An Interview with Mike, Linda & Louise CareyComments Off
by Rebekah Lunt
When I finished the last page of The City of Silk and Steel, and started to think about the review I would write, (which can be seen HERE) I quickly started to become distracted. I loved the book and it had been a very satisfying read, but once I was outside of it again, I began to wonder about its creation and the logistics of writing together with two other authors. As much as I was interested in the creation and foundations of the story, I became curious about the experience of creating it and working together to achieve such a seamless chorus of voices and tales.
So, it was with great pleasure that I was able to interview the writers of the book, Mike, Linda and Louise Carey, and I hope that the questions and answers therein will enable you to enjoy and engage with the book even more than previously.
N.B. Some of the information contained within the questions and answers might be considered by some to be spoilers, so if you haven’t already read the book then read on at your own risk…
I am aware that Mike and Louise have written together previously but what inspired you to write together as a unit of three?
Mike: It just sort of came together that way, with nothing so grand or glorious as a plan. I came up with an idea, which was the seed for what became Seraglio/City, and I pitched it – but I pitched it as a comic book series, and it was very different back then from what it would eventually turn into. Prince Jamal was the main protagonist! Anyway, I couldn’t get any interest in it as a comic book, and eventually I dropped it into the Basket of Dead Ideas. Then one night the three of us had a conversation about the 1001 Nights, and what we loved and hated about it, and somehow in the course of that conversation Seraglio got resurrected and dusted off. We decided to write it together, and to approach it from a very different perspective. And the inspiration, if I can call it that, was to use the Arabian Nights Entertainment as a formal model – to borrow its radical shifts in style and content, its digressions, its nested stories. But we would do it entirely (or almost entirely) from the perspective of the female characters. Because what bugged us about the Arabian Nights, even allowing that Scheherazade is a somewhat empowered heroine, was the sexism. There’s a lot of stuff in there about the unfaithfulness of women and there are a lot of bad women who get punished. We wanted to write a homage that would also be a riposte.
What drew you to this particular sub-category of the fantasy genre?
Lou: I don’t think we really approached it with the sub-genre in mind. We’re all fascinated by stories, the ways in which they are told and how they interact with and fragment reality, and the Arabian Nights style structure of the book allowed us to explore this in some interesting ways.
Lin: Partly it was the huge scope of the Arabian Nights stories. In modern terms, they actually range over multiple genres: there’s romance, horror, adventure, even a whodunit, where two men confess to the same murder. We loved the idea of having that whole range to draw on. Then there was the chance to take on the djinni (or jinn as they’re called in some versions): terrifying, totally arbitrary creatures who could equally easily grant your dearest wish or reduce you to a smear on the ground. And just a bit, I suspect, it was the visuals. Mike and I both grew up with Arabian Nights picture books: no group of stories have been so gorgeously drawn by so many great illustrators. Vast desert sands, jewelled turbans, rocs and ifrits and the aforementioned jinn… So when the idea came up, we could visualise it straightaway.
Did you each have specific characters or voices that were more ‘yours’ than the others?
Mike: Oh yeah! Very much so. Once we had our three leads – Gursoon, Rem and Zuleika – it was immediately obvious that each of us had a favourite. Lou created Rem, and always had a very clear idea of who she was and where she was coming from. Lin liked Gursoon, the wily elder statewoman, and I wanted to write Zuleika. Yeah, I know. To hell with subtlety. I was tickled by the idea of this concubine who’s also a death machine. But also I had what I thought was a great idea for her backstory and I wanted to be the one who got to write her origin, as it were. So for those three, it was sort of a case of one of the three of us taking the lead and defining the territory. Other characters evolved in a more haphazard way. Anwar Das wasn’t even a named character in the original outline. He just happened, and once we had him we decided to make full use of him.
Lou: ‘My’ character was Rem. Although dad wrote her narrative sequences, The Tale of the Librarian of Bessa (Rem’s backstory) was mine. I think I related to her the most because, like her, I spend a lot of my time in very old libraries late at night (Oxford is great for that sort of thing).
What were the challenges of writing a multi-charactered, multi-layered, multi-storied text as a team of three? Did any of the struggles of the women to cohere as a group derive from any of the issues you faced together?
Mike: No, I don’t think our art was imitating life in any significant way. But it was a more exacting process than writing alone, certainly. Writing always includes an element of triangulation, for me. You have a clear sense of some things, a much vaguer sense of others – and for the vague ones, things will tend to get clearer as you approach them. So you reach a certain point and you finally know how this or that beat will play out. And then you go back and harmonise all the stuff that’s behind you, so it fits together smoothly. But if you’re collaborating, it can never be that simple. You can’t mess with your co-writers’ beats, so every new insight leads to a summit conference and a new version of the plan.
Speaking of the struggles of the women – the harem which grows into a city – I found this aspect to be a really satisfying examination of the possibilities of a feminist/womanist type of utopia. I really enjoyed the realism within the fantasy, and that nothing was simple and often required significant sacrifice – even to the point that whilst utopia was not necessarily maintained (or achieved in some instances) each story and character achieved its own appropriate completion and didn’t result in complete entropy or dystopia. Is the woman-centred aspect of the story something you intended?
