Nottingham-native Darius Hinks has been filling the minds of Warhammer enthusiasts for years with his fascinating narratives from the Warhammer 40,000 series. Hinks’ latest novel The Ingenious, however, diverges from the world of Warhammer, focusing instead on the fictional world of Athanor and its gang of rebellious outlaws. With The Ingenious set to hit stores today, we decided to have a chat with Hinks about the novel, his characters and the inspirations he has taken from the city.
What were your influences when designing the character of Isten?
I've always loved stories based around characters who are a car-crash of flaws and vices – people who tumble, head-long through a novel with little or no control over where it’s taking them. My original plan for The Ingenious was to take the unsavoury, desperate, feel of JP Donleavy's The Ginger Man, add a pinch of Trainspotting and Charles Bukowski and then mix all that sordid muck with the spectacular psychedelia of the fantasy novels I read as a teenager, like Michael Moorcock’s Elric books. Isten was born out of that archetype – Renton and Fleabag and the whole tradition of morally-broken characters who somehow manage to win our sympathy despite being completely off the rails.
Going from this, how did you create the world of Athanor? Would you say there are any similarities between this fictional space and that of Nottingham?
The original inspiration for Athanor was an object I had lying on my desk – a skeleton of a Chinese lantern seedpod my wife found in our garden. The thing was so intricate and strange I found myself imagining a city built in the same way – convoluted filaments and fine-spun curls all spiralling in on each other. There was another inspiration though and, although I didn't realise it at the time, it does link to Nottingham. When I was writing the novel I was listening to an album of Kora music by a musician called Seckou Keita. The intricate, meandering sound of his playing seeped into my writing, making Athanor more labyrinthine and strange than I originally intended. As I got further into the novel and Isten heads further out from the centre of the city, the architecture becomes increasingly more dreamlike and odd, a lot of which stems from Seckou's playing. I thought Seckou lived in Senegal but after I finished the novel I found out he lives in Nottingham, just a couple of miles from where I was writing the book. So Nottingham did indirectly influence the world-building in the book, but it was through the music of Senegal.
On the Angry Robot website, The Ingenious is described as a “squalid, bloody tale of […] political exiles.” How has the current political climate influenced the writing of the story? Are the events of the book based in any way on historical or recent events?
It's a book about immigrants living in a place that does not value them, and it's no coincidence that I planned it in the wake of the referendum. That vote left me wondering how it would feel to live in a country that does not want you. That fed into the desperate, defiant character of Isten and her fellow exiles. There was also a historical inspiration for the novel though. I'm fascinated by a period of London's history, around the start of the last century, when it played host to the genesis of the Russian Revolution. I think it's amazing to imagine global figures like Lenin and Trotsky skulking around pubs in Islington, living in grubby doss houses and secretly plotting to overthrow the Tzar back in their homeland. The idea of key political figures living in squalor, hunted by agents from back home, fed directly into the plot of The Ingenious.
You’ve spoken a great deal previously about the cover of The Ingenious, designed by John Coulthart, what is it that you admire so much about the artwork?
It's just a beautiful piece of artwork, but it also fits very closely with the mood of the book. It looks enticing, mysterious and vaguely sinister, which is just how I imagined Athanor.
What’s your process when writing a new novel?
I wade in, get stalled after a few chapters, then start to panic. Then I get a large piece of paper and draw the novel out as a series of circled notes and scribbles that look utterly meaningless and make me even more stressed. This panic and confusion continues for about three months until I have a novel-length piece of prose. At that point I read it through and find, to my amazement, that I have something vaguely resembling a novel. It takes a lot of chopping and re-writing from that point to turn it into an actual novel. Essentially, my writing process is: panic, prevaricate, run out of time then hand the problem over to an editor.
Who are your literary influences? And do you have a favorite book?
In addition to the authors I mentioned earlier, I'm also a fan of an amazing novel called Narcopolis by the Indian poet Jeet Thayil that really influenced mood of the book. My favourite book is The Sea, The Sea, by Iris Murdoch. That one has no obvious connection to The Ingenious, beyond the slightly peculiar, vampiric relationships Iris Murdoch characters always seem to have.
What work do you have coming up following the publication of The Ingenious?
I have lots of projects in the pipeline, including some Warhammer novels for Games Workshop's fiction imprint, the Black Library.
Have you got any tips for aspiring writers?
I don't really like all those 'definitive' rules people hand out to aspiring writers. Everyone finds their own way in and there's no 'right' or 'wrong' way to write a book. The method that worked best for me, before writing became my day job, was to make sure I wrote something every day. I used to get up stupidly early and write before work. Even if I only managed a couple of hundred words, I think that repetition gave me my love of the process. I met Susanna Clarke (another writer I love) when she did a Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell reading at Nottingham library (her family are from round here), and I asked her for advice on how to get started as an author. She recommended a book called Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande and I found it really useful. It’s not a technical manual, or a creative writing course kind of a book, more of a guide on how to plunder your subconscious and battle those wretched inner critics that try to stop you from finishing anything.
The Ingenious launches at Waterstones, Nottingham, on Thursday 7th February at 7PM. The novel itself is available at all good bookshops for£8.99, and Darius can be found on Twitter @dariushinks.