There is a sorcerer, of sorts, in our midst. He can magically teleport reader's from the mundane world into a world of historical adventure, Science Fiction, or Fantasy with the stoke of a computer key. His current medium is his trilogy of Airship 27 books--Robin Hood: Freedom’s Outlaw, Robin Hood: King of Sherwood, and Robin Hood, Arrow of Justice--all a feather in his publisher's cap.
If you haven't guessed yet, his name is Ian Watson, but he publishes under I. A. Watson to avoid being confused with another author. Not having a middle name, he borrowed the "A" from his father. Ian was born in Leeds, UK, and if you currently live in in Barnsley, in West Riding of Yorkshire, England, you are this magician's neighbor.
His spells are cast with great consequence in his most current Airship 27 book, Robin Hood: Freedom’s Outlaw.
"Consequences," Watson shared in a recent interview, "are the most dramatic things in the world to write about and to read. If you set up an outlaw band and rob from the rich to give to the poor, there will be big consequences. Once the villains are stung and thwarted enough, they’ll push back and get serious. Freedom’s Outlaw is all about the consequences of being Robin Hood and of what happens when implacable authority clashes with the human spirit--and nobody walks away unchanged."
His choice of Robin Hood is completely logical. Watson has long held a fascination for writers of heroic fiction, and his artistic influences since he was a boy include J. R. R. Tolkein, Charteris and Sir Thomas Mallory. At school he was "crammed" with Shakespeare, Milton, and Homer. As a student he was fascinated by Michael Moorcock, George McDonald Fraser, and Anne McCaffrey. As an adult it’s been Bujold, Pratchett, and Neil Gaiman. He also ows special thanks to early issues of Stan Lee, Jack Kirby, and Steve Ditko’s Marvel Comics titles, and to the BBC TV series Doctor Who.
"There are reasons why these characters and their stories have become landmarks in our storytelling culture," said the writer. "They’re the best examples of some important archetypes. Robin Hood is about our fundamental needs for freedom and justice, that manifests in everything from the movie Smokey and the Bandit to the Boston tea party. King Arthur is about heroes banding together to use their might for right, that team-up of the best to squabble and interact and then to battle a greater evil. It’s there in every adventure story where an ensemble of good-guys champion an ideal from the Lord of the Rings novels to the Avengers movie. Sherlock Holmes is about the triumph of the mind over the world, of civilized rationality over barbaric evil. He’s the ultimate can-win-because-humans-can-overcome-by-thinking character.
"All of those truths are hard-wired in to our mental DNA, so as readers these stories resonate with us. Echoes of these characters are in so many of our modern-day heroes."
But why, one might ask, try to bring something new to a field of heroes that has so often already been harvested and then harvested again?
"It’s very natural to crave more about a character we enjoy. It’s very natural to want to try one’s hand at using the archetypes in a story oneself. I’ve certainly learned to appreciate Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s skills and artistic choices more since I’ve had to analyze them for the Sherlock Holmes- Consulting Detective stories I’ve done.
"With the older properties, Arthur and Robin and some other characters I’ve written, where the original sources are multiple and there are all kinds of variant versions over hundreds of years, the fun is in finding the combination that works best for a modern audience. To put it another way, everyone can cook a hamburger. How you cook it, what you add in, how you serve it up, that can vary a lot and be very individual. It’s the same with these old legends.
"Modern audiences have different expectations from medieval ones, of course. Mallory and Robin’s balladeers weren’t as concerned with showing motives as describing actions, and they didn’t include much of the cross-conversation and banter of contemporary stories. There’s a nice blend to be had of traditional characters and events painted with a modern gloss of newer storytelling techniques. I enjoy fleshing out the characters and situations so that readers get the best of the old presented in a modern way."
The needs of Ian's story determines what he pulls out of his magicians' bag of tricks to write each book.
"It depends on the story," said Ian. "With mystery tales, like Holmes, it usually begins with a mystery’s solution. Once I know how the corpse in the locked room can be explained, then the rest of the story fleshes out to accommodate a dead body in a sealed library, and then I imagine how Holmes and Watson might encounter the situation and how they would investigate. With an adventure story, I’m more likely to know the grand sweep of the narrative and then break it down into sections and fill them in as I write them, a bit like an artist doing a big pencil sketch, then adding detail as he paints.
