The OF Blog: May 2006

Friday, May 26, 2006

An Interview with Sebastian Peake

Mr. Sebastian Peake, Mervyn Peake's son honoured us accepting to do this interview. Thank you, Mr. Peake.

Could you tell us something more about yourself? According to your blog, you are working with Mervyn Peake Awards, as a writer and as a wine trader. How does wine come into this picture?

I began working in the wine trade in the 1970's as the result of an introduction to a friend of my parents' who owned a prestigous wine company. The owner suggested I might like to learn the trade and sent me to Scholl Vollrads, Germany's premier wine estate in the Rheingau. I've remained in the trade ever since, running Peake Wine Co for the last 25 years.

What can you tell us about Mervyn Peake awards? What is an average number of artists that are nominated every year?

In 2000 I suggested to the then chief executive of the Parkinson's Disease Society that as my father had been a victim of the disease, but carried on working despite awful restrictions to the producing of his art, encouragement might be given to others by an annual award. They agreed and around 200 entries are submitted each year in three catagories; art, poetry and photography.

You are giving regular talks on your late father. What are some of the things you like to point out about him, his work and his life?

I give regular talks Amsterdam last week Hay-on-Wye next week, the Edinburgh Festival in August etc. I use powerpoint which displays his wider art, while reading from his poetry at certain appropriate junctures in the talk which describe his home life, upbringing, school days, influences, and the later debillitating effects of Parkinson's.

Could you tell us something about your father's personality? What was he like when he wasn't working?

His personality was ebulient, humourous, and practical joking, but he was charming but with a very embedded sense of the gentlemanly way of behaving. The son on a medical missionary he did not drink or swear saving his outbursts for what really mattered, exposing the charlatan in art by gentle ridicule and brilliant examples of faux tableaux.

Your father worked as an illustrator, poet and writer. How did he manage to do all three things at the same time? Did he have some kind of working routine?

His energy was prodigous, and although he worked en famillie, would set about creating his very idiosyncratic world via application, dedication and professionalism directed solely at getting the job; illustration, drawing, writing, or play-writing completed in time, and with his very best efforts in mind.

Gormenghast came to life during your father's service in military. Could you tell us how he managed to continue with writing under those circumstances?

He was lucky enough to have had a very sympathetic commanding officer in charge of his unit in the army. A man predisposed to the arts the officer gave private Peake a very free hand to continue with his writing and drawing. One day however a particularly verbose sergeant major catching sight of my father called out to to him that he should present himself for inspection. After a cursory glance at my father's uniform and general appearance the sergeant bellowed out 'Get yer 'air cut, you look like a bloody poet'...

How would he make up the characters in his books? Were they a sketch of people he knew, or were they totally fictional? What about the names?

The characters were formed very much from people he'd seen both at school and later at art college, which formed a visual amalgam together with friends of his parent's. Later, when living in the Sussex countryside, during the writing of Titus Groan names were chosen with my mother during their many walks on the Downs and in the locality of Burpham village where they lived.

Your father spent the most of his childhood in China. How did it, if it did, influence his works?

China had a very profound influence on his life and work. His first language was Mandarin for instance during much of the 11 years in the country and the sights and sounds of Chineses life found their way into much of his later writing.

Who were the authors he was reading?

Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edgar Allen Poe, Cervantes, Balzac, as writers, Goya, Velasquez, Rembrandt, Tintoretto, Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci as painters.

Your father spent the most of his career ill. Did the illness affect his writing and drawing style?

He was not 'ill for most of his career' rather from the age of 45/6 the slow onset of Parkinson's Disease and the dormant enchepylitis lethargica which manifested itself about that age, prevented (see above) from working to his best. The two diseases ruined his life.

Thank you for being so kind to answer these questions for us. Thank you for your time and patience, Mr. Peake.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The 50 Book Challenge Met

Last year, I learned from another OF Admin, Craig, about the Fifty Book Challenge. While I did not participate last year, I decided that I would do so this year with a twist: I would aim to read 50 books published in English and 50 books published in Spanish. So with just over 7 months to go, I thought I would make a bit of a progress report, now that I've reached a combined total of 50 books read so far this year. I wrote these books down on notebook paper as I read them, so they are in chronological order. Many of these books I've commented upon, either here or at wotmania, so there won't be blurbed entries for the majority of these, but instead links to those that I posted about at wotmania, with those that I've commented upon already at the Blog will have only the author and title. For those that I've never reviewed yet, I will write a couple of sentences at least detailing what I found to be important/interesting. Anyways, on with the listing:

