What inspired you to start writing?
I fell in love with the feel and sound and shape and rhythm of words at an early age. It wasnt until I realised just how unstable and dangerous language is that I decided to try to tell stories. The other inspiration was my love for projects. Whether it is a map, an atlas, a Lego model or a book, I love the feeling I get when I finish a worthwhile project.
How did you learn to write?
To be honest, really honest, Im just starting to learn. I learned the rules of grammar as a child, how to write sentences, paragraphs and so on in a logical manner. It was only when I tried to write a story that I realised just how much I still had to learn. I want to be able to express all the emotion, all the longings, loves and fears that rattle around in my head, and I need the best equipment possible in order to do it.
Which writers do you most admire? Do you ever get ideas from other authors?
I admire C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien more than any others, for the breadth of their vision and their skill with language. Any writer who can tell a story incorporating such truth and beauty has my admiration. I try not to take any ideas from other authors, but the ways they tell their stories continue to influence me. Other favourite writers within the genre include Ursula Le Guin, Stephen Donaldson, Steven Erikson, Tad Williams, Julian May, Glenda Larke and Terry Pratchett.
Which of your books do you like the best? Why?
The manuscript I've just finished, The Path of Revenge
, was easily the most satisfying I've written. The characters have more depth and are quirkier. I'm particularly pleased with Lenares, my savant Cosmographer.
Which of your characters do you most hate and why?
I dont think I hate any of them. Certainly they all do things I dont approve of. Perhaps Leith gets on my nerves the most, as he is the most autobiographical of the characters, and I dont like the reminder of my own teenage years.
How do you go about naming your characters?
My three main characters (Leith, Hal and Stella) are puns (see if you can work them out). My other characters have names based on the roots of the culture they come from. I take great care to find names that have consistency with each other, that sound euphonious and that have a hidden meaning.
Where do you find your inspiration?
Ah, this question. I dont have inspiration. What I do have is an intense, burning desire to share the deep emotion that C.S. Lewis calls joy: not a religious thing, but a glorious, dramatic moment, or maybe, if youre lucky, a continuous state. I want to explore the heights and depths that people can achieve in their search for whatever brings them or others joy. I believe that the physical world is tied in to this, and that joy, the numinous sense that you are in the presence of something beyond understanding, can be experienced by a waterfall, a beautiful sunrise, with your child in your arms or at the deathbed of a friend
goodness, Ill be writing greeting cards next.
How do you build your characters?
I select a series of standard characteristics, then vary them a little to make a person an individual. I then expect the character to develop as they experience the trials of the story, as they grow older and, occasionally, in some surprising fashion, such as happens to many of us.
How do I get published/will you read my manuscript?
I honestly dont know how you get published. I know you dont want flippant comments here. The world of publishing is not my specialty. I cant pick publishable manuscripts I didnt think my manuscript was publishable and so theres really no point in me reading anyones manuscript with a view to recommending it for publication. I suppose it boils down to this: write the best you can, and dont plan to do it for a living.
How difficult was it for you to get published?
I did not take the usual route to getting published. I had written two books, and was honestly debating whether to begin the third, when in 2001 my wife saw a woman from HarperCollins New Zealand on daytime TV soliciting fantasy manuscripts for their new Voyager imprint. I would never have seen it. So I sent off a synopsis and three chapters, and received a pleasant surprise when I was invited to submit the rest. I can honestly say that this was my only attempt at getting published. I have never used an assessment service, nor did I have an agent. Im sure I would have used these worthwhile things, had I known they existed!
How long does it take you to finish a book?
I enjoy writing so much that I dont hurry the experience along. My first three books took ten years, five years and nine months respectively, but I probably spent about the same amount of time on each. I worked it out once. It takes me about 500 hours to do the actual writing of the first draft of a novel (180,000 words), and at least another 1000 hours planning, sketching, mapping and inventing the associated world.
How do you overcome writers block?
Ive never had writers block. Ive definitely experienced times when Ive lacked the technical ability to write whats in my mind, but Ive never been short of something to say.
Did you know the plot for the entire trilogy before you started writing it?
Depending on what is meant by entire, the answer is yes. I had key events, key characters and key places all planned (about sixty of each) before I began writing in 1986. I spent all of 1985 making a huge atlas of Faltha so that the story would have very strong anchors. A few surprises crept in while I wrote, but I stuck more or less to the outline I devised seventeen years before I finished the third book.
What are you working on now? When is the next book coming out?
I've just finished a manuscript I'm particularly pleased with, called The Path of Revenge
, the first in the Husk
trilogy. It is set in another part of the same world as Fire of Heaven
, with a few links to my first trilogy, though it is set seventy years in the future so you shouldn't expect to meet many of the characters from Fire of Heaven
. HarperCollins have purchased the rights to the Husk
trilogy, and I expect it to be published early 2007 (subject to change).
What are your hobbies?
Im an avid music listener. I have a particular interest in early 70s prog rock (with all its fantasy elements), early 80s post-punk and early 90s acid house and techno. I also enjoy all forms of classical music, most jazz, and the whistling of birds. I collect Lego: I find it a great way to relax. Dorinda and I collect cornishware. We have a pretty decent collection! I play golf to low single figures, and pretend to play cricket. I love watching sport. Ill give anything a crack.
What was your favourite book as a child?
As a little kid I enjoyed R.M. Ballantynes The Coral Island
(Lord of the Flies
was based on it) and James Ramsey Ullmans Banner in the Sky
, about an ascent of Matterhorn. The first sci-fi books I read were the Lensman series and Asimovs Foundation trilogy. All great stuff!
What is your favourite colour?
Im sorry, but this question is too Bridge of Death for me (its a Monty Python reference). Vermilion is a great colour.
What other jobs have you had?
Ive worked as a paper boy, in a timber mill, as a painter, on a chicken farm, in a factory making golf clubs, in a university enrolments office, as a researcher, as an assistant pastor, as a self-employed mapmaker, and as a lecturer at a university.