❉ Time-travelling criminal voodoo cult, Faction Paradox return in ‘Weapons Grade Snake Oil’. We chat with its author Blair Bidmead.
Tell us a little about yourself and your background?
I’m Blair. I’m a writer and an illustrator. I’m married with two children and the four of us live in South London.
What are your ambitions for your writing career?
To have a renowned and lucrative career as a novelist, whilst moonlighting in the writer’s room of the WWE.
Which writers inspire you?
Growing up, it was more comic book writers, like Alan Moore, Grant Morrison, Pete Milligan, Neil Gaiman. As a teenager, I read a lot of Stephen King.
Haruki Murakami is probably the novelist who resonates with me the most these days. His books are kind of like ambient music. I don’t know how he does it.
So, what have you written?
Jeez, let’s think…
My first published short story was for Obverse Books called, Party Kill Accelerator! in the Iris Wildthyme anthology, ‘The Panda Book of Horror’. Then, soon after, another short story called, Now or Thereabouts in the first Faction Paradox anthology, ‘A Romance in Twelve Parts’.
After that came my short Hunter S Thompson pastiche, Are You Loathsome Tonight? for ‘Señor 105 & the Elements of Danger’. That was followed by yet another short story, Happily Ever After is a High Risk Strategy for the first City of the Saved collection, ‘Tales of the City’.
Then came my novella, By The Time I Get To Venus, which was part of the ongoing Periodic Adventures of Señor 105. And then I returned to Iris for the ‘Iris Wildthyme of Mars’ anthology. A short story entitled, The Calamari Men of Mare Cimmerium for which I drew some accompanying illustrations.
What has been so great about all these gigs is that they have been in other people’s ‘sandboxes’ – Paul Magrs (Iris), Phil Purser-Hallard (The City), Cody Schell (Señor 105) and they were all really open to me doing whatever I wanted with their worlds. It was really encouraging to be so trusted.
Cody, for example, let me completely vandalise one of his characters in By The Time I Get To Venus! And I was doubly lucky for that story that Paul Leonard gave me permission to use the Venusian civilisation from his Doctor Who book, ‘Venusian Lullaby’.
All my Obverse stuff is available from their website.
Talking of Doctor Who, I contributed to the DWIN 50th Anniversary charity anthology, ‘Golden Years’ with a short called With All Awry and also the Tommy Donbavand benefit book, ‘A Target for Tommy’. That was a story called Significant Others, featuring the William Hartnell Doctor Who and Rose Tyler.
There’s also Entirely Possible, my web-comic featuring Theo Possible, a character who turns up in several of my short stories. Entirely Possible is long overdue updating. It is slowly migrating from Blogger to Tumblr. I swear I will finish it when I get a moment, but I have had so much other work on.
Which brings us to my first novel, ‘Weapons Grade Snake Oil’…
Tell us a little about Weapons Grade Snake Oil. What’s it about?
Essentially, it’s a crime novel, A group of disparate individuals are drawn together, from across all time and space, in order to stage a heist.
It was partially inspired by the book ‘Nazi Gold’, which tells the true story of a group of dodgy Allied soldiers teaming-up with some SS officers during World War II in order to steal millions in gold bullion.
I wondered what a heist, set against the backdrop of the War between the Great Houses and their nameless enemy might look like.
I don’t think that there is anything I love in fiction more than an Uneasy Alliance. Weapons Grade Snake Oil is an unfolding series of uneasy alliances within uneasy alliances.
And there’s a giant robot mammoth. Also, a time-travelling octopus.
The book is part of the long-running Faction Paradox series; can you tell our readers a little about its history?
I just realised that 2017 marks the 20th Anniversary of Faction Paradox’s first appearance in Lawrence Miles’ Doctor Who novel, ‘Alien Bodies’.
Faction Paradox are a time-travelling, criminal voodoo cult, who turn up throughout history. They’re not a million miles away from the Bavarian Illuminati of popular urban legend and conspiracy theory.
