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Interview with...

Jonathan Stroud

El Templo #6 (octubre 2008)
Por Sandman y Uyulala
3.935 lecturas

We have learned that you were working in literature for young readers before becoming an author. Could you tell us about your experience in that field? Were you editor, corrector? Was it useful for your later career as an author?

I was an editor of children's books for about 10 years before I became a full-time author. I didn't work on fiction, but on other things such as puzzle-books (which were really popular in the 1990s) and non-fiction. I edited, for example, a Children's Bible, and books on Evolution and the Human Body - quite different from what I write now! It was very useful, though, because I slowly learned how to edit myself - how to recognise when things I write aren't quite working. Also, my work on historical subjects helped with Bartimaeus (his name, for example, comes from the Bible!)

Which are your literary influences?

Hmm, that is a hard question.... there are so many writers and creators that have influenced me. I studied Literature at university, so I was exposed to lots of great works. Some of the writers that I admire are: PG Wodehouse (delightful style and humour), Dashiell Hammett (economy and unsentimentality), Evelyn Waugh (precise, elegant style), Robert Louis Stevenson (his mix of adventure with 'high' literature)... But as well as this, I also enjoyed comics as a child (such as the Asterix books), and a lot of their cartoon energy reappear in the Bartimaeus books.

Before the Bartimaeus trilogy, for which you are known in Spain, you wrote three novels (Buried Fire, The Leap y The last Siege) that have not been published in Spanish yet. Could you tell us something about them? Do you know if they are going to be published soon in Spanish?

Buried Fire, my first novel, is a fantasy about an evil dragon trapped and buried under the ground near a sleepy English village. It tries to escape by taking control of local people, and some children have to fight to destroy it. The Leap is a psychological fantasy about a girl whose best friend is supposed to have drowned - but she sees him every night in her dreams, and believes she can rescue him. The Last Siege is not a fantasy at all; it's about three children who break into an old ruined castle one midwinter, and take it over - their adventure starts happily, but becomes darker the longer they stay there. I hope they will be published in Spain one day, but there are no plans to translate them yet.

Buried Fire has been released in German and has had a big success. Congratulations! We know that you are going to visit Germany in a tour to meet your fans there. Do you plan to visit anyother country? Maybe Spain?

I came to Madrid a few years ago to help publicise Bartimaeus, but it was a short visit, and I would love to come on a proper Spanish tour to meet my fans around the country. Perhaps I will have a chance with Heroes of the Valley! I will let you know on my website, of course... [www.jonathanstroud.com]

 

About Bartimaeus trilogy: in your website, you tell that Batimaeus' voice was the first thing you heard in your head when you started to plan the story, and that he is your favourite character. What about Nathaniel? How was the creating process of this character?

Although Bart was the most fun to write about, Nathaniel is in many ways the most important character of the trilogy, because it is his moral progression that we follow through the three books. He took longer to develop than Bart - when I wrote the first 4 chapters of Amulet, I stilll didn't even know what the kid was called. To begin with I thought the boy magician would be a nasty fellow right - but then I wrote the sequence when the little boy Nathaniel goes to his master's study and is attacked by all the imps, and I realised he had to be sympathetic too. Slowly I pieced together his background, and made him into the opposite of Bartimaeus, so they had lots of good arguments. Someone told me afterwards that Nat is very like I was when I was 12 - quite proud and over-serious... I hope I'm a bit more like Bart now!

How did you imagine that "other" London where magicians are actually a group of tyrans who enslave genies and other creatures, and rule over the non-magician people? Where did this idea come from?

This was almost the first idea I had - I was reacting to the whole Harry Potter idea where the magicians are (mostly) good guys with long beards who are pretty cosy and safe. I thought that if there really were magicians, they would quickly take power for themselves, and an elite of politician-magicians would soon develop. I liked the idea of a British Prime Minister who was a magician - I thought it was quite funny and also quite serious, because it explores the problems of how governments and people work together. In some of the countries where the trilogy has been published (such as Italy) there is a lot of interest in the whole political side of the story - even more so than the magic!

Do you have a list of all Bartimaeus' appearances through mankind's history? Were there more than the ones that are mentioned in the books? Do you consider writing some "prequel" whith Bartimaeus, before Nathaniel time?

I do have quite a lot of unpublished notes and ideas about Bart's career -and yes, he's done a lot of things that aren't mentioned in the books. I've even written a short story about one of his early adventures... Maybe I will turn it into something longer. So the answer is that if I can think of a good enough story, I'd like to do a prequel. We will see...

Did you inspired in folklore or mythology to create the different kinds of creatures that are mentioned in the trilogy?

Yes, I've always loved myths, legends and folklore - I wrote a paper about it at university, and it's one of my major influences. One of the things I enjoyed best about the Bartimaeus stories is being able to throw lots of references to folklore into the mix. Because Bart has been around so long, and been everywhere, I can take things from all over the world, from different cultures and nations. So the spirits, for example, are based on the Arabic hierarchy (with marids, afrits and djinn) but with some (European) imps as well. And the foliots are made up by me. It's like
cooking a stew, adding all kinds of different ingredients!

