Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Of Infinite Attics and Rediscovered Time - Garry Kilworth interviewed

Growing up, when did you first get interested in SF/Fantasy?
Since I first started to read. It was only the classic authors at first - Wells, Haggard, Poe, etc - only later did I get into sf, in my 20's - I just didn't know it was there before then. But one of my greatest influences were American comics, and especially a series called Classics Comics where they retold stories like The Black Tulip and The Fall of the House of Usher with pictures.

What do you read these days?
I read a lot of quirky history books now, about shipwrecks in the 1700s and a lot of non-fiction books about exploration in the 17th and 18th century. I still read sf and fantasy. Historical novels too, Patrick O'Brian - even Georgette Heyer, an author I love.

Were you a writer as a child? That is, did you make up your own stories?
Yes, I won a school competition when I was 12 - a fictional story about a woman pilot based on Amy Johnson.

Why do you write genre? Do you feel a stronger affinity for one genre or another?
It's not that I'm pinned down to a genre. I just love IMAGINATIVE tales set in exotic places (like Samarkand, or Mars). I don't enjoy stylistic literary novels - they leave me cold - as do crime novels or 'reality' novels set in places like the East End. I like the colourful swirl of magic and mayhem, of distant places, of weirdness and quirkyness, and anything strange. I am basically a storyteller. I believe the storyteller to be the high priest of fiction. The literary guys have got too prosy, too lost in erudition. Kipling and Stevenson would never have won the Booker today.

Who is your ideal reader?
Someone who likes something different from an author.

How do you write? Do you plan out your books before you start? Do you write every day?
My plans consist of five to ten page outlines. I write when I can these days, which is about four days a week, mostly in the mornings when I'm fresh. I sit down about 8.30 and stay there until I have 2000 words done. I revise as I write, then revise the piece again the next time I sit down, before the next 2000 words. I find my creative juices drying up after about four hours.

How did your first book sale come about?
I had won the Sunday Times/Gollancz short sf story competition and so attempted some novels. I still have four of them in my sock drawer, unpublished. I met Robert Holdstock who had just sold his first novel to Charles Montieth at Faber and Faber. He suggested I follow his lead. I did, with IN SOLITARY a short sf novel about Earth domination. Charles liked it and published it, to my enormous delight. Nothing equals that first sale. It was a tremendous feeling.

What's your most popular book? Why?
The Welkin Weasels double-trilogy - now up to about 70,000 each book and still selling. Why? Who knows? If I did, I'd do it again, but at a guess it's probably because they've got a lot of humour in them. Readers like to laugh, I guess.

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 Polynesian mythology trilogy, The Navigator Kings. It got massively good reviews but sold pitifully. Fantasy readers wanted high fantasy I guess, not some saga set in the Pacific Ocean. Blood sweat and tears went into that trilogy and I think it's the best thing I've written, though few would agree with me.

What other writers do you feel you have something in common with? What writers did you read as a child and have you reread them since?
In answer to the first part of the question, Robert Sheckley and Larry Niven, to name but two. My natural length is the short story and I feel it's my forte. In answer to the second, Rudyard Kipling, Wells, Stevenson, Haggard, Richmal Crompton.

What does Fantasy offer younger readers and writers that realism doesn't? Why is gaining popularity among readers?
Not so much escape as a chance to fly imaginatively.

Does writing have a role in shaping people's worldview?
It does for me, so I guess it must do for others.

What are you currently working on?
Jigsaw, a fantasy novel set on an island off Borneo, where a peculiar experiment is going on.

Reading Attica, I had the distinct impression of having lost time and
the analogue sense of time in particular. Is this something that you feel we've done in the Internet age? (The irony of doing this via email is really not lost on
In one sense time has been stretched - people are living longer, having fuller longer lives - yet in another sense everything is instant and time has lost meaning. A motorist will risk death to get one place up in a line of cars, save a few seconds, for what? A computer operator curses the internet for being nano-seconds too slow. Yet what do they do with those extra seconds they've saved? (Is this an old man talking?)

Why do you think secondary worlds are so popular in children's fantasy? I had the distinct feeling of the Borrowers as well as Narnia in reading Attica.

There's a sense that the children need to learn the rules and dangers of the world around them but they don't necessarily learn the rules. Is this an acceptance that modern children may not have the same understanding of the older world which they are thrown into?
I don't think things have changed that much. When I started school the World War Two had only been over 4 years, yet to me it was ancient history, way back along with the Romans invading Britain. I think the biggest impact on the world of children is the mobile phone. They never have the chance to be alone. They're always in contact with someone. I frequently got lost as a child, coming home along a country lane after picking potatoes, or out in a desert in Arabia, and those times were shaping times. I see young men out on a date, not talking to the girl they're with, but chatting on a phone to some mate or who knows, maybe another girl? I think kids are interested in worlds (like Attica or Narnia) where mobile phones don't work and people actually do get lost and are really alone.

Do you feel that we've begun to forget innocence? Do you think that the adult world has become too authoritarian on issues of how children should think, be it religiously or scientifically, rather than encouraging them to explore and learn that actions have consequences?
Wow, this getting hard! Well, they certainly don't have the innocence of an upper class Victorian family, but did a working class Victorian child have innocence? Did a Spartan child have innocence? Did a 17th century drummer boy of 10 years old, away at a foreign war have innocence? Again the Victorians were enormously authoritarian. I think it depends on which corner of society the child is raised in, but I do think we should give children the freedom to take risks and learn by experience rather than be cossetted and protected from the world. Yes, they will get hurt occasionally, physically, but in the long run I believe it's essential for them.



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