Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Feature: Interview with John Grant

Every Tuesday, I'll have a feature article posted.

John Grant, a.k.a. Paul Barnett, has published over sixty books and has worked as an editor for several decades. He has received two Hugo Awards, the World Fantasy Award, the Mythopoeic Society Scholarship Award, the J. Lloyd Eaton Scholarship Award and a rare British Science Fiction Association Special Award. His upcoming book is The Dragons of Manhattan while Norilana Books has recently announced that they have acquired John's latest novel, Leaving Fortusa.

Thanks for doing this interview! The first question that pops to mind is why the pseudonym John Grant (or even Eve Devereux)?

Long, long ago, when I was working as an acquisitions editor for the UK publishing house David & Charles, I needed a house-name for a pair of books I wanted to put together during company time – they were the sf anthology Aries 1 and the nonfiction project The Book of Time; the latter was a co-editorship with Colin Wilson. So a fellow editor and I devised “John Grant” for the purpose. A few years later, when I decided I should be a bit more serious about writing, I thought it made sense to go with the name that had been on a couple of published books rather than with my own.


It’s a decision I’ve regretted many times since, especially because “John Grant” is such a nothing-name. It’s clear that if you want to make it big as an author your best bet is to be called something like Montezuma Z. Cartwheel – something memorable.


I did have plans to use my own name for my less genre work (as per Iain Banks and Iain M. Banks), but these were scotched when the publisher who commissioned my two “Strider” space operas turned around and insisted those be released under my own name.


I have lots of questions but let's go for the most immediate: you have some new books coming out. Can you briefly tell us something about them?


Yes, it’s going to be a busy publishing schedule for me over the next twelve months or so – after a fairly quiet couple of years, by my standards. It was really last Fall that things started picking up speed again, with the publication not just of my nonfiction book Corrupted Science but also a huge anthology I’d edited, New Writings in the Fantastic. That book had a somewhat tangled history, so in reality I’d done all the work on it eighteen months or two years beforehand.


Anyway . . .


In a few weeks’ time Screaming Dreams Press is publishing a novel of mine called The Dragons of Manhattan. This is another book on which all the work was done a while ago. I originally wrote it as a three-times-a-week serial for the (sadly now defunct) international journalism website/webzine Blue Ear. It was then picked up by James Owen at the print magazine Argosy Quarterly; he planned to issue its three parts as three separately bound novella-sized books slipcased alongside the magazine. Unfortunately, he got as far as publishing only the first episode before the magazine (which was a genuinely excellent venture) folded beneath him. Even more unfortunately, the magazine took a very long time doing the folding! It was a couple of years or more before it slowly became evident to everyone that the next issue was pretty unlikely to happen. I mentioned all this to Steve Upham around the time he was founding the UK publisher Screaming Dreams Press, and he immediately said he’d love to bring the novel properly into the light of day at last.


Just recently, Steve told me he’d asked my old pal (and collaborator on a couple of books) Bob Eggleton to do the cover – and there you are!


Later in the year I have a novella coming out from PS Publishing called The City in These Pages. I’m pretty excited about this one too, and not just because it’s always been a dream of mine to be published by PS. Over the decades I’ve been given a lot of pleasure by Ed McBain’s “87th Precinct” novels, and so I was pretty upset when the Grand Old Man died a few years back: it was like I’d lost a friend. Slowly the idea dawned on me of creating an homage to him in the form of a fiction that was very definitely mine – not anything he himself would ever have written – but which yet was very definitely a tribute in terms of its style. So The City in These Pages is, I hope, something he’d have liked to read (he wrote a few bits of sf, you know): a John Grant-style cosmological sf/fantasy story with a stack of absurdism/surrealism thrown in, but with the surface of a police procedural. The title comes from the little declaration McBain always made at the beginning of his “87th Precinct” novels, that “The city in these pages” was purely fictional.


And also later in the year the newish Los Angeles publisher Norilana Books is releasing my mosaic dystopian novel Leaving Fortusa. I’ve been putting this jigsaw together for some while, with various of its ten sections being published as standalone stories in places like SCI FICTION, Postscripts and the anthology Nova Scotia. Of course, by the nature of a mosaic novel, if you’re doing it right then some of the sections aren’t likely to see solo publication. Even so, I was surprised that a couple hadn’t been picked up by anyone. One of these, “The Gara Smood”, was declared by my wife to be the best story of mine she’d read; so when Vera Nazarian told me she was editing a new anthology I sent the story to her. She very quickly bought it, and in chatter I mentioned that it was part of this longer excursion, Leaving Fortusa. Oh, said Vera, and could I read that, too, now that Norilana is beginning to broaden its publishing activities? So she read the novel, and bought it, and I couldn’t be more delighted by the home it’s found itself; Vera’s not just a good friend but a writer whose work I wholeheartedly admire, so for a book that’s so very special to me to be published by her is a genuine thrill.