Lin: Very definitely. The Arabian Nights inspired us both in terms of setting and in the structure: the multiple-stories approach worked well for us, allowing for a lot of self-defined tales within the larger narrative so that we didn’t have to meet up and harmonise every single chapter. But the stories in the Arabian Nights are mostly male-centred, with women seen as rescue-fodder or rewards for the heroes. And (as Mike’s said), the ones that show women with a bit more agency are often downright misogynistic: the woman uses her power to cheat on her man or betray him. So a huge focus in this story was the question: what would all these women do if they were set free from the men completely? What would they want for themselves?
There have been historical “City of Women” stories before: the oldest one I know of was by the medieval writer Christine de Pisan, and there was also a Country of Women created by the fabulous Margaret Cavendish, Duchess of Newcastle, in the 17th century. Both of those showed the women running a rational, peaceful society, each living very much by the values of their own age. In our case we pretty much agreed on what our utopia would look like (eg it would still have men in it, just not running everything; and plumbing and nursery schools would be more important than palaces of justice). But as soon as you start thinking about how you might really build a utopia, you come up against the real-life problems you’d face, and the fact that you have to keep on working endlessly to maintain what you’ve built. This was a fantasy, so we allowed our women to achieve their utopia and to enjoy it for a while.
Lou: From the very beginning, I was drawn to the story by its strong female characters and reversal of patriarchal conventions. Initially, though, our cast of main characters was much smaller. In the earlier stages of planning, the only characters we had really fleshed out among the women of the harem were Rem, Zuleika and Gursoon. It was mum who first began developing the other women, like Farhat and Umayma, into characters, and we soon realised that this large cast was indispensable for conveying a sense of scale, of the growth of an entire city. I think this was when the novel really started to take off, and one of my favourite parts of the writing process was coming up with the back-stories and characters of all the women, trying to imagine how they had joined the harem, and why each one would decide to join in with the attempt to retake the city.
Did you find it difficult to keep the voices authentic?
Mike: I’m not sure what authentic means in this instance. We were writing in a modern idiom, but with shout-outs to more archaic forms of language, in an attempt to pastiche nineteenth century English translations of a text that had been compiled over centuries from folktales amassed in Arabia, India, Persia and probably half a dozen other countries. The 1001 Nights was already a palimpsest, and the time it referred to was a semi-mythical one, so it felt like it was enough to capture the flavour.
We did take voice very seriously, and we probably spent more time on that one thing than on anything else. We tried out several different approaches, one of which was a much more faithful copying of the narrative voice from the Richard Burton translation. But it really didn’t fly. We needed something that would feel like that but would be a bit lighter on its feet. And the fact that Rem stands out of her time and looks directly at the modern reader, speaking to us partly as a contemporary, enabled us to have our cake and eat it.
Were there any issues of cultural belonging or ‘appropriate’ respect for a culture to which none of you belong? Or did you find that the cultural inheritance of One Thousand and One Nights has allowed this literary context (ancient eastern cultures) to become a substitute cradle for this genre? I am thinking of the effect the Grimms and the Shakespeares of the western world have had on our literature and comparing that to the effect the One Thousand and One Nights had on not just the eastern world but on ours too so that the context of The City of Silk and Steel is as familiar as gingerbread houses in the woods and witches gathered round a cauldron awaiting a king-to-be.
Mike: Well, indeed – and see previous answer. We were writing within a cultural tradition, but it’s a tradition that, by the time it reaches us, is at least twice removed from its own roots. The original core text, the Alf Layla, is eighth or ninth century. It probably originated in Persia, and with a different title, but once it got going it ricocheted around the Middle East like a rubber bullet. And everyone who got hold of it and translated it added in stories from their own culture, and changed the emphasis of some of the stories that were already there. Then when it came to the West, the best part of a millennium later, the same thing happened again in a more extreme way. The very first European translations, which I think were French, added vast amounts of material in – and the new stuff was some of the most popular! Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves, for example, is generally thought to have been a European addition. So that was the source material, and it’s a glorious mish-mash of stuff. We certainly weren’t aiming to strip away those layers of interpretation to get back to the truth of the original tales or the original historical era. If anything we were adding our own layer on top of what was there.
Now a question just for Louise! Writing with a partner is becoming more common but I believe this is the first instance I have come across of a whole family, or three people, writing together. For you, as the daughter in this team of three, and working with your parents, did it pose any particular challenges to you which were different from writing with a peer?
Lou: I’ve never actually co-written anything with someone who isn’t my parent, so my experience of writing with mum and dad felt like the norm to me! There were some challenges which I think were unique to the experience though. Nagging, for example, was a bit of an issue. When ‘have you finished that chapter yet?’ became as regular a refrain at home as ‘did you remember to tidy your room/ hoover the carpet/ do the dishes?’, it made it difficult at times to work at my own pace. I suppose the gap in experience between me and my parents also made a difference. Since they’re both writers, I often felt that I should defer to their creative opinions. Luckily, they were always quick to remind me that the novel was a joint enterprise, and they never let me take a back seat in the planning process!
And finally, come on guys, are you a perfect family or what?! Having assumed no-one has ended up under the patio or disappeared in mysterious circumstances, how on earth have you managed to maintain the well being of your family dynamic at the same time as wrangling a book to completion?!
Lin: Well, just being in a family means you occasionally want to murder each other, right? I mean just the daily hassles, like the assault course to get to the cupboard and the vanishing keys which were there last night and the jamjar that someone put away empty, I mean, not even a SCRAPE! And I just did the shop! What kind of IDIOT?… So we long ago developed coping mechanisms. Mine is a time-out with a Terry Pratchett book and large quantities of chocolate: an hour of that and I’m quite civilised again.
