An Interview with Anna Butler—Makepeace Blog Tour and Giveaway
Please welcome back Anna Butler. Anna came to visit last year about this time to talk about Heart Scarab, Book 2 of her Sci-fi series Taking Shield. You can find that interview here:
This time, Anna and I are going to getting into more specifics about not only the book, but the universe she created. When you’re done reading the interview, make sure you enter her giveaway.
An Interview With Anna Butler
Hi Anna. Welcome back. What have you been up to since you last visited?
I’ve been working hard on the fourth Taking Shield book, The Chains of Their Sins, which went to my publisher and editor only this week in final draft. It picks up the Shield story after the events of Makepeace, dealing mostly with the political fallout, and we get to see some of the prisoners rescued from Makepeace and find out more about what happened to them.
I’m also about half-way into the second of my steampunk series, which started out with The Gilded Scarab, published in February last year. In this follow-up book, the heroes Rafe Lancaster and Ned Winter are in Aegypt for the archaeological digging season—Ned is an Aegyptologist—where they will face up to sabotage and danger. The book is called The Dog Who Swallows Millions. I hope this will be sent to the publisher in the autumn.
Tell us a bit about Makepeace.
Working on the data that he collected way back in the first book, Gyrfalcon, Bennet finds evidence that human prisoners are being kept alive on Makepeace, a planet that was once a human colony but was overrun by the Maess a century or more before. It takes a little while for his analysis to be complete, but what he concludes the Maess are doing shocks and horrifies not only him but also his military and political masters. He’s sent to Makepeace, which is now deep in Maess territory, to see if it’s possible to rescue the people trapped there. What he finds proves his analysis right. What the Maess has in store for humanity is not good. The book deals with the raid behind Maess lines and the immediate aftermath. It’s the most overtly ‘military’ of the books.
Let talk specifics. I know the title Makepeace comes from the planet, but was there some hidden meaning in either the planet’s name or title?
You got me! Yes. It’s an ironic name, the irony coming from the juxtaposition between the burgeoning demands of a new political movement that wants peace because humanity is so tired of war, and the horrible realisation the Bennet comes to that nothing will stop the Maess, and that peace is an illusion. Not subtle, of course, but it made me smile.
Where did the idea for the Maess come from?
I’m very fond of old school science fiction – Star Wars, Trek, BSG, Babylon 5. I wanted an opponent for humanity that was, rather like the Shadows of Babylon 5, a race of older, inimical beings that had no point of similarity to humans, no sense of even faint kinship that the humans can appeal to. We’ll actually find out more about them in the final book, but what Bennet saw of them in Gyrfalcon, they’re have amorphous bodies capable of being twisted into other shapes (you might remember the one Bennet saw ‘grew’ a mirror image of Bennet’s own face and screamed at him). And, also like the Shadows, I wanted them to be few in number and having to use other means of fighting – hence the cyborg drones, which owe something to Imperial Stormtroopers, BSG amd innumerable Trek episodes.
Why are Dreadnoughts ‘irreplaceable?’
Purely the immense capital cost.
Albion has been at war for three generations now. It is a cripplingly expensive war to wage, and even with an economy heavily focused on supporting the war, there just isn’t enough money in the coffers to build something as huge as a dreadnought. Building a new one would take something like a century’s worth of GDP to finance!
How did you come up with the ‘science’ for your space ships?
A lot of research, a lot of thinking about what’s shown in other books and on TV. I don’t always show it all in the books, though. For instance, all the spaceships are capable of FTL travel, with hyperdrive engines that drop them out of normal space and into hyperspace (so I can get around Einstein’s pesky relativity limitations). What I don’t do in the story is set aside narrative space for explaining how it works or how the ships navigate. That’s because I’m not writing a treatise on FTL travel or a handbook for role playing games. I’m storytelling, and I don’t want to take up chunks of text with stuff that does not move the story along.
I know some people revel in the science-y stuff, though, and certainly one or two reviews have grumbled that I’ve handwaved over that too much. So at some point, I’ll probably add it as extra background content on my website.
Do you find it difficult to come up with realistic ‘systems’ that you can keep consistent as you write further into the series?
