Please welcome H. G. Parry to The Qwillery as part of the 2019 Debut Author Challenge Interviews. The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep was published on July 23, 2019 by Redhook.
TQ: Welcome to The Qwillery. What is the first fiction piece that you remember writing?
H.G.: It's a cliche, but I honestly don't remember not writing. I wrote stories all the way through primary school. My first "proper novel" I wrote in Intermediate, when I was twelve: it was about a group of explorers who find the lost city of Atlantis and rescue it from the grip of an immortal despot. It was really a short story, but it did have a talking robot cat, Magic that turned out to be Science, and a healthy paranoia about government, so I call it a win.
TQ: Are you a plotter, a pantser or a hybrid?
H.G.: Hybrid, though I do outline a lot. I start with just writing down fragments, which are nearly always conversations between characters. Then I read back what the characters are saying, and work out the plot from there - it's often a matter of deciding what they want, what they'll do to get it, and what will hurt them the most! I won't usually get the whole plot from that, but I'll get enough to work with, and then when I get stuck I'll go back to what I've written, read over it again, and do a bit more outlining. It's all wildly out of order, of course, just to make things more fun.
TQ: What is the most challenging thing for you about writing?
H.G.: On a technical level, it's the opening sentences of books, chapters, and even paragraphs. I always end up plunging right into the middle, leaving some kind of note like "amazing opening goes here!!" Which of course means the last stage of every draft I've ever written is me scrolling through the book writing about fifty "amazing openings" in succession, which takes time, sighs, and multiple slices of cake.
On another level, it's the fact that whatever I try to write always feels just a little bit beyond my skill level at the time. And I don't think there's anything to be done about that except embrace it and keep growing.
TQ: What has influenced / influences your writing?
H.G.: Honestly, just books of every kind, from Keats to Dickens to children's literature to 1960s Dr Strange comics. My academic background is in English Literature, and I love using writing as a way to explore existing stories and history.
TQ: Describe The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep using only 5 words.
H.G.: Reading books saves the world.
TQ: Tell us something about The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep that is not found in the book description.
H.G.: It's set in Wellington, New Zealand, where I live. I wanted to map the action very specifically on to real places I knew intimately, so that the effect of fictional characters intruding upon reality could be very distinct (if only to me!). I'm also really interested in the way Victorian literature in particular fits into colonised spaces like New Zealand - there's something about the image of Dickens in central Wellington that's more jarring than Dickens in modern London.
TQ: What inspired you to write The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep? What appeals to you about writing Contemporary Fantasy?
H.G.: I wanted to write a book that was a love letter to reading - all kinds of reading, but particularly literary criticism. I'm fascinated with the idea of reading as an act of interpretation - everyone who reads a book has their own version of that book. So I wrote a magic system where readers don't just read characters out of books, but their own versions of characters. The sibling rivalry aspect connected to that, because I wanted to link the way we read books and the way we read people. Just as we interpret books, we're constantly interpreting the people around us, and sometimes we see them the way we need to rather than the way they need to be seen.
As for contemporary fantasy - I love all kinds of fantasy, but there's something very attractive about the idea that magic is lurking just around the corner.
TQ: Why did you choose Uriah Heep as your title character?
H.G.: He actually wasn't the title character until very late in the day, after the book had already sold! But he was in the first chapter from the beginning. Once I'd decided that the book was going to centre largely around Dickens, Uriah Heep was the obvious antagonist - David Copperfield is based heavily on Dickens, so in Uriah Heep you have the nemesis of Dickens himself. He's also just a lot of fun - delightfully repulsive, yet intelligent and complex, and always understanding the parts of the main characters they least want people to see...
TQ: What sort of research did you do for The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep?
H.G.: I cheated with this, because I deliberately wrote a book about everything I love and so I knew a lot already. I did go deeper into scholarship about Dickens, and specifically David Copperfield and Uriah Heep, than I've ever gone before, which was a pleasure. I watched a lot of classic novel adaptations to get a sense of different ways the characters can be interpreted, since the premise of the book is that each character is read and interpreted differently by different readers - but honestly I do that anyway. I was also lucky enough to revisit the Charles Dickens Museum in London while I was revising, which worked its way into the texture of the Street. It's an incredible place - like a time capsule in the middle of London.