[Mike unloads the tension by retro-gaming: he can slaughter Professor Robotnik in about six seconds, especially when I’ve just eaten the last biscuit in the pack. Louise is currently too overworked to unwind properly, so she has to make do with rolling her eyes and making a really cutting remark. It’s worked OK so far.]
The City of Silk and Steel is out now.
An Interview with Raymond E. FeistComments Off
by Craig Knight
Thirty years ago it began with Magician and rather fittingly concludes with Magician’s End. Did you ever imagine the Riftwar Cycle would be so successful and span so many books?
Not until I got deep into the Serpent War saga. Then it started to dawn on me we might end up doing all 5 Riftwars. Didn’t know how many books that would take at the time.
How do you feel now that the Riftwar Cycle has come to an end and you reflect on the series and its conclusion?
It’s too soon for anything like perspective. I’m pleased the series found an audience and that for the most part that audience stuck it out. I find like any project I can look back and think of a couple of things I could have done better, but that’s always the case. On the whole I’m pleased with how things turned out.
Looking back at the entire series, is there anything you would have done differently with the benefit of hindsight?
Appropriate follow-up to the previous question. Nothing major. There are a couple of places where I think I could have made a different choice. And some stuff that got put in that never went anywhere. In Shadow of a Dark Queen I introduce Miranda through the gimmick of her saving Erik and Roo while she’s disguised as an old crone, a whole spy disguise thing I basically dropped as soon as Miranda came on stage. I could have cut that entire bit, for example.
There are quite a few plot strands to resolve from the previous books, not least being Pug’s prophesised demise. What can readers expect to encounter in Magician’s End?
Without getting into spoilers, I hope the reader finds the conclusion makes sense given what has occurred in the previous books. There will be some triumphs among all the ashes, and a few happy endings for some characters. What I hope the reader finds satisfying is the explanation of why things went the way they did.
Has writing Magician’s End been more difficult or challenging than previous books as you seek to bring things to a conclusion?
Not really. The most challenging aspect was the wrapping up of loose ends, some of which go back to Magician.
Will you be bidding a fond farewell to Midkemia or do you think you’ll return at some point in the future?
Never say never. Midkemia is a virtual world, and I’m writing basically a history of an imaginary place. Lots of things went on after the Rifwar Cycle, though not on that comic scale, of course. I certainly could do more stories in Midkemia.
Do you have any other projects planned that you can tell us about?
At this point I’m in discussion with my publisher about what’s next. We’ve more or less agreed in principle to a new series, The War of the Five Crowns, which appears to be a trilogy. The first book is entitled King of Ashes.
I’m sure all your readers will want to express their heartfelt thanks for giving us such a fascinating and enjoyable story over the years. Do you have any words for your fans before we get to grips with Magician’s End?
Yes, please. Thank you for the support. Without your affection and spending your hard earned money on my stories, I’d be doing something else. So, again, thank you all very much.
Check out our review of Magician’s End HERE
An Interview with Peter V. Brett(1)
by Elloise Hopkins
Peter V. Brett is the bestselling author of the hugely popular Demon Cycle series. His latest book The Daylight War was released in February by HarperVoyager in the UK and Del Rey in the US. I caught up with him on his UK tour to find out a bit more about the man behind the demons.
You’re on a bit of a whistle stop tour of the UK at the moment. How’s it going so far?
Professionally and personally, the tour has been fantastic. The Daylight War hit #3 on the London Times list, and every stop has had a bookstore filled with readers excited to chat about the books. I love the sight of a full bookstore, and it’s been fantastic to meet many of the people I interact with on social media in the flesh. It’s an odd phenomenon to have so many people I talk to all the time but only know as some avatar and not a person. It’s great to match names and faces to the icons and cybersnark.
Logisitcally, the tour has been more of a challenge. We’ve squeezed in two stops a day, but British Rail seems to have it in for me, leaving us running from place to place, arriving breathless and sweeping out right after the last book is signed. Exciting, but exhausting, too. I was three hours late to my signing in Milton Keynes, though I was able to get the word out about the delay quickly thanks to twitter, and almost all the readers simply went to lunch and came back. I was expecting a crowd with torches and pitchforks when I finally arrived, and was incredibly touched instead to find a cheery crowd happy to see me instead.
Fans have been showing you pictures of their Demon Cycle tattoos, artwork and so on. How does it feel to be confronted with fandom like that?
Amazing, gratifying, and a little frightening. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be worthy of my readers, but they are a pretty incredible bunch, and it ent easy.
The Daylight War is out and doing well having hit number three on the Sunday Times Bestsellers list at the weekend. For those who haven’t read it can you tell us a little bit about book three’s focus.
The Demon Cycle is essentially a series of character studies during a pivotal time for the human race, when it will be decided if humanity will rise again in strength or be driven into extinction by demons that rise each night to ravage the land. There will be five books in the cycle.
The first book, The Painted Man, focuses primarily on the character of Arlen Bales, a young man scarred by a demon attack in his childhood who learns how to fight back against the powerful creatures. Arlen may be destined to Deliver humanity from the demons, or to lead it to its destruction. More than this, the book is about fear, and how it can be both crippling and a real driver for change.