Meanwhile, I’m working on the nonfiction book Bogus Science, which is planned for publication about this time next year . . . And I’m also wondering if I can persuade someone to issue a collection of my humorous pieces.


Regarding Dragons of Manhattan, how did the original idea come about (not just the story but that it would be serialized fiction)?


The idea came to me one day while Pam and I were driving along in the car. I told her about this notion I’d had for a novel, and she instructed me to write it forthwith. Well, of course, I didn’t have the time to write it forthwith, but I did sort of aim at fifthwith – I had a couple of days spare a few weeks later and rattled out the first few thousand words. By then I’d decided I really, really wanted to use the structure my old buddy John Brunner had used for his greatest novels – Stand on Zanzibar, The Sheep Look Up, etc. (John had of course in turn lifted it from John Dos Passos.) It seemed to me this’d allow me the maximum freedom to cover a lot of different territory without having to be too concerned with the necessary disciplines of a linear plot. Also, if it was going to be a matter of my grabbing a few days here and there to write the book, with likely long gaps between each outburst, then using the Dos Passos/Brunner structure would be helpful.


About six months later Ethan Casey, the editor of Blue Ear, asked me if I’d be interested in writing a serial novel for the site/zine. I was enormously flattered, of course – this was a very distinguished audience I was going to be addressing – but what could I write? I mentioned the request to Pam, and she pointed out that here was the ideal opportunity to finish The Dragons of Manhattan: once I’d committed myself to produce it, I’d actually damn’ well do so! She was right, of course. What she was less right about was the notion that I’d be able to fit three weekly episodes (they were of varying length, but often fairly short – the advantages of that Dos Passos/Brunner structure again!) in around my other work without really noticing it. Those were a tough few months!


It was really good to make myself write so quickly though. Not all of the episodes were short. Sometimes I’d get up, write 3000 words in the morning, then jet them off to Blue Ear (part of the deal was I’d not have time to proofread!), then start about noon or later on a full day’s “real” work. I did take a day off other things to devote the time to the 7000 words of the book’s longest section. It was great to discover I could still pull this kind of stunt. Even greater, after the serialization was over and I could sit down to read the novel as a whole, was discovering how little editing it required.


Let me qualify that. It did still require a fair amount of editing. But I’d expected the text to be an absolute shambles, with moments of profound embarrassment every other page. Yes, of course, there were some o’ them moments of profound embarrassment . . . but there were far fewer of them than I’d anticipated, and there were lots and lots of bits of the book that I felt pretty damn’ proud of, as I did of the book as a whole. So the editing task seemed a light one, both because it was far lesser than I’d anticipated and because I felt it was a job worth doing.


What's it like writing a serial, especially in this day and age? Were you ever tempted to go back and re-write parts that were already published? Will you consider doing it again in the future?


I did make perhaps a couple of corrections as I went along. One of the benefits of the very freewheeling Blue Ear setup was that this was easy enough for me to do. I’d just start a new episode with a note of the form: “A few weeks ago I said Monty Bean did this. I lied. What he actually did was this. Apologies for the confusion.” I imagine if I’d been writing the book as a serial for a more traditional venue – the New York Times or wherever – that might have been frowned upon.


At an early stage, I asked if any of the Ears wanted to be characters (at least in name) in my book. About a dozen, I think, said that yes indeed they would. So that sort of wove the novel into the tapestry that was Blue Ear.


In many of your fictions, you tend to include the characters Qinmeartha and the Girl-Child LoChi which in certain ways reminds me of Michael Moorcock's Eternal Champion concept (or what it could have been). Why the fascination with these characters? How do you decide whether such characters are needed in a story?


Funny you should say that, Charles! I kind of came at the multiverse notion from a different direction than Mike had a while earlier; I must just have read the wrong Moorcock books, or something, because I tripped over the concept of the multiverse in science books, not fiction at all. Natch, I thought it was something worth purloining, which I did with a vengeance in my 1992 fantasy novel The World. It was while I was working on that book that I discovered – very embarrassingly! – that Mike had beaten me to it.


