Alright everyone, as promised, Paul and I worked our buns off to bring this second part of the interview to light. For some reason (maybe due to angering the Irish Gods with my attempt at writing a novel set in their land…), the Internet wasn’t allowing Paul and I to connect and get the text of the interview from one side of the Atlantic to the other. But, Paul and I are made of tougher stuff than that and used brute force (Paul paddled over to North America in a Canoe) to make sure it happened.
To that end, the second half of the interview might feel a little choppy (the questions were supposed to be interlaced with those from the first part), but all of Paul’s incredible rapier wit is still intact. If you’re so inclined, you can download a PDF of the entire interview, in one long piece, HERE.
What’s one piece of advice you wish a young Paul Kearney, with his 124,950 bad words worth of novel, would have received?
I’m not sure. My first impulse was to say; ‘less is more,’ as that’s how I developed as I began to write professionally. I hate unnecessary waffle in books, stuff that obviously is there just to make the story that little bit longer so that it’ll fit into the idea of what fat fantasy should be. On the other hand, maybe that’s the way I should have gone! I really don’t know. The more I write, and learn about writing (I’m teaching creative writing now in Belfast, so I’ve got the old academic hat to wear now), the more I think that there’s very little you can teach. You can point out what’s wrong, but if the author doesn’t have it in them to see why it’s wrong, then you’re on a hiding to nothing. Tell a story â€“ that’s the rather trite and obvious thing which must come out of it. Tell a story, and make the reader stick with it to the end. If you can do that, then you’re well on your wayâ€¦even if your prose is execrable. It’s taken me a long time to realize that (or to admit it), but it’s what I now believe.
How did you go from that first novel to finally becoming a published author?
Whoa, long story. To cut is as short as courtesy allows, it has to do with Skye and mountains. I was there on a hiking trip 21 years ago (Good Lord, twenty years), and I took a little tumble off a cliff. When I came back to Oxford, where I was at college at the time, I had this idea in my head for a story about a man who does the same, except that in the fall his wife, who’s with him, is killed. The story was to be about grief and death, and the process of creation; the climber was a fantasy author whose literary world was actually real, whose characters lived and breathed, and whose real-life grief was infecting the world he had created, effectively destroying it. So the characters of his books hunt him out to try and get him to put it to rights. The only problem is that one of the characters is based on his dead wifeâ€¦
Well, I had about 100,000 words of this written, and sent it off to a few agents. The London agent John McLaughlin, bless his heart, took it on, and shortly after that, Richard Evans at Gollancz bought the book, and the rest is history. It was a remarkably straightforward process; I didn’t write short stories or articles for magazines first, or go to conventions, or attend creative writing classes. I just wrote this book, and it was published. At the time I just thought that was how the system worked; now I realize how lucky I was.
Earlier you mentioned that “loony feminist” called you misogynistic, a word also applied to many other fantasy authors including Tolkien and, more recently, Joe Abercrombie. What’s your opinion concerning the accusations that the Fantasy/Science Fiction genres are so male dominated?
Oh, give me a break. Male dominated? You’ve heard of a lass called Rowling I presume? Or what about Ursula le Guin, Andre Norton, Julian May, Katherine Kerr, Robin Hobb, and so many others I’ll pause here and rein in my sneer. Male dominated, my big hairy behind. If anything, it’s the other way round. For years fantasy has been fluffy and tiresome to a degree, and then along come people like Abercrombie and Erikson, and Morgan, and suddenly it’s male dominated? I don’t buy it. If anything, lately there’s been a redressing of an imbalance, a lean towards dark, ‘harder’ fantasy which can only be good for the genre.
(Crap, he thinks, there I go being misogynistic againâ€¦)
So fans of the Monarchies of God have as much reason to pick up the Omnibus as newcomers?
Well, I hope so. Especially if Solaris do their usual bang-up brilliant job on the covers. I must admit, I’m drooling at the prospect myself.
The Ten Thousand draws much inspiration from our own world history, what sort of things inspired Monarchy of Gods and The Sea Beggars?
The Monarchies were inspired by the voyages of Columbus and Magellan. That world, that era, fascinates me. I like the fact that with that level of technology, I could have gunpowder and cold steel co-existing, and I could buckle a few swashes whilst layering on the darknesses of religion and heresy. Only the sixteenth century is that rich, that stuffed with revolutionary new ideas and technologies. Having said that, the tactics in a lot of the Monarchies battles also owe a lot to the American Civil War, another one of my hobby-horses,
As for the Sea Beggars, I basically wanted Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser on a ship, or something like that. But as I worked at it, all this darker stuff came seeping through, this relic of myth, and the idea of a world abandoned by God. The great thing about writing this stuff is that you can sling in whatever concept is interesting you at the time, and play with it, with a cast of thousands if needs be. No other profession provides that outlet.
Are you the type of author who pores over the Internet, searching for every last drop of Paul Kearny *coughjoeabercrombiecough*, or do you mostly avoid the hype and media?
Nope. Couldn’t give a monkey’s bottom. I have a website, but I was basically bullied into setting it up by a few friends. I don’t go to conventions as a rule, and I’m not really up to date with who’s writing what or being published by whom. I just write the damn things â€“ as far as I’m concerned the rest is up to the publisherâ€¦
Ah, but times are changing though. The author has to clamber down from his little ivory tower these days and mix it up with the great unwashed in order to promote his opus. So I hear, anyway. Actually, I like hearing from fans, and I always make a point of replying to their e-mails. It’s just that fandom per se makes me uncomfortable. The last time I was at a convention, a big one, I was torn between feeling utterly at home, in a crowd of people who were all interested in the same things I was, and feeling totally perplexed by the sheer passion they brought to it. They seemed to care more about the stuff writers were writing than the writers did themselves, if you know what I mean.
You’ve written many novels since A Different Kingdom, but in your opinion none of them have reached the same level of quality. What made A Different Kingdom so special and do you think you’ll ever write a novel to match it?
Kingdom is my most autobiographical novel, the book I let my heart run away with. There are characters in it based on members of my family â€“ I didn’t even change some of the names. It’s set on my grandparents’ farm, ostensibly in the fifties, but actually based as I remember it from the early seventies. That was a hell of a fine place to spend a childhood. I had fifteen uncles and aunts, and a few dozen cousins, and a whole wide and quiet country to run around in, winter and summer. Something went into that book which I never really recaptured again. A kind of love. It’s a fairy story, and it’s not for the faint-hearted, but at its essence it’s about the love for the land, for a piece of Ireland which is now destroyed. I don’t know if I can ever write with that fathomless sense of belonging again; after all, you can only grow up once. But I’m glad I drew a picture of that world I knew, while it was still fresh in my mind.
Paul, it was a pleasure. I’ve no doubt that Solaris and yourself will continue to move the genre forward. Best of luck with The Ten Thousand and anything else that finds you down the road.
Well, thanks very much Aidan. As my brother says, keep her between the hedges.