The second book, The Desert Spear, focuses on Ahmann Jardir, who seemed an antagonist in the first book. Having claimed the title of Deliverer of the tribes of the Krasian Desert, Jardir invades Arlen’s homeland to conquer its people and levy them into all-out war against demonkind. Going back in time to Jardir’s childhood, the book tells the story of his rise to power by dint of his own courage and strength, but also the machinations of his wife, Inevera, a mysterious woman part seer and part Lady Macbeth. The book as a whole is an exploration of the other, and how when put in perspective, Jardir believes himself to be—and perhaps is—every much a hero and savior as Arlen.
The third book, The Daylight War, introduces the point of view of Inevera, showing how the foretellings of the alagai hora, dice carved from demon bones with the power of prophecy, have shaped her own life, even as she uses them to shape her husband’s future and that of her dying people. The book focuses on relationships and how people rely on one another for strength in difficult times. It is also about how military invasion forces change on both the invaded and invaded alike, often in unexpected ways.
How does the series so far compare to what you originally envisaged?
In terms of plot, things are right on target, as the individual character arcs drive the larger meta-story of the series forward at the pace I planned. But I have grown and changed as a person and as a writer in the fifteen years since I first started work on it, and that has been reflected in the story in ways I had not anticipated. The series and characters have grown in complexity as my own experiences have broadened.
What’s next for the Demon Cycle?
Book four, The Skull Throne, is plotted in full. I have about 150 pages of stepsheet to begin layering prose over, which will be my primary focus once the tour is over. I hope to finish this book quicker than the last, but am reluctant to give a date for it until I get close to an endpoint.
How do you balance writing with social networking and the other aspects of your life? Any set routine?
As an active parent of a four year old and full time writer, ever day is a little different. Balancing parenting, writing, social media, and the vast clerical, production, and marketing aspects of my career remains something of a work in progress. Early in my career I set a high bar for social interaction with readers online, but as the books grow in popularity, I am being forced to scale back on that, lest it take up my every waking moment. Still, I try to be as accessible as I can, particularly on twitter, where interaction is truncated by design. I steal quiet time to write when I can, sometimes during the day while my daughter is at preschool, but mostly at night, when the dinging of my inbox slows and the house is quiet.
How much has your success changed your life and your outlook?
The day to day of my life has changed drastically since I became self-employed, but I don’t know that my outlook is all that different. My priorities are the same as they’ve always been, And the success of the series has only increased the pressure to continue delivering my very best work to the readers who have made it possible.
There was a great little book trailer produced for The Daylight War. How much input do you have into things like that?
Quite a lot, actually. This time around, at least. With each successive book my input has increased with marketing elements, which is great. I have a background in PR, marketing, and print production, and these are all elements I like to work with my publishers on to help ensure that things stay on brand and that we deliver the highest quality materials possible to our audiences.
Also out at the moment is Red Sonja. Can you tell us a bit about that project and how you got involved in it?
Red Sonja was created as a spin-off book from The Chronicles of Conan, a Marvel comic book series produced primarily in the 70’s and 80’s. I was a big comics fan back then, and read both books, along with dozens if not hundreds of others. But while most of the other books I read were about superheroes, Conan and Sonja were fantasy, which was ever where my heart lay.
Sonja is best known as the quintessential warrior woman in a chainmail bikini, which is how she got her start, but in the 80′s, the creative team of Louise Simonson and Mary Wilshire reimagined the character, placing her in a blue fur tunic more reminiscent of the fur loincloth often associated with Conan. That was the series that first introduced me to the character, and I was a big fan up until the book was cancelled due around issue 13. The property then languished for over a decade before Dynamite Comics picked it up and with writer Michael Avon Oeming and artist Mel Rubi, breathed new life into the character, returning her to her iconic metal swimwear and producing a high quality book.
I met the team from Dynamite Comics at Book Expo America, and while discussing graphic novels and comics in general with President Nick Barrucci, I apparently really impressed him with my knowledge of Sonja and her history. A week later he quite unexpectedly offered me the chance to write a short run on the series. I agreed, but proposed doing something a little different, having a wardrobe malfunction force Sonja to doff her steel bikini and don the skin of a blue-furred demon, recreating the character as I most fondly remembered her.
This story was released as the 36 page one-shot Red Sonja: Blue, illustrated by the amazing Walter Geovani. After the success of that book, Dynamite allowed me to continue the story. Red Sonja: Unchained is a four issue limited series that picks up where Blue left off (though they can be read independently). It is illustrated by the great Jack Jadson, with covers by Walter Geovani and Mel Rubi. The first issue is on sale now.
Any plans for a Demon Cycle graphic novel, and if so how much creative input would you retain?
There have been talks about it. I retain the rights at the moment, so I can license the project if I choose, but I don’t know that I trust anyone other than me to write it, and I don’t want to take my focus off the novels for too long until the series is done. Comics are near and dear to me, so I don’t think I would license the work for graphic novels unless I retained some control, or had a creative team I really trusted.
Going back to The Painted Man, some of the characters, Rojer particularly, were very young at the beginning. How much consideration did you give to the fact you were writing from children’s’ points of view and that you would then need to grow those children into adults? How difficult was that to manage?
I gave it a great deal of consideration. Rojer begins at three years old, and fortunately, I knew a few children that age and could study a bit what they were and weren’t capable. Rojer was not able to be a very active participant at that age, but three year olds see everything, and understand more than we give them credit for, so he was perfect as a witness. Each of the characters in the first book is scarred, either physically or emotionally (in Rojer’s case, both) by a demon encounter in their childhood. These encounters drive the protagonists’ lives onto new paths that lead them to challenge the status quo of their world.
Have any of your characters been particularly challenging or awkward to write?
