Narrative Transport. The official Michael Pryor website.

Initially when writing The Laws of Magic I had the firm idea of writing a fantasy set in a time other than what has become the standard fantasy setting – the quasi-mediaeval Northern European scenario that abounds. I looked around, toying with an ancient Roman fantasy setting, a Sumerian fantasy setting before settling on using the Edwardian period.

Why the Edwardian period? A number of reasons. I think it’s an intensely interesting time, and somewhat overlooked, sandwiched as it is between the Victorian era and the Great War. The Victorian period has much attention, and the First World War naturally is well scrutinised, but the Edwardian period? I’ve always thought of it as the real beginning of the modern world. Part of that is timing – it does begin with start of the twentieth century – but mostly it’s because so many movements, developments and trends start to gain momentum at this time. Many changes to social order, the role of women and politics start here. Great movements that would affect the world for decades get a foothold in the Edwardian period. Science makes great leaps forward in physics, chemistry and medicine. Technological developments such as mass production and large-scale electrical distribution start at this time.

It was also a time when Victorianism was fading. The worst of the stultifying 1800s was being left behind; a new, modern world beckoned.

Besides, I’ve been  a Steampunk fan since the middle 1980s, when Tim Powers and KW Jeter really kicked off the genre. It appeals to me in its stylishness, sense of adventure and sheer sense of fun.

Around this time, while I was researching the period, a first line fell into my lap. This doesn’t often happen. Usually, I have to work hard on the first line, going back a number of times and revising it until it’s right. This time, ‘Aubrey Fitzwilliam hated being dead. It made things much harder than they needed to be’ came to me unexpectedly, and when I wrote it down, I knew I had something. It suggested a main character with a flaw. A substantial flaw. A flaw that would make things tricky for him – and this immediately sparked off a dozen ideas. It was a golden moment.

However, I didn’t want to write a historical novel, I wanted to write a Fantasy. I needed magic.

A consistent, interesting magic system is an important part of writing a fresh, intriguing Fantasy, so I worked hard on this jotting down and discarding numerous ideas as either derivative or unworkable. Then I had the notion of Rational Magic.

It was a classic inversion. Magic tends to be posed as the opposite of Science – the Irrational versus the Rational. I asked myself ‘What if Magic worked the same way as Science?’ It was another important starter, for it made me imagine Magic being explored and investigated like Science, having to conform to laws – like Science, and having a history where it grew from poorly understood to something codified and subject to experimentation. Like Science.

Rational Magic in a roughly Edwardian setting. I was nearly there. Once I’d spent time imagining characters, with a headstrong but well-meaning young man who would be a true hero, I was a step closer. Then I had to experiment with the tone – a vital element in shaping the narrative. Once I had the playful, bantering, slightly formal/slightly old-fashioned language set, that was the real beginning of The Laws of Magic.

Share it: