Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Fact and Fiction - Stephen Lawhead interviewed

When did you first get interested in young adult SF/Fantasy? Was it a conscious decision to write Hood for a younger audience than your previous books?

Publishing Hood as a YA novel was a decision that was made by my editor at Atom/Orbit – his call, which I trust entirely. That said, in the US, it is being published as an adult novel, and I know for sure that in Germany it will be the same. Obviously, in recent years the line between YA and adult has become quite blurred – so, I was advised just to write the book as I saw fit. And that is what I did.

What do you read these days?
Oh, anything! Our family (my wife, sons, and daughter-in-law) have decided to do a book club. When we're together next, we’re going to discuss Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. I'm really enjoying that one, and Zorro, by Isabelle Allende is just delicious. As you would expect, I have to read a fair amount of history by way of research, so exciting books like England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings: 1075 - 1225 also crowd the bedside table.

Were you a writer as a child? That is, did you make up your own stories?
I suspect many writers start out as I did: practicing on the neighbour kids. I told a lot of stories, and made up plays and movies and such, before I ever started writing down anything.

Why do you write genre? Do you feel a stronger affinity for one genre or another?
Basically, I enjoy stories that are plot-driven, whether I read them or write them -- and that invariably leads to genre fiction. I suppose that writing what one would like to read is a good place to start, creatively speaking. I don't know the reason why I'm drawn to SF over mystery, say, or fantasy over horror. Personal preference, I guess. Actually, on second thought, I probably do know why I prefer heroic fantasy over shock horror: I want a book to have some sort of vision, and for the story and characters to experience some sort of ultimate redemption.

Who is your ideal reader?
Anyone who buys hardbacks for themselves and their friends.

How do you write? Do you plan out your books before you start? Do you write every day?
I am a disciplined writer, and not precious about it. Because I've moved around a fair bit in the past few years, I've had to write wherever I am, under whatever circumstances. If I can slap on the earphones, I can create enough isolation to get on with the job. I just need some time. I do write most days, but never, never on a Sunday.

Of your own books, do you have a favorite? Was it because of the idea, the characters, your life situation while you wrote it, the way it turned out, something else?
The book I most enjoyed writing was Merlin. It flowed from the first sentence, and I had a lot of fun exploring such a mesmerizing character. Also, I am very proud of Byzantium, a book that I poured a great deal of energy into for a very long time, and it never wore out its welcome. Of course, the book I'm writing now -- Scarlet, the follow-up to Hood -- is my current favourite because it's what's in my head at the moment. And it is, by the way, a jolly good book.

What other writers do you feel you have something in common with?
Honestly, I have no idea. But if you ask me what writers inspire me, I’d say Dickens was a guiding light, and Sir Walter Scott, and Mark Twain. My wife thinks that Ian Fleming has had an unusually strong influence on my sentence structure and characterization.

What does Fantasy offer that other kinds of fiction can't? Why is it gaining popularity among readers?
It's the vision thing again. I came across this passage in Norman Davies' epic history, Europe, in a section analysing the ultimate collapse of European communism. He said: 'Artists and believers were often the only people who could imagine a world without communism.' To the extent that fantasy books paint a picture of a world that is in some way more heroic, more humane, more beautiful and hopeful than this one ... that is something that people really respond to, and I'm all for it. Perhaps the number of people who are willing to wade through a hopeless and depressing book is dwindling.

Does writing have a role in shaping people's worldview?
Absolutely. It's certainly shaped my worldview, and I have heard from many people saying that what I've written has shaped their lives in one way or another. This is either dangerous territory, or holy ground -- depending on what a person chooses to bring into his or her life and experience through reading. That being the case, I think that more writers need to be aware that once a book is 'out there', it may have human consequences.

How aware were you of the Matter of Britain as you wrote Hood? How aware
were you of different cultures between the English, French and Welsh?

I’m always very aware of the special place the Matter of Britain holds in these legendary tales. I enjoy working with it, and I respect it. As for the difference between the English, French, and Welsh – hey, I get it. Contrasting these cultures is the basis for much of the dramatic tension in my books.

Do you feel that the power of story telling has been forgotten?
Never. Not even for a minute.

There seems to be a critique of powerful people wielding religion as a tool. Is this a comment upon the current politicians? How far is faith an individual thing to you and should it be imposed in a young adult book or should it be explored?

Big questions. I'm not consciously trying to dis current politicians -- as tempting, and easy, as that may be. And I'm not trying to impose anything on anyone; that is, I’m not writing propaganda. On the other hand, it’s my book, so it’s going to come from my point of view. Like any writer, I naturally take up what I know or what I’m interested in. In Hood, for example, I liked exploring the distinction between these highly organised, politicised, corporate-type Norman priests ... and the more disorganized, unsophisticated but often more spiritual Celtic clerics.

How difficult was it to break fact and fiction and recreate the story of Robin Hood?
I wouldn’t call it difficult – I’d call it fun. I like weaving together the known threads of fact and the suppositions of fiction. The idea is to create a seamless whole out of the two. And the two elements – fact and fiction – aren’t really competing. In each case, it’s all about the story. Factual history is already a story – and creating a more personal story out of the mega-story of historical events seems a very natural thing to me.

What are you currently working on?
, the second book in the King Raven series; where life in the greenwood gets increasingly dodgy. It’s bigger, bolder, and badder in every way, and all told from Will Scarlet’s unique point of view.



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