David Barnett talks Gideon Smith (and the Mechanical Girl)

Good morning, all!

Please join me in extending a very warm welcome to David Barnett, who has stopped by in support of his latest release, Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl, coming next week from Tor Books. It's been described as "a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop," and early reviews for this "ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up" are exceptionally strong.

Tor Books has been kind enough to offer up 3 copies for a giveaway, so be sure to read through to the end for details on that!


Q: Thanks for taking the time to stop by today, David. For those who may be new to your writing, and who haven't yet had a chance to give you a read, please tell us a little about yourself.

A: OK... I’m a mild-mannered reporter by day and at night I dress as a badger and strike terror into the hearts of—no, that’s not right.  I’m British, from the North of England (Wigan, to be precise, though now living in West Yorkshire). I’ve worked in newspapers since before I started shaving properly. I’m married to the wonderful Claire and we have two children, Charlie and Alice. I’ve got a banjo in the spare room which I’d love to play but never find the time to learn. I’m mildly obsessed by Jack Kerouac and the Beats. I once did the Pamplona bull run. I cook a mean omelette.

Q: A man of many talents! You’ve already put an unusual spin on the urban fantasy genre with Angelglass, as well as a unique perspective on horror with Hinterland. What motivated you to move into the realm of steampunk with Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl?

A: I don’t really sit down and decide what genre a book is going to be before I start writing... that kind of emerges during the writing of it. Although I know they’re useful signifiers for readers and helpful to booksellers, I’m not a huge fan of pigeonholing books into sub-genres particularly. To me they’re just stories. But the Gideon Smith books have all the trappings of steampunk, so I’m happy if people decide that’s what they are. I sat down wanting to write a Victorian-era adventure with a fantastical gloss, and Gideon Smith is what came out.

Q: Why do you think there’s such an appeal to the steampunk genre, especially over the past few years? What is it that drives fans to not only read it or watch it, but become immersed in the styles and fashions of it?

A: I’m not 100 per cent sure what drives fashions in both reading and wider culture, but steampunk certainly seems to entering the mainstream more and more, which is pretty good timing for Gideon Smith! I think steampunk allows us to re-imagine history somewhat, and take a period of time that is only just beyond living memory and twist it to fantastical, grotesque levels. I love that steampunks throw themselves into the culture. You probably won’t find me in a top hat and monocle, though...

Q: The cover for Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a bit unusual, in that it focuses very much on the technological angle, as opposed to the almost fetishistic human element. How much input did you have into the cover design?

A: I leave the cover design to the experts. Spanish artist Nekro, who did the cover to the book and also illustrations for the two Gideon Smith short stories on Tor.com, did a brilliant job. If you look at the UK cover for the book, published by Snowbooks, it’s completely different – focusing more on the mechanical girl of the title. I love both covers and feel privileged to have them on my books.

Q: The UK cover definitely has a very Victorian feel to it. Thinking back to Hinterland for a moment, how did it feel to see that first book hit the shelves, and how did it compare to the experience of being a published journalist?

A: There’s probably nothing like seeing your first book on the shelf of a bookstore. Hinterland was published by Immanion Press, an excellent indie publisher, but with the obstacles to widespread distribution that larger publishers don’t have, so it wasn’t that widely available in stores. I’m a bit nervous about seeing Gideon on the shelves... it’s like, after so long in the writing, editing and planning stages, it’ll finally be out there, for good or ill. No turning back...

As to journalism, I’ve been working in regional newspapers in the UK for almost a quarter of a century, which makes me feel really old, though I did start at the age of 19. I still get a thrill from seeing my byline in print or online. I think when you don’t it’s time to pack it in.

Q: To stick with the journalism angle for a moment, how much has your experience there influenced your fiction writing?

A: They’re completely different disciplines, really, but I suppose my long service in newspapers has given me a certain level of speed at writing... sometimes too fast! I’d delivered book three of the Gideon series before book one was published.

Q: Good news for your readers! Sometimes, characters can take on a life of their own, pulling the story in directions you hadn't originally anticipated. Were there any twists or turns in Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl that surprised you, or really challenged your original plans?

A: I’m what you might call an organic writer rather than a planner. Of course, I always work to a framework, but I don’t like to keep it too restrictive. Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl took me in all kinds of directions that I had no idea I was heading in, and the characters constantly surprised me. Aloysius Bent, for example, the journalist Gideon meets in London, was meant to be a brief walk-on part. But he shouted (in a rather foul-mouthed manner) for more space and by book three he’s a mainstay of the cast.

Q: I know your deal with Tor was for three books in the series, and you've already mentioned book three is finished, but did you go into it already knowing what the basic arc would be for the three novels, or did you take it one book at a time?

A: I wrote the first book having no idea whether it would be published at all, so I wanted it to be a standalone story but kicking off a wider arc, which is essentially the longer story about Maria’s origins and the search for her creator. When the three-book deal came in I instantly knew the flavour and general story of the trilogy. I reckon there’s at least another three books in the wider arc, though, but it’ll depend on sales and reaction to the first three if the story is ever told...

