The OF Blog: Interview with Herbie Brennan

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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoyoyed the article. I, myself, am a writer (as of yet unpublished). I have written a fantasy, adventure novel - Wot, Nott, Kakuri and the HU BA HOU... You might like to have a look at it...
Let me know how you like it. All the best from Gerry Wilson.

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