Author Spotlight: Stark Holborn (TEN LOW)
Stark Holborn is the author of Nunslinger – the first ever digital serial published by Hodder & Stoughton – as well as the novella series Triggernometry and the SF-western, Ten Low. As well as writing about westerns for Pornokitsch and Screen Queens, Stark works as a games writer for clients like the BBC, Cartoon Network and Adult Swim. Stark is currently a lead writer on the SF-noir detective game Shadows of Doubt.
Welcome back to the Hive, Stark.
Thanks for having me back!
Let’s start with the basics: dazzle us with an elevator pitch! Why should readers check out your work?
Do you like Mad Max? Dune? Firefly? Halo Jones? Cowboy Bebop? Philip K. Dick? A mash-up of all those things combined with headlong chases, road gangs, bandits, augury, unfathomable aliens, all in a queernorm society in space? Then there’s a chance you might like Ten Low.
Tell us a little something about your writing process – do you have a certain method?
If I do, it’s evolved through trial and error… I usually spend a short (or long) while before I start writing doing some form of research; there’s no real rhyme or reason to what I research. It could be plants or poisons or vehicles or philosophy of economics or watching random clips on YouTube. I seem to develop a lot of ideas from words and names, so I often scout around for those. Then at some point, I’ll get a line or phrase jammed in my head – that’s when I know it’s time to start writing.
Do you find music helps?
To be honest I find ambiences and white noise more useful; music, especially anything with lyrics, tends to distract me. I think I listened to about 20 hours of “desert wind through tree” while writing Ten Low. I do tend to listen to moody jazz when I’m writing on Shadows of Doubt – the SF noir game I’m working on – though.
Give us a glimpse into your world! Speaking of worlds, what inspires your worldbuilding?
For Ten Low, a lot of the broader world-building came from the concept of what didn’t work in the world, rather than what did. I wanted to reflect a setting where the governing power was negligent and overstretched and self-serving rather than one-dimensionally evil, and explore the broken structures that might arise as a result. Factus, the setting for Ten Low, is at the edge of the governed territory, meaning the population are reliant on a system that works on paper, but in reality is broken; liable to corruption and exploitation. So for instance, water shipments from one of the water-rich planets are essential, but also dependent on fees and vulnerable to hijacking. Freight is passed from hand-to-hand over such vast distances, which presents opportunities for skimming and cargo fraud. A lot of the technology on Factus reflects the moon’s status as a forgotten, unimportant place in the minds of governing power. Tech is third or fourth hand, often decades out of date. Many of the moon’s items, from clothes to weaponry to food and medicines, are ex-military, leftover from the war. The people who live there have to be resourceful as a result; that was part of the challenge, coming up with ways in which people try to live and thrive in defiance of governmental neglect.
What (or who) are your most significant female fantasy influences?
For this book, Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Dispossessed was a definite influence. Both in setting, the idea of some of the political factions and in the relationship between planets and moons. Also Nalo Hopkinson’s Midnight Robber; the sheer visceral, vividness of her worldbuilding blew me away. When I was growing up I was a big fan of Tamora Pierce. Her focus on central, rounded female characters who were all women in different ways was something I loved at the time, and has always stuck with me.
Are there any creators whom you dream of working with someday?
So tough! Writing is such a solitary profession. But of course there are writers and artists I admire immensely. Emil Ferris is one who springs to mind. I loved her graphic novel, My Favourite Thing is Monsters – it’s a beautiful work of such heart, and I’m desperate to read the follow-up. Chloé Zhao, Kelly Reichardt and Lynne Ramsay are all directors I’d dream of working with one day.
Every writer encounters stumbling blocks, be it a difficult chapter, challenging subject matter or just starting a new project. How do you motivate yourself on days when you don’t want to write?
Usually if I don’t want to write it’s because there’s something wrong with what I’m trying to do; usually I’ve over-thought the plot and am trying to shove the characters into a situation that doesn’t make sense for them. Sometimes though, you just need to get out of your own way – and taking a day off can be good for that. But I do have a few methods to trick myself. One is to say “I’ll just do ten minutes,” and then of course, it’s an hour later. Changing environment – moving from desk to another table, or the floor, or the bath – can work too. But ultimately, I often just remember how lucky I am to be able to write at all.
We always appreciate a beautiful book cover! How involved in the process were you? Was there a particular aesthetic you hoped they’d portray?
George, my editor at Titan, asked me for cover ideas, and we bandied images back and forth for a while. A lot of my suggestions focused on colour; I was really keen on a sort of saturated, slightly grimy 1970s yellow. I referenced Hodder’s 50th anniversary edition of Dune; I thought the texture and boldness was something that would suit Ten Low’s desert setting. Cover designer Julia Lloyd did an amazing job of combining those colours and textures with an image to create a truly striking cover, reminiscent of classic SF. I love it.
One of our favourite questions here on the Fantasy Hive: which fantastical creature would you ride into battle and why?
Easy: giant sand worm. Who wouldn’t be intimidated by a giant sand worm?
Tell us about a book that’s excellent, but underappreciated or obscure.
Thursbitch, by Alan Garner. Garner is one of my all-time favourite writers, and Thursbitch is maybe one of his lesser-known works, more Red Shift than Weirdstone. It’s a challenging book, but like the best Garner it wove itself around me like a spell, and changed how I saw the world.
Can you tell us anything about any upcoming projects?
Not sure how much I can say, but there’s definitely more SF on the cards. I’m working on something that’s… totally different to anything else I’ve done. Hopefully in a good way. Other than that, there’ll be a return to the world of Triggernometry in 2022.
Do you have any upcoming virtual events our readers may be interested in?
Not upcoming, but I recorded an episode with the brilliant Breaking the Glass Slipper crew recently. You can listen to that here.
Finally, what is the one thing you hope readers take away from your writing?
I wrote the book to be the literary equivalent of something like Mad Max: Fury Road; an adventure that grabs readers by the arm and drags them along with the story – but I would love for people to remember the characters and the world of Factus vividly too, as if it was a real place.
Thank you so much for joining us today!
Ten Low is available now, check HERE for availability.