My world-building letter K is for K’Barth, which is only part of M T McGuire’s wondrous parallel world, it’s true, but the heroes are K’Barthan and I’m going to ignore the Grongols, Blurpons and myriad other races which are part of her brilliant K’Barthan series. Although, like the Pan of Hamgee (our hero) most of them are seriously hot – or very lovable, or both!
And then there are snurds… but I’ll let MT tell you all about those herself. K’Barth contains a serious amount of world-building, with strong mythology, culture, and history, let alone technology and politics. And being a parallel world, there is the opportunity to introduce a delightful methodology for sneaking across to a parallel Earth, which looks extremely like modern London. I particularly enjoyed the tour of the airport perimeter road, which I used to know well, and the disappearance into an exclusive London club (thanks to the meetings and social events my boss used to host in his). It makes me feel so at home! And of course the heroine is just who I’d love to be… it turns out quite romantic, too.
K’Barthan Series Blurb:
All The Pan of Hamgee wants is a quiet life.
So why did he have to fall in love with a woman living a different version of reality, upset a murderous tyrant and then run out of places to hide?
Now all he has to do is face his inner demons, rescue everything he holds dear and save the world, or die trying.
Oh yes, and he’s an abject coward.
Great. No pressure then.
Box Set due for release later this year.
You’ll find my reviews linked here:
Book 1 – Few are Chosen
Book 2 – The Wrong Stuff
Book 3 – One Man: No Plan
Book 4 – Looking For Trouble
But I am delighted to welcome the woman of mystery, M T McGuire, to the blog today. Warning: there are a few mildly naughty words scattered around when enthusiasm takes over.
Welcome, M T. Tell me, what did you set out to achieve when you invented K’Barth – and can you describe how your world fits together (briefly)?
To be absolutely honest, all I really want to do is give people an enjoyable book to read, if they get anything else out of it, that’s marvellous but enjoyment is key. That said, I am delighted if I am able to make them think. My books do have a kind of moral message, I suppose, but I don’t try to include it as I find that tends to feel forced, whereas if I just write and let the characters do the thinking, any serious points I wish to make tend to come to the fore naturally.
How K’Barth fits together… hmm, well it’s Earth but a different version, parallel but not the same. There are two land masses, K’Barth and Grongolia. Grongolia is a usually a democracy, much like our western ones today, but when the story starts it has been a police state for some years. Most resistance has been eradicated and all non Grongles have been cleansed or have fled to K’Barth. K’Barth, on the other hand is a theocracy, but a benign one, based around their only religion, Nimmism, the central rule of which is to be decent to one another. Nimmism was founded by Arnold, The Prophet, about 2,000 years before the action in the K’Barthan Series begins. I suppose I was remembering that bit in the New Testament that says ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ and wondered what it would be like if a few more of the people who profess to be religious actually tried that. K’Barth has a supreme ruler, the Architrave, who is identified through a process called the Looking. It’s a bit like selecting the lamas of Tibet, but the Architraves, while astrally related, are not the same soul reincarnated. Some are very powerful and able to change matter at the basic tiniest level where it’s all noughts or zeros, i.e. they can do magic but I call it quantum in the book.
There are many, many advanced species in K’Barth and they range from Big Merv – the orange and slightly clammy Swamp Thing – to Denarghi, the small, red, furry resistance leader who will kill you if you call him cute.
When the series starts the Grongles have invaded K’Barth and killed the traditional K’Barthan ruler – a bit like beheading H. M. The Queen, or the Dalai Lama, all very rum – but nobody much complains because they’re scared. The Grongles introduce a police state in K’Barth, banning Nimmism, burning books – the whole Nazi/Daesh/Trump approach. Some K’Barthans become blacklisted individuals, which basically means their existence is treason and they can be shot on site… it’s kind of like being a banned person in apartheid South Africa only a bit more extreme. One such is our hero, The Pan of Hamgee. K’Barth has a Resistance movement but it has been taken over by hard liners and is similarly extreme in its behaviour to the Grongle state. There is a more moderate Resistance but it’s harder to find.
