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The Brentford Mercury

The S.F.X. Interview

The full text of an interview from SFX magazine

by M.J. 'Simo' Simpson



M Were you holding down a day-job when you started writing?

R I’ve been holding down various day-jobs up till five years ago. I could never ever earn enough money to write until well after Transworld bought Armageddon. Because the money that Transworld paid Bloomsbury for the three Armageddon books, I’ve never seen a penny of. Never had a royalty cheque from any of those books. Not one. Because when hardback companies own it, the paperback people buy the rights. It’s so bloody complicated that the author gets bugger all. And I scratch my head and say ‘Look at the bloody royalty statements! You’ve paid all this money and they don’t give me a penny!’ They say ‘No.’ So, it was only after that, when I started writing The Book Of Ultimate Truths, was the first time I actually wrote for a living. I was building kitchens for people then. I was able to give that up for a living and work as a writer. I thought ‘This is great.’ The only thing I didn’t bargain with was, of course, you’re all on your own. And all the ideas and inspirations that come from conversation, you don’t have any more. You have to sit on your own: all on your own!

M You’ll have to go down the pub.

R Well, that is it. And having always written in pubs, it’s the only way. When I moved here, the buggers wouldn’t have it. They talked to me: ‘What are you doing? What are you writing? What’s that?’

M The new one, The Garden Of Unearthly Delights, seems to be something of a departure.

R When I grew up with science fiction, my favourite writer was Jack Vance. Now why Jack Vance has never received acclaim in this country is beyond me. Nobody had even heard of him. And yet he’s written this great canon of work. I agree his best work’s probably from the middle-fifties to maybe 1970 or so, and then... Well, how many books can you write? Great books? His greatest books I think were in the ’50s and ’60s. I thought to myself for years and years: ‘One day I’d like to write a book that’s a homage to the Dying Earth books.’ Have you ever read them?

M I haven’t, no.

R This is 1957, ’58, he wrote these two books which were set in a time when the sun was going dim, and the world returned to magic. Thousands and thousands of years in the far future, there’s no technology, wastelands and all the rest of it. But they were very funny. And I thought ‘I’d like to write a book set there, one day’ and the publishers are always saying ‘Write what you write, write Rankin books, but try and vary them a little.’ Vary them a little! Oh yes, no problem there!

M The same, but different.

R The same, but different, yeah. So I thought ‘Well, let’s have a try and see if I can write one of those as a sort of homage to Jack Vance.’ And so it was an attempt to do that. But it was the first time I’d ever written a story, just following one character all the way through. It’s to be judged if it’s successful or not, I don’t know. It makes it easier to read, but I don’t know.

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