World-building — it is a part of all fantasy, all speculative fiction. In fact, all fiction, period. Every story is set somewhere, after all. But it is more obvious in fantasy and science fiction.
So where are the roots, the origins, of the worlds I have built? I was ever the sort as a kid to create scenarios for my friends. Or for myself. These borrowed from many sources and perhaps got a a bit supercharged when I discovered Edgar Rice Burroughs! But I was never the sort to set my imaginary adventures in other folks worlds, though I was certainly influenced by Burroughs, Doyle, Tolkien, and loads of others.
I became moderately obsessed with prehistoric man fairly early. Neanderthals showed up in some of those scenarios of mine (and maybe ape men and varied ‘savages’). I had a thing for ancient India, too, for some reason. But none of those imaginings gelled into later world-building (though I know they influenced it).
The actual ‘birth’ of it all I can set to a couple years later, maybe when I was thirteen, fourteen — a little more sophisticated. It was essentially a shipwreck and castaway thing, a lifeboat to — where? A strange and different world. Not an alternate Earth thing, exactly, not yet, but more of a hidden world in the Burroughs tradition. I can honestly say that my six books in the Malvern and Mora series started there. I actually kept the map I had drawn up at the time, and adapted that.
But then there was the apocalyptic thing — post-nuclear war, maybe (I varied on the concept), and set pretty much where I lived in my teen years, southwest Florida. This one I did develop, and continued to develop, into a somewhat complete history. And, over time, it underwent fairly radical changes, the most important being that I moved it all out of our world. I created a universe of my own and messed around with it for a long time, without ever attempting to write much in the way of fiction based there. A few rather bad stories — I wasn’t ready yet.
Inevitably, the ‘castaway’ world was drawn into that one. All the fantasy (well, most of it) now draws from one cohesive world-building effort. I’ll just mention that there is also a fairly extensive fictional Florida I have created for my mainstream fiction; that required a sort of world-building of its own. My first novel, the YA ‘The Middle of Nowhere,’ is set in that Florida, as are my Cully Beach novels and a number of short stories.
But back to the fantasy. My first fantasy novel, ‘The Song of the Sword,’ was set in the world I had been building so long. More followed, three to finish the Donzalo’s Destiny sequence, those six novels that derived from the shipwreck scenario, and three more that fit into the millennia that lie between the two series. Loads more are planned, of course!
And ultimately, they do all go back to those two imagined worlds of a kid. I do have ideas for some more mainstream stories, down the line, that borrow a little from my fantasy universe, as well. There were certain ideas that either didn’t quite fit or would never be developed in a fantasy direction, but could work in our own world. I have lifted a certain character bodily out of the one world and set him in the other, to live a life as a spy and adventurer, through the history of the Twentieth Century. Still developing things, there.
None of this precludes creating and building new worlds. Not fantasy, almost certainly, but science fiction, as well as historical fiction. Or anything, really. And maybe I’ll borrow and cannibalize from older stuff or maybe build it all new. But it does all start with my bed serving as a lifeboat, heading off to an unknown land of fierce warriors and beautiful women. I’m thankful I finally reached it.