So if your main aim was to give people an enjoyable book, how well do you think you achieved that?
Um… good question.
I hope I’ve achieved it well. K’Barth is incredibly vivid and real to me, which means I have an instinctive grasp of how it works. That probably makes it feel a lot more real to my readers, which is good but it also means I may also leave out information people need to know which I take for granted, bad. I had never formally tried to map it or describe it, or at least not after the age of about 13, but it is amazingly real in my head. Sometimes I feel as if I can just step into it and disappear. I am quite certain that once I get old, go nuts (all my family go nuts when they get old) and end up in a nursing home I will be talking to my characters all the time. At least now everyone will know who they are. I think some bits work better than others. I was quite pleased with the way a made up religion gives you a bucket load of swear words that aren’t actual swearing. So my characters can swear in a reasonably believable way when they say ‘Arnold’s pants’ or ‘Arnold’s toe jam’ etc instead of ‘bollocks’…. without it actually being rude. I’m experiencing that difficulty in my current w.i.p. and I suspect I’m going to have to construct another religion, now, to make the new characters able to swear credibly in their world.
“Arnold’s pants” is genius, but I know exactly what you mean, and had great difficulty with my editor who did not appreciate my inventions. Although I did talk to my brother, a semantics expert, on the evolution of language… oh, hang on, back to your books. What was your favourite aspect of your world?
Snurds, without a doubt. I am a complete petrol head. I love the gadgets in James Bond. I’d say that two films actually changed the way I see the world forever. First up, The Spy Who Loved Me which my parents took me to see when I was about 8 years old – at the Odeon Cinema in Norwich on a rainy afternoon during a Norfolk holiday – it was the first ‘grown up’ film I saw and it blew me away. And then came the Three Musketeers… woah swords… and hats! And then StarWars. I wanted Real Life to be like the Cantina with sword fights and I wanted the Lotus submarine.
I fantasise that my own car can fly. I spent my entire inheritance on a Lotus instead of something sensible and even now I can tell you that a K’Barthan reprise of some kind is absolutely guaranteed because I really and I mean REALLY want to write more snurd chases. I loved writing those bits, especially the one with the tipping in it in Book two. I was a bit gutted that the snurd action tailed off after that but I couldn’t find a way to work any more in. Believe me, I tried and I would have done if I could! [SFX of Jemima sighing]
I also enjoyed having this weird and wonderful reality accessible from our rather boring one. I do like to pimp reality in my books but I liked that people in Ruth’s reality have a get out, a more interesting place to go.
What didn’t work, or not in the way you expected it to?
Mwah hahahargh! Pretty much everything turned out differently from the way I expected. I write by the seat of my pants. I knew what was going to happen in the last scene in book 4 – a variant of that was one of the first scenes I wrote – and I knew how it started but what happened during the rest of it? No clue. Big surprises were all in the characters’ behaviour and development which didn’t really seem to involve much input from me.
Lord Vernon threw me totally, what an evil bastard he was, he was meant to be a bit crap and have an evil dude pressuring him from Grongolia. It turned out the other way round. Two torture scenes, that was a shock I never, ever expected to write anything like that. Especially not in a series which is, essentially, funny. So, then I was surprised that with all that in, it is still funny. Big Merv, I didn’t see that coming until he and The Pan started talking to one another in a cell. Another thing I didn’t expect, the love affairs. That totally floored me. I have noticed that people love or loathe romance. If they love romance, the majority of books seem to be the ripped abs style covers with lots of nookie and romance is, if you’ll excuse the pun, the main thrust of the book. I did wonder about writing romance but I have to confess that my one attempt at a sex scene was about the funniest bit of writing I’ve ever done – but in so not a good way! So I decided to sidestep any hint of romance in the K’Barthan series, keep it simple and what happens? Two of my characters fall in love with each other, and then, two more, and then another pair at which point I started to wonder if there was something in the water in K’Barth.