In a way, at least. The fantasy-concept I’d developed of the multiverse was really quite distinct from Mike’s – far more physical, to simplify enormously. Accordingly, I renamed it the polycosmos, and charged ahead. The created mythology of The World has permeated quite a lot of my fiction, although I haven’t played with it much lately. In the novel itself, I try to portray what it’s like when two of the infinite alternative universes, one of which might be ours and the other of which is definitely the universe where High Fantasy happens, crash into each other and intermingle – rather like galaxies colliding. So the book’s a metafiction as well as a fantasy/sf novel. At some stage I want to revisit the mythology as a space opera, and then it also plays a part in a very, very ambitious novel I’ve wanted to write for a decade or more that incorporates, too, the Beauty & the Beast mythology.


Qinmeartha and the Girl-Child is another created mythology that has, as you observe, fascinated me through many of its incarnations. There’s a slight overlap between it and the World mythology, but no one noticed me forging that link at the time. One day I hope to effect a more complete integration.


The mythology came into existence after I’d let myself in to be a participant in the first One Day Novel competition, in London. Sounds like fun, I thought . . . but then, on the train up from Exeter (where I then lived) to London I began to think it might be a bit of a help if I had a few ideas beforehand as to what I was going to write. Ulp. I gazed out the window as the fields blurred by, and I caught sight of my own reflected face, motionless against the moving background. That was just enough to get my imagination kick-started.


It was really a 24-Hour Novel competition – two 12-hour days rather than a single day. At the end of it I had a 31,500-word “novel”. It didn’t make it to the shortlist, and naturally I was a bit disheartened. However, for the relevant weekend I’d been put up in London by fellow writer (and later editorial collaborator) Dave Hutchinson and his wife Bogna – two dear friends. As a matter of courtesy, I gave a copy of the text to Hutch, and he came back telling me I should on no account feel disheartened. I reread it, and tended to agree with him. Of course, at the time there was no real possibility of selling a 31,500-novella, Many years later, however, it appeared as half of a “double” book, the other half being a novella by another old friend, Colin Wilson. We’d done a book together after The Book of Time, ’way back in the early ’80s, The Directory of Possibilities. It was a real joy, twenty years later, to see our names together on a cover again.



Major thanks to Hutch for giving my always fragile confidence a boost just at the time it needed it!

You've written quite a lot of nonfiction as well. Let's start with the books Discarded Science and Corrupted Science. You've mentioned before some difficulties with promoting the latter book. Care to elaborate on it in this interview?

I’d probably better not – I tend to get hot under the collar every time I think about it! I have no complaints at all about the UK promotion of Corrupted Science, but the US effort – or lack of effort – was an absolute disaster. Luckily the publisher’s investing a little money in a publicity relaunch, even as we speak.


It’s quite possible Corrupted Science is the most important book I’ll ever write. One of the UK reviewers told his readers that, if they bought only one science book this year, Corrupted Science should be it – and that it pained him to say this because that would be at the expense of them buying his own book on global warming. He also contacted the publisher privately and told him he must submit the book for the Royal Society’s annual Best Science Book of the Year Award. I was awfully flattered!


What are some of the challenges of working on a nonfiction title, especially something along the lines of The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters or The Encyclopedia of Fantasy? I'm also curious what's more demanding on you (whether in terms of writing or allotted time), your fiction or your nonfiction work?


The two disciplines obviously do use different bits of the brain. I’d never thought this was so at all – I thought there were just difficult projects and easy projects, and it was irrelevant whether they were fiction or nonfiction. But then, towards the end of several years’ work on The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, I began having these recurring fantasies of jumping off high buildings and I realized I desperately needed a break from it!


Luckily, at about that time – and thanks to another great pal, Stephen Marley -- Virgin Publishing came along and asked me if I’d like to write a “Judge Dredd” novel. This was not something I’d ever contemplated before. However, after discussion with John Clute, I phoned up our editor at Orbit, primary publisher of The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, and begged to be allowed a month off – we were already many months late – to get some R&R writing a “Judge Dredd” novel. Very, very fortunately, that editor was Tim Holman, so rather than bawl me out he told me to go ahead and do what I thought best. So over the next four or five weeks I wrote the novel The Hundredfold Problem (more recently reissued as a non-“Judge Dredd” book, and still much-loved by me), and on my return to the encyclopedia – despite the fact that I’d been working my little socks off on the novel – I found I was enormously reinvigorated. It was as if I’d spent a holiday on the beach, or something.



What are the differences, assuming there any, between your fiction writing process and nonfiction writing process?


