GEORGE MANN is the author of THE AFFINITY BRIDGE, THE OSIRIS RITUAL, and GHOSTS OF MANHATTAN, as well as lots of tie-in fiction that includes DOCTOR WHO, DARK SOULS and WARHAMMER 40,000. His latest novel, THE REVENANT EXPRESS: A NEWBURY AND HOBBES INVESTIGATION, is a steampunk action novel that follows the further adventures of Mann's titular creations. We caught up with him to find out more…
STARBURST: What’s the pitch for The Revenant Express?
The Revenant Express follows agent for the Crown Sir Maurice Newbury as he takes an epic train journey to St. Petersburg to fetch a clockwork heart from Faberge, which he’s hoping will be enough to save the life of his partner Veronica, who was mortally wounded at the end of the previous book. The story of what happens on the train interweaves with a case from a few months earlier, back in London, so we’re following both threads and seeing how - and if - they come together.
How would you explain it to a fan of trains?
At least half the book takes place aboard a massive train travelling from France to Russia, with murder, intrigue and danger onboard. Plus, there’s a very disturbing type of fuel being burned, too...
For the uninitiated, what is the world of Newbury and Hobbes like?
I see Newbury and Hobbes as a Victorian fantasy/mystery series, with a little dash of the occult. Anyone who likes the idea of a lovechild of Steed & Peel from the Avengers, Hammer Horror, Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Who should find something to enjoy in the stories! It’s a gloomy, fog-bound world, filled with danger, rogue agents, occult horrors and weirdness.
Ten Years of Newbury and Hobbes? What’s next?
For Newbury & Hobbes? Well, we have a collection of the comic series coming in April, and then there’s a new novella and another novel in the works too. I’m also really excited to be working on a N&H board game with the fine folks at Needy Cat Games. More on that soon, but it’s looking very special indeed! In terms of other, non-N&H projects, there are a few exciting things coming this year that you’ll be hearing about in the Spring, and I’m hoping to tackle something entirely new, too. Watch this space!
Do you have a different approach in writing the Newbury and Hobbes books compared to your Doctor Who or Warhammer 40,000 work?
There’s certainly a different level of freedom involved in writing your own worlds and characters when compared to writing something set in an existing, established universe. I try to make the most of that freedom. I’ve been writing those characters for so long now that I hear their voices in my head. It’s like returning to old friends. The key thing about writing tie-in work, for me, is that you can’t approach it with a cynical frame of mind. If you’re going to do your best work, you have to dive right in and believe in what you’re writing.
What’s the most fun you’ve had writing tie-in fiction?
To date, it’s probably writing the War Doctor book, Engines of War. That was a real honour, and so much fun. The BBC really just encouraged me to let loose and write something big, bold and epic, and I went all in. I still can’t believe I had the chance to write it.
What tie-in fiction world - that you haven’t worked on - would you like to write for next?
I’d love to write something set in the Star Wars universe. Plus, both Spider-Man and Batman are on my bucket list!
Back to Newbury and Hobbes – what is the appeal of Victoriana? Is nostalgia always misplaced?
I don’t think so, no, although we have to be careful to look back on things with a balanced view, remembering the social problems and horrors of a historical period alongside the stuff we want to celebrate, too. I think in the case of the Victorian era we’re at that point in our history where it’s not long passed out of living memory, and in many ways still feels very familiar to us - many families in Britain still have Victorian objects knocking about their houses, and stories about great-grandparents who lived through that era etc. But it’s also far enough gone that we can start to make a fantasy out of it, in a way that we perhaps can’t with more recent times. That said, the ‘80s seems to have become fertile ground for fantasy in recent years, so I suppose there’s a question about just how long we need to wait before we start fantasising our own past.
What elements make a fantasy world seem real to you?
Characters. For me, it’s all about the characters. If the people in the book feel real, and they interact with their environment in a way that seems real, as a reader, I’ll buy almost any fantastical element.
What one thing about yourself surprises most people?
That I’ve worked with books in one capacity or other since the age of 15.
Space Marines or Time Lords?
Time Lords, because Doctor Who has been such an important part of my life. But I’m fond of Space Marines too!
Jammy Dodgers or Hobnobs?
Hobnobs - as long as they’re the chocolate ones.
Truth or Beauty?
The paperback edition of THE REVENANT EXPRESS: A NEWBURY AND HOBBES INVESTIGATION is out February 12th from Titan Books. It can be found at all good purveyors of fiction.