1. Consuelo de Saint-Exupéry, The Tale of the Rose: The Passion that Inspired The Little Prince

2. Alberto Fuguet, Cortos

3. Tómas Eloy Martínez, El vuelo de la reina

4. Mario Vargas Llosa, Diario de Irak

5. Eliseo Alberto, Caracol Beach

6. Gabriel García Márquez, El otoño del Patriarca

7. John Steinbeck, The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights

8. Brandon Sanderson, Elantris

9. David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day

10. Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find

11. Rubén Darío, Azul.../Cantos de la vida y esperanza

12. Arturo Pérez-Reverte, Capitán Alatriste

13. David Sedaris, naked

14. Isabel Allende, Paula

15. Manuel Puig, El beso de la mujer araña

16. Umberto Eco, The Island of the Day Before

17. Roberto Arlt, El jorobadito

18. Rafael Ramírez, La Mara

19. Mario Vargas Llosa, El paraíso en la otra esquina

20. Edmundo Paz Soldán, La materia del deseo

21. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children

22. Ben Okri, The Famished Road

23. Gabriela Mistral, Selección poetica de Gabriela Mistral

24. Clara Sánchez, Últimas noticias del paraíso

25. Shashi Tharoor, The Great Indian Novel

26. Elena Poniatowski, La piel del cielo

27. Anonymous, The Poem of El Cid (bilingual edition)

28. Sarah Monette, Mélusine

29. Iain Pears, The Dream of Scipio

30. José Saramago, Las intermitencias de la muerte

31. Dan Simmons, Olympos

32. J.J. Benítez, Jerusalén: Caballo de Troya 1

This Spanish-language international bestseller has most of the trademarks of a thriller: A plot centering around a secret US project in the 1970s, time-travel to the Palestine of the Christ, and a detailed and often moving description of the final days of Christ's ministry. Although the writing was at times a bit clunky and the premise at times veering a bit too close to Dan Brown territory for my comfort, the ending third of the novel made up for these shortcomings, leading to a satisfactory close.

33. Jeff VanderMeer, Veniss Underground

I first read this novel back in 2004 and a re-read deepened my already positive impressions. In just over 200 pages, VanderMeer tells a strangely familiar far-future in which the characters undergo their own Hell as one struggles to lead the other out, in a take on the Orpheus-Eurydice myth that works on a great many levels.

34. Manuel Vicent, Son de Mar

If the previous book was a retelling of the Orpheus myth, this is a reinterpretation of the travels of Odysseus/Ulises. This book won the 1999 Alfaguara Prize for Spanish-Language Fiction and with its deft characterizations, fast-moving plot, and superb writing, this was one of my favorite reads so far this year in Spanish.

35. Jeff VanderMeer, City of Saints and Madmen

Another 2004 re-read and one that I enjoyed even more than Veniss Underground, as much for the use of different styles and modes of storytelling than for anything else. As I'm eagerly awaiting the US release of Shriek: An Afterword later this summer, it was time for a re-read of this enjoyable book.

36. Isabel Allende, La casa de los espiritus

It is hit-or-miss with Allende for me. As much as I enjoyed Zorro and Paula, I found La ciudad de las bestias to be a bit too trite and dull. La casa was up and down for me - the first half of the novel I found to be tedious at times, as it seemed like the characterizations, while done well, were dragging the plot. But there was a payoff toward the end, one that ultimately redeemed the novel for me. Maybe a re-read will help improve my opinions of it further.

37. Various authors, Breaking Windows: A Fantastic Metropolis Sampler

A third re-read from 2004, this volume of collected fiction, editorials, interviews, and opinions on other works was spotty. The fiction for the most part was a bit too avant-garde for my tastes, as the stories often just didn't seem to gel for me. But the non-fiction pieces on the whole were excellent, containing thoughts from Michael Moorcock, Jeff VanderMeer, China Miéville, to name a few. I would recommend this book only for its non-fiction though, although all of these elements can be found for free on the Fantastic Metropolis website.

38. R. Scott Bakker, En el principio fue la oscuridad

39. Jorge Luis Borges, Historia universal de la infamia

40. Ignacio Padilla, Amphitryon

I first read this in Spanish in 2004 and now that my reading comprehension has improved, I found this story to be easier to follow (although still quite complex). Using the metaphor of chess throughout the novel, Padilla traces a mysterious trail trying to reveal who this identity-swapping German official might be and how he might have been connected to a secret Nazi project to develop doubles for the top leadership. Although the end might be a bit implausible, the buildup to it was done very well. One of the better efforts to come out of Mexico in recent years.

41. Jorge Luis Borges, El Aleph

42. Jorge Luis Borges, El Hacedor

43. Adolfo Bioy Casares, La invención de Morel

I first read this book in March of 2004 and it was the first Spanish-language novel that I read without using an English-language translation to guide me through rough patches. Short (around 90 pages in the edition I had), this is the tale of an obsession and how real our fantasies can become. Bioy Casares did an excellent job with the language and the narrator's voice is rendered perfectly here. Highly recommended story for people to read, especially since there is an English-language translation available.

44. Gabriel García Márquez, La increíble y triste historia de la cándida Eréndira y su abuela desalmada

This is a collection of short stories that García Márquez wrote between 1961 and 1972, which I first read late in 2004. Some of the stories (such as "El mar del tiempo perdido" and the title story) worked very well, while others were a bit spotty and uneven. Some of this might be due to difficulties I have from time to time understanding the ornate style that Gabo employs, so take that into consideration. Overall, I do recommend this collection to those who cannot get enough of Gabo's writings.

45. Jorge Luis Borges, Collected Fictions

This is the English-language translation (done by Andrew Hurley) of all of Borges' fictional prose. Since I've reviewed elsewhere most of the individual works, I'll just limit myself to saying that Hurley does an excellent job with the translations and that for those wanting to read Borges in translation for a cheap price should consider this tradeback edition of his most famous works and other, more obscure gems.

46. Horacio Quiroga, Cuentos de amor de locura y de muerte

I read this collection of short stories first in the summer of 2004 and liked it then. A re-read confirmed my earlier opinion that Quiroga was writing some of the spookiest short fiction on the antipodes from H.P. Lovecraft. Yet there is more to Quiroga than stories of decapitated chickens. The opening story, translated into English as "The Seasons of Love", is a moving and yet ultimately sad tale of young love. The other stories touch upon these elements of love, madness, and death in a way that has made Quiroga more famous after his death than before.