When not sneaking about space and time, the Faction live outside the universe, in a shadowy version of London called ‘The Eleven Day Empire’ (If you’ve seen ‘Stranger Things’, it’s like the Upside-Down, only in Westminster).
Faction acolytes have a hierarchy denoted through familial titles. The rank and file are known as ‘Cousins’, the next tier being ‘Mothers’ or ‘Fathers’, then ‘Godmothers’ and ‘Godfathers’. ‘Grandfather Paradox’ is at the top of the pyramid, although he’s erased himself from history. He’s awkward like that. When dressed formally, Faction members all wear animal-skull masks.
Faction Paradox featured in something like eight or nine Doctor Who books, around the turn of the millennium, when Doctor Who was no longer on TV.
The backdrop to the Who books that feature the Faction often referred to a ‘War in Heaven’, in the far future, between the Time Lords and a mysterious, unnamed enemy. The books ended in 2005, heading towards this terrifying, unknowable ‘Time War’.
(Coincidentally, when the TV show returned in 2005, it was heading away from a terrifying, unknowable Time War. But the two things are, of course, completely unrelated)
Faction Paradox then spun out into their own series of books, audio plays, and even a very short-lived comic book. There is some controversy as to the space they now occupy in the expanded Doctor Who universe, which given their nature, is not only ironic but entirely appropriate.
It’s also neither here nor there, as the beauty of the concept is that it can be set anywhere at anytime and focus on anyone. All the Faction Paradox novels are only really linked notionally. As a reader, you can just jump in at any point, pretty much like the Faction do themselves, gate-crashing the past, the present and the future. Although, rarely in that order.
Obverse Books are the current licence holders. To date, they have published three Faction Paradox short story anthologies and four novels. If you are looking to give Faction Paradox a try, Weapons Grade Snake Oil is as good a place as any to start.
Give us an insight into your main character. What does she do that is so special?
My book is very much an ensemble piece. But the main protagonist is Sojourner Hooper-Agogô. She used to be one of the Faction, known as ‘Cousin Ceol’, but escaped by faking her death, creating a new persona and a new life for herself.
When we meet her, Faction Paradox are a distant memory. She’s lived a righteous, selfless life, leading an oppressed culture to emancipation, and just when all her sacrifices are about to pay-off, her past comes back to haunt her and she is forced to do ‘one more job’ or lose everything.
When did you first decide to become a writer? What made you decide to sit down and actually start something?
I’ve started so many things, mainly comic books (because I am an illustrator too) but never finished anything. At college I wrote and directed a couple of short films. When I left, I thought I was going to be a writer/director. I pitched a short film idea to the Arts Council and got knocked back. I had worked so hard on the proposal; it completely killed my enthusiasm for the whole process.
It wasn’t until five or six years ago, I saw Obverse Books asking for submissions for their Iris Wildthyme anthologies that I pitched something and it got commissioned almost straight away. I thought, “OK, I’m not delusional. I can actually do this.”
What was the hardest thing about writing your latest book?
Ha! The synopsis!
My pitch for this novel was a series of oblique emails to Stuart Douglas (Obverse publisher). The title came early on, and then it was chunks of dialogue, maybe a character outline, then a pithy slogan or two.
Stuart replied, ‘Yeah, so, what the hell is this all about?’ and I went, ‘It’s my pitch for a Faction novel!’ Stuart said, ‘No. It’s not. It’s nonsense. I can’t commission this.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you can. It’ll be fine. It’ll all come together when I’m writing it.” He said, ‘Don’t be stupid. Go away. Give me a full synopsis of what happens. Beginning. Middle. End. Then I might think about it.’
So, I had to actually plan the blimmin’ thing from beginning to end. All my wonderful ‘possibilities’ had to get nailed down into ‘things that actually happen’. It was tragic.
But, once the synopsis was complete, that was really all the heavy-lifting done. Writing the actual novel was a breeze in comparison.
