BROUGHT TO BOOK

How the au­thor took over 30 years to be­come an overnight suc­cess

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Contents - Words by Jonathan Wright /// Pho­tog­ra­phy by Will Ire­land

Dave Hutchin­son shows us Europe At Mid­night.

There are times when fic­tion seems to fore­shadow events in the real world. This has hap­pened with Dave Hutchin­son’s Frac­tured Europe se­quence, which imag­ines a con­ti­nent 50- 70 years hence where free move­ment across borders is a dis­tant dream and “Europe is balka­nis­ing it­self into smaller and smaller and weirder na­tions.” The idea that his nov­els have pre­saged what we see on our TV screens, as des­per­ate Syr­ian refugees flee civil war, and the Hun­gar­ian and Croa­t­ian author­i­ties put up ra­zor wire to stop them cross­ing the bor­der from Ser­bia, gives Hutchin­son lit­tle com­fort.

“Events have kind of caught up with the books, and I take ab­so­lutely no plea­sure from it what­so­ever,” he tells SFX. “Se­ri­ously, peo­ple are dy­ing, peo­ple are get­ting hurt, their lives are be­ing com­pletely screwed. I’m watch­ing the news and there are peo­ple ri­ot­ing at the Hun­gar­ian bor­der.”

Yet Europe In Au­tumn and its soon- to- be- pub­lished suc­ces­sor, Europe At Mid­night, which fol­lows an English in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer whose ad­ven­tures take him into a par­al­lel world, were never es­pe­cially in­tended as po­lit­i­cal nov­els. Rather, says Hutchin­son, he started out want­ing to write “an en­ter­tain­ment” that made “a few satir­i­cal points” about why the Schen­gen Zone is “a his­tor­i­cal blip” that won’t last into the next cen­tury.

He also wanted to write an ex­cit­ing es­pi­onage thriller. “I’ve prob­a­bly read more spy fic­tion than I have science fic­tion down the years,” Hutchin­son says. He cites Amer­i­can writer Alan Furst, whose nov­els are set around the out­break of World War Two, as a par­tic­u­lar in­flu­ence.

What­ever the in­flu­ences that went into its cre­ation, Europe In Au­tumn, the dystopian tale of an Estonian chef who gets mixed up with smug­glers, was a slow- burn suc­cess through 2014, and was nom­i­nated for the Clarke, BSFA and John W Camp­bell Awards.

on the shelf

“It was a big thing for me ac­tu­ally to get a novel sold,” says Hutchin­son. “It’s still a big thing for me ac­tu­ally to go into a bookshop and see it on the shelf. I’m not used to that ei­ther.”

As to why this might be such a big thing for Hutchin­son per­son­ally, it helps to know a lit­tle about his bi­og­ra­phy. He’s found suc­cess late, in his fifties, and grew up in the Sheffield of the 1960s and 1970s, “a kind of science fic­tion desert”.

There were no SF writ­ing groups to help him get started, or none he knew about. In­stead, he read Asimov, Hein­lein and Larry Niven be­fore stum­bling upon the work of Bri­tish au­thor Keith Roberts ( 1935- 2000). “One day I picked up a copy of Pa­vane [ an al­ter­nate history fix- up novel that has the de­struc­tion of English protes­tantism as a start­ing point] and you could have heard my jaw drop from 20 or 30 miles away,” he says. Why? Be­cause Roberts wrote about English land­scapes and peo­ple.

The kind of peo­ple you’d meet in Sheffield? “Yeah, peo­ple who lived on your street rather than pi­loted mile- long space ves­sels and blew up stars,” he says. “Not that I’ve got any­thing against that.”

Thus inspired, he started out as a writer in the late 1970s, and pub­lished four vol­umes of SFF short sto­ries by the time he was 21. Then, around the time he went to univer­sity, he found him­self with noth­ing to say as a writer.

“I just dried up,” he says. “I’m ter­ri­fied it’s go­ing to hap­pen to me again.” In­stead of forg­ing a ca­reer as a nov­el­ist, he worked as a jour­nal­ist.

Seen against this back­drop, the ever- so sub­tle name change for his later work is re­veal­ing. “I made a con­scious de­ci­sion to [ dif­fer­en­ti­ate] be­cause there’s an early pe­riod and there’s the rest,” he says. “I’m not ashamed of any of [ my early work], although I do look back and oc­ca­sion­ally cringe, but it’s done and I’m not sorry I did it. I’m sorry I didn’t keep do­ing it, be­cause I might have been a lit­tle bit fur­ther ahead with my ca­reer than I am at the mo­ment. That 10 years does bother me some­times.”

start­ing over

In 2010, he was made re­dun­dant and, to fill the time, took an online fic­tion- writ­ing course. From this came a short story, “The In­cred­i­ble Ex­plod­ing Man”. “The first draft was re­ally ter­ri­ble, but we kicked it about a bit and rewrote it, and it was a bit bet­ter,” he says.

Hutchin­son is prob­a­bly be­ing a lit­tle mod­est here. Af­ter his decade away, he’d gone back to writ­ing short fic­tion, and even a novel, The Vil­lages ( 2001). His 2009 novella The Push was nom­i­nated for a BSFA Award. Nev­er­the­less, “Ex­plod­ing Man” is im­por­tant be­cause editor Ian Whates picked it up for the first So­laris Ris­ing col­lec­tion, where it sat in the com­pany of Alastair Reynolds, Pat Cadi­gan and Ian McDon­ald. The con­nec­tion with So­laris, pub­lish­ers of the Frac­tured Europe se­quence, was made.

To­day, he’s one of So­laris’s big­gest names. He’s work­ing on what he says will be the fi­nal Frac­tured Europe book. It’s been tough go­ing, but he’s op­ti­mistic he’ll hit a Novem­ber dead­line: “I ac­tu­ally worked out what the plot was last week…”

Europe At Mid­night is pub­lished by So­laris on 5 Novem­ber.

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