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Interview Jim Webster

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Today we have Jim Webster here to tell us about his world Domisa.

So Jim, I understand that this not a named series

The four paperbacks, ‘Swords for a dead lady,’ ‘Dead man riding East,’ ‘The flames of the city’ and ‘Learning a hard trade’ don’t have a series name.
There are eight novellas linked as ‘The Port Naain Intelligencer’. They follow my character Benor the Cartographer while he was living in Port Naain as a young man. The Cartographer’s Apprentice is another collection of short stories that follows his travels to get to Port Naain.

Finally there are six more novella length publications, the ‘Tallis Steelyard’ collection. They are set in Port Naain and are narrated by Tallis Steelyard.
Oh yes and even more finally there is ‘Lambent Dreams’, a collection of poems by Tallis Steelyard, with commentary by his contemporaries.
Strangely enough I did a blog post about it, if only to get it clear in my own mind Pontifications along a road less travelled, when things get out of hand.

Can you describe your world or setting?

The world is Domisa, which legend, more than history, claims was settled by Cretans led by Idomeneus who arrived in 80 ships. It was all a very long time ago. Again antiquarians consider it happened twenty aeons ago and an aeon conventionally lasts ten thousand years.

The core of the civilized world is the Land of the Three Seas. The seas you can see on the map. There are the Upper, Middle and Lower seas.

Independent cities cluster round them. The era is 18th/19th century but the industrial revolution has not yet happened. There are some cannon but nobody has bothered with handguns. Similarly there is some tinkering with steam engines, mainly on ships, so paddle steamers compete with sailing ships on the great rivers and on the Upper and Middle seas. On the Red Steppe and Great Central Steppe are fierce nomad tribes who sometimes sweep west and sometimes fight each other.

In this area there is no higher authority than the city or the clan but generally low populations mean that the world is largely peaceful. A maiden leading a small child and carrying a bag of gold could probably travel in reasonable safety through many areas. Obviously people would still asked pointed questions, such as ‘If she’s a maiden, where did the small child come from,’ and ‘oh yes, where exactly did you get this bag of gold?’

How did you build this concept, what research did you do?

It just grew. A friend and I run a constant email correspondence between people living on the world. So I will take Benor and travel about my lawful occasions, emailing Peter who will play Benor’s nephew Marshott. We swap gossip and anecdotes as we travel, describe points of interest and people we meet. Over the last eleven or so years I as Benor have circumnavigated Domisa, we’ve had wars with the Nomads (One became the novel ‘Flames of the City’) and we’ve seen the place evolve.

As we travel and email each other I’ve put together a gazetteer of places, people and other things. It runs to nearly half a million words.

Why did you choose this setting?

I feel so much more comfortable writing about a world I know so well

What’s unique about your world?

From a Fantasy/SF point of view, probably the depth of the background. For example should I pass through Toelar, there’s a chance the reader might meet Madame Afflagar. She was chosen by lot to be Toelar Director of Low Entertainment, her program of moral decency is not entirely popular.
Or then there’s Twitch” Ullaram. Purveyor of dream powders and other substances in Meor, one sample consisted of dyed sawdust.
He was created in a throwaway line in an email, but is there if ever needed.
Or places, how about Broken Walls Keep?

According to Luft (one of our characters), At one time there was such a turn-over of lordlings along the road that it was the constant task of a lawyer from Prae Ducis to ride backwards and forwards getting their signatures. Interestingly he rode unarmed with no escort and was never bothered. Indeed he was a welcome guest as by signing the new lordling became the legitimate ruler and could hold his head high amongst the councils of his peers.

In the case of Broken Walls Keep, east of Prae Ducis, the heads were very high, the lawyer came back six times in fourteen days, and each time the head of the men who had previously signed grinned down upon him from the spikes up above the wall.

How do you explain the science or magic in your world?

Science is still in its infancy and the scientists are engineers and practical men rather than theorists.

Magic is very much ‘Vancean’

The author Jack Vance invented a system where there are creatures of varying sentience that can alter reality. They live in some other dimension and a spell is a series of syllables which impact upon the ‘mind’ of these creatures causing them to react in a known manner. Some fantasy role-playing games lifted this system and evolved it, and we continued the evolution 😊

It has to be said that magic doesn’t play too great a part in the lives of most people.

What was the most surprising thing you found out while researching / writing your latest book?

It was some silly detail about how stable soil profiles are. It was important because somebody had buried a body and two years later somebody else had dug a drainage ditch which ran a few inches from it

How do you handle the food in your world?

In loving detail. For example, from the gazetteer we have the cheeses of Colbig.

In Colbig you could get cheeses a yard across and a two hand spans deep, but initially made in thinner plates. The bottom plate would be smeared with honey berries, then the middle plate placed in top, again smeared with honey berries, and then the top plate put on, the whole garnished with roasted and salted nuts, bound tightly in linen and left to mature for a year or so. Other types are

  • Colbig Wheel “Traditional”, made in the style you describe and matured for one year.
  • Colbig Wheel “Black Seal”, made in the style you describe but matured for three years.
  • Colbig Wheel “Demon’s Breath”, made with Devil’s Pomatum in place of honey berries and fire nuts in place of the usual selection, then matured for six months.
  • Colbig Wheel “White Seal”, known locally as Old Bastard, made in the style you describe but with no rind and matured under nut oil for a full five years. The “Traditional”, for example, goes well with any suitably robust wine or ale, while the more mature “Black Seal” suits only strong reds and dark ales such as those the Urlan make and the rare and expensive “White Seal” really only goes with brandy.

Do you have a recipe that you could share, maybe one that our readers could try, based on the food in your world?

Here’s a section from Flotsam or Jetsam where Shena, wife of Tallis, prepares their evening meal.

She opened the door into the galley. There on the table was half a capon, a jug and most of a bottle of wine. She smiled; no man in Port Naain was more accomplished than Tallis when it came to flirting with cooks.

She placed the bundle on a stool and checked what food she had in. There wasn’t much and none of it was such as to excite enthusiasm. Her plans included feeding at least five people tonight, so she contemplated what she had. The normality of preparing a meal would be welcome. She felt herself relax as she prepared the stove. First she cleaned out the ash pit, then opened the fire door and put in some tinder and lit it using one of her precious matches. Carefully she tended the fire, feeding it split pieces of dried driftwood until finally she was happy with it. Then she allowed herself time to sit briefly and taste the wine Tallis had acquired. It was good enough, the sort a wealthy family would use in the kitchen. She went to the bread-bin, took the loaf of almost stale bread and broke it up, putting it at the bottom of a crock. Then she poured over it the sauce Tallis had brought in the jug, along with half the wine. She stirred it up and left it on the stove to warm slowly.

The remains of the capon she dropped in a pot and covered it with water, chopped vegetables and the rest of the wine. This she put on the heat to cook slowly for a few hours.

What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech or magic behind it?

Ah well, magic is never mundane. And for cool technology the brass and steam of the great steam engine must surely be a magical replacement for wind in the sails 😊

What did you include that you wish was real today?

The lack of supervision

Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Just that a good book should be like a holiday. When you finally close it, you feel you’ve been somewhere else for a while.