So Elite: Wanted by Gavin Deas is out on the 15th of May. Gavin Deas is the cunning pseudonym of fantasy author Stephen Deas (The Adamantine Palace, The Black Mausoleum, Dragon Queen et. al.) and science fiction author Gavin Smith (Veteran, War In Heaven, Age of Scorpio and Crysis: Escalation). To better understand the process behind writing a collaborative novel Stephen and Gavin decided to interview each other. The results were not terribly helpful:
Stephen: So, Gavin, what interested you in working on Elite: Wanted? Was it really just because you wanted to write about space pirates?
Well I was quite excited about the prospect of paid work. Joking aside, I saw an article in the Guardian about the unique way the rights for the tie-in-novels were secured and I had a chat with my agent about getting involved as I remembered the game quite fondly from when I was a kid years and years and years ago.
My turn. So, Steve, how lucky did you feel when you discovered you would be work with writing superstar-in-waiting Gavin G. Smith?
Stephen: Ecstatic. Dancing across the floor and handstands against the walls. It was a fantastic and unmissable opportunity to share half of the advance with someone else. Can you explain how come we ended up working on a collaborative project?
Gavin: Stephen and I have the same agent and I believe he was offering a two for one deal that week. Either that or it was extraordinarily good luck on your part.
Steve, can you explain the challenges you found in co-writing a novel?
Stephen: There weren’t any. I was all like, “Gav, we have to do this book,” and you were all like, “yeah,” and I was like “Yeah, and so we need some characters and plot and stuff,” and you were like “yeah,” and then I didn’t do anything for ages and lo and behold there was a book. You did look a bit stressed though.
Gavin: Uh huh. And what was the most difficult parts of the otherwise very rewarding experience of working with writing superstar-in-waiting Gavin G. Smith?
Stephen: Definitely the part where I decided to switch into writing Transformers IV, Optimus Prime Smashes Up London. We had some problems with that bit. No bitterness though. Definitely no bitterness, and anyway that wasn’t in the Elite project but in the other one and it didn’t have anything to do with me getting really cranky about lasers at about that time. Actually the hardest part was probably trying to actually get on with the writing when we were supposed to be working together instead of laughing so much that I couldn’t type straight. Kids, we’ve known each other a while, long enough that I’ve learned it’s easy enough to keep Gav in line with the judicious projectile use of an urban fantasy novel. Gav, did you play the original Elite? How far did you get?
Gavin: It’s quite some time ago so it’s difficult to remember. All of which is an excuse for me not to admit that I wasn’t very good at the game. All my friends had fully tricked out Cobras with military lasers, and more importantly docking computers. I had a beam laser and a hold full of spam. I remember being extensively picked on by Thargoids (who I assumed were somehow connected to the editor of 2000AD). I also remember spending a lot of time bouncing off the side of space stations that just wouldn’t stay still.
Stephen: So not Elite, then. How, exactly, did you feel qualified to work on this project?
Gavin: SPACE PIRATES!
I’m not sure I’d use the word ‘qualified’, but what appealed to me is the refreshingly straightforward, classic, space opera nature of the universe. It’s a broad, living universe that provides a lot of scope for telling stories. (And whilst we’re talking about qualifications one of us is actually a science fiction writer and doesn’t just write about giant winged lizards, that’s all I’m saying).
So how did you feel about working with the material of a game that you played as a kid?
Stephen: Oh smug beyond belief. SEE, MUM, ALL THOSE HOURS LEARNING TO SHOOT VECTOR GRAPHICS WITH OTHER VECTOR GRAPHICS PAID OFF!
Gavin: Was writing Elite: Wanted more or less difficult than docking?
Stephen: Docking. It took me 3137892845 attempts to successfully dock a Cobra, which is more words than there are in Elite: Wanted, and I’m quite certain that not one single one of those words was as frustrating as crashing. Again. Speaking of which, I have a question from Twitter: Do you write of the arse-clenching terror/difficulty of space-station docking? You can answer that one.
Gavin: Funnily enough I don’t think we make much of a thing of docking, though I think there’s reference to someone drunkenly flying a Cobra into the side of a station. Don’t play Elite: Dangerous drunk kids, it’s hard on the ships.
