Adrian Tchaikovsky

Adrian Tchaikovsky

Frequently Asked Questions

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Find Adrian as @Aptshadow on Bluesky and Threads 

How did you get started as a writer?

In my teens my story-telling energy went very much into being a gamesmaster of various role-playing games. Around 17 or so I ran into the Dragonlance books by Weiss and Hickman, which are entertaining novelisations of a role-playing campaign. That served as something of a lightbulb moment for me, opening up the idea that I, too could write a book. There are worse backgrounds to come to writing from than playing RPGs. A lot of the skills in creating worlds and characters are readily transferrable.

What does your writing day look like?

It’s varied over the years. When I had a full-time job then I wrote in the evenings, of a necessity. Since becoming a full-time writer I’ve begun writing in the mornings, usually getting out of the house to a café or something similar. By around midday I’ve run out of momentum, and in the afternoon I’ll get non-writing work done, like edits, admin and the like.

Are you a planner or a pantser?

(For those not used to the slang, this refers to the continuum between writers who plan out their books ahead of time, and those who just write, and create the details as they go).

I am, by nature, a planner. Most of my books to date have started with a chapter-by-chapter beat-by-beat breakdown that I’ve mostly followed all the way through. The one thing I don’t generally set is the very end of the book, trusting to the trajectory and momentum of the narrative to show me what the most satisfying ending should be. More recently I have started to experiment with other procedures. I still create the world ahead of time, in detail, along including societies, factions, religions, technology and the like. I need to feel that I have solid ground underfoot, and it ideally means everything that follows is consistent and fits with everything else. However for City of Last Chances I just created a cast of characters and let them get on with things, with minimal intervention, resulting in an interwoven mosaic structure that really suited the book.

How do you write so much?

I have a range of defences to this accusation, including that the timing of book releases doesn’t necessarily relate to the timing of their composition, and that on a day-to-day basis, based on other writers who talk about wordcount, I don’t think I necessarily do. However, given my release schedule and the packed bibliography section of this site it’s clear I’m obviously doing something. I don’t really have an answer, save that I think the care I take in crafting a coherent and consistent setting before starting to write means far less retconning and editing in the second pass, because everything is drawing from the same well of inspiration. My first drafts and my submission drafts are usually quite close, meaning I seldom need to devote a long time to multiple drafts and revisions. This doesn’t always work, and some books have been more problematic than others, but in general it carries me through.

How many books are you working on at one time?

One. Which is to say I’m actively writing only one, usually working through the text in the order it will appear on the page to the reader, very methodically. On occasion I’ve had to break this – for example all the ‘past’ sections of Children of Ruin were written first, so that I knew the details of what was there when writing the ‘present’ sections. However I’m often editing another book, or more, and ideas and research for future projects are often bubbling away as well.

What’s with all the spiders and insects and things?

The literary answer to this is that many authors have used bugs as a mirror to human nature (Kafka, Pelevin, Capek etc). The real answer is that I just like bugs. I’ve always strongly identified with those parts of the natural world that don’t get the same good press as dolphins and pandas. There is a serious element to this, though. A lot of my writing is to do with empathy for the other, and for most people you don’t get more other than spiders.

Do you write to music?

Yes. Usually film, TV and game scores. Almost never anything with lyrics.

What are the big repeating themes in your writing?

Communication, contact and empathy with the other. Resistance to tyranny, inequality and oppression. A philosophic or deconstructionist take on traditional fantasy and SF elements.

Do you ever put people you know into your books?

Occasionally. My old role-playing group all turn up in Guns of the Dawn, and there’s a whole wave of characters in books 8 and 9 of Shadows of the Apt who are named after various LARPing and Warcraft comrades. 

How much choice to you get over titles, cover art and audiobook narrators.

For titles, my track record is dreadful. I keep about one in three, and the rest of the time the publishers turn my working title down flat and we have to hammer together a new one. This seems to be a genuine blind spot for me. At some point I should make a list of all the books that have been re-titled and what their original titles were supposed to be.

For cover art, while it’s the publisher’s final call, I’ve always been consulted, even back with Empire in Black and Gold. There’s usually a bit of back and forth, and very occasionally there’s a strong difference of opinion, but that’s rare. Often it comes down to specific details after the overall composition has been agreed.

With narrators, sometimes that just happens. At other times I get linked to some samples for a handful of narrators the publisher is considering. And once or twice I put in and ask if I can do it myself.

How do you research?

Research generally comes in two phases. There is just random acquisition of interesting ideas, that comes out of my general reading of science articles, rabbit-holing on the internet and listening to podcasts. After I have a book idea I then need to identify the important areas I’m ignorant about, especially if I’m writing in the hard SF mode. At this point I will usually try and get in contact with someone who knows the field, because having something explained to you, and being able to ask specific questions, is always the most efficient way of getting to grips with the particular elements of a subject that you need.

When did you get past the Imposter Syndrome/Lack of Confidence stage?

I haven’t. Which is just how it is for a great many writers. Every book feels like it’s the one that’s going to do terribly and consign me to the literary bin. Every bad review cuts. Despite everything, I still feel like the new guy waiting for people to tell me they were just humouring me all along. So if you feel the same way then the good news is that’s perfectly fine and the bad news is it’s probably a permanent psychological fixture. I’m not sure it isn’t better than believing I’m God’s gift to literature, though.

Do you have any advice for new and aspiring writers?

