Spotlight on Steampunk: an Interview with Nigel McDowell!


Yay! I’m super happy to have Nigel McDowell answering some questions today. It was so awesome of him to answer! Earlier this year, his debut novel, Tall Tales from Pitch End, was published with Hot Key Books. Tall Tales is a very dark, and compelling, fantasy for YAs, with a lot of Steampunk elements. You can read my old review HERE!
Nigel didn’t actually realise he’d written in a fantasy/Steampunk crossover genre- but Hot Key Books pitched it this way, and the cover’s very Steampunk with its machinery themes! *bookcoverfangirlyscream* The reason I read this book is because of how Hot Key’s employee Olivia told me about the dark fantasy and steampunk. (: Nigel really kindly agreed to answer a few questions on his book for my Steampunk event. Here they are- but first, a little bit about the author…

Hot_Key_Photo_AuthorNigel grew up in County Fermanagh, rural Northern Ireland, and as a child spent most of his time battling boredom, looking for adventure – crawling through ditches, climbing trees, devising games to play with his brother and sister, and reading. His favourite book as a child was The Witches by Roald Dahl. After graduating with a degree in English (and having no clue what to do with it!), he decided to go off on another adventure, spending almost two years living and working in Australia and New Zealand. With him he took a small notebook containing notes about a boy called “Bruno Atlas”, and a seaside town called “Pitch End”. When he returned to Ireland after his travels, one notebook had multiplied into many, and eventually his notes for Tall Tales from Pitch End filled a large cardboard box…

Nigel now lives in London. He has written articles on film and literature for a number of websites.He is always on the hunt for books about folklore and fairytale. He wishes he had more time to climb trees. Tall Tales from Pitch End is Nigel’s debut novel.

Follow Nigel on Twitter: @NMcDowellAuthor


Now for the questions!

1-firstly, can you tell us a little bit about Tall Tales?

Tall Tales from Pitch End is a dark fantasy adventure.  It is set in the seaside town of Pitch End, a place cut off from the rest of the world, surrounded by a high stone wall and a range of impassable mountains, and ruled by a group of (old but still Tall Tales From Pitch Endsuspiciously enduring) all-powerful Elders.  An odd place, about as rural and closed-minded as you could find; rife with paranoia, and where the townsfolk are spied on dawn and dusk by hundreds of clockwork cats.  It’s also a place where a person’s inherent magical power, known as “Talent”, is forbidden from use.  Our main character is a boy called Bruno Atlas, who discovers a book that belonged to his murdered father – the Tall Tales from Pitch End.  The book contains a collection of folktales which, Bruno suspects, may be the true record of what has happened in the history of Pitch End (or truer than the version being pedalled by the Elders!).  The discovery of the book starts a spark of rebellion in Bruno, and he sets of on an adventure to discover the truth about his father, to unpick the riddles and lies of the town, and to try and overthrow the Elders…

2- your debut novel is a dark, steampunk fantasy: did you always intend on writing a novel around those themes?

All writers say this, but it is true: it felt more as though Bruno’s story chose me, and I just had to go along with it and try to tell his tale as best I could!  Though I do love fantasy-adventure literature and film of this kind – His Dark Materials, the novels of Frances Hardinge, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy, and films like Labyrinth, The Dark Crystal, Return to Oz (I grew up in the eighties).  So I wanted to tell a story about an enclosed world with its own very particular history and folklore, that was filled with lots of strange ideas, and had plenty of action and adventure.

3- If you could ask Bruno three questions about anything not mentioned in the novel, what would they be?

That’s such a good question!  And very difficult to answer too…perhaps instead of ‘asking’ him three things, I could ‘tell’ him three things?  Is that alright?  So firstly, I’d tell him not to worry so much; I’d tell him too that life can be a constant and confusing course of learning when to speak out and when to be thoughtful, and finally and above all else – to trust in the power of his own imagination.

Railsea4- do you read any steampunk books?

Not many, to be honest.  (Steampunk as a genre wasn’t something I’d heard of until embarrassingly recently, so I was writing Tall Tales in complete ignorance of how it might fit into a certain genre!).  Though I do love Philip Reeve’s Mortal Engines series, which I suppose I would’ve described as steampunk, until Philip Reeve himself recently remarked on Twitter that he dislikes that  genre!  But I did read Railsea by China Mieville a few months ago, and which I think qualifies as steampunk?  It was very interesting; a fascinating concept, great story, very intelligent, and beautifully written too.

(Eek! I reviewed a Philip Reeve title for my steampunk event…. ha! :D)

5-what do you love about the genre you’ve written in?

I think at its best, fantasy can achieve many things that great stories aspire to.  A good fantasy story can be utterly transporting, as well as exciting, moving, funny, inventive.  It can also manage to say something profound about who we are as people.  When it comes to the type of stories I write, I like to draw as much as possible on Irish history, folklore and fairy-tale, of which there is a great deal – and beautiful and odd it is too!  And it’s a great genre to write in because you can do absolutely anything your imagination can conceive of.  If you can dream it, then you can commit it to the page.  But the real challenge is making those things – the world you’ve presented – feel rich and complex, deep and detailed enough to be believed in.

6-finally, if you’re already writing another book: can you give us any hints?


That is a *lot* of research and drafting for Tall Tales!

At the moment I’m coming towards the end of editing my new novel.  It is another dark fantasy adventure that I’m calling The Black North.  It is set in a land called The Divided Isle.  A military force has invaded, taken the North and laid waste.  They’ve recruited all manner of dark creatures and magic for their cause, and installed a powerful King.  The story follows a young girl from the South, Oona, and her comrade – a contrary and commanding talking jackdaw, who often transforms into a contrary and commanding old woman – as they journey across the Divide and into the ‘Black North’ to try and rescue Oona’s brother, who has been captured by the Invaders.  After a story like Tall Tales, I wanted to write a novel where the characters were taken on an adventure across a great and treacherous distance, encountering various peoples and creatures, grappling with a lot of excitement and danger along the way!  It will be published by Hot Key Books in June 2014.

Thank you so much for the blog interview, Nigel! I am SO excited for your next book- it sounds amazing! *adds to the wishlist* I hope everyone enjoyed this interview- make sure to check out Nigel’s book. You can find it on Goodreads here.


1 thought on “Spotlight on Steampunk: an Interview with Nigel McDowell!

  1. Pingback: In Memory of Nigel McDowell | A Daydreamer's Thoughts

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