Many moons ago, in the heady days of the 1990s, I finally broke into paid genre fiction publication with a short story called ‘…in distress’. Aurealis took it on, and paid me enough to get a decent meal for two at a pub that does good steak and has two billiard tables.
I’m not taking the piss. I still appreciate it.
It was a fantasy/humour piece, with a cerebral fish-out-of-water knight (who had been knighted for his service to cartography, not any sort of martial prowess) who rescues a chronically agoraphobic dragon from a princess.
It was from that story that Casablantasy was born, in the sense that it was the first muddled date between the muses who would, one day, down the track, when they loved-each-other-very-much, copulate soundlessly and gestate Missing, Presumed Undead.
But first, there was another short story. Somebody asked me if it would be possible to do the fantasy/humour short story thing in the form of a murder mystery. I don’t remember who it was. If I ever become famous, or even cultic, I’ll lie and say it was somebody else who is famous or cultic, making this part of the story much more interesting. But I’m not, so I’ll stick with the truth.
(If it was YOU, could you let me know?)
Certainly I was familiar with—and a lover of—Pratchett’s Discworld City Watch novels, so I needed something else to set my fantasy/humour apart. And, at the time, I was going through one of my typical reading-phases, the kind where you soak up an author or a related group of authors. It happened to be Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett; I re-watched the movies, and watched Casablanca for the first time (I am ashamed to admit) and then a second time; and then my Dad mentioned Mickey Spillane … and it was on.
I saw the potential for a fantasy world that would be full of the atmosphere and trappings of the 30s detective cities, with technology replaced with magology—magic turned into the booming driving force of a burgeoning quasi-western dehumanising and socially-contemptuous laissez–faire economy, mixed with the kind of repressed horrific zeal of Nazi occupied Paris. Think of Ayn Rand and Joseph Goebbels building a city together with all the powers of Gandalf and Merlin combined. A dystopia in which to place my protagonist to, well, protagonate against…
The short story was called ‘Grievous Bodily Litter’. It did okay. But I knew I could do something bigger. The world-building aspect of the short story was kinda demanding it. I wrote Missing, Presumed Undead on and off over the next six or seven years, taking longer than my honours degree (which co-incided with four of them). At times frustrating, at other times exhilarating, almost always terrifying … not in a Saw kind of way, but more subtly terrifying, to be trying to write such a thing—more like Hitchcock casting his shadow on the page. I’d never really written mystery before, at length, though I had read it widely. I couldn’t understand how anyone would not known whodunit, because I knew so well; and then I worried about making whodunit too obscure as to be ridiculous and nonsensical.
But people around me said it worked. I trusted them. Here it is.
Holding the artefact of your book in your hands, and feeling its gentle weight, is one of those cliché experiences. I’m glad I was on Swanson Street at the time, with some rap dancers nearby trying to get the passers-by to clap and shout and part with some coins, the trams being trams, the chalk artist doing flower-beds in the pavement and an old guy with a mineral water he hasn’t touched since he got it half an hour ago. It softened the cliché. Or hardened it. I’m not sure which.
I was in a city that wasn’t quite the City. And I had my book in my hands.
Jeremy Davies will be having a book launch for ‘Missing, Presumed Undead’ at Notions Unlimited, Shop 9, 426 Nepean Highway, Chelsea in Victoria on Saturday 15 March from 5pm. Come along, and grab this great book, and whilst you are there get it signed by Jeremy.