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Wanderers and Islanders
Orbit paperback £9.99
review by Ceri Jordan
Rusty Brown is an ordinary schoolboy, until the day a gypsy girl tells him one of her people's secrets, and he begins a search for something he can't quite define. Leonardo Pegasus is a successful magician, until the grey-suited forces of progress and his futile obsession with a mysterious young woman force him to seek his fortune on the road. Old soldier Victor Lazarus, in contrast, is coming to the end of a journey - and a job as caretaker of an ancient and mysterious house haunted by something that has big plans for him...
Steve Cockayne's debut novel is a heady fusion of well-known fantasy tropes and the quiet oddness of everyday life, with a dash of social satire for good measure. The world he creates is strange and yet familiar, like one of your grandmother's reminiscences viewed through a distorting mirror. Gypsies and magicians rub shoulders with faceless bureaucrats and smalltown gossips, the most unlikely of legends turn out to be true, and the answers are only to be found by leaving ordinary, respectable society behind.
As the first book in a saga, Wanderers And Islanders is eager not to give too much away. This means the book can be a little too mysterious for its own good; but the gentle, well-observed writing and the strange challenges facing the characters keep hooking you back in. It's always good to see a writer stretching the boundaries of the fantasy genre, and this absorbing, unusual volume bodes well for the rest of the series.
Steve Cockayne in his own words
Although I didn't realise it at the time, the family into which I was born was rather an unusual one. My parents, together with various friends and relations, ran the Pegasus Marionette Theatre, which was active in North London in the 1950s, and our house was cluttered with the paraphernalia of their hobby. The marionettes were designed and built in my father's workshop, and I lived surrounded by these miniature, very vivid characters, who ignited my imagination at the time, and many of whom later found their way into my writing.
I wrote my first stories at the age of four and, although I was awarded a certificate from the National Book League for one of them (Peter Rabbit Breaks The Plates), it was some 40 years before I eventually returned to literature. I took piano lessons, somewhat against my will and, in my early teens, started to draw strip cartoons about a secret agent named Herbert Wilkinson. Perhaps fortunately, none of these has survived. Later, I discovered photography and, during my student years, was a founder member of Griffin Film Unit, which produced short 8mm narrative films, many of which were set in imagined worlds.
This led me naturally into my first job, as a cameraman at the BBC, and I stayed there for 21 years, working on a wide range of 'household name' programmes that included Doctor Who, Only Fools And Horses, The Young Ones, Hi De Hi, Top Of The Pops, Blue Peter, and many others now forgotten. On my days off, I became involved in a fringe theatre company, initially as musical director (yes, my mother was right, the piano lessons finally paid off), later as stage manager, in which capacity I worked on several productions at the Edinburgh Fringe and on tour.
Back at the BBC, I eventually found myself in the exalted role of Head of Cameras and Lighting, in which capacity I was required to participate in the 'down-sizing' of the department. Having completed this disagreeable task, I myself became one of the victims of the subsequent round of down-sizing, and found myself redundant at the age of 43.
There followed rather a difficult period, but it did at least give me the opportunity to carry out a full-scale re-structuring of my life. As a result of this I eventually found myself living in the depths of the Leicestershire countryside and working in a part-time job teaching television production techniques. This allowed me freetime for further re-structuring activities!
Without really knowing where it was all heading, I enrolled on a training course in Neuro-Linguistic Programming (NLP), followed by other courses in hypnotherapy and storytelling. Finally, it occurred to me that what I really wanted to do was to return to writing. After a break of some 40 years, it took me a while to get re-started, but the final result was Wanderers And Islanders. The NLP training played a significant role here, both in teaching me techniques for unearthing the contents of my unconscious mind, and in supplying a number of story elements, including the concepts of the Empathy Engine and the Well-Constructed Future.
By this time, both my parents had died, and all the surviving hardware of the marionette theatre came into my possession, so that it was quite easy for Rusty and Dusty, Alice and the Magician, and Veronique to sneak into the story, along with various other characters and experiences that I had encountered along the way. The book has a complex structure, in which I develop three independent storylines, the connection between which slowly becomes apparent.
It took me a year to write the book and two years to find an agent and a publisher, but I was finally able to retire from teaching, and am now writing full time. I have adopted a disciplined approach, planning the storylines in detail and setting myself deadlines for each chapter. In my spare time, I manage to carry out a little restoration work on the marionettes, as well as playing various musical instruments and subjecting myself to a daily yoga routine.
I am planning two sequels to Wanderers And Islanders, the first of which 'The Iron Chain' is currently in draft form. 1 also have a number of ideas for future projects but, as they say, time will tell.
Steve Cockayne, 16 November 2001
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