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By Patrick (2006-03-08)
For the benefit of those of us new to your work, without giving too much away, give us a taste of the story that is THE SEA-BEGGARS series.
Paul Kearney: Well, in many ways it's a very traditional story - I deliberately took a hoary old fantasy template to kick off the series, basically to see if I could liven it up a little. So you have the young hero of uncertain parentage, the magic sword, the mysterious patron and so on. But I then kicked the whole thing into left field, with the addition of ships and the sea. The story changes gear and milieu completely - especially in the second book, when things become a little more epic, and much, much darker. The books are essentially a narrative of one man's life and times, with the proviso that he may not be a man at all, but something entirely different, and his times are about to transform beyond recognition.
What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
PK: I think I can handle descriptions of certain things with a measure of knowledge and honesty. When it comes to horses, and mountains, and to a certain degree, soldiering, I have had some useful experiences which I hope can make that sort of thing seem more authentic when I'm typing it down on a page. And also, I try to make characters as psychologically realistic as possible. Men are not all good, or all evil. They will compromise and agonize before doing both the right and the wrong things, and I hope - I hope! - That my stories reflect that.
What author makes you shake your head in admiration?
PK: Many, many authors have me weeping and wailing in abject envy at their skills. Patrick O Brian is up at the top - for his sheer humanity, his humor, his massive erudition. And also because you quite simply want to read his books again and again - which is the best compliment you can pay any author. The man was a genius, and made it look easy.
Are there any lesser known or new writers you'd like to tell us more about?
PK: Rosemary Sutcliff was one of the favorites of my adolescence. A historical novelist, she wrote the finest treatment of the Arthurian legends I've ever read, Sword at Sunset, as well as a whole slew of other novels. When she writes about sub-Roman Britain, you can smell the woodsmoke. She beats people like Cornwell into a cocked hat, and yet has largely disappeared from print. Such are the vagaries of publishing.
Do you feel there is a difference between European fantasy fans and their North American counterparts?
PK: I'm not well informed enough to comment, to be honest, not having met too many American fantasy fans. But I do know that my first US agent told me the Monarchies series was too sophisticated for a US audience - a pile of claptrap, obviously. If there is a difference (he volunteers, ill-informed, but jumping in with both feet), then I think the UK audience may be slightly more ready to give the quirkier ends of the fantasy spectrum a hearing. Having said that, I think both US and UK fans are far too obsessed with the necessity for multi-volume doorstoppers. I've talked to fantasy readers who choose their next book more or less by the thickness of its spine.
What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write THE SEA-BEGGARS in the first place?
PK: The Monarchies series should have been the Sea Beggars. I wanted to write a nautical novel, purely about a long sea voyage, and that novel eventually appeared as Hawkwood's Voyage. But to my surprise, I felt I had to flesh out the world Hawkwood was sailing from, and in doing so, I found its shenanigans more interesting than the voyage which was the point of the book in the first place. And also, Corfe appeared, and shouldered Hawkwood and his ships out of the limelight. The Monarchies became something entirely different to what I had first envisaged, but still I felt I wanted to write about the sea, and make an authentic seafaring novel out of a fantasy setting. So the Beggars series is really my second go at it.