Any writing career has its highs and lows; literally in Dave Hutchinson’s case, when following unemployment after graduating from Nottingham with a degree in American Studies he applied to be an air traffic controller. He credits the absence of planes falling from sky to the fact he didn’t get the job, but it’s intriguing he went for it because of the geographical connotations; the idea of travel between realms and across borders.
The bleak, powerful Cold War spy stories that inspired his award-winning near-future ‘Fractured Europe’ thriller series relied on national borders for political tension; however, once the Iron Curtain fell the spy genre lost its way. Dave had to reintroduce borders for the thriller he wanted to write, but where would these barriers lie? He had been thinking about a family of uncanny map-makers for a while, and eventually had them create different versions of England to overlay our own. The ‘Fractured Europe’ novels follow a spy as he crosses the resulting boundaries of reality, while Europe itself breaks into ever smaller nation states, some no larger than a city.
This spy protagonist is called Rudi and he’s actually a chef, because Dave wanted a character who did an ordinary job. In addition, the need for food means chefs have a cross-border role; indeed, they are almost a nation unto themselves. Further character layers came from Dave’s experience as a service station kitchen porter and his observation that in science fiction, people don’t cook and eat enough. Describing Rudy as a little voice in his head, Dave enjoyed writing a cynical character who’s seen it all but still plods along and doesn’t give up.
The composition of ‘Europe in Autumn’ is an interesting parallel to Dave’s fiction writing career. The novel began as fragments that slowly coalesced, were sequenced over years and then bolted together. The last chapter became the first and the whole thing was retrofitted to accommodate the map-makers.
Similarly, Dave’s writing evolved from disparate influences woven together over four decades of patient craft. He had always read science fiction and started writing his own when he was sixteen. His influences were Heinlein and Asimov, although it was Keith Roberts’s novel ‘Pavane’, about an alternative history where the Spanish Armada triumphed, that proved most inspirational. Not only did Roberts show there could be science fiction specific to England, he also wrote about people working in filling stations rather than star ships.
Dave became a journalist when a fellow graduate suggested the role; it was writing after all. A job on Fleet Street led to experience covering politics, crime, world affairs; everything except sport. Dave continued to write science fiction in the evenings, producing short stories for magazines, small presses and online. He was happy with this cottage industry approach, which has kept him going for over forty years.
The hugely positive response to the publication of ‘Europe in Autumn’ had already changed Dave’s career, even before ‘Europe in Winter’ won this year’s BSFA Award. Meanwhile, the television rights to all three ‘Europe’ books have been sold to the production company that made the ‘Red Riding’ series, which pending finance plans to shoot in Poland and Tallin.
In a further twist, the recent divisive European Union membership referendum and its Brexit result have made the novels even more relevant. Fortunately, the DNA of ‘The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ and its corresponding snarky humour run through the ‘Fractured Europe’ sequence, putting the absurdity of Brexit into suitable perspective. Dave has no idea if the referendum result has boosted sales and although ‘Europe in Autumn’ has been sold in the non-fiction department of Waterstones denies that Brexit is somehow his fault.
In the books, Britain breaks up, but England is still in the EU; but what’s most telling in the books is how boring the alternative England is. Stripped of foreign influence, it’s a psychopathic, stodgy place of bland food with no spices, which is particularly egregious to chef Rudy.
Here too, character and author seem to share emotional space. As a science fiction writer, Dave needs surprise. He talks about the time he tried to write a police procedural, but got bored and introduced elves to the plot, creating what he describes as the worst book ever written. Like the river in ‘Europe at Midnight’ that opens into an alternative England, the route into a fantastic realm must be the suitable one.
Appropriately, the three ‘Fractured Europe’ books aren’t straightforward sequels to each other; ‘Winter’ is a follow-up to both ‘Autumn’ and ‘Midnight’. Dave certainly doesn’t want to write a direct sequel to ‘Winter’ because people will expect that. He wants a big reveal worthy of the other ‘Fractured Europe’ stories.
So far, all we know is that ‘Europe at Dawn’ will feature Rudi, railways and canals. Given that the map used on the cover for an early version of ‘Europe in Autumn’ was Crimea just before Russia invaded, we can only hope that if reality insists on following Dave around the way it has, there is at least a mildly optimistic outcome to the fourth part of the series. Now that really would be a twist.