The OF Blog: October 2006

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Interview with Herbie Brennan

You are working with books for a long time, and surely had bad times. What gives you energy and will to continue after failures?

I don't really write in the hope of large sales or critical acclaim (although both are very nice when they happen.) I write because I love writing. The down side of this is that I get nervous and irritated when I find for any reason that I can't write at least a little every day. But the upside is that I don't get terribly upset if a book is panned by the critics or sells only a few copies then dies. I just forget it and go on to something else.

Why fantasy books?

Good question. The funny thing is I've never been much of a fantasy reader -- I could never get into Lord of the Rings, for example -- and spent much of my younger days reading science fiction. I know books like Faerie Wars and The Purple Emperor are sold as fantasy, but I'm not sure they shouldn't be classified as science fiction themselves. I think there is a massive amount of scientific and anecdotal evidence for parallel realities and the fact that they can (sometimes) be visited by ordinary people. I've even gone into the evidence in a non-fiction book called Parallel Worlds, which is part of my Forbidden Truths series in the U.K. Once you accept the idea of different realities, then books like Faerie Wars, while certainly fiction, are no longer fantasy.

How did you begin writing?

I desperately wanted to be a writer since I was a very young child. I dreamed of getting up in the morning, going into my study and writing books. By the time I left school, I thought the way to get started as an author was to become a journalist, which I did. I had the fancy that I could be a reporter by day and write my great novel by night. But that never worked out. By night I was too tired (and sometimes too drunk) to write anything and while journalism itself was fun, it wasn't the sort of writing I really wanted to do. It took me quite a while to figure out what I was doing wrong. I moved from reporting to feature writing, then to magazine journalism, then to writing advertising copy before I realized around the age of thirty that I'd never actually done what I set out to do. So I packed in my job and decided to find out if I could survive by getting up in the morning, going into my study and writing books. Fortunately it turned out that I could.

Were you into books as a child? What were your favorites?

I was a huge reader as a child. So much so that adults were quite worried about me and I needed spectacles by the age of 12. I read just about anything I could get my hands on. As a very young boy my great favorites were books on hypnosis and yoga (which seems weird to me now.) A little later I discovered science fiction via H. G. Wells and went on to devour writers like Asimov, Poul and Kornbluth, Blish and so on. I've expanded my range a bit now, but I still love good science fiction when I can find it. Ideas excite me.

How do you approach writing for a younger audience as opposed to an adult audience?

I can't see any difference at all in the way I write for children and for adults. I have a bee in my bonnet about clarity in writing and work really hard to make sure the reader understands what I'm trying to say: but that goes for adults, teenagers and young children equally. Very often I publish a book that's meant for kids (sometimes even young kids) and find I'm getting emails about it from adults. With a few of my younger books, especially those for teenagers, I actually get more emails from adults.

Who are your influences and why?

If you decide to produce fiction, there are two aspects to the work -- the writing and the story. Surprisingly often you'll find that popular books aren't well written, but tell a great story. Even more often you'll find there are books that are wonderfully well written, but sell very few copies because they don't tell an good story. I've become increasingly interested in trying to combine good writing with good story telling and the one author who does this extraordinarily well (most of the time) is the horror writer Stephen King. I've enjoyed almost every book he's written and poured over most of them trying to figure out how he does it. More recently I've discovered a less well known writer who has the same talent. His name is Michel Faber. Critics think of him as a more serious writer than King and while his books sell well, they aren't the multi-million blockbusters that King routinely produces. He's younger than King (and a lot younger than me) but he writes like a dream, creates memorable characters and draws you into his stories with extraordinary skill.

What do you think your largest professional success is?

As a single title, Faerie Wars has been my greatest success to date, both critically and in terms of sales. But my GrailQuest game-book series, which was first published in the 1980s was, and still is, by far my biggest international seller. More than twenty years later it's still going strong in France, it's been republished in Japan and it's now being published for the first time throughout Eastern Europe. If Faerie Wars does anything like as well, I will be a very happy man.

What do you think the key of your success is?

I think GrailQuest was successful because people liked my silly sense of humour. I think Faerie Wars and Purple Emperor are successful because people like the characters.

What is your advice for young and ambitious writers?

Stop talking about writing and worrying about writing and planning what you're going to write tomorrow. Sit down and start.