It’s not something I’d ever really thought about – beyond the obvious, that in nonfiction you can’t, or shouldn’t, just make stuff up – until the Hundredfold Problem/Encyclopedia of Fantasy thing. I guess there must be other differences, but most of the time I just sit down and do things.



You've also developed a wide repertoire of editing skills and renown. Care to elaborate the various editing roles you've taken up over the decades and a brief description on what exactly you do in that particular position?


Ah, yes. I started off in this literary biz having holiday jobs as a messenger boy for Fleet Street newspapers. At school I wanted to do a sort of mixed-syllabus range of final exams (“A”-levels): Maths, Physics and English. One of the things that has ever been done to me that I resent the most bitterly was that the school went behind my back and persuaded my mother (Dad had died when I was very small) that the best thing “for Paul” was that I focus on Maths, Physics and Chemistry, even though I loathed chemistry. (I fell in love with it years later, however, when I discovered physical chemistry.) One of the things I resent most bitterly that my younger self did was to go along with this.


I ended up sitting Pure Maths, Maths for Science, Physics, Chemistry, and being stuffed into a degree course at the University of London for which I was wholly unsuited – Maths, Physics and Astronomy. I didn’t have good enough maths for any of this, even though I loved the astronomy part of it all with a passion. In the end, despite a long and painful session with my astronomy tutor, Derek McNally (a very nice man, whom I later published), it was agreed by all concerned that I’d wasted a year of my own and everyone else’s time: what I should really be reading for a degree was English Literature . . . except that I didn’t have the English “A”-level I needed if I were to apply for university places in that subject.


Oh, jibber.


I spent the next year working nights to get the English exam and days in one of London’s best bookshops, Dillon’s (now a high-street chain in the UK, but back in those days a book store to be really proud of). I passed the exam no problem (as my tutor said, “I don’t think I’ve ever before had a student who read Piers Plowman over his breakfast cornflakes”) but couldn’t immediately find a university place: “But you’re a scientist, Mr Barnett.”


A year later a friend drew me to the notice of what was at the time (and for all I know may still be) one of the best English departments in the UK. They accepted me, but . . .


By then I’d managed to get myself a lowly job with the then moderately prestigious, if broke, mid-sized publisher Frederick Muller. Did I want to go off and spend the next three years studying Eng Lit or did I want to capitalize on this book-publishing career I’d started?


I chose the latter. A few years later I was Editorial Director of Mullers – not bad at the age of 21, hm? Then I got fired, essentially because I started wanting to do some exciting things and my Managing Director (with hindsight, rightly) thought we should stick with the same old financially sound crap. I floated a while and ended up in Elsevier International Projects, the Oxford-based attempt by the great Dutch company to burst into the international-coedition book market. Our division was abominably badly run, and working there was hell; but I made some astonishingly good friends either at or through the job (Phil Gardner, Mike Scott Rohan, John David Yule, Dave Langford, others) and also bumped myself a good few steps up the career ladder: every time news got out that I was desperate to leave, which was about every three months, management got wind of it and jacked up my salary another 10%. Eventually I realized that, if I let this go on too much longer, I’d be impossibly expensive for anyone else to hire.


So I got a job as an acquisitions editor at David & Charles. That was in the days that David St John Thomas was still running the place. He and I had a great relationship, in that neither of us really knew where the other was coming from, so we just kind of left each other alone. That could of course be a bad place to be in relation to the guy who’s signing your monthly pay-cheque, but David – about whom many people revel in saying bad things – was great about it. He gave me a heck of a lot of freedom, and for the most part (memorably not always, oh gawd!) the books I commissioned made money for the company.


I was then lured away to the publisher Webb & Bower, who’d had enormous success with The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady and wanted an editor to broaden their range of publishing. Flattery got me again – it usually does. By the time I’d arrived to take up the post, though, the job that had been so glowingly described in the interviews essentially wasn’t there any longer. I lasted eight months before being fired again.


That was when, in 1981, I became a writer and freelance editor. I decided that never again would I accept a publishing job.


And then, in about 1996 or 1997, I pick up the phone and someone’s asking me if I’d like to run Paper Tiger.


Would I? You bet I would! But that’s a whole other story, Charles . . .


When you were young, did you ever envision yourself being an editor? Or a writer?


