Here’s another question I hear a lot. ‘What kinds of books do you write?’
Fair enough. The guy says he’s an author. So what kind of author is he? I say – ‘Well, three of them are fantasy novels…’ And my questioner nods. They know now what kind of author I am.
Except that I then say ’… and one’s a historical novel…’. And while they’re thinking about that , I add ‘…and I’ve just published one that’s science fiction.’ And maybe I will also explain that while the fantasy novels were marketed for teenagers, the historical one is definitely for adults and WE, the SF novel is, er… for both, maybe.
At this point I’m usually getting a reaction along the lines of ‘How come you do so many different things?’ And my answer is that I don’t think they are different.
Well - not that different.
There is a problem with labels like ‘Fantasy’, ‘History’, ‘Children’s book’ etc. We have to have them. If we didn’t, we couldn’t begin to distinguish between books at all. But they quickly become misleading. Fantasy and Science Fiction blur easily into one another (Are Anne McAffrey’s dragons fantasy or SF?). So do Fantasy and History. My interest in medieval history, which I ended up studying at university, began with The Lord of the Rings. And the word ‘Children’s’ is the most misleading of all. Compare the intellectual content of The Dark Materials with that of your standard formulaic thriller that flies off supermarket shelves in thousands, for example.
If you look at my books, the covers will tell you that they are all completely different. They will say ‘Fantasy’, ‘History’ and ‘Science Fiction’. That’s marketing, and it works. But if you read them…
Ah. If you read them…
In each one, the central character makes some kind of moral or spiritual journey. It involves suffering, duty, maybe sacrifice, and in the end leads to a greater understanding. That, I think, is common to all of them.
On that journey there is usually an encounter with the devil, in some form. It is not an actual encounter. It is metaphorical or symbolic. It’s about thinking thoughts or hearing words that will lead you into darkness.
And what are the paths of escape? Well, love may be one. Sacrifice is certainly one. Perhaps just a greater understanding of yourself and your own weakness. On this journey the way to the devil is easy. It’s finding the path back that matters.
I write in different settings and with different voices. That’s important for freshness. It’s a rare author who can do the same thing for book after book without losing quality (never mind that that’s what the public and the marketing department want him to do). But it seems to me that I’m writing about the same thing, like an artist walking around an object and sketching it from different angles. One view can’t capture the whole. Maybe no number of separate views will.
But if I ever did feel I had captured it?
Sure. I’d go and write something different.