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Geek Chic: London Calling meets Boss Level Sci-Fi Champion Danie Ware

4 October 2012 | Tom Hunter

When there’s Lord of the Rings in your LEGO, Batman on your bathmat and Zombies come as a side-order to everything you know the Geek Dollar is well and truly established

If Science Fiction was a country, the Forbidden Planet Megastore on London’s Shaftesbury Avenue would be its main embassy, and Danie Ware one of its favourite ambassadors.

She's the genre chamption charged with promoting the never-ending line up of celebrity authors, artists and tv stars who visit the store for signings and reading events, not to mention wrangling the vast queues of loyal fans waiting to meet their sci-fi heroes.

Now with the release of her first novel, Ecko Rising, the tables are turning and it's London Calling's turn to ask a few questions (and to stand patiently in line to get our copy inscribed).

London Calling: Let's talk about the fans. Now granted they're often the butt of cheap jokes from journalists looking for a shortcut cliché but the truth can be very different. Do you think people ought to wise up and start paying more attention the Geek Dollar?

Danie Ware: Not only yes, but I think they already are.

In nine years in the business, I’ve seen the Geek Dollar escalate into a currency in its own right. The Forbidden Planet Megastore opened in 2003 – coinciding with the massive cinematic detonation that was The Lord of the Rings. It was a revolutionary time for the SF/F genre, and I’ve been on the forefront of that swell; literally ridden its wave all the way. Just for example, superhero movies have gone from cult to mainstream – they’ve taken comics with them. The journalists can crack jokes all they like, but when a comic book storyline makes the national press, then the Geek Dollar is already real. It’s in your wallet, and your neighbour’s, and your local High Street – and its potential is growing faster than you can keep track.

And comics haven’t just made the national press. Comic iconography is everywhere – it’s a fashion trend, it’s personal expression, it’s homewares. From our feet to our t-shirts to our jewellery to our bathmats, Batman isn’t just a Dark Knight any more, safely tucked away in back of the grubby little comic store that your girlfriend won’t follow you into. He’s credible, he’s colossal and he’s a multi-million (geek) dollar industry.

That’s just comics – it goes wider. Books, particularly fantasy, are on the forefront of that same wave - take LOTR or the sheer, staggering size of the Harry Potter phenomenon. And you can add the spread of Japanese geek culture, particularly among the younger dollar spenders – the rise of anime and manga, the huge and recent growth in the popularity of cosplay, the steady increase in art toy sales. All of this is strengthening the geek pound, dollar and yen with every passing year.

More than anything, barriers are coming down – communication barriers, social barriers, barriers between genres and barriers between formats. I think that’s the most important thing of all – geek culture is not only completely out of the closet, it’s out from between the pages of the comic/book.

The word ‘geek’ in itself has changed. It’s has thrown off its ‘social reject’ meaning, taken on wider and more all-encompassing significance. It’s a badge now, it big enough to have its own subdivisions. When there’s LOTR in your LEGO, Batman on your bathmat and Zombies come as a side-order to everything, when the biggest grossing film of 2011 was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, then the Geek Dollar is well-and-truly established.

LC: What have you learned about being an author from all of the writers you've met and organised events for?

DW: Simply? That it’s hard work, and comes with precious little glamour! It’s given me a more realistic expectation – certainly I hope so. The bad reviews will happen, the empty signings will happen; I’ve honestly seen it happen to the best. And while your book may be a piece of your soul, fought forth from darkness and lovingly crafted and all of that malarkey… at the end of the day, both you and beloved masterpiece are just product.

And yet, the funny thing? Sell-by date or no, the authors I’ve met still do it for love. And though always unvoiced, that’s the greatest encouragement of all.

LC: And now that you're joining their ranks with your own novel did you find this insider knowledge was an advantage to you, or were there more pressures from being a known face?

DW: A little of both, I think. Almost all of the top genre authors in the UK have been guests at FP at some point; I’m known to them, and that’s a difficult thing to try and live up to.

More than anything, though, being immersed in the community is a creative encouragement in its own right. I had stopped writing for eight years – just gave up – and it was returning to the support and friendship of the environment that catalysed me finding my confidence – just that little bit I needed to start again. And really, everything’s snowballed from there.

LC: Ecko Rising is a real mix of classic science fiction and fantasy ideas - did you set out to deliberately blur up the genres or is this more a case of the story finding its own voice as you wrote?

DW: A little of both! When I started writing, I wrote for love and curiosity, to see where it would lead and because I was fascinated by the concept – what a cynical, hard-bitten SF character would make of a fantasy world.

When I came back to the project, that concept was so much a part of the narrative that I made a conscious choice to leave it as it was. At the risk of wandering into the ‘it’s speculative fiction why can’t we speculate?’ question, sometimes genre, by its very definition, won’t break its own boundaries – and as Ecko grew from ‘what-if’ to ‘mash-up’, so breaking those boundaries became one of the central themes of the book.

Ecko’s a misfit – he’s damaged and difficult and dissonant.  He’s that part of all of us that rebels when given an order, that refuses to do what we’re told. Thrown from one reality into another, he believes he’s plugged into a program, a fiction, and that nothing around him is real. In turn, this means that nothing really matters, and he has no reason to pick up the sword of prophecy and champion the good guys.

Ecko’s given me the opportunity to look at fantasy through darker eyes, gleeful and sarcastic eyes, to give it a savage new point of view - and it’s been a lot of fun!

LC: We don't think we can imagine a more geekly-chic lifestyle than yours. It sounds funs, but what do you do when you need to escape?

DW: I have an eight-year-old son, and going on adventures is one of our favourite hobbies. Children learn from our enthusiasm – they learn to share it, and (with a bit of luck) Isaac also leans by osmosis when he’s surrounded by London’s vast culture and history.

We like the Science Museum and Natural History Museum, we like Hyde Park and St. James Park and Crystal Palace. We like the Horniman Museum in Forest Hill and the Steam Museum in Kew. We like the South Bank – there’s always something new happening, something different to go and see. We like the Golden Hinde and Hay’s Galleria and Shad Thames and Tower Bridge. We like the Design Museum and the Tower of London, and we like the lions in Trafalgar Square. We like Greenwich and the Royal Observatory, and sometimes we like just going exploring and seeing what we find.

And if I can, I like to sit in the ruins of St. Dunstan-in-the-East, somewhere both bizarre and beautiful that I found completely by accident one day and has pulled me back ever since.

Ecko Rising by Danie Ware is out now from Titan Books and available (of course) from the Forbidden Planet Megastore

Interview by Tom Hunter, editor-in-chief for LondonCalling.com. If you have a great story or event to share with us, you can contact us here

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