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Interview Stephen Oliver

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For this week’s Feature Friday Futures we are joined by Stephen Oliver, who is here to tell us about his novel Paranormal City


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

The books started out when I was blocked on an epic fantasy novel I was writing. I’d make the mistake of following the advice in “Take Off Your Pants”, which attempts to turn Pantsers into Plotters. By the time I’d finished creating character arcs, narrative arcs, etc., the story was dead in the water at 35,000 words.

However, I kept having ideas. Then, one day, I thought of a concept that wouldn’t have fitted into the novel anyway but would make the basis of a short story. When I finished, I realized I’d created an entire narrative universe. One, moreover, where magic, science, the supernatural, and the merely weird all co-exist, even if most people are unaware of it. Much like our own world, I suspect.

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

Most of the stories come out of my head as whole cloth, without much reference to the rest of the world. However, I was brought to a significant discovery by my writing coach and editor. She pointed out one day that all my characters are Outsiders to a greater or lesser extent. Some seek to join society and may or may not succeed, while others glory in their “otherness”. This came as a great shock to me, the more so because it resonated on a profound level. I came to realize that I’ve been an Outsider myself almost all my life. Talk about “write what you know”!

Can you describe your world or setting?

The stories take place in an unnamed metropolitan city. There is a district within called Darktown, much like Chinatown or the Italian Quarter, that isn’t easy to find. There, the supernatural, the unnatural, the weird, and the merely strange congregate out of sight of the mundane world, safe from the gaze of mortals who might want to destroy them.

What’s unique about your world?

Unlike other books I’ve read, it’s a world where the supernatural, magic, and science co-exist without too much conflict. I have a magician cop, for instance, who has cybernetic memory enhancements to compensate for brain damage caused by a magical bullet. This allows me to slip between genres, from science fiction to dark urban fantasy to horror and back again, maybe stopping off at humor or fairy tales along the way.

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

The science is pretty straightforward near-future science fiction: cyborgs, etc. I have two magic systems in place, depending on the practitioners and who trained them. One relies on artefacts to anchor magic, such as a rubber eraser to hold a cancellation spell, for instance. The other relies more on visualization and the pure power of the will, plus energy generated through various activities. Neither has the upper hand nor do they vie for control. Of course, each practitioner believes their system is superior, but that’s just human prejudice.

What was the most mundane item that you used that really has cool tech behind it – what is the tech?

The data entry system used by the cyborg cop/magician. He plugs a small unit into the side of his head to access his computer system, programming it and receiving information directly instead of through a mouse, keyboard, and screen.

How do you handle the food in your world?

Food isn’t particularly important in this world at present unless you’re the one on the menu!

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

I don’t have a recipe from this world, but I do have a healthy one that can be adapted in many ways.



  • 1 large onion, diced fine
  • 2 tsp grated/pureed garlic
  • 1 tsp Gochujang paste (fermented chili/miso), or other source of chili heat (optional for those who don’t like heat)
  • 600–800gm vegetable mixture (peas, carrots, beans, corn, peppers, spinach, aubergine, courgetti (zucchini), baby tomatoes, stir-fry mix, whatever takes your fancy)
  • 2 blocks tofu, smoked or plain
  • 6–8 large eggs
  • Soy sauce, Worcestershire Sauce and/or Maggi Liquid Aromat
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional:
    • Diced chorizo
    • Diced smoked back bacon
    • Chopped ham
    • Mushrooms (shiitake are especially good here)
    • Anything else that grabs your fancy
    • Other spices like smoked paprika, curry powder, or Chinese Five Spice


  • Frylight a frying pan and place it over a medium heat.
  • Add the chopped onions and begin to soften them.
  • Add the garlic and Gochujang paste and other dry flavorings, and stir them into the onions.
  • If you’re going to add bacon, chorizo, or anything else that requires cooking, now is the time.
  • Stir until the onions begin to soften.
  • Add the mixed vegetables, stirring everything together well, adding the liquid flavorings, salt, pepper, spices, etc., to taste.
  • Turn up to medium high and cover, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are all softening.
  • Remove the tofu from the packaging and pat dry with kitchen paper.
  • In a large bowl, squeeze the tofu between your fingers to break it up, ‘crumbling’ it into small pieces.
  • Add the tofu to the mixture in the pan and stir together.
  • Turn down to medium heat again and cover.
  • In a bowl, lightly beat the eggs together.
  • Pour the eggs over the mixture and stir in well, ensuring that everything is coated.
  • Cover and simmer over a medium or medium low heat until the eggs are cooked through and begin to set.
  • Can be served hot or cold.


  • This is my variation of the Spanish tortilla, a dish of chopped potatoes and egg. I’ve substituted the tofu to add extra protein.

What did you include that you wish was real today?

The magical system I mentioned using visualization and will. I’m not a visual person, but I would love to be able to change the world just by doing what the protagonist and his mentor of that particular story can do.

What technology or science do you think will most affect the world of tomorrow?

AI technology appears to be advancing quite rapidly, even if the systems are still unable to produce real creativity. However, the man-machine interface development is also improving. I foresee a future where people will be able to connect directly to their computers and, through them, to the Internet. Once that happens, the future could become utopic and dystopic at the same time. People will probably begin escaping into virtual realities, cybernetically enhanced soldiers could fight on physical and virtual battlefields, and humans and machines merge into a single species. Who will be in control is impossible to say.

Anything else you would like to share?

The book itself is an episodic novel and is the first in a series about this imaginary city. The second volume is already in the hands of the publisher. At the same time, two more have already been completed, and a fifth is being written. I’ve also created seven offshoot volumes in various states of completion. They’re offshoots in the way “NCIS” was of spin-off of “JAG”, or “CSI: Miami” was of the original “CSI” series. Finally, I have more books in development, but they’re mainly outside the narrative universe of Paranormal City.

Oh, and I’ve restarted the epic fantasy; it’s already over 106,000 words long.

All in all, I’ve written over 1.35 million words in the past ten years.