All of them, at some point or other.
Have you given any thought to the future beyond the Demon Cycle and what else you may want to work on?
The beauty of the world I’ve created is that there is considerable room to continue telling stories there even after I bring the main series to a close. I have one standalone book planned already, using the characters from Arlen’s home town, Tibbet’s Brook. I have notes for some others as well, but it may be that after I finish out my contract I’ll want to do something totally new. We’ll see when the time comes.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us and we hope to see you back in the UK sometime. Enjoy the rest of the tour.
Thank you so much! It was great talking to you.
An Interview with Robin Hobb(2)
by Elloise Hopkins
Robin Hobb has long been known as one of the biggest names in fantasy and this year sees the release of the conclusion of her latest series as well as a novella set in the same world. With a hugely successful career and a fan base that spans the world, at this point she is an author who needs little in the way of introduction.
There are few fantasy readers who have not been swept away by the magic of the Elderlings and the Farseers, wooed by the talking Liveships or intrigued by the other world of The Soldier Son Trilogy. There are fewer still who have not speculated about what will come after The Rain Wild Chronicles, so as the final part draws near it is an exciting time to be interviewing Robin.
Blood of Dragons is nearly with us – the long-awaited conclusion to The Rain Wild Chronicles, and perhaps the final piece of Kelsingra’s puzzle. What can readers expect from this instalment?
I fondly hope that they will find it a satisfying conclusion to this part of the tale. Where to end a book, or even four books, is always a momentous decision. A long time ago, I decided that one story should end where the next one would logically begin. We see that in the old tales that end with a wedding, or the death of a hero, or the truce at the end of the war. When working with multiple story lines, it’s harder. In our own lives, it’s very rare for multiple events to all end neatly at the same time. So often, the best a writer can do is find a stopping place where readers can accept that some good endings have occurred and they can see that others are probably just around the corner. I hope that readers will feel that this tale fills in a lot of unanswered questions, not just from the Liveship Traders trilogy, but from Farseer and Tawny Man as well. Really, the stories are all related.
When did you realise the series would run to four books and what elements exceeded your original intentions?
How embarrassing to admit this! I’d looked at my course of books as Robin Hobb and realized that for anyone thinking of venturing in, a nine book series can be a bit daunting. So I decided to write a stand alone novel that might allow a reader to experiment with my style and choice of story, an introduction to my world. I hoped it would be a nice lure that would work for people who wanted a full story before plunging into the bigger story. It was to be a book that readers could read and enjoy even if they’d never ventured into my world before.
I failed miserably. The book was far too long and turned in very late. So, the editorial decision was to split the book in two for faster editing. That was how Dragon Keeper became the first volume and Dragon Haven the second one. As I wrapped up Dragon Haven, I knew that I wanted to explore that city a LOT more than I had. So I thought I’d write one more book. Again, it was far too long. So it became City of Dragons and Blood of Dragons.
One day, I’d still like to write a stand alone book that would give new readers a way to sample my world.
The dragons in your stories are well set now to become dominant in the world and are changing its landscape. What is it about dragons that fascinates you?
What if humanity had to deal with another species that was at the top of the food chain and just as arrogant as we are about ‘ownership’ of the world’s natural resources? What if they dismissed our claims to ‘own’ livestock or land as silly little cultural claims made by a short-lived species? That is my fascination. I look at how we dismiss the territorial claims of obviously intelligent species, such as elephants and wonder just how we would react to something like that. So. Let’s have a few dragons disrupting an established fantasy world and see what happens next.
And I’ll add that dragons and dragon like creatures appear in so many mythologies in the world that I just have to wonder what prompted them in all their many guises.
Jackie Morris is a name many will recognise as the current cover artist for your books. An established British artist and writer, Jackie’s unique style has carried seamlessly over to the wonderful dragons and creatures of your stories. How did that come to be and how much guidance do you give on the appearance of the characters?
I’ve included Jackie on this question, in the hopes we can get the tale as a first hand account. How much guidance do I give on appearance of the characters? Very little. This is what I’ve discovered over the years of working with all sorts of artists. The ones who are good have much better ideas than I do. All I do when I inject feedback is muddy the water. I do not think art can be a group project without diluting genius.
And here is Jackie’s account of how it all came to be: “The partnership came about in a curious way. Jane Johnson was sent a card for Christmas, one that I had designed for the Musicians Benevolent Fund. She emailed me to ask if there was a print available and asked for it to be sent to Harper Collins. Meanwhile I was reading these amazing books by Robin Hobb. So, when I had an email from Jane, who was very pleased with the print, but wondered if I might be interested in re packaging some fantasy fiction I replied ( I had a heavy workload at the time) yes, but only if they were by Robin Hobb. Splendid coincidences like this do not come along often.
I think I have done 20 covers now and am looking forward to more.
I work the covers up about 3 times the size of the finished books and paint with watercolour. The background is gold leaf and the art dept had to develop a special technique just for Robin’s books so that they would print that way, using metallic printing inks.
As for guidance, well, Robin has all the guidance really as I read carefully and try really hard to see what it is that she describes. And as I got to know her better I now send the roughs to Jane, Emma (editors at HC) and also to Robin and sometimes Robin sees the art before the editors.
I love working on the covers and hope that I have made the books look elegant. Covers are such difficult things and you have to try and make something that will really catch the eye and stand out on crowded shelves.
One thing I love doing is finding them in bookshops and it’s wonderful when they have loads, usually face out. The script on them is so elegant. I think that is John Howe’s original script. Perfect.
