Kitchen sink epic fantasy The Bastard Wonderland was the stunning debut novel from writer Lee Harrison. As Shellie Horst wrote for SFFWorld.com, “The Bastard Wonderland has epic fantasy scale with solid industrial fantasy technologies woven in. It answers the call for the working class protagonist. It wriggled its way under the radar of man, yet continues to win readers over with its Steptoe and Son feel.” We caught up with Lee to find out more about the book, his writing process and the importance of libraries.
The Bastard Wonderland is an astonishing debut fantasy novel. Can you tell us something about where the book came from, why you wrote it, how it developed and how it ended up being published by Wrecking Ball?
Thanks, pals! The Bastarard Wonderland came from all over the shop and took a long time to evolve. It started from my lifelong ambition to write a fantasy epic like the swords and sorcery stuff I loved as a kid. I got side-tracked in my twenties, did a degree in Religious Studies almost by accident, and then had a bit of a breakthrough with some grim contemporary short stories.
I learned that humour and a sense of real life can really make your writing sing – and yet I could never quite shake the urge to write fantasy type stuff – so TBW came back, and ended up influenced by all of the aforementioned. It became a very different, more complex beast than what I thought I’d set out to do – but It’s really just about how people cope with change, in the end. I was very pleased with it – but the difference was a problem for the mainstream publishers I submitted to – almost all of them enthused about the work itself, but it was turned down on marketing grounds, being so different than the standard fantasy fare already out there. Disappointing. So when Wrecking Ball Press picked it up without any faffing or doubts, I was delighted. It is the strength of independent publishing that it has the power to champion interesting or offbeat writing without worrying about mass market appeal.
Can you explain what you mean by “kitchen sink epic fantasy”?
I realised through the process above that I enjoy fantasy, big themes, and made up monsters and all that – but I tend to see the world from Hull – from the North, from the working class perspective. The challenge and the intrigue for me, is to honour both – hence – kitchen sink epic. Most fantasy, from Tolkien to now, is written from a very entitled perspective, what with an emphasis on royalty and the old ‘chosen one’ trope – much of it is hackneyed, done to death, and doesn’t say anything to me. I think fantasy works best with its feet on the ground.
Who are you writing for?
Initially me, with the hope that some other weirdos might also enjoy it.
What experience do you want your readers to have with your work?
I want them to choke on sheer delight.
When you’re embarking on a new piece of work, whether that’s a short story or a full length novel, what approach do you take?
I usually have some sort of nucleus of an idea – perhaps just a scene or concept that intrigues me, and I start to flesh that out. Some of these fragments float around for years until they congeal with others, and the whole thing snaps together. Generally there is lots of procrastinating though – a lot of talking to myself and writing badly organised lists and notes.
Tell us a bit about your process? Are you disciplined when you sit down and start writing? Do you set a word count, work at a particular time of day, that kind of thing?
I feel like I’m working method out from scratch every time I start a new book. For the last one, Canyon of Ghosts, I had down a routine of sweeping up before I sat down to write, and lighting incense (it suited the theme and atmosphere of that story). I always prefer to write in the mornings. I tend not to apply targets because I just don’t stick to them – but recently I’ve had a go at the old minimum 1K a day rule – I found that only works when you’re drafting, and not revising – which is when the real decisions about the story and characters are made.
Do you do a lot of planning or procrastinating before you sit down and get writing?
Yes – and then more planning and procrastinating at frequent junctures during the writing. The work actually gets done in the 0.1% of the time towards the end when I get on a roll.
You studied theology/religion at University – how does this manifest itself in your writing, if at all?
It was a key part in the inspiration for TBW – I was fascinated by the idea of modernity, and that massive, calamitous shift from unshaken belief in religion to a godless, out of control modern world, and all the nuance and caveat that entailed. My degree never helped my vocational career in any direct way at all – but it set my imagination on fire. Religion contains the oldest, most profound, and most batshit stories in the world.
You’ve worked in libraries. What’s the importance of libraries and books in the 21st century?
Experience tells me that the more libraries and librarians are viewed as redundant and outdated, the more necessary they are. We live in an information age where people are losing the skill and wherewithal to process and challenge information for themselves. As for books – we need stories – they are how we understand and enjoy life – and books are the most solid structure to tell and enjoy them. Its all very well having the latest Disney/Netflix/Franchise/Star Wars algorithm-based pig-feed shoved down your neck – but a decent book is something else – it challenges you.
What are you working on now?
I’m sitting on a recently finished book about a boy and his undead nana, which I personally think is ace, but probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever written. Next, despite having fallen out with Swords and Sorcery epics some time ago, I am currently having a spin at one. But with fireballs. And swearing. And seventies style comedy scenes. And an old northern bastard. And more fireballs.
So what does the future hold for Lee Harrison?
Fireballs. Maybe some more ghostly nanas. Then hopefully, a really weird novel about giant monsters, which will probably be another unsellable labour of proud love.
“He went out to the balcony as the horizon brightened. That godforsaken silver coast again. That bloody bastard wonderland. Chase it or die. He was the son of pioneers and adventurers, and now he understood.”
In a land not too far away and a time yet to be decided, one man and his Dad embark on an epic journey of war, peace, love, religion, magnificent flying machines and mushy peas.
The Bastard Wonderland can be purchased online at https://wreckingballpress.com/product/the-bastard-wonderland/