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By Patrick (2007-01-10)Q:†Given the choice, would you take a New York Times bestseller, or a World Fantasy Award? Why, exactly?
At this stage in my career (i.e. just stumbling off the starting block), itís no contest, Iím afraid: NYT bestseller. Its impact on my (or anyoneís) prospects of making the whole writing thing work as a career choice would be vastly more significant. I donít expect either of these things to happen to me in the near future, so I doubt Iíll have to weigh up the pros and cons too carefully.
Q:†What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Iíd say Iím reasonably good at giving characters a bit of texture, not bad at creating a certain sense of place and context for the action to happen in, and hopefully Iíve done reasonably well in maintaining a pace and direction to the narrative. People have told me Iím quite good at writing violence too, which I assume is meant as a compliment. I suspect, though, that this is a line of work in which youíre never likely to be 100% satisfied with your own efforts. Even if you think youíve managed to do something well, youíre still left thinking ĎIím sure I could do it better Öí
Q:†What was the spark that generated the idea which drove you to write WINTERBIRTH and the rest of the series in the first place?
Well, if you go back far enough, I guess the very first spark was watching the disintegration of the former Yugoslavia on TV in the early 1990s. There were all these people killing each other largely because of hatreds that dated back hundreds and hundreds of years, and it just struck me that it would be interesting to do fantasy fiction that recognised the immense destructive potential of history, and nationalism, and so on. Before anyone starts worrying that WINTERBIRTHís some heavy historical text, I should say the book that eventually emerged is only distantly related to those very first inklings of an idea, but you can still see some faint traces of that first thought in there, I think.
Q:†Were there any perceived conventions of the fantasy genre which you wanted to twist or break when you set out to write WINTERBIRTH and its sequels?
Maybe tweak a few conventions, but not necessarily break them. For example, I was going through a brief bout of grumpiness about the prevalence of fantasy heroes whose sole function in the plot is to embody some ancient prophecy or other, since that didnít seem to leave very much room for free will and choice, so I thought Iíd do a story where the closest thing to a prophecy was actually on the side of the bad guys (though I donít really think of anyone in the book as bad guys, to be honest). And I thought, instead of having a dark lord or something similar, Iíd have the key villain emerge, and change, as the story progressed.
More than any specific tinkering with individual conventions, though, I think I wanted to go for a tone or texture that at that time didnít seem too common in the genre: a bit grittier, a little injection of realism, slightly more shading to the characters, that kind of thing. Of course, I started thinking about the trilogy so long ago that by the time WINTERBIRTH actually got published, the conventions had changed anyway. Thereís a lot more grittiness and complex characters, and a lot fewer stereotypical dark lords, about these days. I mean, GRRM, Steven Erikson Ö kind of redefining some of the baseline, arenít they?
Q:†Characters often take a life of their own. Which of your characters did you find the most unpredictable to write about?
I donít find my characters too unruly, on the whole. Generally speaking they do what I tell them to do - and if they donít, I go back and rewrite them to make them more compliant. Thatís the godlike power of a being an author! That said, I do find some characters (the Shadowhand and Aeglyss spring to mind) more enjoyable to write than others, and a couple have somehow manipulated me into giving them bigger parts than I originally planned: thereís one called Roaric who looks like heís going to get a bit more coverage than I expected, and Tara Jerain, the Shadowhandís wife, snuck into book two as a point of view character while I wasnít looking.