Do you ever get the dreaded writer’s block? Any tips on how to get through it?
I don’t think I believe in writer’s block. It’s an excuse. Another form of procrastination.
There are days when it comes easy and there are days when it barely comes at all. Personally, I find the nuts and bolts stuff the hardest, structure and exposition. I mean it’s really, really important and getting it right is hard, time consuming and not that much fun.
I love just bringing a couple of characters on the page and let them talk to each other. That’s like I’m not even doing anything. The characters do it all the work for you.
If you are having a hard day down the word mines, just accept it. Don’t beat yourself up about it. This too shall pass.
Who are your favourite authors?
At the moment I’m vaguely obsessed with Ernest Tidyman’s ‘Shaft’ books. I have only got two more to go: ‘Shaft’s Carnival of Killers’ and ‘The Last Shaft’.
I love Haruki Murakami, as I said. Also Steve Aylett, Philip K Dick, Hunter S Thompson. Ben Aaronovitch’s Peter Grant books are great.
Saga by Fiona Staples & Brian K Vaughn, an astonishing ongoing comic book series. As is Kieron Gillen & Jamie McKelvie’s ‘The Wicked & the Divine’.
For your own reading, do you prefer ebooks or traditional paper/hard back books?
I do both. There are advantages to either format. Paperbacks win through charm though.
What are you reading at present?
I’ve just finished Phillip Purser-Hallard’s ‘Trojans’, which is the third and final book of his Devices trilogy. Fantastic. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Next off the pile is ‘Energy Flash’, Simon Reynold’s ‘definitive’ history of rave culture.
Who designed the book cover for Weapons Grade Snake Oil’?
Lawrence Burton. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? He paints all the Faction Paradox covers for Obverse.
Self-publishing and crowdfunding are becoming increasingly popular as an alternative means of reaching an audience; where do you see publishing going in the future?
It’s never been easier to get stuff out there. The difficult bit seems to be, once it is out there, persuading an audience that they should be checking it out.
For that reason, you will always have big publishing houses, because they have the giant promotional carpet-bombing departments who have that area nailed.
I think that I’d love to have a go at crowdfunding something at some point, But, to do it properly, you need to devote as much time to promoting the thing as creating it. It would take some proper planning.
What is your favourite book and why?
Mick Foley’s memoir, ‘Have a Nice Day: A Tale of Blood & Sweatsocks’. I first read it during quite a dark period and found it completely inspirational. It also transformed my passing interest in Professional Wrestling into a minor obsession.
What is your favourite film and why?
‘Run Lola Run’. Proper cinema. Iconic images. Awesome soundtrack.
What advice would you give to your younger self?
Finish something. Anything.
Which famous person, living or dead would you like to meet and why?
There’s a fair-to-middling chance that many of the people I admire would turn out to be horrible in real life, so this is a tricky question. Maybe Jason Williamson from Sleaford Mods would be a safe bet as he is so openly horrible in his work. He seems like someone you could have a pint, a rant and a laugh with.
If you could have been the original author of any book, what would it have been and why?
‘Fox in Socks’ by Dr Seuss, because I might write slightly quite rightly and I might write rightly quite slightly, but to cite and delight so dynamite-ly is the outright height of mighty bright insight and downright writerly writing, you see?
What are you working on at the minute? Do you have any upcoming projects?
I am in the middle of my second novel, called ‘Avalon City Saints’. I have just done the cover for the next City of the Saved anthology and I will continue designing all the idents for Obverse’s Black Archive range.
Is there anything unique about yourself that you would like your readers to know?
I was born in a crossfire hurricane. But it’s alright now.
How can readers discover more about you and you work?
You can find me online at these various places. Do drop by.
Book Links: obversebooks.co.uk/product/wgso/
❉ ‘Faction Paradox: Weapons Grade Snake Oil’ by Blair Bidmead is published by Obverse Books on 10 January 2017, RRP £19.99. Available for pre-order now.