I am the luckiest of people as I get to read Robin’s scripts first in order to do the covers and always love it when I begin to hear rumours of another book nearing completion.”
I will add that if you love art and beautiful photography, a visit to Jackie’s website is a must.
Also released this year is your novella The Wilful Princess and The Piebald Prince. Readers of your earlier books will, of course, recognise the legend of the Piebald Prince. What can we expect from this story?
I’ve always wanted to write about the Piebald Prince. His very brief reign was a watershed event in Six Duchies history in regard to how the Witted are treated there. I thought it was time to give a glimpse of his history and why he was such a divisive King. It’s a story told in two parts, and I’ve written it about four times over the last ten years or so, trying to get it right. I finally found the correct narrator for it, and got it down on paper. I hope that it will answer a few questions about Fitz’s heredity and the Old Blood magic.
There are many recurring themes in your work. What are the most important to you, and are you conscious of them as you write?
Recurring themes? Where?
I had a discussion about Theme with Steven Brust once. He said it’s that thing where, a couple months after the book is published, a reviewer or a reader will tell you what your theme was, and you go, “Well, of course!”
So the truth is that I don’t give a lot of thought to what the theme of a book is. I just want to write a good story, of a kind that I would love to read myself. I like dragons, and realistic detailed characters. I like forgotten cities, and ancient mysteries and magic being rediscovered. So you will find all of those things scattered through my books.
I also love biology, so you will find that a lot of my magic is based on biology. Okay, it’s my strange, pretend biology, but it makes sense to me. For example, for many years, people believed that if you planted a white rose next to a red rose, eventually there would be an exchange of some kind and the white rose would start to have red veins in the blossoms. That fascinated me. Then I read an article that said, “No, that’s not really happening. It’s just what happens to older white rose bushes.” But the idea that species might exchange genetic material simply by propinquity had already stirred up all sorts of ideas in my head.
I am fascinated by the ideas of genetic memory, of things stored in blood, of memory in general, and lately, epigenetic inheritance. I hasten to add that I’m a dabbler not any sort of expert. But it’s fascinating to think that a father’s experience may affect his son’s genetic inheritance. Readers should expect to encounter that in a later book, I’m sure!
How much of yourself and your own experiences do you think carries through to your fiction?
What can a writer write except what is in his own head? I can hear of your experiences, or research Attila the Hun, but inevitably, any story I base on what you told me or on what I researched will be written through my life as matrix. I’d really like to see a writer attempt a fictional story that has absolutely nothing to do with the reader’s own life experiences! So I think the answer to this is that my entire life affects everything that I write. If I write about an evergreen, I see the one that is in my backyard. All my characters will partake of people I’ve known and how I’ve known them.
Yet, strange to say, I’ve never deliberately embedded a real person into my fiction. I’ve never changed Joe my neighbor to Joeu, and written about him as a swordsman. I believe that every character I write has to begin in the world that I’m writing as his home. Unless I’m writing a 21st century tale, my characters should not have modern sensibilities about things. Can a writer completely suppress the sensibilities of the time and place she lives in? Probably not! But I can do my best to try to keep my characters in keeping with their cultures.
Are there any of your characters you feel particularly connected to or any whose story was particularly challenging to tell?
I love all my characters, villains included. I think a writer has to love his characters in order to spend so much time in their company. And when it comes to villains, when a writer puts on the villain’s skin and point of view, the writer has to make a commitment to really see things from that perspective. So I enjoyed writing Kennit, and I think I understood Regal as much as I did Fitz or Burrich. All writers, I believe, put a great deal of themselves into their characters. We can’t help it. Half the time, we don’t even know we are doing it. So the connection is bound to be there, with every single character.
Readers have accused me of being horribly cruel to my characters and asked if I enjoyed tormenting them. I don’t really enjoy writing about someone suffering, or the death of a beloved character or terrible losses. But they are an important part of the story. As Tolkien said, “Now it is a strange thing, but things that are good to have and days that are good to spend are soon told about, and not much to listen to; while things that are uncomfortable, palpitating and even gruesome, may make a good tale, and take a deal of telling anyway.”
It does challenge me to write that gruesome and palpitating bits. But without them, well, the story becomes a pony ride in the May sunshine, and is soon told.
What can you tell us about your writing practice? How do you gather ideas and approach a new project?
Well, I first draw a map, and make an outline, and then research the geography, geology and history of the region . . . . That’s a huge lie. My life would be a lot simpler if I did slow down and do all of that first. But the truth is, when an idea for a story finally gels and has all its pieces, I can’t wait to dive into it and start writing. I don’t want to draw a detailed map or decide how they name the months or any of that. I just want to get to the characters. I may have carried bits and pieces of the idea for years before it reaches that boiling point, but once it’s there, it’s time to write it. So all of those details are discovered as I go along. Undoubtedly, there’s a part of my brain that thinks all these things out ahead of time, but as I’m writing along, it does seem as if I’m exploring the world for the first time.
Can you get in big trouble writing this way? Oh, yes. Timelines that don’t match. Or I want a desert to cross, but really, there’s no reason for that area to be a desert. And those things do matter.
So on the rewrite I try to fix all those things. Bring them into harmony. Strange to say, there isn’t as much of that as you might think. I don’t know what part of my brain works on all that, but it does feel as if the information is there and is fed to me as the story progresses. That may be part of why I carry a story in my mind for so long, up to a decade, before I actually sit down to write it.
