Interview (english version)
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Interview with James Barclay (english version)

Redakteur: Christian Endres


Fantasyguide: Hello James. Our readers can read your biography on the right side – but is there anything else they should know about you? Maybe something that never ever appears on the backside of one of your books?


James Barclay: Hi there. Actually, that biography is well out of date. I mention my girlfriend Clare in the biography. She’s now my wife. We were married in August 2005 and it was a wonderful day. We’re having a great time being married and moved to a new house in Teddington (which is just to the south west of London) in September 2005. I’ve written the second book in the Ascendants series now (and it will come out in the UK in November this year) and am in the planning stage of new books (I can’t speak too much about the ideas just yet). Clare and I have just bought a puppy. She is a Hungarian Vizsla called ‘Mollie’ and she is absolutely lovely. We’re training her now and it’s fun but hard work. That’ll do, I think.


Fantasyguide: How have you come up with the idea of becoming an author? And why aren’t you writing crimes, thriller or cookbooks, but fantasy-books, which were often sneered at by »serious readers of literature«?


James Barclay: I have always wanted to write books. I started writing at the age of seven (my mother still has my first short story). I wasn’t into fantasy as a writer then, I don’t think. I started writing more seriously at the age of 11 and chose fantasy because all my favourite books at the time were fantasy or sci-fi. It just made sense to write in my favourite genre and it still does. You should always write what you are best at or your writing will be forced, I believe. As for those who sneer at fantasy. That is their loss. Most of the detractors have never read a fantasy and it is shallow and ridiculous to dislike a genre you have never tried to read.


Fantasyguide: Are there or were there authors (out of the fantastic area, but also other) that have influenced your style of writing or your view of a good book?


James Barclay: I think every book I have read will have influenced me in some way. However, I always mention one. »The Legacy of Heorot« by Niven, Pournelle and Barnes is the book that made me want to write fantasy thrillers. It is a superb example of how to write tension and excitement laced with hard edged characters. It doesn’t let up for one moment and I had it in mind when I wrote about The Raven. That isn’t all that makes up a good book of course but The Raven are action heroes so it makes sense to look at what makes a good action book. In terms of deeds and heroes, by the way, look no further than David Gemmell.


Fantasyguide: And what do you think about the quote of – for example – Michael Moorcock who says that a fantasy-author should not read too much fantasy? And how are you handling this yourself?


James Barclay: We’re all different. I don’t read as much fantasy as I used to but that’s because having written fantasy all day, reading it is not as relaxing as it used to be. But I still do read fantasy – books recommended by my publisher for instance. And I like to keep abreast of what is selling and why. I know what Michael is saying, that there’s a danger of unconsciously copying ideas, styles and plots. And it is a real danger but if you are aware, you can avoid it. Reading your competitors keeps you fresh and makes you work harder. If I read a fantasy book I love, I don’t try and copy it, I look at what makes it so good and try and better it by improving my own techniques.


Fantasyguide: What’s your plan when you are starting a new novel? The classic one, writing an expose or script and climbing from chapter to chapter – or have you just a rough plan with more space for changes and letting yourself drive to wherever your characters want to go to? And have you any rituals, myths or places etc. to prepare for writing?


James Barclay: I write anywhere and everywhere and always have. I don’t have rituals, favourite music, places to sit or anything like that. And I’m glad. It means I am flexible and I am relying on myself to produce the words, not a manufactured atmosphere. As for planning, well I do as little as possible because I feel that a book grows and evolves as it is written and to be too rigid in structure is to risk choking the freshness and life from it. I start with a brief outline, I know my characters and I know what it is they achieve. How they get there and who survives is up for grabs as I go on.


Fantasyguide: Your books have only been published recently in Germany. How did it finally come to an translation and/but why did this happen so late? And where there efforts to publish your books in Germany from yourself our your agent or where there efforts from Heyne and/or other German publishers to see your books published in their program?


James Barclay: The Raven came to be translated following the success of the translation in France. My French publisher, Bragelonne, spoke to Heyne about the books at the Frankfurt Book Fair and that brought Heyne to see Gollancz. It’s great the way it worked out and I’m very thankful to Bragelonne for the help they gave me. I think The Raven had been interesting German publishers for quite a while but there is not always the money, the time, or the publishing slots to take everything that you want. I don’t mind that it took a while to get The Raven into German, I’m just glad it happened and that they have gone down so well with German fans.