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

I'm not sure you're allowed to own midgets in these politically correct days, but I'd certainly prefer midgets to monkeys around the house. I'd have ten and would name them after my cats: Wug-wug, Shortass, Mouse, Diddler, Brocolli Midget One, Wobbler, Cutemidget Rex, Vampire Banana, Fluzball and Brenda.

Monday, October 02, 2006

2006 Readings, Mid-May Through July

It's been a few months since I've last listed the reads/re-reads I've done in 2006, so here's just the listings, with very little to no commentary on the books:

51. Julio Cortázar, La autopista del sur y otros cuentos - Re-read from 2005, this is a collection of his short stories taken from many of the original edition collections. Good, strong collection from the author of Rayuela.

52. Hope Mirrlees, Lud-in-the-Mist. - 1926 novel that stands the test of time well. Neil Gaiman mentioned this book by name when he praised Susanna Clarke's Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell and it was indeed a delightful read.

53. Carlos Fuentes, Inquieta compañía - Re-read from the beginning of 2005, this was an enjoyable set of stories dealing with the supernatural from one of the finest authors of the Boom Generation.

54. Oliverio Girondo, Scarecrow and Other Anomalies (bilingual edition) - Very avant-garde, this collection of works from the Argentine writer/poet. Almost too weird/surreal for me, but yet his originality in prosery (in Spanish - the translation couldn't hold up well) ultimately made this an enjoyable re-read from 2003.

55. Gabriel García Márquez, Memoria de mis putas tristes - Re-read from October 2004. This was Gabo's first short novel in 10 years and it was a good read on the reflections of a life lived and wishes unfulfilled, among a great many other things.

56. Walter M. Miller, Jr., A Canticle for Leibowitz - Reviewed at wotmania. Enjoyed this book a lot, thought it held up well, almost 50 years after publication.

57. R. Scott Bakker, The Warrior-Prophet - Re-read from June 2004. Enjoyed it a lot, thought it was one of the more intelligently crafted and written epic fantasies available in English.

58. R. Scott Bakker, The Thousandfold Thought - Re-read from October 2005 (ARC). On the second read, I enjoyed this one even more than the other two books in the volume, so it improved on a re-read. Highly recommend this series to readers.

59. Xavier Velasco, El materialsimo hísterico - This young Mexican author has a lot of talent and this re-read from Summer 2005 reminded me of this. This is a collection of fables set in a true material girl world. Well worth the read for those who can read Spanish (hopefully, this will be translated into English in the near future).

60. Mario Vargas Llosa, La fiesta del Chivo - Re-read from June 2004. This historical novel about the last days of the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic is a fascinating account, one that was told well by a master storyteller. I enjoyed re-reading this and shall soon re-read La guerra del fin del mundo.

61. Torquato Tasso, Jerusalem Delivered - Re-read from 2003. This is an excellent poetic translation of Tasso's epic poem on the First Crusade and the siege of Jerusalem. I cannot recommend this work enough to those that enjoy heroic poetry in the epic style.

62. José Herández, Martín Fierro - This Argentine gaucho epic revolves around the exploits of Martín Fierro, as he exists between the white and native societies on the pampas in the 19th century. Although I had some difficulties with the localisms employed, I did enjoy this story quite a bit in original Spanish.

63. Manuel Mujica Lainez, La misteriosa Buenos Aires - This is a collection of story, perhaps based on actual people/events, perhaps figments of the author's imagination, that stretch from the city's first founding in the early 16th century to the beginning of the 20th century. A story collection that I shall read and re-read many times in the future, I do believe, as it just seemed to be full of that je ne sais quoi that made the characters/scenes seem so real.

64. Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird - I've re-read this story multiple times since my high school days back in the early 90s and each time, the story impacts me more and more, being a native Southerner who still has had to ask the basic questions that little Scout Lynch asks throughout this moving story.

65. Neil Gaiman, Anansi Boys - Reviewed at wotmania. It ended up being a decent Gaiman story, but I'm still convinced that he's a better short fiction author than he is a novelist.

66. Hal Duncan, Vellum - Reviewed at wotmania. Title of the review there should tell you how much I enjoyed it when I read it for the first time this past July.

I'll make another post about my reads from August-early October later this week.
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