Q. As an introduction, what would you like to tell us about yourself and your books?
I never considered becoming a writer when I was young, though I loved books and reading even before I went to school. I don’t recall what my early ambitions were (I imagine being some kind of adventurer featured heavily, e.g., space explorer, fighter pilot). I’d always been fascinated by science, however, and by the age of 13 I’d decided I wanted to become a scientist.
My first interest in being a writer came when I was at uni studying geology and chemistry, though I haven’t kept anything I wrote from those days; it was a load of old rubbish. I was also reading a lot of SF and fantasy then and, while doing my doctoral research (30+ years ago), I began to amuse myself by making door-sized maps of a great fantasy world, developing thousands of years of history, societies, ecosystems, etc, as one does, and writing disconnected scenes based on the history and characters I’d sketched out. It was around that time that I decided I wanted to become a writer. But what with little children, renovating one of the most decrepit Victorian houses in inner Sydney, and setting up my consulting business doing marine pollution studies, there was no time in the next decade.
In 1987 the creative urge became overpowering, and I began A Shadow on the Glass, the first book of my Three Worlds epic fantasy series, http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html, which has since grown to 11 books and more than 7,000 pages. And more books to come.
A Shadow on the Glass was first published in 1998, with the remaining books of The View from the Mirror quartet following at 6-month intervals. The quartet became rather successful, both in Australia and internationally, and still reprints regularly both here and in the UK. I’ve now written 27 books in a variety of genres, including a trilogy of thrillers set in our world during catastrophic climate change (Human Rites, http://www.ian-irvine.com/humanrites.html), plus 12 books for YA readers and children. I’m having the time of my life writing, and never plan to stop.
Though I still do some of my consulting work, too. In fact I’ll be wading through a sand-fly infested mangrove swamp next week, collecting pollution samples. It adds to the variety of life and writerly inspiration.
Q. The Calamitous Queen is the fourth book in the Grim and Grimmer series. Do you prefer writing a single, stand-alone book or a series of books about the same characters?
I’ve never written a stand-alone book. All my books are part of trilogies or quartets. I guess I’m a long-winded kind of guy. Although it’s also true that I mostly write fantasy, and fantasy readers prefer long books that are a part of a series – I know this because of the overall state of the market and also because it’s what my readers keep telling me. In fact I’ve just asked the question on my Facebook author site; you can see the responses here, http://www.facebook.com/ianirvine.author.
I am considering writing some stand-alone books in future, though, partly for variety, and partly because writing such long series represents an enormous commitment of time and creativity. I love doing series, but it would also be nice to have a break and just work on a project that has a definite beginning and ending.
Q. What inspired the Grim and Grimmer series? And how did you develop this series?
It wasn’t inspired by any particular idea or character, but rather by the urge to write more stories for a particular age group. I particularly enjoyed writing my little Sorcerer’s Tower books, http://www.ian-irvine.com/sorcererstower.html, and librarians have frequently said that these books, which are only 10,000 words each, are ideal for reluctant readers in mid-primary schools because the books have driving plots and strong heroes and heroines. One librarian said that reluctant readers often end up with what they regard as ‘books for dummies’ and the kids would sooner read nothing than be seen reading such books.
I wanted to write more books for these readers, though for slightly older ones, say 9-14. I wanted the books to have clearly drawn, extravagant characters and powerful, exciting plots. I also wanted them to be funny, because I’d never written humour before and wanted to have a go at it. And also because, while there are lots of fantasy novels for this age group, and lots of humorous novels, not many books successfully combine both.
I developed the series by creating a character, Ike, who was different to other characters I’ve written about because at the beginning he’s a failure at almost everything. Useless Ike. I wanted to show how a failure can become a hero. Then the series title, Grim and Grimmer (my all-time favourite title; it took many, many hours to come up with it), and the descriptive titles of the books – The Grasping Goblin, The Desperate Dwarf etc. Then I plotted out the first book, The Headless Highwayman, constantly analysing the plot events and the characters, and rewriting so as to overturn clichés and change the familiar into the unusual. That was the extent of my planning. I didn’t plot the remaining three books at all until I was ready to write each of them, though I always had in my head how the story would end.
Even so, when I was writing the final book, The Calamitous Queen late last year, the ending did surprise me (favourably). Every one of the many characters gets their just desserts (in good ways or bad, and nearly always humorously). Poor Ike, though. I still shudder at his humiliation with the troll-bum door, just at the moment that’s supposed to be his greatest triumph.
Q. How does writing a series differ from writing a single, stand-alone book?
I can only speak from the series viewpoint. It’s a major undertaking, both in time, perspiration, hair-tearing and creativity. And sometimes, when a book is not going well (which occurs in the early drafts of all my books) I rage to the heavens, ‘Why am I doing this to myself, why?’
But it’s also pleasant to come back to familiar and much-loved characters, and to take them in new directions, or even overturn their lives and everything they stand for.