Q: Here's hoping to at least three! In terms of reader reactions, what is the strangest or most surprising reaction to your work that you've encountered to -date?

A: The fact that people like it. I have a default setting of “everyone’s going to hate this”. I think having a stranger pick up your book read it and not only not hate it but actually bother to go online and say nice things about it is one of the most mystifying and gratifying things in the world.

Q: To turn from pen to page for a moment, is there a particular author who has influenced or inspired your writing? Somebody who either made you want to write in the first place, or who just refreshes your literary batteries?

A: I can always rely on Neil Gaiman to inspire me. I met him earlier this year to interview him for a newspaper piece and he was brilliant. I think I want to be him when I grow up. It’s also a double-edged sword, though, because I read The Ocean At The End of the Lane while I was writing Gideon book three and thought “Why bother going on with writing? I’ll never be as good as Gaiman”. So maybe I’m not going to be the next Neil Gaiman after all. Maybe I’ll be the first David Barnett instead.

Q:  It’s a tough question, especially if you’re wary of putting faces before your readers, but if Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl were being made into a movie, and you had total control over the production, who would you cast for the leading roles?

A: Tough question indeed. I think I’d want someone unknown, or perhaps relatively unknown in the Gideon Smith role. Perhaps Robert Sheehan, the young actor who appeared in the UK TV series Misfits. It would be nice to have an old trooper such as Michael Caine as Captain Lucian Trigger, and someone like Michelle Williams as Rowena Fanshawe. I wrote Aloysius Bent with the British actor Timothy Spall in mind. So if you know any of those guys, do mention it to them...

Q: Well, hopefully somebody will read this before the casting call. Before we let you go, what can we look forward to from you next? Will it be the second in your steampunk saga, or will we see another novel in the meantime?

A: Gideon book two is Gideon Smith and the Brass Dragon, which takes the action to America, and is scheduled for release in 2014, followed in 2015 by book three, which is as yet untitled but is set in the grimy underbelly of London. As I said before, I’d like to write more Gideon but I’m certainly not a one-trick pony... I have several novels at various stages of development, in a variety of SF/F genres. Let’s hope sales of Gideon are good enough to get some of these into print. Thank you for the questions, Bob, they were really interesting.

Thanks again for stopping by, David - we'll have to host you again when it comes time for the Brass Dragon.


About the Author

David Barnett is an award-winning journalist, currently multimedia content manager of the Telegraph & Argus, cultural reviewer for The Guardian and the Independent on Sunday, and he has done features for The Independent and Wired.  He is the author of Angelglass (described by The Guardian as “stunning”), Hinterland, and popCULT!


About the Book

Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl
by David Barnett
Paperback, 352 pages
Expected publication: September 10th 2013 by Tor Books

Nineteenth century London is the center of a vast British Empire. Airships ply the skies and Queen Victoria presides over three-quarters of the known world—including the East Coast of America, following the failed revolution of 1775.

London might as well be a world away from Sandsend, a tiny village on the Yorkshire coast. Gideon Smith dreams of the adventure promised him by the lurid tales of Captain Lucian Trigger, the Hero of the Empire, told in Gideon’s favorite “penny dreadful.” When Gideon’s father is lost at sea in highly mysterious circumstances Gideon is convinced that supernatural forces are at work.  Deciding only Captain Lucian Trigger himself can aid him, Gideon sets off for London. On the way he rescues the mysterious mechanical girl Maria from a tumbledown house of shadows and iniquities. Together they make for London, where Gideon finally meets Captain Trigger.

But Trigger is little more than an aging fraud, providing cover for the covert activities of his lover, Dr. John Reed, a privateer and sometime agent of the British Crown. Looking for heroes but finding only frauds and crooks, it falls to Gideon to step up to the plate and attempt to save the day...but can a humble fisherman really become the true Hero of the Empire?

David Barnett's Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl is a fantastical steampunk fable set against an alternate historical backdrop: the ultimate Victoriana/steampunk mash-up!



Tor Books was kind enough to offer up three (3) copies of Gideon Smith and the Mechanical Girl as a giveaway (US and Canada mailing addresses only). If you'd like to win a copy for yourself, please leave a comment below, or use the Rafflecopter form for additional entries.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Winners will be announced next week, alongside my review!


  1. Thanks for the give away! The book looks amazing!

  2. I so can't wait for this book. Thank you for the giveaway

  3. Sounds interesting, I like the way you do your reviews. Need to take notes.

  4. I definitely prefer the UK cover more - I just love that cameo / silhouette look. I can imagine working in journalism would definitely give you a leg up on writing.

  5. loved David's casting choices and Nekro did great job on his cover! Lovely author picture too!

  6. Count me in !!!! I really love this stuff.

  7. Thanks - not released until next week!

  8. The cover is fantastic, would love to win and read this book.

    cenya2 at Hotmail dot com


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