 

Do you imagine clearly the appearance that the creatures adopt in the trilogy? Do you think we'll see someday an illustrated encyclopaedia of Bartimaeus' world?

I think quite visually, so I do have quite clear ideas of most of the creatures in the books. I would love there to be an encyclopedia, or guide, about Bart and his world - but again I have to think about how best to do it. There would have to be a good, original idea in there somewhere to make it a fun project to do...

The footnotes in the Bartimaeus books are very humourous, besides explanatory. This footnotes reminded us the ones used by Terry Pratchett at Discworld series. Is it a tribute, or it came in an spontaneous way?

I did read a lot of Terry Pratchett books when I was young, and yes, I remember he did use footnotes from time to time. One of my favourite writers, Jack Vance, has also used them occasionally. I don't think my use of them was directly inspired by either of these writers, however: when I was at university I read lots of long, scholarly articles about books, and I noticed how the footnotes were often more interesting (and funny) than the main text. I liked the way that they offered 'alternative' directions for the readers to go. Even further back, when I was a boy, I loved books that gave you different 'routes' or choices through them, leading to different endings. So my use of footnotes as part of Bart's voice is influenced by all these things - best of all, though, is the way they keep things playful.

Without spoiling: was it difficult to end the trilogy –particularly the final chapter?

I had a good idea of how the trilogy would end from very early on, when I'd written just 50 pages of Amulet. But I knew it was risky, and I didn't know whether I could make it work. I was very nervous when I was writing the last book, as the end got closer and closer. Could I make it work? Even when I wrote it, I wasn't sure. Then I realised that I had to swap the chapters around in time, so you get the Kitty chapter before the Nat/Bart one. Once I did that, I knew it was exactly the right ending.

And what about the movie? We know that the rights have been already sold and it is said that it could be released in 2009, but still there are no details. What can you tell us in advance?

Well, at the moment things are pretty quiet. A few years ago we had a (very good) screenplay, and a director and lots of excitement, but there's been no movement for a while. I still hope that Amulet will be made, but it won't be as early as 2009, that's for sure. I'll let you know when I hear anything!

Are you planning another series or trilogy after Bartimaeus?

Not yet. Heroes of the Valley is not a series, but a single title. I would quite like to do a series again, when I get the right idea, but I also like doing 'stand-alone' books too. After Bart I really wanted to do something smaller. I think it's important for writers to try different things, so they don't get stuck and tired. I think the ideal thing would be to alternate between an ongoing series and different, individual titles, so nobody gets bored!

 

What can you tell us about your next book, Heroes of the Valley? Do you know if there are plans of publication in Spain?

Yes! Heroes of the Valley will be published in Spain, by my same publishers. I'm really thrilled about this, and will be very excited to see how my Spanish readers like it. Heroes has the same ingredients as the Bartimaeus books, so there are lots of jokes and plenty of action, but it has a very different tone. It's inspired by the Icelandic sagas, and has a very rural, 'Northern' feel to it. It's about a boy called Halli, who is full of energy and ambition, and who wants to be a hero; and a girl called Aud, who is very sceptical about the rules and regulations everyone lives by. It is a fantasy, but in a very different way to the Bart books. The magic and fantasy is on the edge of the story, not in at the heart of it. Mainly it's about family, stories and growing up.

How is your relationship with your readers? What is the most curious question they have asked to you?

I have a wonderful relationship with readers from all over the world, and get lots of letters and emails from many countries. I also contribute to a Forum about the Bartimaeus Trilogy (www.Bartiforums.com), answering questions there from time to time. I was once at an event in Australia, and a boy asked me a question about the Bartimaeus books that was so complex, so clever and so unexpected that I simply couldn't think of an answer. Unfortunately, the question was also so complex and clever that I have now completely forgotten it! An interesting one I got last week was: 'Which living author would you most like to collaborate on a book with?' I'd never thought about this; my answer was Neil Gaiman.

There are many English and Nortamerican authors of young literature whose works don't arrive to Spain. Could you recommend us any less-known author?

That's a good question. I read a really interesting novel recently by a New Zealand author called Bernard Beckett. It's called Genesis, and is a very clever and philosophical story about a nightmarish future. It's also very short, which I admire, because it's hard to compress good ideas into neat, economical lengths sometimes. I guess you all know Neil Gaiman, but I just read The Graveyard Book, and loved that too.

And last: can you give some advice to those readers who'd like to be authors too?

Well, the important thing is pretty obvious, but here it is anyway: do a lot of writing. It doesn't matter much WHAT you write, as long as you ENJOY trying. In fact it's good to experiment with different kinds of writing - I've tried plays, poems, diaries, comics, games, puzzlebooks, non-fiction and fiction over the years, and I still like trying new things today. Don't worry if you don't like what you produce, because even the failed stuff helps you get better. Don't try to finish everything. Be critical (often it helps to leave a piece for a few weeks, then come back and reread it). And also: READ whatever you can.

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