Nuclear Autumn and Edible Dormice - Dave Hutchinson Talks About SHELTER

11 June 2018

Dave Hutchinson is the multi-award winning author of the critically acclaimed Fractured Europe series. And he's popped by Forbidden Planet to tell us about his brand new novel, SHELTER.

Can you tell us a bit about SHELTER? Was the world-creation yours, or is it part of a shared endeavour?

 The original idea came from Solaris. They asked if I could do a post-catastrophe novel set in England with no fancy bells and whistles – no zombies or elves or marauding alien invaders – but after that I was left to my own devices. The main setting for the book came from a conversation I had with a friend one night about edible dormice. Apparently the northern part of the Chilterns is infested with them; I was going to put that in the book and then for some reason I didn’t. Anyway, I’ve always wanted to write something set around the Ridge Way so this was a good excuse to do that.

The book’s set about a century after Earth’s been hit by the fragments of a shattered comet, which has caused a nuclear Autumn – monsoon rains, low temperatures, all that good stuff – and the remains of English society have retreated into walled towns and settlements. Now the Long Autumn’s coming to an end and various factions are starting to manoeuvre for control, but the centre of the book involves a war between two farming families. I didn’t want to do something about the catastrophe itself, or its immediate aftermath. I thought it would be more interesting to look at things as people started to get back on their feet again. 

You worked in journalism for many years. Has this helped inspire your writing?

I don’t think it’s helped inspire me as such. If I was ever precious about my work, it knocked that out of me. It also made me a bit of a fiend about fact-checking, although you couldn’t tell from reading my stuff, which is riddled with typos and inaccuracies at the best of times. In the first of the Europe books I had the central character born in two separate places and I didn’t notice until it came to be translated into Estonian and the translator got in touch to ask me what that was all about.

Your previous books have gained huge critical acclaim. Do you find this makes writing a new book more difficult?

The writing’s always hard. It never gets any easier. I get more and more worried, as time goes by, that I’m going to let readers down, that one day I’ll write something so genuinely bad that everyone gives me the side-eye and goes, “Really?” It’s always a nervous time when something new comes out; you can’t predict how something’s going to be received; I was lucky with the Europe books and with ‘Acadie’ and some other stuff, but one day my luck’s going to run out.

You have a vast canon of previous fiction – what’s your favourite thing to write? And why?

It’s not actually that vast, really. It pales into insignificance against, say, Charlie Stross’s work. I think he’s up to nine Laundry books now, and I’ve lost count of the Merchant Princes books he’s written. Mine’s a lot more humble, although I realised a few months ago that the majority of it – in terms of wordcount anyway – has been published in the past four or five years, which is kind of weird after having been writing science fiction for forty-odd years.

I don’t actually have a ‘favourite’ thing to write. I am notoriously bad at fantasy, and I’m not very good at stuff where nothing weird happens. I did start a straight police procedural a few years ago, but I got crushingly bored and introduced elves into it. It wasn’t very good, though, so I gave up on it. I enjoy writing science fiction, I think mostly because I’m a science fiction reader – and the same with espionage. Mostly I’m trying to write something I would enjoy reading, but I guess everyone does that to a greater or lesser extent.

(Photo credit: Cecilia Weightman)

What kind of person will love SHELTER?

I have no idea. I guess people who liked the Europe books will pick it up, and I should warn them right now that it is not the Europe books, even though now I think about it there are some similarities. I’m hoping people who fondly remember the BBC’s Survivors – the original, not the remake – will like it because that’s the sort of tone I was aiming for.

Find out what it's all about - Dave Will be signing SHELTER at the Forbidden Planet London Megastore on Thursday 14th June!