Interview with Oliver Johnson

This Interview has been provided by Orbit, and is printed with their permission.

In August, Orbit published The Nations of the Night, the second book in Oliver Johnson’s epic Lightbringer Trilogy which began with The Forging of the Shadows. We asked Oliver to tell us about the world he’s created for the Lightbringer Trilogy, one of the most exciting new fantasy series of recent years . . .

What inspired you to begin writing your own books, and what made you choose fantasy as a genre?

From childhood, I always loved history and adventure stories. I really discovered fantasy quite late, through Tolkien and then through fantasy role-playing games at Oxford. There was an active gaming circle there and through it I met a long-time friend and later co-author, Dave Morris – we both ran extensive campaigns, wild games that went on all night, week in, week out, for years and years, many of them set in M. A. R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne. We both then went on to write for the RPG magazine White Dwarf, and also wrote role-playing games books for several publishers. They were quite functional multiple-choice game books, but they were very instructive on how to build plots! But the idea of writing something purely narrative and epic had been in my mind and was my ambition. After the game books, I started my first adult novel, The Forging of the Shadows.

Tell us a bit about the world and the mythology you’ve created for the Lightbringer Trilogy – were you inspired by any existing mythologies?

Out of the role-paying games I began to fixate on some recurring themes: the battle of light and dark and the world of the dying sun (inspired by Vance’sThe Dying Earth and others). I was also intrigued by vampirism. What is it like to know you’re going to live forever? Not very pleasant, probably – wouldn’t the spirit be sapped knowing that there was no pressure of time, no finite end? I remember a Borges story, The Immortals, which had this as its theme. The gods ended up wallowing in mud pools all day, barely bothering to move, so tired had they become of their eternal life. I’m not a great fan of the svelte, charming vamps we find in a lot of contemporary vamp fiction: I wanted to explore beings for whom the pursuit of blood was a physiological necessity, like a drug addict’s craving for a drug. Apart from the dying sun and the “realistic” vamps, my world is a hybrid of various interests, Egyptology and alchemy among them, with a good salting of the medieval…

As well as being an author, you work full time as an editor in a London publishing house. Do you find that writing and editing compliment each other?

It means the written word totally absorbs me for most of the day. This has advantages and disadvantages. Advantage: if you’re reading and editing enlivening, thought-provoking work, it must have a beneficial effect on your own work. I remember someone saying that the best tip he could ever give to a new writer was to read a good new book every day. Well, I don’t know if I read one every day, but when one comes along, it’s an inspiration! Another benefit is that I’m immersed in book production every day, from raw manuscript through editing, cover design, marketing, sales… you name it – there is nothing that’s a mystery. I have none of that feeling of isolation from the processes of publishing that I know some authors experience. Disadvantages? Well, I guess there being no mystery could be a problem! An editor is ideally a human bridge between author and the hard business side of things. Seeing both the reality and the romance of publishing simultaneously can make you feel rather double-visioned at times! I find it’s best to compartmentalise the two as much as possible.

Do you read a lot of genre fiction yourself? Who are your favourite authors?

I used to have it coming out of my ears when I was looking after the Legend list. Now I specialise in thrillers. But in the past Tolkien, naturally, was a big favourite. Then later Ursula Le Guin and Jack Vance. And no one tells a story better than David Gemmell, who I was lucky enough to edit very briefly. Out of the genre, I love historicals: I get through C. S. Forester’s Hornblower novels every three or four years.

Why do you think fantasy fiction is such a popular genre?

Personally, I think it represents pure escapism in an increasingly prosaic society. People need to unshackle their minds a bit fantasy’s the thing!

After you finish the Lightbringer Trilogy, do you have any plans for more fantasy novels, or do you feel like a change of direction?

I have another idea in the genre already plotted in my head. I wondered about thrillers for a while, but I just get a buzz out of the escapism of fantasy, so I don’t think the nitty-gritty involved in producing a thriller would inspire me.

Do you have a daily routine when you’re writing a novel?

I get back from the office, make some tea, fire up the computer, stick on my headphones and let rip for an hour and a half or two hours, trying to blank out everything else. On weekends I would guess I do about three hours each day. I try to stick as resolutely to this routine as possible: if my discipline wavers then everything begins slipping.

Between working full time and writing, spare time must be hard to find. What do you do to relax?

Hmm… Classical music, cooking, chess and cricket I’d list as my hobbies – when I have time . . .

Copyright© 2002 Orbit. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. The interview has been provided by Orbit and is printed with their permission.

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