CHINA'S CHALLENGE: THE MOURNING WASP
The challenge, cooked up on the way back from the SFX Weekender a couple of years ago, me, was this: China Miéville would draw a monster of some sort, and I have to write it in to the fourth novel in the series - at the time it was untitled (and unwritten), but now it's The Broken Isles. However, I would have no idea what it was. Not a single clue. Julie, our editor, was present at this conversation, and since we'd already confiscated her red pen (her way of vetoing things, even in speech), we managed to get away with it.
Four months later, China sent in his drawing (pictured right), with a caption that read: “In teratogenerative solidarity and admiration”. I posted it on the blog, and it was named eventually by Den Patrick (a writer in his own right) as the Mourning Wasp. Now I just had to fit the critter into a book - The Broken Isles.
But by this point, having to aim for the delivery deadline, I was already well into the novel. The wasp was an intriguing creature to say the least - the skull and wasp parts were not of the same scale, so what I could I do with it? Was it male or female? I could of course be flexible in these decisions, as there was no small print - I merely took delivery of the wasp.
As it happens, there was a way around this challenge. I knew that a monster was arriving, but I didn’t know what. So I could pretty much structure the novel with a lacuna, a vacancy for whatever was coming. Also, I didn’t just want this to be a one-scene monster, I wanted this to play a pretty inclusive role in the book. That, surely, was more in the spirit of the challenge.
So I created a new subplot for The Broken Isles - not tricky in itself, as I like each of the books in the series to feature new characters, to tell a slightly different slant on the progressive story. It’s what I’ve always done. Having a world whereby there are lots of ancient pieces of technology to hand, it wasn’t too hard in dreaming up a scenario of delivering the Mourning Wasp into the book. However, the Wasp itself didn’t quite fit in with any of the contemporary races, so that meant I had to rely on the pseudo-science magicians in the setting: cultists. They basically use archaic bits of equipment - technology that has long since passed out of knowledge, and forms an equivalent of magic. The new subplot is based around a group of young Cultists who specialise in the arts of Paleomancy. Among other things (they’re pretty creative) they are looking as a side project to generate insectoid armour to sell to the military. So when they discover the Mourning Wasp, originally as fossilised remains, they intend to revive it using all the clever bits of technology/magic that they understand.
But I’m not going to give more spoilers. I hope that I’ve managed to make the Mourning Wasp fit neatly into the novel, without making it appear as if I’d shoe-horned it in at the last minute. I’d been planning for its arrival all along - I just didn’t know what was arriving.
I will say that the presence of the Mourning Wasp gave me a great creative kick on which to finish the series. Bringing everything to a close for The Broken Isles was somewhat restrictive, creatively, because you have to tie up all the loose ends (that’s another post for another day). For me, finishing a series might have felt a little... well, let’s just say it: dull. It would have been dull if it wasn’t for this gift of a monster to keep things exciting.