The Bastard Wonderland is a genre defying sort-of fantasy, as various earlier posts and rants have declared.
Ever since I was a kid, I always wanted to write a fantasy epic. My own epic. There was appeal in the way that classic fantasy stories laid out the elements of story in stark, primary colours. All stories have a journey, adversity, an enemy, the finding of inner strength or help from elsewhere, an ultimate goal; and fantasy is appealing because it lays out these elements in simple Duplo Brick terms that can’t help but appeal. There is a clear divide between good and evil; There is a quest, a purpose an end goal; there is right and wrong and the potential for happiness and truth.
That’s it, then, sorted: it’s all a bit of gratuitous simplification to enable a bit of good old fashioned escapism.
Well, maybe. It’s true, I wanted to escape. My biography isn’t scintillating. I haven’t really travelled much. I wasn’t raised in an outlandish geopolitical setting. I’ve not served in the military, or been a social worker. I’m just a bloke from Hull. I was born here, I’ve lived in Hull almost all my life. So when it came to my early inspiration, I always thought that it was about escape: I felt better just making fantasy shit up in rejection of the domestic grime around me. The dead 80s: miserable, never-ending soap operas that seemed to domineer adult consciousness back when I wasn’t old enough to decide to turn the telly off. 80s Tabloid newspapers, 80s adultery, 80s dole queues and grime. So fantasy let me escape for a bit into a finer world.
And this I did. Escaped from reality for a bit. Leading into the 90s, when school ran out, me and a bunch of close knit mates dropped out of half-hearted attempts at further education (I was a failed artist). We disappeared for a year into a seedy underworld of sword and sorcery novels and Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. I was literally terrified of the prospect of work. I come from a grafting family, and whilst the fishing trade is gone, the work ethic reverberates: you work. You suffer work, and that’s that. And at my tender teen age, I couldn’t cope with this steely fact, and imagined that somehow work would actually steal my soul and numb my senses. (Years on, I’m not so sure it doesn’t, but I’m old and wise enough now to remember just this: You work). So, for about a year we dropped out of the system altogether, feasting on crisps and chocolate bars long into the night, roaming the streets, walking along the Humber, in a kind of feverish, mutual daydream, utterly rejecting the world we were supposed to be getting on with. It was all at once bleak, but kind of cool. Character forming, I think. And it was around this time that the seed of Mr. Warboys and his world started to sprout.
Necessity – and a cuff about the head from my Mam – got me working in the end. My Dad got me a job on a Factory line that packaged toiletries. I spent long days filling toothpaste tubes, whilst scary women from east Hull showed me their tattoos and stretch marks. Six weeks of that was enough to terrify me back into education. I did A Levels next, and was hooked when a lesson about ancient origins of Hinduism brought me in mind of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. With mediocre A-levels and still no plan, I went to study Religion at Lancaster University. It has never earned me a career, or even a job, but ended up being really important. Having studied the oldest source of culture and human imagination throughout preceding human history through to modernity is a mind blowing resource for a writer. And let’s just say that, regardless of one’s own beliefs, there’s a lot of what you might call fantastical material there. The symbols and constructs from religion that hold steady and support and inform our understanding of stories. And, my friends, we need stories.
I’ve grown up a bit, now – and I’m not sure I could stomach all that Dungeons and Dragons, Forgotten Realms stuff we used to devour. But I just can’t resist a monster, a foreign setting, a dark power, etc. This is because, I suppose, the symbols of monsters and baddies and all that lark still have appeal, because they are elements of story. And fantasy, like religion, basically STORY. It’s allegory and metaphor, and something inbetween. It’s not just elves and dragons.
Anyway, thoughts of Warboys and his adventures persisted through Uni, and back to Hull, through further unemployed grime and more bleak jobs. And cor blimey, now I’ve only gone and written me that fantasy epic I promised myself…
It’s funny to think that I set out on a fantasy journey to escape the drudgery of 80s urban and domestic life, only to realise over time that this was exactly what informed my fantasy writing. Warboys and his world owes a lot to Hull. Not the grimy 80s, but the history that made it. The bombed out 40s, the lost trawlermen and their hard-working families, the grim work ethic from a dangerous, but grounding life, that had been passed on to my parent’s generation, the sense of a loss of something I never knew. The aimlessness that set me adrift in the 90s, bouncing from factories to fanatic refuge in Dungeons & Dragons, a kneejerk stint in further education, fuelled by a fear that pointless work and nothingness that would steal my soul: all of this is integral to Warboys and his world. And it was all there, all along in the 80s, in the textured wallpaper and the dole office, and in Dirty Den’s smarmy, adulterous smirk.
The Bastard Wonderland is a fantasy epic – but it is also a down to earth family drama, a kitchen sink story of father, son, family and duty in trying times. So Ironically, I came around to writing – perhaps re-fitting I suppose you might say – the thing that I sought to escape in the first place.