When I was young I don’t think I even knew what an editor was, but I know I had a hunch at least that I might become a writer. I started my first novel when I was about 8 or 9; fortunately I stopped about ten pages into it, or who knows what might have become of The Ghost of Horror Mansion? When my mother wasn’t around I used to make myself little books using her sewing machine to stitch down the middle of clutches of paper that I’d then fold over and write on. Later, at boarding school, I’d write stories when I ought to have been writing essays. And then, of course, I got persuaded by the school to be a bit more sensible about where I was headed . . .



What have been some of the biggest challenges you faced as an editor?


A book called Planet Earth: An Encyclopedia of Geology, which I put together at Elsevier International Projects. It had I think some 70 or 100 contributors. When I started it, I knew nothing about geology and to be honest wasn’t really interested in it. There was an academic Consultant Editor, Tony Hallam, whose task was to find distinguished geologists prepared to write entries for it. My in-house co-editor, Peter Hutchinson, was a remarkably talented man, and he’d created the project. The trouble was that, while Peter was great at the concepts and the visual implementation and indeed the geology, he wasn’t too organized when it came to the nitty-gritty of putting together complex book projects. So I was drafted in.


Looking back, I’m amazed I was able to do it. There were so many toes I had to be careful not to step on, and it was an astonishingly unhappy company to be working for. But by the time the book was over I’d developed a love for some of geology’s aspects and I’d made some friends I might never otherwise have made – among them the wonderful science historian Roy Porter, who to my great distress died ludicrously young a few years ago. If it hadn’t been for the history-of-geology articles Roy wrote for Planet Earth, and the wonderful way he wrote them, I doubt I’d ever have started along the path that led to Discarded Science and Corrupted Science.


The other enormous challenge to me as editor (aside from The Encyclopedia of Fantasy, where I was editor in a different sense of the word) was of course the Clute/Nicholls Encyclopedia of Science Fiction – the second edition, the BIG one. It was again an enormously complex book to put together, and it took a four-year chunk out of my life. I played cricket whenever I could, but otherwise I had hardly any social life at all for those few years: I was at my desk from early morning until late at night. After the book was over, one of the many awards it received was a British Science Fiction Association Special Award – only the second of these that had ever been given, and the first for 17 years. The judges, unlike those for all the other awards the book won, extended the citation to include myself and Brian Stableford, who as Associate Editor had made an immense contribution.


After the awards ceremony, as Dave Langford and I were putting together the convention newsletter reporting it (“No, Paul, I don’t think we should put your name in Bookman Bold 64 point”), someone (I know not whom) stumbled into the newsroom and said spitefully: “You must feel pretty fine, getting a BSFA Award for a book that isn’t even yours.” I hit the roof.


Aren’t these science-fiction people wonderful?


As a fiction editor, what do you look for in a story?


I look for stories that I’ve not read before. As example, when I was reading for what eventually became New Writings in the Fantastic, there was a longish submission by a new writer called Kate Riedel: “Song Cycle.” As I started reading it I got that tingling at the back of the nose that tells me either I’m breathing ozone or I’ve begun a voyage into a whole new fantastic vision. In a way you can look at the story and see how bits of it have been done before, but the entirety is something completely new – and the telling is wonderful.


Needless to say, “Song Cycle” was completely ignored by all the relevant Year’s Best editors. Ellen Datlow mentioned to me she loved it as much as I did, but as it isn’t a horror story . . .


What are some of the common errors a new author makes?


Of course, there are a billion errors new authors make. What I think is more interesting as a topic is the errors editors far, far too often make when reading the work of new authors. I’m sure I must have committed the sin myself of reading a story by an unknown author and misestimating it because it didn’t fit into the genre stereotype I’d expected it to fit into; my apologies to all those slighted authors out there.


I’ve certainly been affected by this myself, from the auctorial side of things. The editor of one of the genre magazines has the habit of reading only the first page or two of anything my agent sends him – except, of course, that she no longer sends him anything of mine because it’s a waste of her stamps. As has been remarked, my stories have the habit of turning out to be about something entirely other than what you expected to begin with. Before The City in These Pages sold to PS, my agent sent it to this editor . . . who dismissed it with something like “We don’t publish police procedurals.” The final straw was when he told us that one of the Leaving Fortusa sections, perhaps the most conceptually ambitious piece of fiction I’ve ever undertaken – eat your heart out, Olaf Stapledon! – was “another story about a jester”.


Huh?


Who were your writing influences early on?