I’ve been careful to keep a large ‘bible’ of things that help me keep the story more or less under control. This ranges from the name of every dreadnought and destroyer in Fleet to a list of medals for valour to a detailed essay on Albion’s political structure and governance. Mostly, this seems to work out!
Last year you hinted that Bennet won’t see Flynn again until Book Four – The Chains of Their Sins. Should we hold any hope for Flynn to be in Makepeace?
Flynn is there, although not in equal time to Bennet (Makepeace is essentially Bennet’s story), but he and Bennet do not meet. Flynn’s chapters are more to do with a ‘meanwhile, back on the Gyrfalcon’ storyline, especially his short-lived relationship with Bennet’s sister Natalia. Flynn rather unashamedly uses her to try and get information on what Bennet is up to.
You mention that “Shield” soldiers get rotations out of that unit for a time, was it hard to create your own ‘code of military service’ for the series and what other quirks did you put in?
I don’t think it was hard, precisely, but it was a great deal of fun. I have built up a spreadsheet that sets out how Albion’s Defence Forces are governed, setting out the chain of command from the Supreme Commander downwards, listing all 9 Fleet Flotillas, the 9 Infantry regiments (under Field Marshal Klara), the Shield Regiment, Transport Fleet, Demeter Transfer Station and the three fixed space-defence bases. The idea was simply so I had it clear in my head how everything interlocks, even if every detail never makes it into the books.
In Shield, for example, ships are brigaded into a battlegroup, headed by a major. Every three battlegroups are headed up by a colonel. So Bennet has a clear career path to get him to the point he’s aiming for – he *really* wants to command the regiment one day!
When it comes to the Gyrfalcon, I have organization charts for the squadrons and more spreadsheets showing how they work a shift system across a 25 hour duty period.
Control freak much?!
Are there other worlds like Makepeace, ones that were once human colonies, but are now under Maess control?
Several. Humanity isn’t winning this war. They’ve had to cede space and territory – in the second book, Heart Scarab, they lost the planet Telnos, and that isn’t a lone example. What’s unique about Makepeace, though, is the presence of live human prisoners. That’s very unusual. The Maess usually kill humans without compunction. That’s what makes it imperative for Bennet to go and find out what’s happening there, and what sort of threat that may pose to humans.
Is there anything after The Chains of Their Sins?
At least one more book, tentatively called Day of Wrath. I have a lot to cover, so I’m not sure I’ll get everything into one book. I’ll have to try and be more concise than usual! I won’t give too much away here, but some of the hints and strands of the earlier books come to fruition in a significant political and military crisis. And set against that, I hope to get Bennet and Flynn’s relationship to a hopeful stage – Chains will be full of angsty UST that will need a resolution!
What else do you have coming out?
Nothing planned at the moment. I’m focused on finishing the second steampunk novel and getting the last Shield book done. I’m not a terribly prolific writer. I envy people who produce a novel every couple of months, but I just don’t write that fast.
Any recommendations for readers that you’ve read and enjoyed lately?
I’ve been revisiting some old favourites recently, and have really been enjoying rereading David Weber’s Honor Harrington series. These are military sci-fi books with, most unusually for its time, a female main character who has agency and doesn’t rely on a man to rescue and protect her. I loved them when I first read them, and thoroughly enjoyed them since. They’re a sort of female Hornblower in space.
Last question is all yours. What else would you like to tell readers about the series, the book, other books, anything?
At the moment, romance as a genre is huge, and the m/m element of that is burgeoning and growing. That’s great, but it does mean that any books with LGBT protagonists are looked at through a romance lens, and if any of your readers pick up a Taking Shield book and are looking for romance, they are doomed to disappointment!
But while Taking Shield isn’t romance, it *is* a love story—a very deep and, at times, intense love story that covers six years of interstellar war and billions of miles of space travel. The Maess war and everything Bennet has to do there gets equal billing with the slow unfolding of his relationship with Flynn, and sometimes the love gets pushed into second place. But it’s there, all the same.And perhaps one day, at the end of everything, they’ll get the chance they deserve.
But honest. No hearts and flowers here!
Thanks again, Anna for coming by.