The short answer is no, mostly because every writer I know has come to the business via a different handful of dice rolls, lucky chances and personal decisions. However, the uniting feature for most of us is that we’ve worked at it. Writing is a craft with skills that you can improve. My early writing, back in my Dragonlance days, absolutely stank. It took me over a decade of writing and submitting to get to the point where I was creating publication-worthy material. I know that because, of course, I went back through my old manuscripts to see what could be salvaged, after Empire in Black and Gold was picked up. The answer? The two before Empire were salvageable with considerable re-writing. Nothing older than that.

I suspect I could have shortcut that time in the wilderness if I’d been better at taking criticism, or getting on with people, neither of which have historically been my strong suits. With the former I could have got something from a good writer’s course or similar, taking on board comments that would have taught me things I had to learn the slow way by trial and error. For the latter, if I had been able to talk the talk at conventions, potentially I could have secured an invitation to put a manuscript in front of a sympathetic agent or editor without going through the slush pile. However I suspect my general desperation to get published would have sunk any attempt to make that kind of connection, honestly.

Which book of yours should I start with?

This is a tough question, because I generally try to tailor the answer to the specific locales in the genre landscape that the reader is happiest with. However, a selection of starting points:

For fantasy readers, City of Last Chances is my most recent, and also one of my best. Guns of the Dawn and Redemption’s Blade are other standalone fantasies that represent an easy ingress point for my writing. If you like that and want to commit to something larger, the Shadows of the Apt/Tales of the Apt/Echoes of the Fall books should keep you busy. As a shorter read, Made Things and Spiderlight are also solid fantasy works.

For readers of science-heavy SF (‘hard SF’ as it’s usually called), Children of Time remains my most-read book, though I would also put forward Dogs of War as a personal favourite. A lot of the novellas in the Terrible Worlds series, such as Firewalkers, Ironclads and Ogres also give a more concise hard SF experience, as do the two Expert System novellas.

For readers of more action-oriented SF, or those who like the liminal space between SF and fantasy, there’s always the Final Architecture space opera trilogy. Alternatively Cage of Souls is a dying earth science-fantasy. For shorter reads, Elder Race is a book that explores the boundary of SF and fantasy, as do some of the other Terrible Worlds novellas such as Walking to Aldebaran, One Day All This Will Be Yours and And Put Away Childish Things.

Are any or all of your books set in the same universe?

As a rule, books not expressly in the same series are not. Otherwise, even those that seem like they have some commonalities tend to have deep structural differences in the setting backgrounds that preclude them co-existing. The big exception to this is that the Shadows of the Apt and Echoes of the Fall series absolutely occur in the same world (and the linking novella For Love of Distant Shores in the Tales of the Apt collection of the same name sets out how this occurs). 

Will there be a sequel to…?

This is always a tricky question. There are two prerequisites to a sequel. I have to be interested in exploring the setting further (which I usually am), and there must be a commercial demand for one such that the publisher of the earlier books is interested in publishing it. In general, I usually have some idea of where I might take any setting further (though not necessarily any loose ends, characters or storylines from the original books). The best thing you can do, if you really want to see a sequel to any given book, is agitate for it and try to link up with other readers who want the same thing, so that the publisher knows the demand is there.

Are there any books of yours that you felt went under the radar and deserve to be better known?

Absolutely. I am really fond of Spiderlight, which (despite the incredible cover art) seemed to come and go without making much of a ripple. And I still feel that Guns of the Dawn is one of my best fantasy works, to which I’d love to write a successor.

Will there ever be a screen adaptation of your books?

I would love to see one, but it’s not something I have any real control over. The film rights to Children of Time have been picked up a couple of times, and there has been some interest in a few other titles. 

How about a game adaptation?

With computer games, whilst I’d love to work with someone on a project, there’s nothing on the table at the moment. I’d love to see a tabletop RPG adaptation of any of my settings, and I have been talking to various people in the industry about that, as I feel I have something of a better handle on how things work.

Do you still play games?

Absolutely yes. I run and play tabletop games, usually with a couple of campaigns ongoing at a time. I have also tried Actual Play with Force Majere and How We Roll, which was fun. I play a lot of board games. Digitally, I play a lot of roguelight games, and drift in and out of World of Warcraft.

Are you related to the composer?

Not in any way, as far as I know.

Do I have to read (X book) before I read (Y book)?

When I’m writing a series I do my best to make sure each book has its own plot arc and payoff at the end. However there is usually a lot of continuity between books as well. With that in mind:


Shadows of the Apt, Echoes of the Fall and the Final Architecture books were all conceived of as series from the start, and so really need to be read in order. If 10 books seems a bit much, there are natural break points after books 4 and 7 of Shadows of the Apt.


Although they are technically set in the same world, you don’t need to have read Shadows of the Apt to read Echoes of the Fall.


The Tales of the Apt collections take place in a period of time from before book 1 to after book 10 of Shadows. The first book, Spoils of War takes place almost entirely before Empire in Black and Gold but the other books may have small spoilers for the later books.


The Tyrant Philosopher series of books that began with City of Last Chances are intended to be readable independently. There will be some easter egg-style links between books but you shouldn’t need to have read any previous works to pick up the latest.


The Children series, Dogs of War and Expert System books were standalones that then spawned follow-up volumes. The follow-ups have their own discreet stories but build on the events of the original books. They can probably be read independently but I’d recommend reading them in order.”

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