Certainly Colin Wilson was one: while working with him on The Directory of Possibilities I discovered from his example how to write as if I were speaking, not to swelter over the often misguided effort to produce (roll of pretentious drums) selfconsciously Fine Writing. Arthur C. Clarke was another; I was thrilled beyond belief when far, far later in life I found myself working with him on a book. Most important, perhaps, was the Victorian fantasy author George Macdonald: he taught me that fantasy could lift me right out of myself. Much, much later I’d forgotten that and then luckily a book by Mark Helprin came along and taught me it all over again.


I offered my thanks to Macdonald in my novel The Far-Enough Window, in which I tried to “reclaim” his Fairyland from all the fantasy writers who’d tried to make Faerie more “authentic”.


Olaf Stapledon was another huge influence. Sirius and Last and First Men are, at opposite ends of the spectrum, two of the fabbest novels ever written. I said thanks to Stapledon not just with the novella “Tempter” – my “jester story” – but also with my book-length fiction The Stardragons (illustrated by Bob Eggleton).


Oh, and did I mention Mervyn Peake? Oh yes . . .


What are some of your favorite films? Animated features?


That’s one of those questions that . . .


At the moment my main movie interest is in film noir, so a lot of my current favourites are old b/w items. Recent animated movies I’ve liked a lot include Flushed Away, Monster House, Happy Feet, Hoodwinked, and most notably Spirited Away, Tokyo Godfathers and Beowulf. I’d like to see a few more traditional 2D animations being made, though, as opposed to the current obsession with 3D CGI. I had a few problems with Howl’s Moving Castle (bizarrely so, because it’s based on one of my favourite novels by a favourite author and dearly loved friend, Diana Wynne Jones!), but visually it’s more extraordinary and wonderful than just about anything you’ll find done in CGI.


What's the best advice you can give for aspiring writers (in either fiction or nonfiction)?


Don’t, unless you’re happy to regard writing as just a hobby, or as something you’re driven to do.


When I started out, lots of good writers made an adequate living from the thing they did best. Since then, though, there’s been a corporation-invented division between the few authors who make millions or more and the rest of us, who it seems are expected to be willing to starve “for our art”. By and large, the modern publishing industry (unlike the publishing industry I entered back in the 1960s) does not actually give a single swive about literary quality. Back then the notion was that, if you published lots of good books, you’d do well. How naive! Lots of publishing companies did do well. Then along came various highly paid bean counters who told them they could do even better if they concentrated their resources on a few authors and basically shafted the rest. Disastrously, at about the same time there was in the US the rise of Barnes & Noble, which company saw books as interchangeable cornflakes packets. No longer did the merit of the text matter: instead the important thing was the marketing budget – oh, and the size of the bribe the publisher was willing to offer B&N, Borders, whoever.


As a result, you got marketing clout turning some absolutely talentless authors into bestsellers. Is it any wonder that a public told by the publishing and bookselling industries that the likes of [AUTHOR'S NAME OMITTED] represent the heights of entertainment attainable through reading fiction go off and do something like deep-sea diving, power chess, anything?


The result of these and other processes is that the very best of our authors, aside from a lottery few, are being frozen out. I was lucky enough to have started just early enough that, with a lot of other factors being in my favour, I could make a (none too lavish!) living out of this game. Many other authors haven’t been that lucky.


What's the best advice you can give for aspiring editors?


Don’t.


You've been in the field for quite a long time now so I just want to ask what's the biggest change you've witnessed in the industry?


The corporatist takeover of publishing and bookselling. When I started my career (a short pause while an elderly fart does some rheumy stuff) the great thing was that publishing was wide open: the smallest of companies could come out with the best of books, a widely diversified bookselling trade could recognize it, an influential reviewer could go for it, individuals could buy it and, more and more, tell each other. For a long while, starting perhaps sometime in the 1980s, that almost didn’t happen – almost couldn’t happen – because it didn’t fit in with the megacorporations’ business model. Now, though, it seems to be starting to happen again, as the reading public have become more and more savvy to what’s been going on. The big example of the mould being broken has of course been Harry Potter – it was the kids who discovered the first Rowling book and turned it into a bestseller by telling each other about it, not the efforts of the book trade.


Anything else you'd like to plug?


The best thing that’s happening in world cricket at the moment is the English women’s team. All the major men’s teams – including the English – have forgotten the joyous dance that is at the heart of this game. English captain Charlotte Edwards and English bowler Isa Guha (among other players) have remembered this. They’re much to be praised. I’d like to plug their efforts.

3 comments:

ellen-datlow said...

Nice interview!

Charles said...

Thanks!

Foxessa said...

Many, many thanks for doing this interview with Paul. I learned so much more (all good!) about a new friend.

Love, C.