Interview Garth Nix, March 2007

„;Whether an adult story gets labeled as a young adult story or not is basically a marketing decision.“;

Australian author Garth Nix has a worldwide fan base, children, young adults and adults. He told Phantastik-Couch, what the difference between novels for these three reader groups is and at which stage of his writing he decides whether a character becomes female or not.

Phantastik-Couch: What made you start writing? What made you tick at that time and what kept you going?

Garth Nix: What really got me started was my love of books. I’ve always been a big reader, so I guess that I’ve been inspired by all those books. I have stories I want to tell, so I write them down. Regardless of getting published or not, I would have written lots of things. I love stories and I love telling them myself.

Phantastik-Couch: You use old mythical creatures and allusions – a deeper interest in the matter?

Garth Nix: Yeah, I do have a deep interest in mythology and history in general, that’s where a lot of my inspiration comes from. Mythology is wrapped in history, of course, they just go together. And that’s what I'm interested in – what people believed and how people in different societies used belief throughout history. I think there’s a tremendous amount of inspiration to be drawn from history. That’s why I read a lot of non-fiction books, it’s half my reading. Mostly history and biographies, some natural science.

Phantastik-Couch: You cover themes like hope, death or strife in your books. Why do you think does it move people?

Garth Nix: I pretty much always write the stories I want to tell, and then I’m happy when people find more to them. It’s a thing about universal themes that people respond to in any kind of story. When I think of my characters as real people – they might be in a phantastic setting, there may be unusual things happening – I try to think of them as real people who are concerned with the things we are concerned with. Of course, their biggest concern is usually survival, but I try make the story as believable as possible, even if their conflict is taking place somewhere totally phantastical.

Phantastik-Couch: When I think about the ever-mocking and sarcastic cat Mogget from your Abhorsen trilogy – is that the author speaking sometimes?

Garth Nix: No, I never sort of use the characters to make authorial remarks, in a way they all have something from me in them. Each one has different bits and pieces, but no character is based on a real person. With Mogget I tried to write as much catness into him as possible, those things I took from cats I’ve known. Well, Mogget is not a direct reflexion of me, but some of his sarcasm might be from coming from my personality.

Phantastik-Couch: It’s a great character, because he is so smart and funny, taking away some of the hovering darkness.

Garth Nix: That’s what I aimed at, to put some comical relief into the story. Even in very dire situations people find something to laugh at, to diffuse very difficult situations. There can be humour in the most dreadful circumstances. I might be like that myself, though.

Phantastik-Couch: As I gather from the first book in the Keys to the Kingdom series, you work a lot with stages, transitions, time itself.

Garth Nix: I’m sure there are a lot of underlying themes in the book people think about more than I do. For my part, I liked the idea that mortal characters control the universe. Every day in the story has someone being in charge, although they are not supposed to be. I start my books with a simple idea and then write, the deeper idea might emerge as I am writing the book.

Phantastik-Couch: Your world building is intriguing throughout your books, especially in Abhorsen. Is there something special Australian in it?

Garth Nix: This is a tough one to answer, because I think that actually my experience has to form my writing. And although I live in Australia, I think in actual fact they rather connect with traditional English or European literature of Fantasy. But there’s no connection with anything specifically Australian like Aboriginal mythology. It’s always a very difficult area for a  white Australian to deal with that in literature. But there is such a rich body of mythology that can be used. And there’s always a new way of covering the old stuff, too.

Phantastik-Couch: I think there’s a tendency towards Asian mythology.

Garth Nix: That’s a very broad field to draw inspiration from. There’s is always something that can be discovered, just think about India and the great book Ian McDonald has written with ";River of Gods”. I love it, it’s phantastic.

Phantastik-Couch: What do you think is the different between young adult and adult novels? Do you find it hard to stay on the path for young adult once you’re writing it?

Garth Nix: I think it’s hard to differentiate between them. But there is a definite difference between young adult books and children books. Children’s books have entry reading levels, whereas young adult books are really a subset of adult books. Looking at my books, the Keys to the Kingdom series you can start reading at maybe nine or ten, but there’s no age at which you have stop. Good children’s books always have multiple levels you can read them at. You can revisit them. My definition of young adult books is that they are adult books especially appealing to teenagers, usually because they have a teenage protagonist And kids at the age of fourteen or fifteen actually start reading adult books, like Neil Gaiman, too. So with a young adult book you can do almost what you would do with an adult book. But you cannot do with a children’s book what you do with a young adult book.

So, I usually start with a story and then it turns out to be an adult, a young adult or even a children’s story. But whether an adult story gets labeled as a young adult story or not is basically a marketing decision. The Abhorsen trilogy had two editions in the USA, a young adult and an adult, each with different covers, but the text is exactly the same. Basically for those adults who haven’t realized that there's a lot of good stuff in the young adult section and who should go have a look at it.

Phantastik-Couch: When do you decide whether your protagonist is male or female?

Garth Nix: It’s driven by the story. A character may emerge, and he may be male or female. When I was writing Sabriel, I started with the prologue. My plan was to write about her father but then I though she might be more interesting than he is. So I wrote about her. Arthur from Keys of the Kingdom became male because he suffers from asthma, that’s drawn from my line because I used to suffer from it, too. I actually did pass out during a cross country run – but I recovered. But it’s all story-related. But I always like to have both, male and female characters.

Phantastik-Couch: What are your favorite authors? What do you read at the moment?

Garth Nix: There are several, Joan Aiken, for instance. Her short stories are wonderfully imaginative and inventive as are her novels. Then Poul Anderson, he was one of my ‘must-read’ SF writers as a teenager. I particularly devoured his Dominic Flandry books. And Robert Heinlein was probably my favourite science fiction writer through my teenage years. I’m also a sucker for Napoleonic nautical adventures, and C. S. Forester started it all with his Hornblower books.

But these days I dont’t read as much as I want to, there’s so much to keep up with. Books that I particular liked in recent times were Jonathan Stroud, ";Pirates Passage”, a pirate story, a nautical adventure for children actually. In Science Fiction I’m always lagging behind, I try to keep up with those authors who get a lot of attention. I just read Charles Stross, Ian McDonald, some fellow Australians like Sean Williams and Simon Brown – who is a great writer. Also, I try to re-read some of the old stuff, too, but I don’t really have the time. I just read an extremely interesting book about the history of gold.

Phantastik-Couch: Can you imagine writing Science Fiction, like „Shade’s Children“?

Garth Nix: Yes, sort of. Currently I am working on something that is a sort of space opera. And apart from that I’m working on the Keys to the Kingdom, but I tend to write more than one thing at the same time. There are also some stories I’m working on which will be published in some anthologies.

Phantastik-Couch: Thanks for the interview, Garth!

This interview was conducted by Frank Dudley