Fantasyguide: Staying at the German translations of your books. Here in Germany fantasy-books has been published in bits of something about 300-400 pages for a long time. 300 pages seemed to be a magic number for years – publishers might say the ideal number of pages they want to serve the reader. German fantasy-authors and also some of your English-speaking colleagues can report a lot of this, George R. R. Martin, Michael A. Stackpole or Robert Jordan, for example – their books have often been split into two, sometimes also three German books. How do you feel about the fact that your novels also have been split into two German books for each of your original books? What do you think about this handling? I mean, a book is conceived and planned as a whole thing, and in England and America it has been reviewed, read and loved by a lot of people before it arrived Germany: Now, for another market, it gets split far away from home into two books and gets published in a »riven, destroyed« way?


James Barclay: Well, that’s down to the publisher. I would prefer to have my books published in their original full form. The books were written to be read as one and not two volumes after all. But if Heyne believe that splitting is the best way to reach German readers, then I trust them to do the right thing. After all, they want the books to sell just as much as I do. I’d like to know how the books are split, whether they are literally hacked into two pieces or if any sections are repeated to make the transition smooth but I think the success of the books in Germany means that the decision was probably the right one. I’d be very interested to hear if German fans would prefer a single book or are happy to have a book split into two or three. Publishers do what they think the readers want. As an English author, I have to trust that my foreign publishers are doing the best they can. I have to trust that the translations are sympathetic and that the packaging is right for the market. And I know not all publishers are as good as Heyne in Germany or Bragelonne in France. It’s hard to have your work changed but it’s reality. By the way, I don’t feel they are being ‘riven or destroyed’. Those are strong terms in English. I prefer to think they are adapted for the market in which they are published.



Fantasyguide: Lets talk about the Raven in detail. In my opinion, first of all there are two characters making fast and serious changes in their basic natures during the first books: Denser and Hirad. Denser moves from the »dark bastard« into the accepted and liked hero with rough edges, and Hirad transforms from a blinkered crabber into a responsible keeper of the dragons. Are these two, Denser and Hirad, also your favourites to write for and to work with?


James Barclay: Well I don’t quite agree with your assessment of Hirad though your view of Denser is pretty accurate. Hirad is never a blinkered crabber. He’s a straight thinking, straight talking man who wears his every emotion like his clothes. It’s all on the outside, nothing is hidden away. He is stubborn, irascible and sometimes insensitive but he is a man who you can trust utterly and who will never turn his back on those he loves. But he does mature after meeting the dragons and that makes him a more rounded man.


I enjoyed writing many of the characters. Hirad and Denser were certainly among them. Ilkar was a character who was great fun to write. Those three had lots of interaction and dialogue between them and their relationship gives great pace to the books. Denser’s change from Xeteskian acolyte to core Raven member was a lovely process to write. He was cynical at first but came to understand exactly what being a member of The Raven was all about. Hirad’s courage and his unflinching belief in The Raven made him a simple but hugely entertaining character to write. His relationship with the dragons was an addition that gave him unexpected depth. And Ilkar… well, an elf who gives a long-suffering air to proceedings and who’s relationship with Hirad was one of my favourite areas to write. They were a joy and they carried me through many low personal moments.


Fantasyguide: How did you develop and deliver the idea of Thraun and the clash between his human and his wolfish side?


James Barclay: Shape-changers in fantasy aren’t new but what I wanted to avoid was a clichéd ‘werewolf’. Thraun needed to be a man who loved and feared his wolven side in equal measure. He loves it because as a wolf, he has the power and the freedom and the safety of the pack. He has unconditional love and he has the beauty of nature pouring through him. But he fears it because with every moment he exists as a wolf, it is more difficult to recall his human side and return to his human form. He also fears what he might do as a wolf, that he might hurt or kill someone he loves. Thraun considers himself to be human first but always, in the back of his mind, there is the knowledge of his other life.


What I tried to deliver was a man who did not deny his wolfish side but who was fearful about where it would lead him. And I tried to deliver a wolf who retained certain human memories but didn’t really understand them. As a wolf he was simple, worked on instinct of friend and enemy. He always needed the trigger to return to his human self. It is not something he can do for himself because as a wolf he does not understand how to return.