Stephen: Gideon probably covers it in his book anyway, given the title: Docking is Difficult.
Gavin: We should probably stop talking about docking. This was more than a collaboration between two writers, though. This is your first game tie-in – what were the challenges of working in someone else’s fictional universe?
Stephen: Apart from working with writing superstar in waiting Gavin G. Smith? In any shared world it’s the limits and boundaries and what works and what doesn’t when those have been set by someone else and they annoy me because they don’t make sense to me. That wasn’t much of a problem with Elite, since the universe is huge and allows a vast scope for different cultures and technologies. I found there were very few constraints on where we could go. In the end I think we wrote what we did because we wanted to write a story that really felt like the experience of Elite we remembered, rather than because we had to. We bickered about lasers being visible in space I suppose mostly because bickering is fun. Well, I think bickering is fun. And shields. I don’t think I ever quite worked out how shields work. Speaking of which, what was it like working as part of a writing team with someone who actually takes physics seriously?
Gavin: I’m not sure that I understand the question. When you use the word physics what do you mean? It was actually really useful. It meant that you could do all the boring, difficult stuff whilst I concentrated on all the wooshes! Bangs! Rata-tat-tats! Etc. You, know the interesting stuff.
Stephen: Yeah . . . Gav, could you justify to the world how come lasers are visible in space?
Gavin: Well, first of all lasers are red when you see them, except for the green and blue ones, and secondly you can see the lasers in the game, and it seemed odd that they would suddenly disappear in the book. Steve, given that lasers are red when you see them what colour are lasers (you’re not allowed to cheat and use sciency words in the answer)?
Stephen: ****offquoise. Moving swiftly on, what’s your favourite scene that you wish you wrote but didn’t?
Gavin: This is difficult to answer without giving away spoilers. There is however a scene involving Ziva’s lover’s kid and a rather unpleasant individual in the second half of the book. I like it because it’s kind of unrelenting and delivers on what it sets out to do very well, whilst raising the stakes for the protagonist on a number of different levels. It’s an excellent bit of writing. (I’d like to point out to the audience that Steve only put this question in so I’d stroke his ego).
So what was your favourite character to write/what was your favourite character invented by your co-author?
Stephen: My protagonist was fun, but her aside, the answer to both is The Veil (this makes no sense until (s)he shows up in the book). I know you created The Veil, but after I read the early drafts I had to borrow him (her?)
Gavin: What is your favourite spaceship?
Stephen: The Millennium Falcon. Because reasons. Hey, you didn’t say it had to be an Elite one. Maybe the Sidewinder. They’re like the lemmings of space. Serious question now, Gav: a lot of the action in Elite: Wanted revolves around a pirate ship with five crew, yet not one of them is a white dude. That’s not very inclusive. What gives?
Gavin: I’m a bigoted monster. My protagonist is a single mother as well. They are the Daily Mail’s worst nightmare! I didn’t really think about it, they were just the characters that seemed to fit with the story.
I believe you are going to be playing Ziva Eschel as your captain in the game itself, do you think she will be as hardcore in the game as she is in the book?
Stephen: She might be, if I let my kids play her. If I play her myself then mostly she’ll be crashing into things. Which could be hardcore – is ramming an effective tactic in the game?
Gavin: We’re running out of beer here so we have to wind this down. Will you ever work with writing superstar in waiting Gavin G. Smith ever again?
Stephen: Does it pay? If it pays I’ll work with pretty much anyone. What about you? Now that you’ve been through the excruciating pain of one, would you work on a collaboration again?
Gavin: Carry you in another book? Sure.
Stephen: Go on, tell everyone about our shared world project called Empires, which is an alien invasion story about two separate alien races fighting over the Earth where each of us has written a book with separate distinct storylines that deal with same events from different perspectives.
Gavin: I think you just did that.
Stephen: Badass aliens! Snarky spaceships! Sweary SAS men! They fight!
Gavin: Hopefully no one will buy it and thus save us both the living hell of writing the sequels.
Gavin Smith’s A Quantum Mythology is released on the 8th of October and Empires: Infiltration, written as Gavin Deas (a shared world novel written in conjunction with Stephen Deas) is out on the 13th of November.