How Leeds author Adrian Tchaikovsky went from property law to writing career as new book Children of Memory hits the shelves

Adrian Tchaikovsky always knew his passion for animals and fantasy gaming would fulfil his desire to be a writer. And so even though he had a range of jobs throughout his life, these were just to ‘pay the bills,’ until he became the established writer he’d always dreamt off.

No amount of pushbacks and rejections from agents or publishing houses deterred him – although at one stage he did wrestle with the idea that if he hadn’t achieved a breakthrough by the time he was 35-years-old should he abandon his dream and pursue other career opportunities.

And just two weeks before his 35th birthday – a time when he was juggling writing with a move fore him and his family from Reading to Leeds – that breakthrough came when he secured a publishing deal for his series of books Shadows of the Apt which began with his debut novel Empire of Black and Gold published in 2008.

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This kicked off what would be a ten-book series and introduced his highly original universe, populated by different humanoid races with the characteristics of insects.

Garforth based author Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.Garforth based author Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Garforth based author Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture: Jonathan Gawthorpe.

The idea first came to him when he was at university and running a role-playing game called Bugworld – its basic scenario of an insectoid race under attack from a wasp empire formed the basis of his fictional world, populated by the technological Apt and the magic-using Inapt.

Adrian recalls his younger days and his memories of the jobs he held before becoming a full-time writer.

He remembers: “There wasn’t much special about my childhood growing up in Lincolnshire. Being very remote, there wasn’t much to do or many places to go. I went through the grammar school education which was expected, and many of my peers were plotting their career as a farm worker. But I realised there was more to life and wanted to move away from my childhood roots as soon as possible.”

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The chance to move away came when he enrolled on a Zoology and Psychology course at Reading University, later dropping the Zoology element and focusing purely on Psychology.

Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.
Adrian Tchaikovsky. Picture by Jonathan Gawthorpe.

But even at this stage, Adrian was focused on writing. He says: “I didn’t find the content of the course particularly interesting or stimulating but from a personal and social development point of view I did get a lot out of attending university.

“It also gave me time to develop my writing, although my work continued to be rejected by publishers.”

After a couple of short-term jobs, Adrian secured a role with the Legal Aid Board, which was the start of an enjoyable legal career, including working for a property law firm once his family had relocated to Leeds.

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“We already knew some people in York,” Adrian says “and so we decided we wanted to move up North from Reading. We found Leeds to be very affordable and there were more work opportunities.

Perhaps Adrian’s proudest moment came with Children In Time – the first in a trilogy which he started writing in 2015.

In the book, the remnants of humanity leave a dying Earth for a terraformed new planet, only to discover that the world is now occupied by a new species.

In 2016, the book scooped the Arthur C Clarke Award for Science Fiction – the UK’s most prestigious science fiction prize.

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At the time, Tom Hunter, director of the award which was set up with a grant from science fiction giant Sir Arthur C Clarke in 1987, said the winning novel “has a universal scale and sense of wonder reminiscent of Clarke himself, combined with one of the best science fictional extrapolations of a not-so-alien species and their evolving society that I’ve ever read.”

And a Financial Times literary review praised the work for “superior stuff, tackling big themes – gods, messiahs, artificial intelligence, alienness – with brio.”

Adrian says: “This was an extremely pivotal moment for me. The nomination for the award really kicked off interest in my books.

“By 2016 I sat down with my wife for a serious discussion, and once we realised there was enough money in the kitty, I could quit my legal career and concentrate full-time on my writing. There are

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times when I do miss the buzz of the office and the camaraderie and conversation from colleagues, but I’m delighted to be able to finally focus on my writing full-time.

“It’s been a long journey, with some ups and downs along the way, but I’m pleased I persevered and didn’t let setbacks in the early days put me off.”

This month, six years after the award, the final book in the trilogy, Children of Memory, hit the bookshelves. Spanning generations and galaxies, the follow-up to Adrian’s masterpieces Children of Time and Children of Ruin sees strangers with unparalleled knowledge and thrilling new technology arrive on Imir with disquieting consequences.

So as Adrian continues to enjoy the success of his writing – with another book, City of Last Chances which gives a darkly inventive portrait of a city under occupation and on the verge of revolution, due out in early December – what’s his advice to budding authors just starting out on their writing careers?

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“Many people start writing a book but then stall and never continue. The most important thing to do is to just get a draft written. It doesn’t matter if you then need to go back and make additions and edits, the fact you’ve got something to work with will give you the confidence and motivation to continue.

“And, like I’ve proven myself, never give up despite how many setbacks you suffer at the start.”

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