One thing that I do carry about is bits of dialogue. I often know how a conversation is going to go two books before it actually happens. And it’s such a pleasure when I finally get to put the words down in quotes and think, “I knew you were going to say that!”
We have seen the fantasy genre change and progress over time, the landscape, characters and themes becoming ever more diverse. Where do you think the genre will go next?
The wonder of fantasy is that it is ever renewing itself, and knows no boundaries. I think fantasy readers are very adventurous and will give new things a try. So I think the sky is the limit for writers new and old, and readers new and old. Right now, readers seem to want a long and detailed read, not just a fat book, but a long series of books. I have wondered if that will swing to faster, shorter reads? I look at the older paperbacks in my collection and marvel at how much story was packed into 250 pages. Whatever way it goes, I love being along for the ride.
I am hearing quite a bit about short stories making a big comeback, and I would love that! I think readers want a short tale, one that can be consumed during a twenty minute workout or commute, often via an audio book. I would love to see the revival of the shorter forms. I’ve enjoyed them for years through my subscriptions to the SF and fantasy magazines. If a whole crop of short story writers rose up, I’d rejoice!
You have plans to come to the UK later this year. What’s on the agenda?
I’m going to meet up with Australian writer Fiona McIntosh, and we are going to rock that World Fantasy Con in Brighton! Well, that was the original plan, and I think she and I will still have an absolute blast there. But prior to that, I’ll be doing a book tour to promote Blood of Dragons. I still don’t know our schedule or what stores we’ll be visiting, but I expect to have a wonderful time. As I get details, I will post them on my website at www.robinhobb.com I always enjoy my visits to the UK and I’m sure this will be a wonderful one.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
Thank you for this opportunity to reach out to readers!
Blood of Dragons is released in the UK on 11th March. Check out our review HERE
Ecko Rising. Book Review and Q&AComments Off
Titan Books, p/b £7.99.
Reviewed by Elloise Hopkins
In a dark, dangerous, futuristicLondon, where high-tech monitoring, cybernetic modification and a pharmaceutically controlled population are reality, Lugan knows that this time he is being watched by more than just the standard CCTV and drones. Tense, he waits for his observer to make a move. A taunting voice comes from the darkness; an unseen mockery surrounds him. Lugan is about to meet the ‘Ecko’.
Ecko, cybernetic modification perfected, is practically invisible to all surveillance. He is wanted in connection with the recent destruction of one ofLondon’s landmarks, he is the nemesis of Pilgrim, promiser of a great new world that it failed to deliver, and he is waiting in the shadows enjoying every moment of Lugan’s discomfort.
The downside to physical perfection is that Ecko is psychologically damaged, unstable, nigh on uncontrollable, and seems potentially the one person who can bring down Doctor Grey, creator of the pharmaceutical society they live in. Which is why Lugan is determined to recruit him, regardless of the risks.
Ecko Rising follows Ecko’s progress as he takes on what could turn out to be the very mission he was created for. From the moment the prologue ends we are launched into a tension filled page-turner that begins in tightly controlledLondon and keeps expanding to reveal the various realities that Ecko’s journey takes him through. Ware has successfully blended elements of science fiction and epic fantasy to create a unique story in a landscape that has just enough of a modern, dark edge to elevate it from a traditional fantasy journey to something new and compelling.
Ware writes with an eloquence that is not often encountered in genre fiction, nor complemented so well with dialogue that distinguishes its characters and adds personality to them on the page. With a language almost of his own, and a witty inner monologue to match, Ecko is a captivating hero made more so because his capabilities and constraints are not defined. He is unpredictable and thus by nature always interesting, his every word and every move laced with potential and excitement.
The contrasts and parallels between Ware’s vision of futuristicLondonand the imagined fantasy landscape of the Varchinde and the city ofRoviarathis illustrated perfectly and each setting realised in a believable way that connects the reader with the story and with its several protagonists. Ecko finds himself unceremoniously removed from futuristicLondonand plunged into a sprawling fantasy world that seems at once peacefully primitive yet no less dangerous than the world he left behind because of the existence of magic and forces he does not understand.
In Ecko Rising Ware takes the idea of removing a character from his comfort zone and hooks the reader from start to finish by plunging him into a place where reality itself is questionable and more of his surroundings and mission seem inexplicable than not. This will be enjoyed by readers of science fiction, traditional fantasy and modern fantasy – a successfully fresh ‘something for everyone’ approach to genre fiction.
Read on for Danie’s answers to our questions about Ecko Rising…
What can readers expect from Ecko Rising?
Ecko Rising is a new thing – it’s fantasy seen through SF eyes, a sharp and sardonic take on the genre, a biting look at some of the classic chestnuts. It’s dirty in places, it’s violent, it can be confrontational – it’s probably not what you expect. But if you like your fantasy with a sharp-edged twist, then it’s definitely for you!
What is it that will appeal to readers about Ecko himself and what was it about his character that you enjoyed writing?
Ecko’s that part of all of us that won’t be given orders, that demands the right to stand up, speak out, think for ourselves and be different. He’s aggressive, he’s angry, he’s sarcastic, he’s insightful and stubborn. And yet, he can be just as human and fallible as we are – and he can just as easily mess it up. Writing the character meant I could let myself off the leash – let my savage and deeply cynical self have free rein and just do whatever the heck it wanted. And actually, that’s a lot of fun!