47. Jorge Luis Borges, Siete Noches

48. Gabriel García Márquez, El general en su laberinto

Although not as well-received as Cien años de soledad or El amor en los tiempos de cólera, this novel on the last days of The Liberator Simón Bolivar has its merits. The story reads as much as a tragic foreshadowing of the 20th century Colombian struggles as it does of the impending rift of Gran Colombia into Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador. Bolivar is shown to be a very human and interesting character and his famous last words about the labyrinth end up being reflected throughout the novel as Gabo shows the complexities of the time. Well worth the read.

49. Thomas Wolfe, The Web and the Rock

Thomas Wolfe is one of my favorite writers. He's even had somewhat of an influence on my writing style, as I realized when I was reading this novel, whose companion is the more famous You Can't Go Home Again. Starring George Webber, this is yet another retelling of Wolfe's own childhood growing up around Asheville, NC before moving to New York in the 1920s. There are a great many scenes of poetic power, such as the third chapter's opening, which is one of the most damning and yet true descriptions of Southern psyche that I've ever read. This novel, while it had its moments of bloatedness, contains enough of those wonderful moments as to make this one of the finer novels ever to be written by an American of any century.

50. Angélica Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial

I first read Ursula Le Guin's translation of this in 2004 before buying and reading the Spanish-language original later that year. This is a type of fable that should be read on multiple occasions, as there is much to say to the reader with each re-read. The tales within read like a history of the empire that never was, told with a sympathetic voice that yet points out quite concisely just how misguided and cruel we can be toward each other. Some have seen this book, originally written during the waning years of Argentina's Dirty War of 1976-1983, as being an oblique critique upon the junta in power then, but there are more universal themes that make Kalpa Imperial well worth your time, regardless of the language in which it is read.

Later in the year, I'll update this list with books read after May 25th. Hopefully some of these books will have grabbed your attention and that you'll want to read them for yourself to see if they are worth your time and that of others.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey

As occasionally happens, I get an advance copy of this or that speculative fiction novel. The ones that I enjoy, ones that I don't mind recommending to other people, I tend to review on the Blog or at Below is the review of Jacqueline Carey's return to her Kushiel series. The book will be widely available on June 12, 2006. Enjoy!

Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey

Thanks to Warner Books and Pat5150, I had the pleasure of reading Jacqueline Carey's forthcoming Kushiel novel. Kushiel's Scion is a return to the world made popular by Carey's Kushiel's Avatar series, which featured the courtesan/spy/ambassador character of Phedre no Delaunay. This new novel features many of the characters from the previous trilogy, but there is a new Point of View character, Imriel no Montreve de la Courcel. For fans of the first trilogy, Imriel will be no stranger. He is the 3rd in line to the throne of Terre d'Ange and the son of two of the realm's greatest traitors of all time, Melisande Shahrizai and Benedicte de la Courcel.

For those unfamiliar with Carey's novels, the setting is an alternate reality/history with many fantasy elements. The maps, most of the histories, and the cultures, are recognizable from our own Medieval and Renaissance. When Jesus (Yeshua) was crucified by the Romans (Tiberium), a drop of his blood, mixed with Mary Magdeline's tears and the dirt of the earth. From this combination was born Elua, blood of the One God and of the Earth. Elua was rejected by God, and he was sent to wander the earth. Elua was joined by several angels in his wanderings. Eventually, Elua and the companions settled in what we know as France, coupling freely with the residents, and creating a people with the mixed-blood of both angels and humans. The resulting generations of Terre d'Ange were graced with more than human beauty and artistic skill. The defining tenant of Terre d'Ange is Elua's teaching to "Love as thou will."

It takes a while for Carey to create a distinct feel for this fourth Kushiel novel, but it isn't time wasted. The first parts of the novel create a distinct sense of character and place, connecting with the events of the previous series while developing a distinct new point of view for Imriel. The novel is once again written in a narrow first person narrative, that allows greater access to Imriel as well as making a more distinct link for the reader with the story. Carey handles the style and the unfolding of the story with her characteristic deftness and certain talent.

The arc of this story is self-contained enough that it is an enjoyable stand-alone novel. That being said, Kushiel's Scion builds upon the stories and events of the previous trilogy. The characters, plots, histories, intrigues, and scope of the created world all tie together to create a bigger picture. This new novel is best read after the Kushiel's Legacy series, which began with Kushiel's Dart, as it reveals and continues plot elements that were already in play at the beginning of that first novel. As such, Carey places new pieces to this elegant puzzle with her latest novel.

The novel begins with the disappearance of Melisande Shahrizai from a foreign temple where she had been granted santuary from the conviction of being a traitor and sentenced to death. With Melisande free, the safety of Terre d'Ange and the royal family is certainly in question. The following story is that of Imriel's coming of age in trying times and situations. It's also the story of a young man coming to terms with his own history, the urges of his heritage, both of blood and of his parents' past deeds. In all things, Carey manages to create a fresh return to her Kushiel world.

While the Kushiel novels might not be pushing all the boundries of modern fantasy, it does provide an interestingly layered look into characters. In a world of sex, art, and politics, there are many shades of grey to every one of Carey's characters. The result is a rich world, with interesting and often deeply woven plots. Most importantly, the novel is entertaining, enticing, and an enjoyable read.

In Carey's words in a recent interview, Kushiel's Scion is about "Angst! Sex! Adventure! Intrigue! Philosophy!" It certainly doesn't disappoint. I happily recommend this latest novel by Jacqueline Carey, and also Carey's first novel Kushiel's Dart as a good place to start for those who have yet to read the Kushiel novels.

