Back to the Inquisition, and I get the feeling I’m going to be in the chair for some time. Matt asks:
Do you read pretty much every new fantasy book that comes out and are their any current sf/f authors you regard as rivals of yours?
Ah, other writers, other books. This one may land me in a little bit of trouble, but TROUBLE is my middle name. Actually it’s Edward, but trouble would be cooler.
Do I read every new fantasy book? I think it’s safe to say that I read very few, shading towards none. I don’t actually read that much at all any more. Partly that’s because a lot of my reading was done on the tube, commuting to work in London, and these days my commute takes me from my kitchen all the way into my office. Partly it’s because after spending all day writing and reading your own work the last thing you want to do is read. Partly it’s because what I do read is often more or less research for what I’m writing or planning to write at the time, and most of that research is history, and a lot of the rest is novels outside of the fantasy arena. So for The Heroes, I read a lot of non-fiction about war, and some fiction based in the american civil war, the napoleonic wars, the vietnam war, etc. etc. For Red Country I read westerns.
I read a whole lot of fantasy in my youth, but I’ve always read a lot of other stuff, and I think that’s probably important for a writer to do. My own feeling has tended to be that original ideas and approaches are more likely to be found outside the genre you’re working in, than by exhaustively reading within it. Sometimes I hear people express an attitude of – ‘if you aren’t totally aware of the field in infinitesimal detail, how can you write something original?’ which seems to me so arse about tit I hardly know where to begin with it. For me, originality is in the authorial voice, the authorial attitude, the take on the material, rather than in the magic system or the shape of the continents or the arrangement of blobs of narrative. Originality comes from an honest look inside, and a pulling together of disparate influences from all kinds of sources, rather than an exhaustive look outside.
In general, when it comes to other writers, as a venomously ambitious sociopath without the emotions of shame or guilt, I like to live by Gore Vidal’s maxim, ‘every time a friend succeeds, a little part of me dies.’ I therefore regard any and all writers as rivals to be destroyed. But seriously *ahem*, I actually feel very lucky to be – however little it may have been planned – part of a wave, or a group, or a phalanx, or perhaps a fellowship, of writers of epic(ish) fantasy who appeared around the same time. Rivals in a sense, I guess, but a little healthy competition is definitely a good thing, and I’d say that we’ve all benefitted a little from the presence of each other, and a general sense of excitement and development in the sub-genre that’s brought everyone some extra attention. Also excellent people to get drunk with at a convention, on the whole. So Tom Lloyd and Scott Lynch’s first books were published within a couple of months of The Blade Itself by Gollancz in 2006. Pat Rothfuss, Brent Weeks and Peter Brett followed maybe the next year. Richard Morgan began to pollute fantasy with the dangerous filth he had been polluting sf with shortly after. Mark Lawrence, Doug Hulick, Brad Beaulieu after that. There have even been many and varied contributions from *gasp* not white guys like NK Jemisin, Kameron Hurley, Elspeth Cooper, Saladin Ahmed, and David Anthony Durham over the last few years. The time since I’ve been published has also seen GRRM go from very successful genre writer to spectacularly successful writer full stop with a massive TV series, and I’m sure that’s had, and will continue to have, a hugely beneficial effect for the rest of us. Of course there are many, many other writers of all kinds newly appearing and long established writing an ever-expanding range of varieties of fantasy, these are just the first names that pop into my head as being rough contemporaries in terms of publication and in a similar arena to me. My apologies to anyone I’ve missed out. I guess my point would be, if I have one, that it seems to me a fine time to be a reader, or for that matter a writer, of fantasy.
You lucky bastards.
Maybe I should even be reading some of it myself…