Q. Is selling a series to a publisher different from selling a single, stand-alone book? In what ways?
It can be easier, or it can be harder. For instance with my first series, The View from the Mirror. I sent this to Penguin in 1996, and it was read and favourably received by several people, including a free-lance editor who had been a former publisher at Penguin. Kay recommended that Penguin buy the series, though she was not confident that they would, because they would have to buy four long books and at the time Penguin had not published fantasy for the adult market. If the first book failed, the others must fail as well, which would be costly. But Penguin did buy the series and it went very well for them.
On the other hand, because most fantasy readers are looking for series, it can be easier to sell a strong series than a good single work.
Q. What advice would you give to writers who wish to write and sell a series?
The advice is generally the same as for writers who write single books: create an engaging, clearly drawn protagonist who wants something desperately; an equally engaging and well drawn antagonist (this doesn’t have to be a person, it can be a force of nature, society or group) who wants to stop the protagonist at all costs; show their struggle in a series of conflicts and reversals; and write a powerful resolution which also shows how the protagonist has changed at the end. Create empathy for the protagonist by showing his or her emotions, feelings, hopes, fears and conflicts in every scene. Finally, create a unique and clearly visualised story world that’s based on the observation of small, unusual details, rather than being a clichéd version of another writer’s story world.
But with a series, the story and the characters have to be big enough to last and grow and change through a series of books. Well, most characters. Despite what books on writing tell you, not all characters have to grow and change. The charm of many series characters (e.g. Stephanie Plum in the Janet Evanovitch crime novels, or James Bond, etc) is that they never change. And readers don’t want them to: they like these characters just the way they are.
Once again, thank you Ian for sharing your insights in regards to writing and, in particular, in writing a series. Good luck with The Calamitous Queen, the Grim and Grimmer series, all of your other books, new ventures and, well, life in general. I wish you every success, as I do to everyone reading this blog. I wish you all every success!
To read more about Ian Irvine, The Calamitous Queen, the Grim and Grimmer series and plenty of fascinating stuff, here are the details of Ian's blog tour. Enjoy!
Blog Tour Dates:
6 June 2011
Ian Irvine http://bloggingwithianirvine.blogspot.com
Introducing The Calamitous Queen blog tour
7 June 2011
Nords Wharf Public School https://www.det.nsw.edu.au/blog/437508-nordswharfschoollibraryboard/
Questions from students
8 June 2011
Susan Stephenson, The Book Chook http://www.thebookchook.com
Literacy and writing
9 June 2011
Catriona Hoy http://catrionahoy.blogspot.com/
Humour and writing
10 June 2011
Kid’s Book Capers – Dee White http://content.boomerangbooks.com.au/kids-book-capers-blog/
Review of book and interview
11 June 2011
Sally Murphy http://www.sallymurphy.blogspot.com
The exciting (or otherwise) life of a writer
12 June 2011
Claire Saxby http://www.letshavewords.blogspot.com
Fun, fantasy, fiction: mix and stire (or how it all comes together)
13 June 2011
Alison Reynolds http://www.alisonreynolds.com.au/
Why Ian wrote this book...
14 June 2011
Dee White (deescribewriting blog) Tuesday Writing Tips http://deescribewriting.wordpress.com
Tips on how to finish a series
15 June 2011
St Joseph’s Primary School http://stjyear52011.blogspot.com
Questions from students
16 June 2011
Sheryl Gwyther http://sherylgwyther4kids.wordpress.com
The 10 best things about writing 'Grim and Grimmer' + things that almost drove you nuts!
17 June 2011
Questions from students
18 June 2011
Writing Children's Books with Robyn Opie http://www.robynopie.blogspot.com
The how-to's of writing a series
19 June 2011
Angela Sunde http://angelasunde.blogspot.com/
Where Ian's ideas for the series came from and how he knew there would be four books in it
Hysterical horror, hopeless heroes -
Grim and Grimmer 4
The Calamitous Queen
Publisher: Scholastic Australia
Paperback, 280 pages
Emajicka is marching on Grimmery with an army of a million Fey. Can things possibly get worse?
Yes, they can, for Ike is all alone. Mellie has gone, attempting to pull off the perfect crime. Lord Monty is at war with his reattached head. The beautiful sprite Mothooliel wants to steal Ike’s eyeballs, and Grogire the firewyrm plans to kill him in the most disgusting way.
Can Pook and Ike free the Collected children? Will Ike discover the secret of the Gate Guardians and clear his parents’ names in time to save Grimmery? Or will Spleen and Nuckl finally feast on Ike’s innards?
Brace yourselves for a wild ride.
- "Fast and furious and very funny." Reading Time
- "The funniest horror story you'll read in a long while." Good Reading
- "Very funny, as well as dangerous, gory and grotty." www.aussiereviews.com
- "Funny and fast paced. Recommended." Bookseller and Publisher.
- "The fun explodes off every page." Richard Harland, international bestselling author of Worldshaker, www.richardharland.net
- "A wonderful tale. Delightfully dark and delicious." Jacq Ellem, www.hittheroadjacq.com
- "I gasped and laughed my way through these three books." Dee White, Kids' Book Capers.