Wednesday, March 26, 2014

"Truth and Fear"

Peter Higgins read English at Oxford University and Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. He was a Junior Research Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford and worked in the British Civil Service. His short stories have appeared in Fantasy: Best of the Year 2007, Best New Fantasy 2, Asimov's Science Fiction, Fantasy Magazine, Zahir and Revelation, and in Russian translation in the St Petersburg magazine Esli. He lives with his family in South Wales.

Higgins applied the Page 69 Test to his new novel, Truth and Fear, and reported the following:
The first thing that strikes you about page 69 of Truth and Fear is the white space. It’s only got seven lines of text. It’s the end of a chapter. This isn’t much of a surprise, Truth and Fear has short chapters: 93 in total, averaging four pages each. It’s SF/fantasy, but I wanted it to move with the pace and drive of an action thriller. I like short chapters: it speeds up the reading experience, keeps you immersed in the story and wanting to go on turning the pages.

Truth and Fear is the second in a trilogy that began with Wolfhound Century – three thrillers, which together build into a bigger picture, a larger story. I’ve used the action thriller because the world the book builds is a kind of mid-twentieth century Russia/Central Europe – the history and art and atmosphere of that time and place are reflected there, reshaped and re-imagined – and the thriller is a core genre for that. I want readers to feel they’re in that edgy, dangerous world, never far from violence and betrayal. But there are strange things abroad in this world. Alien presences. A sentient river. A sophisticated man who’s also a forest wolf.

Since page 69 is so short I’ll quote it in full:
… the dark wool. She had kissed him that morning at the sea gate lodge. On the cheek. The cool graze of her mouth against his skin.

‘You didn’t start it,’ she said. ‘You chose a side, that’s all. There are only two sides now. There’s nowhere else to stand.’

They walked a little way in silence.

'I didn't know you could fight like that,' said Maroussia.

'That wasn’t fighting,’ said Lom. ‘That was winning. Different thing altogether.'
It’s just a glimpse. Other passages would feel quite different, and this one’s too brief to give a full flavour of the richness of the world the book builds round you. But it’s got the two main protagonists, and it snapshots something essential about their relationship: tentative, exploratory, on the edge; almost-strangers thrown into intimacy, their lives ripped open, everything immediate and raw. They have to act, take sides, decide: and that reveals the truth of who they are. I hope this extract catches something of the atmosphere of the poem by Osip Mandelstam which gives the book its title:
The salt stars melt in the barrel –

The ice-water turns coal-black –

Death is getting purer, hard times saltier,

The planet edging closer to truth and to fear.
Visit Peter Higgins's website and Facebook page.

--Marshal Zeringue