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Industry Insights: From The Industry Side

An Interview with China Miville

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 Miville 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 for beginners?

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 out?

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 worth doing.

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 thinkIt 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.

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What do you think?

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All Industry Insights

  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews China Mieville, April 24, 2002
  • lizard's Condensation of All Game Fiction, April 18, 2002
  • Sandy's "God or Whore?" GTS'02, March 26, 2002
  • Allan Sugarbaker with GAMA Trade Show '02: An Inside Report, March 22, 2002
  • Aldo of Impressions on the GamePlay CD, January 3, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Ken Hite, February 8, 2002
  • Gareth-Michael Skarka interviews Tim Powers, January 18, 2002
  • Aldo Ghoizzi on Inside the Making of GamePlay, January 3, 2002
  • The RPGnet Awards Cabal presents the RPGnet 2001 Awards Results!, December 5, 2001
  • Ken Whitman teaches us with A Note About Creating a Good Promotional Campaign, October 12, 2001
  • Sean Jaffe on The Fallout, September 27, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • Sean Jaffe on Interesting Times, September 21, 2001 [about 9/11]
  • GodLike: Dennis Detwiler and Greg Stolze, September 14, 2001
  • Jared Nielsen on Tribe Gamer, August 31, 2001
  • Mark Bruno teaches about Copy Editing, August 16, 2001
  • Ratings not just kid's stuff for RPG industry, reported by Matt Snyder, August 9, 2001
  • GenCon '01 News, reported by Matt Snyder, August 3, 2001
  • Origins Report: Would you send your mother to buy from them?, part 4 of 4
  • Origins Report: Booth Babes, part 3 of 4
  • Origins Report: Overview, part 2 of 4
  • The Origins Awards, part 1 of 4, reported by Jason Paul McCartan
  • Gary Gygax Interview, part 1 of 3, by Scott Lynch
  • Why I Write Gaming Materials by Greg Stolze, November 16, 1999
  • Blowing out the Nostalgia Candle by John Wick, October 19, 1999
  • Interview with Sean Pat Fannon, Shards October 5, 1999
  • Portuguese is not Spanish! by Thad Blanchette, September 14, 1999
  • Intuition and Surprise by M. J. Young, July 27, 1999
  • Fear and Loathing in the Wizards of the Coast Game Center by John Tynes, January 26, 1999
  • Breaking In,, on how to break into writing for RPGs, by Steve Kenson, December 22, 1998
  • ALT.RPG, first of a series looking deeply at what gaming is all about, by Matt Miller, September 1, 1998
  • The Night They Tore Old Mecca Down, GenCon report by Randy Porter, August 20, 1998
  • GenCon Fun: con, city, and even housing tips from Randy Porter, June 30, 1998
  • GenCon Lore Vol 3: Program Books, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 23, 1998
  • The Missing and the Dead, update on GenCon 98 attendance, by Randy Porter, June 2, 1998
  • The Definitive Count on who is and isn't attending GenCon 98, by Randy Porter, April 28, 1998
  • How to Scam Games Part II by Steve Johnson, March 24, 1998
  • The Perils of Penniless Publishing by Aaron Rosenberg, February 3, 1998
  • Polyhedral Dice & Mirror Shades, by Greg Costikyan (or, the death of paper).
  • Ken Whitman: A Love Hate Relationship by (of course) Ken Whitman
  • Interview with Sean Punch, GURPS line editor, by Bob Portnell, October 1997
  • YOU DID WHAT? Perspectives On Becoming A Full-Time Writer In The RPG Industry, by Steven Long, September 1997
  • A Resurgence of Role Playing, by Gary Gygax, August 1997

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