Fantasyguide: I like the way you make the sexuality of your characters topic in your novels. It’s a very open-minded point of view, I think, especially if you compare it to other fantasy-books. But why are these other books so ... uptight? Are other authors, publisher and editors – and if they, maybe also the readers? – so prude? Would this be different, if the ancestors of fantasy like Tolkien had given us more sex-scenes to make that topic presentable?


James Barclay: I think sex, like violence in books, has to be included only when it is necessary. Gratuitous sex scenes undermine a novel and detract from the story. In the UK, we have had a prudish attitude towards sex in films and books and on TV for a long time. That is changing now but for decades it just was not the ‘done thing’. Publishers won’t avoid sex scenes but they will not want them just for shock value. The key is that sex has to add to the story. It must move the story along. That is why there is not much sex in my books but what there is happens for very good reasons. Authors often avoid sex scenes because they don’t know how to write them or are embarrassed by them.


Lord of the Rings was first published in 1954 and Tolkien had been writing it for a decade, I think. It was a different time and I don’t suppose he ever thought about sex scenes in his work. And I don’t feel he needed to. He wrote so beautifully about love and loss and that is so much more powerful.


As the world changes, no doubt more and more people will become comfortable with writing sex scenes. But I’ll repeat, that they should only be included is because they are necessary to move the plot or develop characters and relationships. They will never be compulsory and in many ways, you could argue that being able to express love (or sexual violence indeed) without straight description is a greater skill.



Fantasyguide: Here in Germany we are – because of the split books, like I said above – behind other countries and have just finished the Chronicles of the Raven. The Legends of the Raven have just started in April this year. What can your German readers expect from the Legends of the Raven – and any further books of James Barclay?


James Barclay: Legends of The Raven continues the adventures of Hirad, Denser, Ilkar and all the others. Readers will see them plunged into even more deadly conflicts that take them to other continents and dimensions. More characters are introduced that readers will enjoy. Particularly, we learn more about the elves and see them as an elite fighting force. There is more action with the dragons and a lot more trouble with the colleges of magic and with the demons.


Yes, there are more books from James Barclay. I have just finished the second book in a series called The Ascendants of Estorea which is a fantasy about the birth of magic in a world that has never seen its like before. It is set in a Romanesque society so there is plenty of action with legion, gladius and catapult. It is a two book series. Both books are pretty big so readers will see them chopped into three or even four, I expect. They are different in style to the Raven and I hope fans of the Raven like them.


Fantasyguide: You have a homepage and there also a bulletin board on that your fans can discuss and talk about your books. I have seen that you also post sometimes there. Is this contact and dialogue with your readers important for you? And has this interactive contact influence on your books/series?


James Barclay: Yes. It’s very important for me to be able to talk with fans and for them to have the opportunity to talk to each other and to me if they want to. I enjoy posting on there. It is a good community and some have become friends through it – I’ve made friends among fans too and that’s great. I think fans should be able to comment on your work, criticise if they like and debate as much as they want. I just provide the facility.


What I don’t do is let that guide what or how I write. That is my job. I take criticism on board and try to improve of course but I wouldn’t adapt stories, characters or anything like that because of fan input. Writing by committee is dangerous and unrewarding.


Fantasyguide: One last question, than you can go on doing your deadline-project again: What book is on your bed-side read at the moment?


James Barclay: »The Lies of Locke Lamora« by Scott Lynch. I got a proof copy from Gollancz who are publishing it. It is excellent. A terrific debut. Original, clever and full of colour and character. I think it has already sold to Germany so your readers will not have to wait too long. It’s well worth the read.


Fantasyguide: Thank you for your Interest, James. All the best for the future and good luck for your further way as an author. Keep on writing such great books!


James Barclay: It’s been an absolute pleasure. Thanks for interviewing me. I hope everyone enjoys what they read. I’ll try to keep the great books flowing :-)


Oje, das hat nicht geklappt, Elfenwerk! 2024072006532447a649fa

The Chronicler of the Raven

Erstellt: 21.06.2006, zuletzt aktualisiert: 23.02.2015 23:53, 2430