Guest Post: “Escapist Fantasy” by Carl Rackman, Author of Irex

Today is my turn on the blog tour organised by The Write Reads tour company for Irex by Carl Rackman. Thank you for having me along and to the author for writing this guest post for my blog. I read and reviewed this book last year, so I thought a guest post by the author might be of interest for the tour. My 5 star review can be read here.

In the harsh winter of December 1889, the sailing vessel Irex leaves Scotland, bound for Rio de Janeiro. She carries three thousand tons of pig iron and just three passengers for what should be a routine voyage. But Captain Will Hutton soon discovers that one of his passengers hides a horrifying secret that threatens the lives of everyone on board. As the Irex battles relentless storms, Hutton fights battles of his own as he becomes mired in the intrigues of his passengers.

When the Irex is wrecked off the Isle of Wight six weeks later, it falls to the county coroner, Frederick Blake, to unravel the events that overtook the doomed ship. He quickly runs into opposition – powerful forces within the British Establishment are working to spike his inquest. Locked in a conflict with the sinister agents sent to obstruct the investigation, he begins to discover that nothing aboard the Irex is what it first seemed, while the evil that stalked the ship now threatens anyone who seeks to expose it…

Irex is an atmospheric mystery, set in a rich Victorian world, packed with intrigue, twists and unforgettable characters — the gripping first novel by Carl Rackman.

Irex took the Silver Medal in the Historical Fiction category of the #RBRT 2017 Book Awards

Genre: Historical Mystery
Length: 394 Pages
Published: 25th September 2016

Amazon | Goodreads 

Over to you, Carl…

Escapist Fantasy

It’s fair to admit I’m not really the imaginative fantasy type. I love reading, but in the past few years, much of what I consume is fact-based reportage or real-life, non-fiction history. Show me a whiff of ‘based on a true story’ and I’m there! I’m that guy that Netflix is thinking about when they make a new documentary series – Tinder Swindler, The Dropout, Inventing Anna – can’t get enough of this stuff!

I’m a technical-minded, grounded rationalist; a sceptic, unafraid of ghosts, UFOs, demons or gods; unmoved by astrological mumbo-jumbo, spiritualism and fantasy. For me, the natural world is all there is, with the supernatural occupying only the human imagination rather than a reality beyond our own.

So – how does such an unimaginative person dare to write novels? Where does the imagination come from when you’re ‘Mr Yeah, Right?’ (One of my nicknames. Along with ‘Mr Grumpy Trousers’, so it paints its own picture, I guess!)

But don’t think I’m made of stone, dear reader! Of course I enjoy fiction. A decent crime or legal drama will occupy me comfortably, while sci-fi ideas really do capture my imagination as a reader. Traditional escapism like Batman, James Bond, Indiana Jones and The Matrix will always excite me as a reader or viewer. But I usually keep my distance from very imaginative, fantastical and emotional stories, and there’s a reason for that.


It’s people who make our personal reality what it is.

Whether they have made for good or poor relationships, whether their influence has been mostly beneficial or destructive, and whether or not their effect on us is disproportionate to their involvement in our lives, our relationships dictate how we view ourselves and our place in the world. For better or worse, we can’t avoid others shaping our very selves.

It’s the human experience that keeps me grounded in my reading and writing preferences. The most lyrical, radical fantasy has escapist characters, be they creatures, mythological figures or aliens, yet they all think and speak like human people. No matter how carefully crafted the world, no matter the gorgeous, expansive imaginations of the creators, they are still essentially human dramas, and still follow similar human patterns of family, friendship, belonging, partnership, conflict and pain. Escapism in this genre is little more than window dressing (though it might be sumptuous in both imagination and execution.)

The fantasy realms remain analogues for the human world. The escapism is in the psychology of the writer. They can imagine a world where injustices are held at bay by a fearless and powerful faerie queen, or satisfy their wishful desires for a more just and accepting society where anyone can be in love with whomever they want and the community celebrates it. These ideas are escapist simply because they are so removed from our present world, and serve to provide satisfaction simply by existing so.

But for the unimaginative like me, deciphering the marvellously crafted world can be tedious, because at heart, I’m just waiting for the human story hidden beneath the layers to emerge and take shape. If the story is just ‘hey, this world’s different and better and great, and the malevolent forces we hate are defeated in the end, yay!’ then it is just an escapist fantasy with no real hook. Please understand, I’m not knocking high fantasy! It’s just not for idle-minded lumps like me.