"I like to research a period or topic before I start, and I take notes about it. I sometimes write myself essays--or even inflict them on other people! But I tend to write up more general background stuff than detailed plot notes. My actual story plot page rarely extends beyond a cast list that helps me keep my characters’ names and relationships straight. The exception is with 'whodunits', where I have been known to write out a table with motives, secrets, things witnessed etc.
Watson believes that all fiction is set in world "other than ours", be that in the past, the future, and in some fantasy realm. They are really all about people. The settings change, but he believes that people are mostly the same. He knows that if his characters feel real and act realistically, then he can suspend disbelief about the rest. Sometimes historical fiction or Science Fiction are the best genres to use to address contemporary situations.
"Robin Hood has a lot to say about Occupy Wall Street when you think about it.
"Decide on an appropriate point on the absolute historic realism vs idealized fictional past scale. I fudge that a bit by adding the hardcore history dollops in footnotes for the obsessive. Historical settings can really help with atmosphere and plot, but the danger is that they can also be unfamiliar and disengaging if not enough context is offered, or distracting and off-putting if they’re too alien. The right amount of set-dressing and knowing when to fudge are key skills in writing this kind of story.
"Its especially important to get the dialogue right. 'Thees' and 'thous' will put readers off; save them for the high noble proclamations to show that there’s an 'official' language used in formal combat and legal process. For the rest, I use a range of modern idioms but avoid obviously modern words and ideas. My pet peeves are writers projecting back Freudian rationalizations onto Victorian or earlier characters’ dialogues, and the use of the word “Okay” before 1900.
Obviously, no writer is every reader's "cup of tea", but Watson does offer a heady brew.
"Every author likes to communicate his or her ideas to readers. I’m no different from any other writer in that. Writing is the slowest performing art, but that doesn’t mean we don’t want to engage with our audience.
"I like stories. I think storytelling is important. In fact I think the stories we tell ourselves and each other actually shape our culture and define our world. I like my stories to have deep roots, to dig back into the kinds of things we’ve been telling ourselves ever since we discovered language and narrative. I like them to resonate in tune with great stories that have been told in the past.
"I think reading should be visceral. We should laugh, cry, get mad, find peace, from the book in our hands. We should live it. I think reading should be fun, or inspiring, or thought provoking. Anything but boring. I try to write accordingly. I want a reader to close my book feeling it’s been an afternoon well-spent rather than valuable time wasted.
"So if readers like those intentions then they should take a look at what I write and see if I can deliver on what I hope to do."
Many readers have taken at look at his work, as well as critics. Watson's prose has not gone unrecognized. His first award was for Best New Poem at the Ilkley Literature Festival circa 1977. He has received a Pulp Factory Award for "Best Pulp Short Story" for his story, “The Last Deposit”, published in Airship 27's Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective Vol. 2. He has also been a finalist for "Best Pulp Novel" for each of his other novels in the Pulp Factory awards.
For those on your first teleportation into Watson's imagination, some recommendations are in order. In addition to his novels for Airship 27, readers will find his work in anthologies including: Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective volumes 1-4, Sinbad -The New Voyages volume 1, and, soon to be published: Sherlock Holmes, Consulting Detective volumes 5 & 6, Houdini volume 1, and Zeppelin Tales volume 1.
Watson's novels from other publishers includes: Blackthorn - Dynasty of Mars and Blackthorn – Spires of Mars. His anthology contributions are featured in: Gideon Cain, Demon Hunter; Blackthorn – Thunder on Mars; The New Adventures of Richard Knight Vol. 1; Blood-Price of the Missionary’s Gold: The New Adventures of Armless O’Neil; Monster Earth Vol. 1; The Spider: Extreme Prejudice; Grand Central Noir; and Sentinels: Alternate Visions.
The prolific writer has also written short stories for magazines including: “Loss Adjustment” in Planetary Stories #18; “Robin Hood and the Slavers of Whitby” in Pulp Spirit #18; “Rostherne: A Tale of Ghost Hunting” in Wonderlust #8; “The Tulpa” in Wonderlust #8; and for a comic book: “Robin Hood: Lionheart’s Gold” in All-Pulp Comics #2.
Watson is also a contributor of non-fiction articles to Assembled: Five Decades of Earth’s Mightiest and Assembled 2.