TQ: Please tell us about the cover for The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.
H.G.: I love the cover! Lisa Marie Pompilio designed it, and it's bookish and atmospheric and Victorian yet still quirky. It went through a few different versions, and all were amazing, but this one captures the book perfectly. My favourite detail about it is that if you read the text on the page, it's from David Copperfield, and specifically the chapter toward the end of the book where David finds Uriah Heep in prison - as though Uriah Heep has escaped directly from book-prison out into the world. It's so subtle and clever.
TQ: In The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep who was the easiest character to write and why? The hardest and why?
H.G.: Dorian Gray was the easiest, probably, just because he's so much fun. I loved writing Millie too - I grew up reading Enid Blyton's various adventure series, and I loved playing with the trope of the girl detective (and that exaggerated old-fashioned British vernacular!). Nobody was really difficult, but Rob and Charley were complicated for different reasons: Charley because he's seen mostly through other people's eyes, so it was difficult to sift through that and see who he really is inside his own head; Rob because he's so reluctant to get involved with anything outside the norm that he risked missing out on most of the plot!
TQ: Which question about The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep do you wish someone would ask? Ask it and answer it!
H.G.: That’s a difficult one! Um… Who would you bring out of a book, and why? And the correct answer is Paddington Bear from Michael Bond’s books, because he would be delightful company and eat the marmalade I’ve had in my fridge for years and only get into sweet, well-meaning trouble. But in reality I’d probably accidentally read out Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle or Dracula or Keats or something and chaos would ensue.
TQ: Give us one or two of your favorite non-spoilery quotes from The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep.
H.G.: I think I'm the only one who laughs at my over-the-top descriptions of Dorian Gray, but I still laugh at: "His skin was polished ivory. His cheekbones were sharp enough to pose a flight risk. His eyes defied all metaphor. People who looked into them without fair warning tended only to report, incoherently, that they were blue."
Also, on one of the five Mr Darcys: "The poor thing was the victim of one of many readers convinced Darcy's haughtiness was the product of extreme shyness, and lived much of his life holed up in the study gripped with paranoia that the others were going to organise a dance."
TQ: What's next?
H.G.: My next book, A DECLARATION OF THE RIGHTS OF MAGICIANS, is coming out next year. It's an alternate history that tells the interconnected story of the French Revolution, the Haitian revolution, and the abolition of the British slave trade, but in a world where magic is strictly confined to the aristocracy. I’m editing that and drafting the sequel now – they’re bigger, darker, more research-heavy books than URIAH HEEP, and I’m both intimidated by them and love them very deeply.
TQ: Thank you for joining us at The Qwillery.
H.G.: Thank you so much for having me!
The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep
Redhook, July 23, 2019
Hardcover and eBook, 464 pages
The ultimate book-lover’s fantasy, featuring a young scholar with the power to bring literary characters into the world, for fans of The Magicians,Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, and The Invisible Library.
For his entire life, Charley Sutherland has concealed a magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world. His older brother, Rob — a young lawyer with a normal house, a normal fiancee, and an utterly normal life — hopes that this strange family secret will disappear with disuse, and he will be discharged from his life’s duty of protecting Charley and the real world from each other. But then, literary characters start causing trouble in their city, making threats about destroying the world… and for once, it isn’t Charley’s doing.
There’s someone else who shares his powers. It’s up to Charley and a reluctant Rob to stop them, before these characters tear apart the fabric of reality.
H.G. Parry lives in a book-infested flat in Wellington, New Zealand, which she shares with her sister and two overactive rabbits. She holds a PhD in English Literature from Victoria University of Wellington, and teaches English, Film, and Media Studies. Her short fiction has appeared in Intergalactic Medicine Show, Daily Science Fiction, and small press anthologies. The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep is her debut novel.