Kushiel's Scion by Jacqueline Carey available June 12, 2006

For those interested in reading a recent interview Pat5150 and I conducted with Jacqueline Carey, it can be found on Pat's Blog... HERE

Sunday, May 21, 2006

An Interview with Martin Springett

Martin Springett is an illustrator, musician, and author who has worked with many diverse artists over the years. Fans of Guy Gavriel Kay may recognize his work, as he did the original covers for The Fionavar Tapestry novels. He recently has done cover work for Caitlin Sweet's A Telling of Stars and some musicial projects. This Fall, he will be releasing an illustrated book entitled Jousting with Jesters: An ABC for the Younger Dragon. This interview was conducted via email. Thanks again so much for Martin agreeing to do this. If you are curious to learn more about him and his works, visit his official web site, The Art & Music of Martin Springett.

For readers that might not heard of you, you're a person that has worn many hats during his lifetime, such as being an illustrator, musician, and author, among other things. Tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved in these various fields.

As a boy growing up in England I used to receive a great comic called The Eagle every week. It was in the pages of this magazine that I discovered storytelling for the first time, or at least this was the first time it had an impact. Dan Dare was an intro to Science Fiction, although it was basically the R A F in space, Heros the Spartan and other superbly drawn strips woke me up to that fact that here was a nifty way to make a living and I copied these images endlessly. In my teens I widened my reading tastes and started making the usual discoveries that one makes if you have a voracious appetite for all things literary and visual. So Toulouse Lautrec and Aubrey Beardsley rubbed shoulders with whatever hot comic guy I was infatuated with at the time, other discoveries were made in my short stay at Art School, the Brassey Institute in Hastings. One of the most important was music, and I picked up the guitar and learned all the basic chords by singing and playing every Beatles tune as they were released. The Art School had the usual crew of Jazzers and Rockers, although they all seemed to turn into Mods overnight when the Who and other R & B based bands came along. When my family and I moved to Canada I was faced with the reality of being out on my own and making a living. I did all the usual weird jobs that a young immigrant with few skills ends up doing, gardening, hospital porter, driving a fork lift truck etc, but all I could think off was returning to the UK, now very serious about playing and writing music. I was drawn into the music scene in Victoria and Vancouver B C. and I was in many bands my role always the singer and writer. I had my first brush with the Tolkien family at this time. I recorded an album of Tolkien’s poems that I had set to music. Everyone at the record company was very excited about it, “The Lord of the Rings” was just starting to peak. Unfortunately Christopher Tolkien would not give his permission for release, and so it never saw the light of day, but it changed my life as I discovered I loved being in the recording studio and creating sounds and story through music. I finally returned to the UK in the early 70’s and had a wild time in London and Germany, playing and touring. At this time I started to pick up my art again and worked for Columbia ( now Sony) doing L P covers and illustrations for various magazines and publishers. The London scene wore me down I have to admit, I loved to play but I couldn’t handle the business side of things, plus I missed the love of my life who was in Canada. I returned to Canada, this time to Toronto and concentrated on Illustration. In 1984 I was asked to illustrate a first time author’s fanatasy novel called “The Summer Tree”, the first title in a trilogy with the overall title of The Fionavar Tapestry. I met Guy Gavriel Kay at this time and we became friends as we still are today. The trilogy and my covers were published world wide. I went on to do many fantasy covers for the New York and Canadian market and this led to my becoming involved in illustrating children’s books. The editor at Scholastic had been reading “The Darkest Road” when she received a manuscript that she thought I might be interested in illustrating called “Mei Ming and the Dragon’s Daughter” by Lydia Bailey, a story based on a Chinese folk tale. This tale had plenty of fantasy elements and I guess my celtic dragon on the cover of Guy’s book intrigued her enough to offer me this chance at doing something completely new and I jumped at it. I have since created the art for many picture books winning a few awards along the way and finding a new outlet for my performing skills by going into schools and libraries giving presentations on my work to kids in all grades, as well students at the College and University level. I always play the guitar, usually pieces that have been inspired by one the books I’ve been talking about in the presentation. I have also continued doing Fantasy book covers, Y A and adult. Certainly one of my better covers was for Caitlin Sweet’s “A Telling of Stars”. I was really at home in the world she created and so did one of my better things. Around this time I was approached by Harper Collins in the U K to illustrate a Tolkien story called “Farmer Giles of Ham”, a lovely project. It was not to be though, Christopher Tolkien nixed the project after giving it an initial thumbs up.

After illustrating many children’s books written by a variety of author’s, I was determined to do my own picture book, and focus on a very different way of story telling, something more whimsical and amusing; and so I have just finished my first authored and illustrated book called “Jousting with Jesters / An A B C for the Younger Dragon” which will be published this fall by Orca books out of Victoria.

Very interesting story about how you came to draw the covers to Guy Kay's novels! If you don't mind, could you tell us a little bit about how you go about designing and illustrating a cover? I've heard different illustrators use a variety of inspirations for their cover art, so I'm curious as to how you came to draw the specific images that appear on Caitlin Sweet's A Telling of Stars, for example. Is it a laborious process, or does it vary greatly between projects?

Illustrating a book cover, especially if one is inspired as I was with “Fionavar” and “A Telling of Stars”, is a joy to do. First of all I read every word, making notes on images that come to mind as I am reading. With “A Telling…” it was clear to me when I had finished the novel that I wanted to delineate the entire journey of Jael. There is a dream like quality about the book, and I wished to capture that. I did the initial sketch for the whole thing in five minutes as the imagery was so vivid. Laborious it wasn’t. That happens when I don’t like the novel and I have to go somewhere else other than the text for inspiration. That rather undermines the connection between the image and the story. And this has happened a few times.

I've heard from both Caitlin Sweet and Scott Bakker that you've written and performed music inspired by their worlds and characters. Can you give us some insight into how you came to write these songs and if these will be made available to the public?

I have always loved “making up” tunes. Early on it was always songs, so I got into the writing mode by creating lyrics for all these musical ideas I had. Two years ago I was moved to create an entire CD of music inspired by Guy Kay’s works called “Bright Weaving”, and lately music for Caitlin Sweet’s “Silences of Home” and a tone poem based around the characters of Esmenet and Achamian. from R Scott Bakker’s “Prince of Nothing” trilogy. I think the fact that I know all these wonderful authors personally certainly helped inspire me to come up with these pieces, as they have all given me insights into the worlds they have created on the page. But it comes down to me wanting to return to these worlds through music, there has to be some resonance I can respond to emotionally. Come to think of it that’s always the root of it, am I touched or moved in some way. It’s always that actually. I am hoping to record all this new music very soon, and produce a new CD, possibly called “A Telling”. It will be available through my website at as are my other CD’s.

I'm curious about this book you mentioned, Jousting with Jesters / An A B C for the Younger Dragon. What can you tell us about this work?

“Jousting with Jesters / An A B C for the Younger Dragon” is my first authored and illustrated book. It came out of a strong desire to do something essentially light hearted and fun, whimsical if you like. Having illustrated a series of lovely tales that were poetic and literate I wanted to create a different kind of book, one that tapped into my own sense of humour and also my British roots. It’s the story of Dennis the Dragon’s quest to find his flame, as every dragon must have one. So the story starts immediately on the end paper; we see Dennis newly hatched gazing across a landscape, in the far distance a Volcano. We than follow him through the Alphabet, an alliteration for every letter, every letter page being a plot point that moves him forward on his journey. So it’s quite possible to follow the tale just through the images. All twenty six illustrations have plenty of detail and incident and have many references to the appropriate letter. Plus there is a border for more visual references that aren’t exactly medieval in character. Dennis grows as the story proceeds and he gains his wings, At the finish on the endpaper we see Dennis, now bigger, in the same landscape in winter ( the front being in Summer ) with the Jester by his side. The back story here is that Dennis is a Fruit Eating Dragon; this kind of Dragon grows incredibly quickly after hatching, reaching puberty at six months. They stay that way for two hundred years. This is why some Dragons have a bad reputation, teenagers being what they are. Guy Kay has given me a witty one line “review” --- “An Elegantly Entertaining Elfabet”! The book is dedicated to Pauline Baynes, the illustrator of C S Lewis’s Narnia Chronicles, and the first person to illustrate Tolkien’s stories, beginning with “Farmer Giles of Ham” in 1947. Pauline and I met a few years ago and have become good friends. She is eighty four and still working !

You've had the pleasure of working with many interesting and popular musicians and writers over the years. Are there any funny stories that you would like to tell us about them and you, to give us a better understanding of what takes place behind the scenes?

One amusing story is the events surrounding the first meeting between Guy Kay and me. My first reading of “The Summer Tree” was sitting on the couch in my living room, tea at elbow, note book and pen at knee regarding the pile of loose leaf pages with a jaded eye. I had recently illustrated a cover for a book, that while reading had sent me into a narcoleptic fit. As I began to read, lo, I found I was engaged and interested in the characters and story, enough that I was flinging aside the pages as I read and soon the carpet was covered in a veritable snow storm of paper. I’m certain I read most of the book in one sitting. (This positive engagement meant that I did not take the usual jotting of notes, and there is still one wee detail that I missed on the finished cover that still bothers me.) I was eager to start work on the cover, and as I sketched out various ideas it became clear to me and the art director at McClelland and Stuart, Tad Aronowitz, that we should focus on the overall idea of the tapestry theme, and in fact echo that art form in the images for the books. I stumbled along, looking for a way in visually, I had to make some real changes in how I actually created the images as with medieval art one is not concerned with depth or perspective, but surface decoration. I was asked to make many changes to the art, and by the time I heard that the pesky author also required some changes I was extremely grumpy. And so the day came when I was to meet said author at the publishers. In those days, 1984, the A D’s office was in the book warehouse of McClelland and Stewart. I found myself wandering through a canyon of books, gearing up for one more confrontation on this increasingly annoying project. I stopped by the washroom on the way to “groom” and breathe deep, and practice a ferocious glare in the mirror. I was completely taken aback though when I met Guy in the office. He leapt up, and shook my hand saying, “I love what you’re doing “, thus completely disarming and charming me and banishing the image of the demanding pesky first-time author. I stopped glaring and we got into the pleasant topic of what the changes might be to the art that he wanted. Simply, would it be possible to change the colour of the Unicorn. Well of course, easily done. Luckily, I didn’t say, “No problem”.

And finally, what was the most rewarding aspect of your careers as musician, illustrator, and now author?

Touring and playing through Europe and England as a young sprog in the 70’s was definitely a high point. We played Pop Festivals, seedy clubs and ornate rococo theatres all over Germany, Austria and the U K. The music continues though, in a different way. I enjoy writing, recording and doing the occasional gig as much as I have always done. Playing and writing music is absolutely central to my life.

Certainly being associated with Guy Kay’s Fionavar Trilogy has been a highlight of my career as it changed the path of my art quite dramatically. In fact all examples of my work on the website stem from the year 1984, the year “The Summer Tree” came out. I found my true artistic voice doing that one image.

As “Jousting with Jesters” won’t be out ‘till the fall of this year, ’06, highlights of being an author have yet to occur I guess. Although I have had some very good experiences in classrooms already showing the book to kids and teachers. Here’s hoping !

Thanks again so much, Martin!

