Industry Insights: From The Industry Side
An Interview with China Miéville
by Gareth-Michael Skarka
April 24, 2002,
Third of our three-interview series.
This interview originally ran in
"THE RELEVANT CONUNDRUM"
at the Gaming Outpost,
and we appreciate Gaming Outpost and Gareth-Michael Skarka for
allowing us to republish it!
China Miéville is one of the rising stars of the fantasy genre. His first
novel, King Rat, mixed the pied piper legend with the drum-n-bass culture of
London and was well-received on both sides of the Atlantic-and served as one
of the primary inspirations for my own UnderWorld RPG. His second novel,
Perdido Street Station, is a sprawling urban fantasy-grimy, gritty and
baroque in its beauty. The city of New Crobuzon is a setting ripe for
inspiration for any gamer--not surprisingly because the author has gamed
himself in the past.
Recently, I had the opportunity to ask China a few questions:
- Could you give an insight into your process? How do you go about
choosing a subject for your novels? What inspires you?
For me, it tends to be the setting and the atmosphere that come
first. I get an idea of the world, or the particular part of the world, the
city, and with that, I get a sense of what kind of feeling I want to embed
in the story. The narrative and the characters follow from that. I sort of
throw various possible characters and situations around in my mind, to see
what structure works best in the setting and atmosphere. Then as I'm
actually planning the plot, various ideas and themes that I might want to
explore suggest themselves.
- You once mentioned to me that you've done some gaming. What sort of
stuff did you get into?
I used to roleplay quite a lot between the ages of about 11 and
about 14. I started out with D&D and AD&D, but pretty quickly got into other
stuff. The games I was most interested in were Call of Cthulhu and RuneQuest
- though in my time I've also played Bushido, Villains & Vigilantes, MERP,
Traveller, Paranoia, Star Frontiers, Boot Hill, TMNT, Toon and some
others... I was always most into the Chaosium 'engine', the percentile
system, skill-based, not levels.
I've not played for many years, and to be honest don't really have much
desire to, but I'm still very interested in the games. Periodically I buy
some sourcebook or rulebook or other, to keep a little track of what's going
on in the world. I'm interested in the World of Darkness stuff - I thought
the source stuff for Wraith was superb - though I don't like the
point-allocation for character creation so much (not enough contingency).
I do find the systematicity of the world creation in RPGs quite inspiring in
my own work. I think it would be totally cool if someone wanted to set an
RPG in the world of Perdido. There's a site where
someone's got a PBEM up - but it doesn't look like anyone wants to play!
- Given it's literary roots, and the preparation and research involved, a
large percentage of RPG gamers are aspiring writers. What advice do you have
In terms of the RPG aesthetic, I think people still get too sucked
in to the cliches of gaming. The cliches of traditional fantasy - elves,
dragons, dwarfs, that sort of thing - and the second generation cliches of
'new' fantasy - cool, goth vampires, for example. The most important thing,
I think, is to try to avoid those cliches if you can, and if you do use
them, try to do something new with them.
Take advice. Don't get precious about revising your work, and taking on
board suggestions that friends and editors make. This isn't just a problem
for beginners - there are some great writers out there whose books, I think,
suffer from not being quite edited enough.
If you have written something, get an agent. Don't try to approach
publishers yourself. Most of them probably won't even look at stuff on the
slush-pile, and if they do, you're not going to be equipped to deal with
them. A good agent is an incredible help.
- Now for the cruelest question to ask any writer: What is your favorite
among your own works?
It is cruel. I'd say that probably for me it's a short story
called 'Looking For Jake'. It's in a book called Neonlit: the Time Out book
of New Writing Volume 1. It was my first-ever published piece, but that's
not why it's my favourite. The thing is, with a novel, there are always
things that you could change, that could be altered, that might work
differently. But if you get a short story right, it can have a kind of
absolute, closed sense of perfection that you can never get in a longer
form. I think that short story is maybe the one thing I've ever written that
I don't think I'd alter a single word of.
- This past year, you ran as a candidate for Parliament in your district.
Could you tell us a little bit about what prompted that, and how that turned
I've been an active socialist for many years, and with Tony
Blair's New Labour party lurching to the right in Britain, it was very
important to try to oppose them from the left. People in Britain are
disenfranchised, because all the major parties are saying the same things.
Those of us who stand against privatisation, against big business, for
people before profit, needed a voice. That's why the Socialist Alliance was
formed . It wasn't that we thought we were going
to win - we're not stupid - but we wanted to change the agenda, give working
people an alternative from the left.
How was it? Well, it was the most exhausting time of my life. The four weeks
before the election were absolutely insane. I've never known anything like
them. Public meetings, debates, every damn minute. But you know, we had an
impact, people know us in the area, and across the country. It was well
- What's coming next? Anything currently in the works?
I'm just finishing the editing of a novel called The Scar, which
is set in the same world as Perdido Street Station, but isn't a sequel. It's
a standalone novel (although if you've read Perdido, you're going to get
some of the references that others won't). It shows a bit more of the world
beyond New Crobuzon. It's a more challenging book, I think‹It attempts to do
more, and I'm very proud of it. I just hope people like it. It should be out
about February or March 2002.
I finish my PhD in September, so then I'm going to take a month off, before
kicking off on the next novel (about which I'm remaining quiet).
- Thanks, China.