About the Taking Shield series
Earth’s a dead planet, dark for thousands of years; lost for so long no one even knows where the solar system is. Her last known colony, Albion, has grown to be regional galactic power in its own right. But its drive to expand and found colonies of its own has threatened an alien race, the Maess, against whom Albion is now fighting a last-ditch battle for survival in a war that’s dragged on for generations.Taking Shield charts the missions and adventures of Shield Captain Bennet, scion of a prominent military family. Against the demands of his family’s ‘triple goddess’ of Duty, Honour and Service, is set Bennet’s relationships with lovers and family.
When the series opens, Bennet is at odds with his long term partner, Joss, who wants him out of the military and back in an academic, archaeological career. He’s estranged from his father, Caeden, who is the commander of Fleet’s First Flotilla. Events of the first book, in which he is sent to his father’s ship to carry out an infiltration mission behind Maess lines, improve his relationship with Caeden, but bring with them the catalyst that will destroy the one with Joss: one Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, who, over the course of the series, develops into Bennet’s main love interest.
Over the Taking Shield story arc, Bennet will see the extremes to which humanity’s enemies, and his own people, will go to win the war. Some days he isn’t able to tell friend from foe. Some days he doubts everything, including himself, as he strives to ensure Albion’s victory. And some days he isn’t sure, any longer, what victory looks like.
Returning to duty following his long recovery from the injuries he sustained during the events recounted in Heart Scarab, Shield Captain Bennet accepts a tour of duty in Fleet as flight captain on a dreadnought. The one saving grace is that it isn’t his father’s ship—bad enough that he can’t yet return to the Shield Regiment, at least he doesn’t have the added stress of commanding former lover Fleet Lieutenant Flynn, knowing the fraternisation regulations will keep them apart.
Working on the material he collected himself on T18 three years before, Bennet decodes enough Maess data to send him behind the lines to Makepeace, once a human colony but under Maess control for more than a century. The mission goes belly up, costing Albion one of her precious, irreplaceable dreadnoughts and bringing political upheaval, acrimony and the threat of public unrest in its wake. But for Bennet, the real nightmare is discovering what the Maess have in store for humanity.
It’s not good. It’s not good at all.
Series: Taking Shield
Publisher: Wilde City Press
Cover Artist: Adrian Nicholas
The thing, whatever it was, had fallen between two pods. It didn’t move. Unlike the soldier outside, it didn’t kick its legs or drum its heels. It felt nothing. Bennet bent over it, laser at the ready, his shoulders lifting to hunch protectively over his neck. He blew out a soft breath. Thank fuck. Thank fuck.
Not an organic Maess, at least.
Definitely a drone. Possibly a modified EDA? It had the same well articulated hands, the same smooth plasticised skin over the electronics and metal underneath. But the metallic body had a bluish tinge.
The head was different. His first thought was it was translucent, the interior scattered with pinpoint lights. But no. The ovoid was bigger than usual but solid and opaque. Some sort of mesh covered the metal casing, the tiny lights woven into it at varying depths, giving the illusion he could see inside.
Blue lights, the intense sapphire blue of the lights fizzing down the columns into the pods. Whatever this was, it was no ordinary drone.
The lights in its head dimmed. Flickered out.
The thing was deactivated.
It had shaken Haydn out of his previous calm. “What the hell is that?”
T18. Bennet had seen something like this on T18. Just a glimpse. When he’d seen that Thing, the real Maess, surrounded by drones, there had been something else. Something thinner than the usual drones, less bulky. Blue lights were involved, too. The Strategy Unit analysts never had worked out what it was. In the end they’d concluded it had been a problem with his camera, reflecting the lighting inside the base on T18. He’d had no reason to argue.
Well, now he knew it hadn’t been the lighting.
About the author
Anna was a communications specialist for many years, working in various UK government departments on everything from marketing employment schemes to organizing conferences for 10,000 civil servants to running an internal TV service. These days, though, she is writing full time. She recently moved out of the ethnic and cultural melting pot of East London to the rather slower environs of a quiet village tucked deep in the Nottinghamshire countryside, where she lives with her husband and the Deputy Editor, aka Molly the cockerpoo.
Where to Find Anna:
Win a print copy of Gyrfalcon, the first of the Taking Shield series by entering this Rafflecoptor: