The OF Blog: September 2005

Friday, September 02, 2005

Ian Cameron Esslemont Interview

Over the past several weeks, I’ve had the pleasure to interview Ian Cameron Esslemont, author of the recently published novel, Night of Knives. NOK is novel set in the world first made popular by Steven Erikson in his novel Gardens of the Moon. NOK is a Malazan novel that focuses on the events of a single night in Malaz City, a night that reshapes the empire. For a full review of the novel: Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont: A Review


Please, tell us a little about yourself. The blurb from NOK mentioned that you’re a Ph.D. student in literature. What are you working on for your Ph.D. dissertation?

I am a Winnipeg lad, though I have lived abroad from Canada for many years now. My (part time now) Ph.D. research could, generally speaking, be categorized as Victorianist. I am looking at the writings that come out of European expansion into the South Pacific, specifically by sailors, missionaries, traders and travelers. I am interested in stories of “culture contact” and this region offers particularly interesting, and challenging, narratives of European and indigenous contact, clash, and exchange.

I think interest in such questions can readily be seen in the world Steve and I created where we tell the story not only of the Malazan Empire, but also the stories of numerous peoples – the choices they have made (or have been inflicted upon them) and the consequences that follow.

What current novels/authors are you reading? These can be either related to your Ph.D. work or in your general reading, or both.

Currently, for my research, I am studying Herman Melville’s first novel, Typee. By way of secondary sources, I am looking at Nicholas Thomas’s Colonialism’s Cultures, and Victor Turner’s classic anthropological text, The Forest of Symbols. Naturally, all this work in research limits my recreational reading, but recently I have managed to get to [Harry Potter and the]Half-Blood Prince (and enjoyed it), a collection of Orwell essays, and Roger G. Kennedy’s Hidden Cities, an account of the systematic erasure of indigenous high civilizations in North America – fascinating and indicting.

What about the fantasy genre in specific or speculative fiction in general, draws you as a reader? As a writer?

What is it about the fantasy genre that draws me? Hmmm… A hard question to answer. I think an openness to the genres of fantasy or SF come from a childhood nurturing of imagination. The Little Prince is a space traveler, as is Peter Pan. This is not to belittle the literature, but rather to acknowledge it as a prerequisite, a foundation for an open and imaginative mind. “What if…?” is the question basic to all genres of speculative fiction. Being well nurtured in this regard I read voraciously then came to see within the genres the potential for addressing essential questions and concerns that mainstream literature is simply unsuited to grasp – eternal questions that in a secular culture must still be spoken to – questions of meaning and myth (myth has not gone away, it has simply morphed, as has meaning). All of the above makes up my attraction to the genre(s) both as reader and writer.

Do you have a set writing routine?

I used to have a writing routine but lately it has been disturbed by family and work. Ideally, I would have a good chunk of time – say four hours at a stretch – during which I would “write myself into the world,” to work on a scene. Usually, I prep myself for a writing period by reviewing & editing what I did last, then looking ahead to what scene or scenes are required next.

In your estimation, how has the response been to Night of Knives in both the critical and the general reception? Has the response been what you expected or hoped for?

Generally speaking, from what I have seen on the net, the reception of Knives has been just fantastic – better than anything I could have hoped for. I want to thank everyone who has taken the time to give their feedback. It took a lot of encouragement from Steve to get me to take the step to try to get published (after all, what an act to follow!). Now that I have a book out in the public domain I hope this will lead to more of my contribution getting out there.

What has been the primary challenge of writing a shared-world novel? What is the primary benefit?

This question allows me to wonder about just what constitutes a shared world. This category of novels, as currently understood by the publishing industry, seems to mean a shared milieu in which any author can be contracted to write. As a consequence it is also a category that suffers from an image problem (though this does seem to be slowly changing).

This is not what Steve and I have created in Malaz. I understand that a “world” cannot be copywrited, only individual works of creative art. Our milieu, the world of Malaz, came into being through the work of the two of us at the same time and so I think falls more within the definition of the usual single world--single writer, such as Lieber and Lankhmar, or Banks and the Culture, except in our case there are two creators.

The primary benefit of this, at least in my case, was tremendous creative synergy. I liken the process to that of jazz: two musicians, or writers, getting together and jazzing around, creating new sounds but always remaining in tune and on the melody. Oddly enough, no one seems to have a problem with shared creativity in a jazz group.

How do you approach this complex and rich world? Are there aspects of the cultures, locations, people groups, history, that particularly interest you? How does your approach differ from Steven Erikson’s?

Naturally everything in the world of Malaz interests me. The world reflects Steve’s and my shared interests: history, realpolitiks, cultural innovation, but above all, storytelling. We hoped to create narratives that were interesting and emotionally compelling in a world that felt as real as our own; one with a history that (for Steve and I) is in many ways more fascinating that the “present.”

As to whether my approach differs from that of Steve, in truth it doesn’t differ so much at all. Knives is something of a one-off in that it is very narrowly constrained in time and place; my other projects in Malaz are more similar to Steve’s broad canvases.

Having seen the success that Steven Erikson’s books have had over the past few years, has that created more pressure or expectations to get your writing published as well?

Has seeing the success of Steve’s books created more pressure or expectations for my own publishing? If anything, I would have to say the opposite. His work is just so damn good (in my so-unbiased opinion), how can I or anyone follow that? Yet I have stories to tell of this world as well, and they won’t get told if I don’t offer them so, with his encouragement, I will soldier on – with the understanding that my work in no way aims to compete against his – but rather that the world was made big enough for the both of us. As to getting any more of them published, that is largely out of my control but of course I hope to be allowed the opportunity to tell more of the world’s many stories.

What are your future plans for writing in this world? Can you give us any hints as to where or what you might write about? Is Night of Knives at all related to some of your other possible stories?

As to future projects of course I cannot be specific here. Steve’s books, and Knives, are all stand-alone. So too would any future books from me. We hope that before Steve finishes his series of ten books I will also have ones coming out, but this is in no way guaranteed. Whatever the situation, he will of course sculpt his ongoing books so as to extract the maximum he can from the world (with my blessings). The hope is that I will also be contributing for an even higher octane mix. However, I can say that Knives was one of five Malaz novels, all of which were sketched out alongside Steve’s ten. Three of the remaining four also use the Malaz Empire as the route of entry into the world, while the last is more of an epilogue to many of the main story threads in which remaining questions are answered (and surprising revelations are made, of course!).

This final question is a long-standing Other Fantasy tradition: If you owned monkeys, how many would you own, and what would you name them?

Pet monkeys? Funny you should ask this seeing as I have two! Two mischievous boys who empty drawers, pull down books, and mangle toys. The number of times I’ve found one of them happily bashing away at my computer keyboard is beyond count – the stuff I’ve lost! Aargh! In any case, the answer is two: aged five and two.

From everyone at Other Fantasy and Wotmania, thank you for your time and your thoughtful responses. We wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors.

Many thanks for the opportunity to talk more about Malaz. Always a pleasure. Keep those emails flying to Bantam!! Yours, Cameron.


If you haven't yet and find yourself interested in buying Night of Knives by Ian Cameron Esslemont, you can look at the PS Publishing web site, in the links section of wotmania, or check out Clarkesworld Books
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