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Tuesday November 27, 2012
By TERENCE TOH email@example.com
An 18-year-old author’s debut novel is making waves
with its unique combination of mystery, fantasy
and steampunk adventure.
WHAT would you do if you had the services of a powerful faery at your command, capable of catering to your every whim? Some men would ask for power, some for glory, love, or riches. Swiss author Stefan Bachmann, however, is content with having it help him get organised.
“If it wasn’t frightening like the one in my book, I would ask it to keep track of things for me,” Bachmann quipped in an e-mail interview. “I’m constantly losing pens and glasses and tickets.”
While the young author may not actually own a real faery (or so we think), writing about them has certainly brought him acclaim. Bachmann is the author of The Peculiar, a fantasy novel described as part murder mystery, part gothic fantasy and part steampunk adventure.
His novel is making waves in the American publishing scene, receiving rave reviews from both The New York Times and Los Angeles Times. Named one of the big children’s books of BookExpo America 2012, the novel has received praise from luminaries such as Christopher Paolini (author of Eragon) and Rick Riordan (Percy Jackson And The Olympians).
What is even more impressive, however, is that Bachmann starting writing the novel two years ago, when he was16, an age when many people have problems fully reading a novel, let alone writing one!
“I read crazy amounts of books growing up, and I think there just came a point when I wanted things to go differently than the way the authors were writing them,” Bachmann said.
“Some big influences were Beatrix Potter, Frances Hodgson Burnett, JRR Tolkien, and Susanna Clarke. I love prose and stories that are a little bit old-fashioned and a little bit magical, even if they have no fantasy at all in them. If they do have magic, it just makes them that much cooler.”
The Peculiar takes place in an alternate Victorian London, where faeries have become second-class citizens after losing a war to humanity. Its setting is dark and mesmerising, with wolves pulling taxicabs, church bells chiming every five minutes (it keeps the faeries at bay!) and messages being sent by clockwork birds.
The novel tells the story of two changelings, or Peculiars (the offspring of faeries and humans): young Bartholomew Kettle, and his sister, Hettie, who has twigs growing on her head instead of hair. Shunned by the rest of society, the lives of the two siblings are thrown into turmoil with the arrival of a mysterious lady at the alley they live in.
The two soon end up in a sinister turn of events involving kidnappings and dark rituals as they catch the attention of some very powerful faeries, such as the murderous Jack Box, and the devious politician Mr Lickspittle. Traversing exotic locales such as a goblin market and a steam-powered airship, the only hope for the two comes in the form of the well-meaning but bumbling Arthur Jelliby, a young politician desperate to do the right thing.
Bachmann was born in Colorado in the United States, and later moved to Zurich, where he now lives with his family. He is currently attending the Zurich Conservatory, and dreams of becoming a film composer. The talented 18-year old even composed a few pieces of music for his novel, which he dubbed Peculiar Pieces.
“I wanted to write a few short pieces that encapsulated the mood of three or four scenes from the book: Jelliby chasing a clockwork bird, a sad little waltz for two characters I won’t name, and a scene where the faeries come out of a great doorway.
“Obviously, and unfortunately, it’s all played by an electronic orchestra, but it was a lot of fun to write, and I’m glad my publisher let me,” said Bachmann, who is a fan of the soundtracks for the films The Village and Atonement.
Bachmann said it had taken him six to seven months to write the first draft of The Peculiar, which was then followed by a long process of polishing it up.
The inspiration for the book, he said, came from a Disney movie.
“How sophisticated, I know,” Bachmann joked. “It’s called The Great Mouse Detective and it’s about mice and rats in a gloomy 19th century England, with clockwork and creepy toys.”
Much of his storytelling style had come from fairy tales, he added, naming George MacDonald, Charles Perrault, and the Brothers Grimm as influences.
“European fairy tales tend to be very vague about the magical elements and specific characteristics of their goblins and trolls,” Bachmann said. “So I had a lot of room to come up with my own details. Most of my research ended up being on Victorian customs and English maps from the 1850s.”
The Peculiar also features elements of “steampunk”, a science fiction subgenre typically featuring steam-powered machinery, anachronistic technologies or retro-futuristic inventions.
“I like how steampunk looks, and I wanted to incorporate it and contrast it with the wild and naturalistic faeries,” he said. “I’m very intrigued by the concept of machine versus magic. I love that.”
Bachmann said the second and concluding book in the Peculiar duology would be called The Whatnot, due out next year.
He added that he would then stop writing about faeries and steampunk, as he wanted to try his hand at other things.
He did, however, leave us with this tantalising glimpse into the second book:
“Unlike the first book, a large part of the second one takes place in the faery world, and we get to see quite a bit of it. I loved writing that. It’s a very sinister place, where literally anything can happen and there are no laws that can’t be broken.
“In The Whatnot, there’s much wandering under lonely black trees, an expedition on a boat, a prolonged visit to the castle of a faery aristocrat, and the riding of some strange sorts of horses. None of it is quite as pleasant as it sounds.”
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