This interview was conducted for the Deep Magic ezine – February 2004 issue, and is reproduced with kind permission.
Marital Status: Married
Hobbies: Obviously, doing online interviews! No, er: film, travel, single malt scotch, baseball…
Personal Quote: “I would rather the Romans ask why there are no statues to Cato, than ask why there are.” (Cato the Elder)
Favorite Book or Author: Too many to start singling out.
First time you tried to get something published: 1980-81
Authors Most Inspired By: A myriad of them
Educational/Training Background: Philosophy and law
Schools Attended: University of Manitoba, University of Toronto
Degrees: B.A., LL.B. (Law degree in Canada)
Website URL: (Authorized site, not my own) www.brightweavings.com coordinated by Deborah Meghnagi
Q: Tell us the story of how your first book was published.
A: I had drafted about 7 chapters of The Summer Tree when the man who was acting as my agent (we’d met during the promotional launch for The Silmarillion, which I had helped edit) decided enough was in place for him to send it off. It was accepted first by David Fielder of Allen & Unwin in London, then by David Hartwell at Arbor House, NY, and Linda McKnight of McClelland & Stewart in Canada. This, incidentally, established the separation of all three major English language markets (Australia goes to the British, usually) from the start of my career, which has helped me immensely.
Q: How has the internet affected your relationship with readers and/or publishers?
A: In significant and ongoing ways, yes. Some good, some… time-consuming! There’s been a huge change in reader expectations over the past decade (more or less) in terms of the belief that it is possible and even appropriate to be in direct touch with a writer whose work one admires. When I was growing up, or in university, it didn’t enter my mind to have such a personal communication. Today, I receive emails from readers saying that they have JUST finished a book of mine and have various comments and queries. These are very often seriously intelligent (I have seriously intelligent readers) and that’s a problem … because clever queries and comments pretty much compel a reply! In addition, it goes the other way: many writers wade into usenet discussions actively, even discussions of their own books. One author I know threw out a query to the usenet sf discussion group as to the merits of splitting a book of his into two volumes, how they (the readers) would feel about this. The back-and-forth is staggeringly different today.
Q: Your worlds and kingdoms are very rich in the arts (music, poetry, artwork, etc.) and have a very Renaissance feel. Were you a history major, and what has been your inspiration for the settings?
A: I majored in Philosophy, then did law, but history has always been a passion, in many different forms. My major reading, both leisure and professional is in history. I often say that if you are doing a fantasy based on a period, a variation on a theme, as it were, you have to KNOW the theme before you try variations! Only one of my books is actually’Remaissance-based’ and that’s Tigana (and even there, the idea blurs, because I introduced a Politburo-style dictator in one of the invaders). I’ve done medieval Spain andThe Last Light of the Sun, due out in March, takes its inspiration from the north of Europe well before the Norman Conquest of England. And yes, indeed, the interplay of power and the arts is a recurring theme for me. I like to play with this in various ways, showing how it spins itself out differently, in different cultures.
Q: Do you have any favorite characters?
A: That sets up the usual, ‘How can a father choose amongst his own children?’ reply. It happens to be true, though. Hmm. I suspect if pushed I’d name Dianora in Tigana the most tragic figure I’ve created. Um. Well, along with Darien in Fionavar. (See what I mean?) I was very happy with Styliane Daleina in the Mosaic as a creation … someone you genuinely dislike all through but (I hope) are compelled towards a grudging respect for by the end. I had a lot of fun with Bertran de Talair in Arbonne. Actually, a lot of the figures in Arbonne appeal to me … it was probably the most enjoyable book to write, a love song to Provence, essentially.
Q: What influences have helped you become the writer you are?
A: One of those questions that requires an essay not a paragraph. Without dodging it, I’ll say one obvious, powerful thing, is getting older. We think and feel differently as time passes for us, and we write differently, accordingly.
Q: What have you been reading lately?
A: I’m currently re-reading Shirley Hazzard’s The Transit of Venus