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

A personal Top 50 list

Jeff VanderMeer recently posted his 64 Favorite Fiction and stated that a main purpose for doing such a list was not to provide 'essential reading materials,' but instead to encourage thought and similar lists from others. With that in mind, here are some of my favorite fictions that contain elements of the speculative in them (although a great many will not be found in the Fantasy/SF section of any bookstore), in the current order only for the snapshot effect (as after the first couple, my ranking could vary wildly):

1. Jorge Luis Borges, Ficciónes (Spanish)
2. Borges, El Aleph (Spanish)
3. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince
4. Gabriel García Márquez, Cien años de soledad/One Hundred Years of Solitude
5. Ben Okri, The Famished Road
6. J.R.R. Tolkien, The Silmarillion
7. Thomas Pynchon, Gravity's Rainbow
8. Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun
9. Umberto Eco, Foucault's Pendulum
10. Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler...
11. Ursula Le Guin, The Dispossessed
12. Angélica Gorodischer, Kalpa Imperial (Spanish)
13. José Saramago, Ensayo sobre la ceguera/Blindness
14. Alejo Carpentier, Los pasos perdidos/The Lost Steps
15. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
16. Ray Bradbury, The Illustrated Man
17. T.H. White, The Once and Future King
18. Neil Gaiman, Smoke and Mirrors
19. Angela Carter, Burning Your Boats
20. Carlos Ruiz Zafón, La sombra del viento/The Shadow of the Wind
21. Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find
22. China Miéville, The Tain
23. R. Scott Bakker, The Prince of Nothing
24. Zoran Živković, The Fourth Circle
25. Nalo Hopkinson, Skin Folk
26. Ian MacLeod, The Light Ages
27. Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves
28. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
29. Saramago, Las intermitencias de la muerte (Spanish)
30. Roberto Bolaño, Los detectives salvajes (Spanish)
31. Eco, The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana
32. Borges, El Hacedor (Spanish)
33. Saramago, El hombre duplicado (Spanish)
34. Caitlin Sweet, A Telling of Stars
35. Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles
36. Borges, El libro de los seres imaginarios (Spanish)
37. Mikhail Bulgakov, The Master and Margarita
38. Pedro Calderón de la Barca, La vida es sueño (Spanish, play)
39. Miguel Cervantes, Don Quijote (Spanish)
40. John Crowley, Little, Big
41. Günter Grass, The Tin Drum
42. Franz Kafka, Collected Stories
43. Gina B. Nahai, Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith
44. Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow
45. Flann O'Brien, The Third Policeman
46. Mervyn Peake, The Gormenghast Novels
47. Horacio Quiroga, Cuentos de amor de locura de muerte (Spanish)
48. Jan Potacki, The Manuscript Found in Saragossa
49. Ovid, Metamorphoses
50. John Milton, Paradise Lost

There, the 'top 50' as it stands at the moment. There are a great many others that I could have put here, but I just am not as inclined to read their works right now although I will likely acknowledge their importance if stated. And it was no accident that very little 'true' SF made this list, as I frankly am not as interested in it as I am in other topics/styles. Feel free to discuss this as moved to do so.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Una breve reseña sobre la traducción al español de En el principio fue la oscuridad

Aunque acabé de leer la traducción al español de En el principio fue la oscuridad por R. Scott Bakker hace una semana, fue difícil escribir esta reseña. ¿Qué podría decir aquí, en mi segundo idioma? Me encantó el libro cuando lo leí en inglés hace dos años. Los personajes estaban bien escritos, las escenas eran emocionantes y la historia parecía significativa. ¿Pero como se traduciría la voz del autor del inglés al español? La respuesta es que Ramón González Férriz, el traductor, la tradujo muy bien.

Mientras leía la traducció, me pareció muy similar al original. A diferencia de la traducción de El señor de los anillos (por ejemplo), esta traducción conserva casi todos los nombres originales de los personajes y los grupos. El espíritu principal de la historia, su contemplación de cómo somos un producto de nuestras reacciones a los estímulos externos e internos, es preservado bien en la traducción. Sin embargo, el diálogo y las oraciones pudieran ser demasiado inglesas en su estructura, pero esta queja es de menor importancia. Si usted deseara leer este libro pero no pudiera hacerlo en inglés, recomendaría esta traducción.

Friday, May 05, 2006

An Interview with Michael Moorcock

Below you can read an interview I did with one of the greatest fantasy writers today. I hope you will enjoy reading it, and if not yet, read Michael Moorcock's books.

Q: You first became an editor at the age of 16 with Tarzan Adventures and recently with the online Fantastic Metropolis. How would you compare your experiences doing that and what influence, if any, did your editorial work have on your approach toward writing?

A: Not a lot of difference, really. Generally speaking, my editing work has involved some kind of enthusiasm. I got the Tarzan job because people there liked what I did in my fanzine Burroughsiana. I got my next job, on Sexton Blake, because the editor liked what I'd said in another fanzine (Book Collectors News). I learned a lot at every job and I was involved with making changes on Tarzan, Sexton Blake and New Worlds. I was able to promote a kind of fiction I liked through all these jobs and that's what I was able to do on Fantastic Metropolis, promoting authors like Zoran Zivkovic, Alan Wall and Steve Ayelet. I think my approach to writing had something to do with my editorial work. Editing, at least the way I did it, is a bit like being a teacher, a bit like being a therapist, a bit like being a theatrical promotor. As with my reviewing, I only involve myself with people I feel enthusiastic about. They are not necessarily writers who write like me -- in fact I tend to admire writers who can do things I can't do. And they're a pretty varied lot, though they do tend to share a visionary aspect.
About my only editing jobs which didn't involve much enthusiasm were editing for the Liberal Party policy magazing Current Topics and Golden Nugget, a 'men's' magazine, both in the 60s.

