Interview with Michael Moorcock

SFFWorld: This year Tor is reprinting your popular novels about the hero Hawkmoon in trade paperback editions. What do you think about the Hawkmoon series, your earlier work in general, and the writer Michael Moorcock of forty years ago?

Michael Moorcock: I think it was honest work done at high speed and they’ve clearly stood the test of time. I still enjoy the atmosphere and images they invoked, almost steam punk in atmosphere. What I think of as real ‘science fantasy’ — a little sf, a little supernatural stuff, set in a fairly distant future Earth. I was always an ambitious writer and I learned some good skills, I think, writing these. I remain affectionate towards them! They’re entertainments and I hope give honest entertainment for your dollar.

SFFWorld: In your recent essay on Tor’s website, you talk about the process of writing the Hawkmoon books, discussing how quickly you produced the stories, and remarkably how you had not even proofread the stories, or even read the finished products, since then. Could you speak a bit about how your writing habits have changed since then and its impact on your work?

Michael Moorcock: They haven’t changed all that much. I still write quickly for an old geezer. A little more time than the 3 days so many of my fantasy novels took. Elric tended to take three weeks a book, but the Cornelius quartet essentially took 11 years and the Pyat sequence took 25 years. The Dr Who novel I’ve just finished took over six weeks and will have a second draft. Of course this doesn’t count thinking over time which can last for months or years. Hawkmoon had begun as an opening I’d set aside several years earlier, when I was writing for Science Fantasy. The new editor didn’t like fantasy so I did them an sf serial, The Ice Schooner which was done like all my novels in those days as serials, an episode at a time, usually just before the deadline. I even wrote my most mandarin Cornelius story like that. I love writing serials from week to week or month to month. In that sense I’m more like a writer of Dickens’s day.

So in most ways my writing habits have remained the same — appropriate to the nature of the book. Mother London took six months. Gloriana was six weeks.

SFFWorld: You have had many of your works adapted into graphic novels, and the recent republication of your Hawkmoon series contains full-page illustrations by Vance Kovacs. How do you like Vance’s visual interpretations? How do you feel in general about visual interpretations of your work?

Michael Moorcock: I generally love them. I’ve been blessed with some fine artists since my earliest writing days. Jim Cawthorn’s interpretations will always be my first love because we worked together since earliest times, but I like Vance. The covers are probably the best Hawkmoon covers I’ve ever had.

SFFWorld: Several of your characters and settings have been used by other writers, both works created with your specific consent and fan-fiction. Could you speak a little about your views about others writing in universes you have created?

Michael Moorcock: I grew up in a world where authorship was often vague. We ran Tarzan stories in Tarzan Adventures not by Burroughs but by the artist or script writer, like the movies. On Sexton Blake, the thriller series I worked on, his adventures were openly written by several writers (my first novel was a Sexton Blake under the pseudonym Desmond Reid) and I’m happy with most of my characters to see what other people make of them. That said the experiments aren’t quite as open as they were because it led me to letting D&D, say, having my ‘intellectual property’ for nothing and having terrible rights deals even now.

But I have to let authors I trust have a go so I’ve had some outstanding writers often starting off writing about one of my characters. I am protective of my characters but not possessive!

SFFWorld: I understand that you will be writing a Doctor Who novel. How does it feel to be adding a new chapter to a popular long-running series, yourself having written several popular series that have inspired others to write in universes of your own creation?

Michael Moorcock: It’s a lot of fun. A challenge. Blending Dr Who and the multiverse. I gave myself a challenge to write as if P.G. Wodehouse and Arthur C. Clarke had collaborated. It’s funny (I’m told) and is Wide Screen Baroque Space Opera, too. Many of the tropes I originated or popularised got in to the common culture and in a sense this felt like officially handing on some concepts to the genre. But I admire it hugely and it has some fine writers, these days. I despair of doing as well.

SFFWorld: In the New York Times you recently discussed your favorite music to listen to while writing, and how what you listen to depends on what you are writing. What are you listening to these days?

Michael Moorcock: Pretty much the same stuff. A lot of Janis Ian, John Prine, Willie Nelson at the moment but pretty much all the same composers, including Mozart and Beethoven and other sublime constructors. Mostly that’s what I’m listening to — music of many different kinds that’s well-constructed.

SFFWorld: You have a very active fan community at with whom you interact on a regular basis. What are your thoughts on the author’s relationship to fans of his or her work in the Age of the Internet?

Michael Moorcock: I grew up in the age of fanzines when there were so few active sf fans we all knew one another. I always replied to fan letters and did a lot of readings and signings, enjoying that interaction with readers. The internet made it easier to do. I have a great website, managed by great people, and I enjoy ‘meeting’ readers there. But other writers are more private by nature and I don’t think they’re wrong in guarding their time and energy more sparingly. I’m a strange mixture of recluse and performer…

SFFWorld: With the development of digital media, the Internet and electric reading devices, what do you think about the future of the print novel?

Michael Moorcock: I think it’ll last for as long as there are people who prefer the smell and feel of paper books and while they’re available on the net.

SFFWorld: If you were a young unknown just embarking upon a career in writing today, how would you go about it?

Michael Moorcock: Unless there’s something new and interesting I can bring to a novel it isn’t worth writing, but whether I’d be doing sf/fantasy I’m not sure. I’d probably find some novelty in whatever I was doing.

SFFWorld: You’re also known as a musician, your most famous connection being with the band Hawkwind. Are your music days over or would you welcome further collaborations?

Michael Moorcock: I’m currently working on a couple of concept albums, one with Spirits Burning in San Francisco.

SFFWorld: There are still the everpresent rumours about an Elric movie, last mentioned in 2007. How nearer are we to seeing Melnibon on screen?

Michael Moorcock: Not that near, I suspect. The recession has made most studios wary of untried fantasy stories, pure and simple.

SFFWorld: What can you tell us about your upcoming series The Sanctuary of the White Friars?

Michael Moorcock: It’s genuinely autobiographical while being a true fantasy novel. Set in a real ‘sanctuary’ — that is a part of the city which through tradition have been permitted autonomy, usually as thieves’ quarters. The Sanctuary of the White Friars was real and existed to the south of Fleet Street, beside the river, more or less between The Temple and Blackfriars Bridge. The White Friars were Carmelites who were granted the land in the 14th century and which slowly became the Rookery it was notorious for being until the early 19th century. It was called Alsatia after that disputed region between France and Germany which came neither under French nor German jurisdiction. It’s mentioned in a few historical novels not least Scott’s Fortunes of Nigel. I discover a way in to this strange region in the 1950s when I first worked in Fleet Street.

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