[GARETH] I’d like you to about why you chose fantasy as a genre to write in and who your influences have been...
Elspeth Cooper, ‘Songs of the Earth’
I’ve been asked that question – or one very much like it – dozens of times. The short answer is: I didn’t. I chose to write, and fantasy was what came out of my pen onto the page.
Of course, looking back, I can sort of see why. Being read ‘Ivanhoe’ as a bed-time story probably had something to do with it, and you can trace the causal links from that to the stories of ‘King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table’, ‘Gawain and the Green Knight’, ‘The Black Knight of Tarn Wadeling’, through to my obsession with Greek and Norse mythology and ultimately into full-blown fantasy geekdom via Beowulf, Homer and ‘The Lord of the Rings.’
My parents encouraged me to read, so from an early age I was fascinated by the storytelling process, the act of putting words in a row and finding out what happens next. Throughout childhood my best friends lived between the covers of books. I was a solitary little soul, content in my own company, but the worlds I got to explore whilst never leaving my own room . . . ! Strange worlds, ancient worlds, worlds where my imagination could run wild with sword and magic, defeat the monster and still be home in time for tea.
In those days, books weren’t marketed differently for boys and girls. There were no pink covers with glitter on them, and Alex Rider hadn’t been invented; there were only stories. Alan Garner and Susan Cooper, CS Lewis and ‘The Moon On The Water’, the first book that made me cry. I was too young then to analyse what drove me to seek out these adventures; I just knew I loved them, and that love of the epic and mythic has persisted to this day.
I think pretty much everything I’ve read has had some influence on me; some of it conscious, most of it not. Reading Guy Gavriel Kay’s ‘Fionavar Tapestry’ in my late teens helped re-ignite the wanting-to-be-a-writer fires that had been banked and slumbering through exam study; something about Kay’s prose never fails to move me. Tad Williams’ ‘Memory, Sorrow and Thorn’ trilogy captivated me with its imaginative breadth and the otherness of the Sithi and Asu’a. Robert Holdstock’s ‘Mythago Wood’ took me to where stories come from, in the heartwood of legendary Albion, and taught me how to weave together scholarship and narrative without sacrificing any of the magic.
Fantasy as a genre speaks to me the way little other fiction does. It has such scope – imagination unconfined, I called it once. You can do anything there: examine real-world problems in another context, play what-if with history, colour as far outside the lines as you want. It’s fun. It’s freeing. It lets me build castles in the air and invite other people inside to walk around and stay a while. Plus, I get to play with swords, all day, and call it work.
Writing fantasy is officially *the* coolest job in the world.
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