It’s hard to explain the process which a relatively matter-of-fact, reclusive person follows when creating worlds for readers to explore. Bland stories about everyday life and ordinary people don’t really make millions for publishing. There has to be some hook, some crucial difference between our ordinary lives and the escape into fiction and fantasy.

For me, the escapism is in the resolution, the hope that there is an answer to seemingly unsurmountable odds, a key to understanding and solving the unforeseen tragedies that crash our lives like the thunderbolts of the gods.

While this might sound silly, it’s because satisfactory resolution is so rare in real life. When trouble comes, we usually just have to keep going, our problems unresolved, injustices unpunished, the innocent suffer and the guilty go free. We don’t get better. We live with daily pain, both seen and unseen. We are pushed back and forced to adapt, rather than fighting to win. In this, we are almost always losers.

My very first novel, Irex, is currently doing the rounds on a blog tour sponsored by The Write Reads ( It was written at a time of great struggle and emotional turmoil for me and reflects the inner feelings of being trapped, beset by horrors not of my making, and the struggles to resolve personal conflicts that resulted from my real-world problems. It’s been generally well-received, with the atmospheric, immersive narration being singled out as most memorable for the reader.

My stories are where I get to wrestle with the world and the human conflicts, in that same framework where I control the narrative. It’s funny when I read blog posts or tweets where authors get so caught up in their characters’ lives that they talk about them like real people. I don’t relate to my characters in the same way, because at heart, they ARE me.

All my books are built around the personal struggles and conflicts between characters. I try to make their motivations and thoughts known to the reader so we can know why they act in a particular way, why they feel awkward or resentful.

Then, like an absolute bastard, I put them in a threatening situation not of their own making, and see what happens. I am God, and they are the biblical Job.

In real life, that’s often the end of the story. Things happen but don’t really reach a conclusion. The escapist fantasy for me is managing events to a conclusion which I hope readers find as satisfying as I did in the writing. But sometimes pessimism gets the better of me and the book ends, not necessarily on a cliffhanger, but with enough of a question mark to leave the reader uncertain.

Writing Irex was my therapy. I didn’t have to invent a world – I just had to research the world that existed in history and bring it to life. I took a real-life incident (the wreck of the sailing ship Irex off the southern coast of England in 1889) and created a fictionalised human story around it. I inhabited it with the feelings and conflicts I was experiencing, and humanised them in the people I’d created.

This formula has carried over into the other books I’ve written since. They all carry a piece of me and what I was feeling at the time, whether coming to terms with events of my past, or the ongoing struggles I was facing with friends and family (and enemies, too. Yes, I have some.)

Not everything in life has a happy ending or a beneficial outcome. But in my books, I try to engineer some kind of positive conclusion, or at least respite for my characters. I think most humans who are just trying to get through their lives more or less intact deserve some kind of ‘happy for now’, if not ‘happy ever after’. Life is seldom so accommodating, but when writing, I control the narrative, and decree it shall be so!

I think that’s what they call ‘hope’.

Buy Irex here | Add to goodreads

About the Author

Hi! I’m Carl Rackman, a British former airline pilot turned author. I spent my working life travelling the world and this has given me a keen interest in other people and cultures. I’ve drawn on my many experiences for my writing.

I write suspense thrillers with a grounded science-fiction theme. I like reading novels that feature atmospheric locales and I enjoy complex, absorbing storylines combined with rich, believable characters, so that’s the sort of fiction I write. I try to create immersive worlds for the reader to explore, and characters who are more than just vehicles for the story.

I come from a naval military background and have held a lifelong interest in military history and seafaring – all my books usually contain some of these elements!

I hope you’ll enjoy my books and leave reviews. I try to personally thank reviewers if they’ve particularly enjoyed my books.

Find out more about me, my writing and my upcoming books at You can usually find me on Twitter – @CarlRackman

Website | Twitter

Some Review Excerpts

“Mr. Rackman is an exceptional writer” – Noelle Granger, RA Book Review Team
“A spectacularly good novel” – Terry Tyler, author of The Project Renova trilogy
“A tortuous tale with excellent characterisation” – Tuesday Book Blog
“It’s hard to believe this is a debut novel. It’s so good and the quality of the writing is excellent throughout.” – Cathy Ryan, Between The Lines Review Blog
“What a book! I liked the writing instantly and was intrigued by the whole premise of the story.” – Amazon Reviewer
“It’s rare for me to give 5 stars, especially for a genre that I wouldn’t normally touch, but this book is so atmospheric, so gripping, so intriguing, so entertaining that I could not award less.” – Amazon Reviewer


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