Q: Jeff VanderMeer and R. Scott Bakker recently had articles on the relationship between politics and fantasy published in Cheryl Morgan's Emerald City. What are your thoughts about the relationship between our political (or perhaps social will work just as fine here) world and the telling of a fantasy or SF story? Can one ever remain apolitical in writing, or does 'politics' involve something intrinsic to human life and understanding?

A: It depends on the nature of the story. None of the Jerry Cornelius stories are apolitical, of course. I've written some intensely political fiction, including my non-fantasy novel King of the City. The Pyat books are political, though ironic. Some forms are better for dealing with politics than others. Classic sf can do it very well, of course. But classic sf tends to generalise, which is why I came up with Jerry Cornelius, who could deal with specifics, including contemporary political figures. I found that generic fantasy is the same, you can at best generalise about politics (in the Hawkmoon stories I did some satire, reflecting the politics of the day and in the current Elric stories I do my best to make them as relevant to modern times as possible) but ultimately the medium is the message and you can't do that much with genre. You have to create your own forms to suit your own attitudes. I've worked for political parties and have been closely involved with politics most of my life. I still write some political journalism. Genre, sadly, will always involve a fair amount of generalisation.

Q: Your work has, at various times, been labeled as "New Wave" or "New Weird." What are your thoughts about these labels and how would you sum up in a concise fashion what you write for those people who are unfamiliar with your work?

A: I've always loathed labels. When we were doing New Worlds I studiously refused to let anyone call us a movement, though many tried. All that is literary politics, which I've never wanted to play (though some politics is always involved in promoting new writers). I was amazed when Mike Harrison, who had always shared my dislike of labels, suddenly started promoting the 'New Weird' label. It's not like him to play politics. But I suppose we can all get stuck for a definition sometimes. They can help us move forward but the problem is that definitions/labels then have to be defended and debated. I saw enough crap when people were discussing what was and what wasn't sf to prefer not to label what I do or, indeed, label what I believe. My own politics is a mix. I'm a person of the left who writes mostly, at the moment, for right-wing journals and newspapers like The Spectator and The Telegraph. I'm an anarcho-syndicalist who believes in keeping the British House of Lords (unelected upper house) unreformed. What label exists for that mix? Movements always go backwards and forwards, even when they are pretending just to go forwards. 'New' ? 'Old' ?
What are you doing when you're creating a new form on one hand and going back to a pre-modern form, as it were, on the other? Labels simply add to the confusion.

Q: Do you hold to the adage that if one wants to understand a society, she or he ought to look at the literature being produced by that society? And if you do believe this, what do you think would be revealed to a hypothetical future reader reading through 20th century works from the US and the UK respectively?

A: I am inclined to agree with that. Indeed, I moved to Texas because I didn't want to live in a familiar environment. There's not much difference between NE USA and Britain or France. Texas, as they say, is a different country. The literature produced in Texas certainly helps me understand her better. We used to write in NW fiction which we assumed demonstrated our culture to the future. We also tried to write fiction which demonstrated the future we were trying to describe. My fiction will reveal to the future reader probably much that I am unconscious of, which is why I'm inclined to trust instinct rather than any tendency to rational speculation. I dumped rationalisations from much of the fiction I wrote and published precisely because I knew those rationalisations were the least revealing aspect of visionary work. I don't know -- what does Blake reveal to us, other than that he was the greatest visionary of his time. We can argue with his rationalisations, such as they were, but we can't 'argue' with his vision. Does that make sense?

Q: You moved to Texas in the 1990s. What, if anything, about American/Southern society did you learn while living there that you did not know before? What were your general and specific impressions of the people there? Is 'the future' (socially, politically) on display in the US, or is it to be found elsewhere now?

A: I think I had to learn about the roots of American politics by moving to Texas, which was what I'd hoped to do. I know I understand more about the nature of both right and left libertarianism than I did, how the Constitution creates more fundamentalists than the Bible (thank God). I've learned not to judge people as 'backward' because they live according to the Old Testament, as most Europeans do. I understand more about the nature of American radicalism and its rejection of European radicalism (increasingly, these days). I think American radicalism was held back by its adoption of European models. I'm not sure 'the future' isn't anywhere you decide to look. I once thought I'd found it in Los Angeles. At another time I found it in London. Currently, I think I've found it in Paris. 'The future' is as complex and as varied as he present, in other words. We find metaphores which do the best job possible. A good image, in other words, is worth any amount of speculation. People find my 60s fiction 'relevant' to the present, just as we find much of Dick's fiction relevant to our present. Again, Dick was far more accurate about the future than most of the writers telling us how the future would be in Analog, say. Indeed, all the Galaxy writers (if you can make a group of people like Bester and Pohl who didn't usually publish with Campbell) who concentrated more on modern social issues seem to have been a lot more accurate about our present. Is that a fair answer? I was romantic about Texas and I suppose part of its attraction was that I saw a certain aspect of the future -- a multicultural future -- here, when I stood behind a bunch of kids at Astroworld and heard them talking in a mixture of black, Spanish and regular American. It was that language which brought me here and which I sought to reproduce in a form and a music of my own in Blood, Michael Moorcock's Multiverse (DC comic) and The War Amongst the Angels. Musical subtleties...

Q: To what degree would you say risk goes with being a writer, both in the professional and personal sense?

A: You have to take all the risks you can, both with your lifestyle and with your work, to be the best writer you can be. Writers can easily rationalise their need for security and build themselves a coffin. If you get too secure, it's time to move on.
Sometimes life does it for you. Sometimes you have to take a conscious risk. I try to take risks in my life and work. They usually improve the work if not my finances.

