The dreams that started Worldshaker off happened more than fifteen years ago. I started seriously assembling ideas for the novel from that time on—ideas like an over-protected boy coming of age, being shown around the juggernaut, and a very strange teacher in a very strange school. I wasn’t in a hurry to write it, though—I knew this had to be my best book ever. Also I had other ideas better prepared and more publishable in the existing state of the market.
So I let the book develop in its own sweet time. I called it Leviathan, until I read a book by Michael Moorcock called Land Leviathan, where one part of the story takes place in an enormous land-crossing machine. So I changed my working title to Juggernaut.
Later again, I saw the possibility of turning the book into Young Adult. What’s more, books like Philip Pullman’s Northern Lights were starting to create a market for this steampunk/Victoriana type of fantasy. Then Mortal Engines came out from Phillip Reeves—which really rocked me back on my heels. There was my idea at the very centre of a novel: a huge mobile city on rollers! I’d been gearing up to begin writing, but I lost all confidence when I read Mortal Engines.
It took me half a year to recover. I felt better when I realised my novel would be quite unlike Mortal Engines in tone and feel. The parallels are real enough, but so are the differences. I started writing Chapter 1 somewhere around the end of 2003.
I wrote the first 70-80 pages very quickly, then had to stop and revise Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven. I was about to go back to Juggernaut when I had to re-revise Ferren and the Invasion of Heaven. (The blood and sweat and frustration that cost me – you don’t want to hear about it!) By the time I got back to Juggernaut, I’d lost all momentum.
So I wrote Sassycat instead, and finished off The Black Crusade. When I took another look at Juggernaut, a year later, I had to improve what I’d already written before I could move forward again.
I re-wrote the first 80 pages just in time for the ROR retreat of 2005. ROR is a group of professional writers, who come together to critique one another’s novels every 18 months or so. In 2004, there were seven of us: Margo Lanagan, Rowena Cory Daniells, Marianne de Pierres, Maxine Macarthur, Trent Jamieson and Tansy Raynor Roberts. We took over a small guesthouse in Leichhardt for five days of monastic seclusion. Talk, critique, more talk; drinking, eating, more drinking …
It was like a strange island of time cut out from ordinary life, five crazy, intense days of brainstorming. I think of the slightly shabby lounge room with its formica table and fridge, the outdoor eating area overhung with vines, the small stone courtyard where we sat in the sun—and it comes back as clear and vivid as if it all happened yesterday.
I came away from the retreat buzzing with ideas—and, yes, improvements needed to the 80 pages I’d already written. I got stuck into it and—in spite of some more unavoidable interruptions—wrote all the way through to the end. Whole areas of the story evolved in the writing, as various characters took off and demanded more attention.
The alternate history background evolved in the writing too. It had always been a possibility, but it became an absolute necessity when I stumbled upon Napoleon’s project for a tunnel under the English Channel. Here was my ‘point of divergence’. Napoleon goes ahead and digs his tunnel—and the world has developed differently ever since!