Gareth Hanrahan’s three-month break from computer programming to concentrate on writing has now lasted fifteen years and counting. He’s written more gaming books than he can readily recall. He seeks to master the alchemical technique of transmuting tea and guilt into words. He lives in Ireland with his wife and twin sons. His new novel, The Gutter Prayer, is out on 17th January 2019.
GJ: Thank you Gareth for joining me for this conversation. I spotted an Orbit advert on Facebook for your forthcoming novel. I know you are also an RPG designer, but is this your first published novel?
GH: First original novel. I did a licensed novel in the setting of the Paranoia roleplaying game a few years ago, a dystopian satire called Reality Optional, but that’s out of print (or out of bits – whatever the equivalent for e-books is).
GJ: Your new novel, The Gutter Prayer, is described as epic fantasy, is this the same genre in which you develop most of the RPGs you’re involved with?
GH: Most of the games I’ve been involved with in the last few years have been set in some variation of the real world – modern-day or historical occult espionage of various flavours. The Gutter Prayer’s set in a fantasy world, but there are still common themes and elements. Guerdon – the city where the bulk of the action takes place – is full of alchemy and weird sorcery, but also crawling with spies and conspirators and thieves who wouldn’t be out of place in 19th century London.
GJ: Sounds like the Brexit negotiations. You worked on the new core rules to the classic RPG, Traveller. What was it like to work on updating a game which had already achieved so much success?
GH: Doing a new edition of a much-loved game means being a custodian; you’re taking charge of something that’s bigger than you are, and means a lot to its fans. The first rule is to do no harm, to make sure you don’t stomp all over the essential experience of play. You have to preserve the feel of the game, the joy of the experience, while cleaning up any clunky mechanics and making it more accessible to new players who don’t have 30+ years of experience with Traveller. Humility is key – you have to recognise that some parts of the game are sacrosanct, and accept them as constraints.
GJ: How did you go from RPG designer to novel writing and, taking nothing away from what you have achieved with the novel, do you think your links with the publishing industry, albeit not directly connected, helped you to get your work in front of a publisher?
GH: Well, I was introduced to my agent by Richard S Ford, who in another lifetime was my editor at Mongoose Publishing. Beyond that – I suspect that the biggest benefit was simply experience. Freelance game design teaches you to hit deadlines, to treat writing as a job that has to be done. I don’t have that giant pile of rejection letters that other authors boast about – I was accepted by the first agent I approached, and got a deal within a few months -, but I paid my dues in other ways.
GJ: Once the manuscript was handed over to your publisher, fully edited and ready for your readers, do you expect for them to take over and start selling the book to the world, or are you taking an active role in promotion and connecting with the market?
GH: I don’t think it’s an ‘or’. Fantasy fiction is a much bigger market than tabletop gaming – while I’m trying to be as active as I can, I’m also well aware that there are places I’ll never reach or simply don’t know about, so I’m very grateful to Orbit’s marketing team for their work. It’s a new and different world for me.
GJ: Have there been any surprises in the publication process, something that made you sit up and think, I didn’t know that, or is it a journey you were already familiar with?
GH: Most of it was familiar – I’ve gone through edits, proofreading, commented on cover designs hundreds of times. The experience of getting advanced copies was interesting – I’m used to only seeing a new book in the flesh when it’s released at a convention or I get my author’s copies.
Also, Goldsboro Books are doing a limited-edition hardback print run, and they’re printing 700 copies. 700 copies of a roleplaying book would be most of the sales for some of the books I’ve worked on! Things are orders of magnitude bigger here…
GJ: So how did The Gutter Prayer come about?
GH: I had a vague idea about a thief who could hear whispered secrets from a city’s bells and wrote the first 20,000 words or so quite quickly without any real idea about what was going on. I threw in lots of themes and concepts I’d played with before in games – Lovecraftiana, alchemical weapons, conspiracies. And then I gave up on it, and went onto another idea.
When that second book went nowhere, I went back to The Gutter Prayer and wrote an actual outline, worked out why the bells were talking to her and what it all meant,, and started again. And that time, it worked. I wrote all the way to the end without significant changes after that.
GJ: Who do you think would be the audience for the book?
GH: Well, The Gutter Prayer sits at the intersection of a bunch of my own interests, so I suppose if you overlap with one or more of the following, you might enjoy the book: fantasy along the lines of China Mieville or Max Gladstone; crime or spy fiction; weird cities; how systems react to a crisis, and how they break down; gods and monsters.
GJ: I think we’ll have to leave it here by telling me what’s next for you. Are you writing a follow up and if so is that full time or whilst working on other projects in the RPG world?
GH: The follow-up is done! At least it’s written – I’m waiting on editorial feedback now. It’s called The Divine Machine, and is set several months afterwards. The city’s rebuilding, and about to go into a general election to choose a new parliament, but the Godswar’s getting closer and Guerdon may not have time to sort out its internal problems before hostile powers invade. I’m working on that in parallel with RPG projects – currently, my main focus is The Borellus Connection, a campaign involving drug trafficking, necromancy and Cthulhu cultists in the 1960s. It’s be out next year.
GJ: Thank you Gareth for taking time to talk to me today and I wish you every luck with The Gutter Prayer.
GH: You’re welcome Gareth.
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