So often there is a general reluctance to genre crossing. What persuaded you to blend science fiction with fantasy and why did you feel it was right for Ecko Rising?
Many years ago, it out as ‘what if’ fiction – something kind of haphazard share with a highly creative and involved social group, all of whom have contributed to what it’s eventually become. In 2008, when I started writing again, the concept was so firmly established it just never occurred to me to do anything else. And the more I wrote and the more I explored the concept properly, the more fun it became!
What was your initial concept of Ecko Rising and how did that develop to the finished novel?
I once attended a Writers’ Workshop run by Chris and Pauline Morgan. The piece I submitted was a night view of a forest, seen for the first time by Ecko – then called Oxy – from the top of a tower where he’d manifest in the fantasy world. It was the most ghastly purple prose, a spewing of lengthy description of which I was enormously proud… and I remember Chris putting a red pen through it and saying ‘Character’s a pyromaniac – come on, what he can he see?’
It took me aback, but he was absolutely right. And it made me start to think about how everything is dependent on point of view, upon whose eyes the reader is looking from. And as the character developed from those early experiments, so the story grew almost organically round him.
What processes are you going through leading up to the release? Do you have any readings or tours scheduled or upcoming activity online for readers to look out for?
There’s a lot of online activity coming up – a blog tour starting next week (watch Titan’s website or my blog for dates), and a gorgeous book trailer/interview done by Angie Thomas at Dancing Fairy.
I’ll be launching Ecko properly at Forbidden Planet on Thursday 20th September at 6pm – there will be reading and beer! The following Thursday evening, also at Forbidden Planet at 6pm, the Titan Fiction Family will be out en masse for the first time – I’ll be there with Kim Newman, Guy Adams, Joanne Reay and Samit Batsu.
I’ll be at FantasyCon at the end of the month, reading on the Friday evening at 8pm, then at the Titan book launch on the Saturday morning (I think Sophie’s ordered cupcakes!). I’ll also be reading and signing at Forbidden Planet Bristol on Friday 19th October at 1pm, before going to BristolCon the following day.
What’s next? Have you any plans to continue Ecko’s story after Ecko Rising or to work on a different project?
I’ve just handed in the second part of the Ecko story, due to be published in the UK next September. I have an urban fantasy novel with my agent, and various mini projects on the go… but as for anything after that, we will have to wait and see!
Ecko Rising is out now from Titan Books at £7.99
Karl Edward Wagner: An Interview for Dark Troubadour(1)
With Centipede Press about to publish a new collection of Karl Edward Wagner’s short fiction it seemed appropriate for the BFS to publish the following interview with him. This interview was conducted by Chuck Owston for Dark Troubadour #1, Autumn 1994, shortly before Wagner’s untimely death. Chuck has kindly given us permission to reproduce the interview here, complete with his original introduction …
Karl Edward Wagner is a horror/fantasy writer who lives in Chapel Hill, NC. He is the author of several collections of finely wrought short stories in the horror genre. His epics about Kane, a sorcerer/adventurer/warrior, are unique in the field, transcending the predictable plots and cardboard characters of most “sword and sorcery” (a term Wagner deplores). Six unique books contain the Kane saga to date: DEATH ANGEL’S SHADOW, DARK CRUSADE, BLOODSTONE, DARKNESS WEAVES, NIGHT WINDS, and THE BOOK OF KANE. Any fan of dark fantasy will find them a pleasure to read. Several times.
Two novels, THE ROAD OF KINGS and LEGION OF THE SHADOWS, continue the stories of characters created by Robert E. Howard. There are two collections of Karl’s short stories, WHY NOT YOU AND I? and IN A LONELY PLACE. He collaborated on a novel with David Drake. It was set in ancient Rome and called KILLER.
Karl won the British Fantasy Award for STICKS, TWO SUNS SETTING, NEITHER BRUTE NOR HUMAN, and also a life achievement award. He won World Fantasy Awards for his publishing house, Carcosa, and for BEYOND ANY MEASURE.
He is also an editor. In the late 70′s, he edited a new edition of the Conan of Cimmeria stories of Robert E. Howard in their original form. This was a great service to those of us who wanted to read what Howard actually wrote, rather than the “edited” versions served up by well-meaning, but misguided souls. Read More
Forty-five Years Behind the Sofa: Doctor Who monsters revealed!Comments Off
Imagine the scene. You’re seven years old. It’s Saturday teatime, and you and your family are gathered around the TV to watch your favourite programme, Doctor Who. As the story unfolds, the Doctor and his intrepid companions suddenly come face to face with … a monster!
For more than 45 years – apart from the enforced break from 1989 to 2005 – generations of children have been both scared and thrilled in equal measure by the assortment of alien creatures which Doctor Who has brought to our screens. We’ve been confronted by hairy monsters, scaly monsters, stone monsters, metal monsters – all kinds of creatures to stretch the imagination and fuel the nightmares.
But what does it take to bring these monsters to our screens? There’s the costume design, the make up, and – nowadays – the CGI special effects. But what many people forget is that there are also actors inside those costumes! So, what does playing a Doctor Who monster entail? Caroline Callaghan and Adam Christopher asked a few of the actors and stunt performers who’ve portrayed some of these creatures to tell them about their experiences …
Peter Duffell and the House That Dripped BloodComments Off
Caroline Callaghan spoke to Peter Duffell, director of The House That Dripped Blood, when he appeared at the National Media Museum’s 7th Fantastic Films Weekend in 2008. She asked him about his work on the film…