What didn’t work? It sounds cocky but it does all work for me, although yes, there was a LOT of graft involved in making that happen. There may be folks who think it still doesn’t work but all I can do is write what I like and hope someone else likes it too.
Of the elements I mentioned above (physical, social, technological, political, cultural) which do you think is most important?
That’s tricky and I think it varies. I think you need to start off with the pieces that are clearest and most vivid to you as the writer because those are the bits you will be able to paint with conviction. But you also need to leave gaps so your readers can imagine bits in, own it and make it their version of the world as well as yours. The hard part is getting it so they have room to imagine but still see it closely enough to the way you do for the story to make sense. Unlike that sentence, blimey! I think it also helps to tie it into your characters’ emotions. I think sometimes, taking a concept we are familiar with also helps, for example a police state that ‘disappears’ people is hardly a new idea, but if you call it ‘mislaying’ people, it suddenly has a unique K’Barthan flavour. Er hem… I hope.
What key messages would you give to budding world-builders?
These are the things that have worked for me… we’re all different so it’s not set in stone but bear in mind that my stories are character driven and tend to take place in parallel or different worlds because I’m too lazy to do any proper research!
Try not to force it or it will feel phony to the reader – and you!
Concentrate on the story. Set the basic ground rules and then let the characters do stuff. As you watch them going about their day to day business, the world in which they live will start to appear. If you start with the world and try to jemmy the characters in you can end up with characters who are pissed off, uncooperative and generally a lot more interested in living somewhere else, or a book that is more of a tour guide than a story – not a problem if you’re aiming for that but … Remember, you may be their god and creator but your characters are the folks on the ground and they’ll know what it’s like down there a lot better than you do. Give them room and listen to them. Blimey this sounds nuts but I promise I am of sound mind – mostly – and … well … you know, I hope you get the idea.
Less is more; although by all means describe stuff in huge detail when you’re writing the first draft if it helps. Just be aware that it will slow things down. Unless you can incorporate it into some action or make it an incidental part of a conversation about something else, you’ll probably have to take it out.
Be prepared to rip it up and start again. I reckon I probably bin at least a third of the words I write. For example, K’Barthan 3 and 4 stand at about 250,000 words all told and I wrote at least 70,000 that I had to bin. When you bear in mind that my most recent book was only 85,000 words long it does put that into perspective. Then again, I only binned about 30,000 words of that one.
Find your own way. Any wannabe world builders reading this remember that, ultimately, the only person who can build your world with any coherence and realism is you, so what I’ve put here are the things that help me. You may be totally different in your approach; the biggest challenge in all of this is finding your own personal method that works. I confess that bit took me about 13 years – I’m a bit slow on the uptake, me – but most folks are quicker than I am.
So there we go, thank you very much for bearing with me while I wittered on and a big thank you to Jemima Pett for inviting me! If you’re building your own world, I hope I have been of help.
The thanks are all mine, MT!
Newest Release – 17th December, 2015
If you asked Andi Turbot whether she had anything in common with Flash Gordon she’d say no, emphatically. Saving the world is for dynamic, go-ahead, leaders of men and while it would be nice to see a woman getting involved for a change, she believes she could be the least well-equipped being in her galaxy for the job.
Then her best friend, Eric, reveals that he is an extraterrestrial. He’s not just any ET either. He’s Gamalian: seven-foot, lobster-shaped and covered in Marmite-scented goo. Just when Andi’s getting used to that he tells her about the Apocalypse and really ruins her day.
The human race will perish unless Eric’s Gamalian superiors step in. Abducted and trapped on an alien ship, Andi must convince the Gamalians her world is worth saving. Or escape from their clutches and save it herself.
Jemima: Marmite-scented goo! I’m going to love this!