thing about him as a main character?
I think it’s the fact he’s so damaged. He’s been through hell, and he’s come out the other side of it and found he can no longer connect with his old life. He’s changed. He’s seen things – the horror of war, but also the horror lurking on the other side of the veil – and it’s had a profound impact on him. In the earlier books he’s pretty much a fractured character, living two distinct lives, on one hand as a rich, soulless socialite, and on the other as this hardened vigilante, trying to make a difference, to fight back against the horror and injustice he’s seen.
The second book seems him nearly unravelling, but that’s his journey, really – learning to heal, to find himself through his actions. The more he accepts and embraces his second life as a vigilante, the more whole he becomes. By the time we see him in Ghosts of Empire, he’s healing, and more, he’s helping those around him to heal, too. This is much more a ‘team’ book than the others. That’s another part of Gabriel’s journey, too – learning to trust others, and slowly building a group of friends and allies around himself. He knows he can’t do all of this alone.
What sort of challenges did you face when approaching Ghosts Of Empire?
Well, it’s the fourth book in a series, so you’ve got to do something new. You’ve got to reward readers with a change in pace and scale, I think, otherwise you risk regrading old ground. That’s one of the hardest challenges – keeping it fresh. But then you’ve also got the continuity to worry about. As I mentioned above, this is the twelfth book I’ve written in the broader alternate history I’ve been developing, and it’s incumbent on me to make sure I’m consistent, and that the book fits within the framework I’ve established – or at least acknowledges if it’s changing anything.
The other challenge was the amount of characters I was juggling. Being more of a team book presents challenges – you want to give everyone appropriate time on stage, and you have to avoid everyone moving around together as a solid unit. So I needed to work in some subplots that felt like they arose naturally from character interactions. I hope I succeeded!
Who would you say influenced your writing of the Ghosts novels?
I mention F. Scott Fitzgerald above. And I think the style of these books is heavily influenced by the pulps of the era that I’ve read for years, and in particular the UK golden age stories of Sexton Blake, written by authors such as agent Evans, Anthony Skene and GH Teed. I’ve also tried to capture a bit of a comic book sensibility, particularly the American superhero school.
Do you have an idea of how many books you are going to include in the series?
I don’t! I left a few years between the first two books and the two most recent instalments, and I might do the same again now – rest the characters, and return to them when I have something new and interesting to say with them. But I’d definitely like to go on more adventures with this gang, and return to see what Astrid’s up to in New York. There’s unfinished business back there for Donovan, too. So there’s at least one more story that needs to be told! Hopefully people will want more!
What do you do to wind down from your work/writing?
I find it very difficult to switch off. My brain doesn’t seem to have an ‘idle’ mode! So the only time I really relax is when I’m out walking in the countryside. I love getting out in the open, or taking the dog for an amble through the woods, or exploring old ruins and ancient tracks. I try to get out whenever I can.
Of course, I love losing myself in a good book, too, and I’ve always got at least one on the go at any given time.
What do you typically do to celebrate finishing a book?
Make a cup of tea! Then maybe take the night off. Sometimes I push the boat out and take the following day off too. But then I’ve usually got another project waiting in the wings, and I love that frisson of excitement when you know you’ve got to the end of a big project and you’re excited about what you can get your teeth stuck into next.
I know it is a bit soon, but do you have any other upcoming projects we should know about yet?
I’m currently working on a sequel to Wychwood, my supernatural crime novel, which was published last month. After that there’s more Newbury & Hobbes, and then possibly something new and different!
Have you read a book/article recently that you would recommend to the readers of this Q&A?
I’ve just finished reading another of Peter Robinson’s DCI Banks novels, and I can’t recommend them enough. What a brilliant series. Such a fantastic sense of place, and such well drawn characters. He’s a master.
Thank you to George Mann for taking the time to answer some question about his fantastic new edition to the Ghost series. I am desperate to throw myself into this series headfirst at the first chance I get. I will be going through all the books in one go so keep an eye out for all four reviews in the future. Thanks to everyone who has stopped by to check out the interview, your support is massively appreciated. Stop by again soon for more bookish content!