Q: In recent years, there have been many stories, both in print magazines and on online journals, extolling the 'resurgence' of fantasy. What do you think accounts for this belief and is it necessarily a 'good' or 'bad' thing?

A: You'll probably have guessed my answer to this one by now. It's both good and bad. And it isn't either. It's the zeitgeist, innit? People used to find their romance (many still do) in historical fiction. Increasingly, they've found it in fantasy. Scott wrote fantasy which pretended to be about a past reality. It's good escapism. Tolkien wrote fantasy which was frankly invented. It might say something for our development that we are prepared to accept frank invention over pretended authenticity. It's all part of what we sometimes call the post-modernist sensibility.
A knowingness which also gives us metafiction and its associated forms.
A resurgence? Maybe. What did we have instead of 'fantasy' in, say, the 15th century? And how wholly did we believe in, say, the Gods of Olympus when their stories were the latest being told? I must say the insistence of religious fundamentalists in modern times suggests that people are having to try harder than ever before to believe in the supernatural. Whether escapist fantasy is 'good' or 'bad' depends on the main uses to which it's being put by the individual. Another thing we were fond of saying at NW was 'context defines'...

Q: Do you think that fantasy books must deal with some theme to truly be great? Should there be themes at all, and if so, what themes would you say you tried to convey with his works?

A: Ultimately it's the author's talent which defines greatness. What would be trivial in some hands can be great in others. Frequently the author has no clear idea of their own talents. Great themes can become trivial in the wrong hands. Triviality can become great in the hands, say, of a Proust.

Q: An oft-overlooked dimension about fantasy is the addressing of gender issues. To what degree would you say fantasy works reflect prevailing social attitudes about gender? Also, is there any truth, in your opinion, to the notion that while female authors can write convincing male characters, male authors have a much more difficult time in writing a convincing female character?

A: Well, of course, as a supporter of feminism and a convinced 'Dworkinista', I'd like to see more work dealing with gender issues. Again, it depends on the talent of the individual author. Flaubert wasn't too bad at writing a convincing female characters. It depends on the form, too. Leigh Brackett, working in a genre she loved, tended to produce strong males and stereotypical strong females, rather the same as the male writers she was most influenced by. I would reckon if we read mostly Jane Austen, we'll be inclined to write good female characters. If we read mostly Robert E. Howard, we would be good at writing adolescent male characters. Temperament must surely have a great deal to do with it. My favourite writers when I was a small child were Louisa May Alcott and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Another favourite was Richmal Crompton, a woman, who wrote about a 'bad' small boy called William, with whom I identified. These days, although I'm currently reading a lot of Balzac, as well as Dumas and Scott, I always 'default' to Elizabeth Bowen, though I've never knowlingly read any of her supernatural fiction. It's her social fiction which I love. I'm as convinced by her men as I am by Angus Wilson's women.

Q: What are some of the projects that you have on tap?

A: I seem to be writing a comedy provisionally called The Sedentary Jew, about a man who's cursed to remain in the same city for eternity (London, of course). I'm doing text for a bunch of Mervyn Peake drawings previously unpublished, a mixture of little stories and nonsense verse, which will first be published in French in Paris. I'm writing a memoir of the Peakes, whom I knew from a boy. I'm doing a bunch of miscellaneous novellas and short stories.

Q: Is it likely that we will see you working with some other authors? If it is, who with?

A: The only collaborations I have in mind at the moment are with artists (such as Walter Simonson on the Elric graphic novel). I collaborated with Storm
Constantine on Silverheart and she's doing a new one Dragonskin, which is mostly her. The title's mine... No other collaborations, except with artists, on the books.

Q: Who are some of the writers that you are reading today?

A: Alan Wall. Iain Sinclair. Steve Beard. Apart from some of those already mentioned.
I'm reading Proust for the second time. Reading off and on Balzac's A Harlot High and Low, which I'm not enjoying much, though I love Balzac. I just finished a Simenon Maigret novel. Much enjoyed Walter Mosley's sf novel The Wave and today bought his new 'straight' novel Fortunate Son, which I haven't started yet. Reading Adam Gopnik's autobiographical Paris to the Moon. Steve Beard's Meat Puppet Cabaret (his best so far). Bought Hugo's Notre-Dame de Paris today.

Q: What do you believe are the major influences for this thing we call 'Fantasy' today?

A: Well, Monkeybrain recently reprinted my revised book on the subject, Wizardry and Wild Romance. I take it back to Amadis of Gaul, I suppose. Walter Scott.
The Gothic writers. Frank Baum. Edgar Rice Burroughs. Lord Dunsany. Cabell. Weird Tales writers. I've argued that Tolkien borrowed American models as much as English (or 'Nordic') which could explain the popularity of that sequence in the USA. In an interview he did in NW, he was worrying about whether or not he should join the SFWA... I don't like the way we these days separate 'literary' (British) imaginative fiction from 'pulp' (American) imaginative fiction.
There are as many examples of both in both literatures. Tolkien, of course, has had a huge influence on modern generic fantasy, though not much on me. I liked Poul Anderson's Broken Sword a lot more. These days, we're talking about probably the most successful single genre in the bookstores. Must be huge variety of influences on those.

Q: If you were to own several monkeys and/or midgets, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

A: Well, it's not legal to own midgets, so it would have to be monkeys. And they're hard to housetrain. I guess it would be one monkey, as long as he didn't annoy my cats, and I guess I'd have to call him Mikey...

Thank you again for this interview you did for We all wish you success with your work.
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