Garth Nix is an Australia Young Audlt writer – Nix’s first series, ‘The Old Kingdom’ is a YA classic. He is currently touring his latest novel ‘Frogkisser’. Pelican’s Prema Arasu spoke to Nix ahead of his appearances at the Perth Writers Festival.
Prema Arasu: According to online sources, you come from a tabletop gaming/roleplaying background. How does this factor into your world-building?
Garth Nix: I think running a D&D campaign from when I was about 12 to around 18 or so was great practice for story-telling in general, perhaps more so than world-building itself. Running a role-playing game is all about trying to help create a really enjoyable and memorable interactive story, and since the players will never do what you expect, it is great training for constantly reimagining and bringing a narrative together from different sources.
Do you GM(Game Master)? Which systems do you enjoy?
I don’t really GM any more, though I have run a few sessions of D&D (using Swords & Wizardry rules) and TRAVELLER, for my two boys and their friends. Every now and then I get to play with some old friends in Canberra, dropping in as a guest on games that range from CALL OF CTHULU-esque GURPS to Pathfinder D&D or Mongoose TRAVELLER. One of my favourite RPGs, always a rarity and now I think pretty much forgotten, was the Three Musketeers-themed FLASHING BLADES.
Would you ever consider writing a system based on the Old Kingdom or Keys to the Kingdom?
Sadly, I just don’t have time and I guess I prefer writing fiction to writing RPG stuff.
“Literary” figures such as Kazuo Ishiguro and Margaret Attwood have refused the classification of “fantasy”, instead preferring “speculative fiction”. What is your take on this stigmatisation of fantasy?
Well, I figure they can call it whatever they want, but most people understand what you’re talking about when you say “fantasy fiction” and being understood is the basic requirement for a language. Calling a spade a “long-handled digging implement” might be preferable to some, but isn’t as clear. I personally don’t think much of the reasoning power of people who base their opinion of an entire category on some books they think prove their point. Any genre as broad as “fantasy” will include terrible, illiterate books as well as brilliant, highly literate ones.
A.S. Byatt, who is often quoted as an example of the hegemonic attitudes of snobbery in English Literature, has dismissed the reading of children’s literature and fantasy as nostalgia-seeking and regressive. Why is this such a prevalent attitude? Should anyone care?
I don’t think this attitude is anywhere near as prevalent as it once was. Of course some children’s books and some fantasy novels are nostalgia-seeking. Some “literary” novels are entirely lacking in story and are over-written and dull. But neither category should be judged on their worst examples. As to whether anyone should care, I think it is always worth thinking about what you are reading (or writing) and to question your immediate reactions to books based on how they are packaged and marketed, and how they are being discussed. Keeping an open mind about categories and genres and judging books on their own individual merits is, in my opinion, far better than indulging in broad-brush dismissals or genre-based jeers.
Why is fantasy so popular with younger readers?
Fantasy has always been popular, for all ages. It can appeal for different reasons at different times, both in our own lives and in terms of what’s going in the world. Often the most successful and enduring fantasy books offer an element of escapism while at the same time also offer an alternative means of looking at and perhaps understanding ourselves, our world and our problems.
What sort of audience do you have in mind when you write?
Mainly myself, I think. Or a kind of amalgam of different versions of myself, as I am now and as I was at different ages.
What do younger audiences need in a story?
The same things everyone does, though younger readers may have less patience than older readers. Generally speaking, a good story told just well enough to not distract will always work better than a dull story brilliantly told. Of course, the ideal is a great story, brilliantly told.
What, thematically, classifies your novels as “young adult”?
It’s worth bearing in mind that YA is essentially a sales category, not a genre. A novel is usually published as YA not necessarily because of its themes or subject matter, or even the age of its protagonists, but because editorial, sales and marketing people think it will sell best if it is labelled as YA. This is an important thing to remember, particularly for readers: don’t get hung up on a category or label, and use it to decide on what you read or don’t read. This applies to all book categories, not just YA.
How does being Australian factor into your writing, particularly world-building and setting?
I’m not sure that it does, particularly, though perhaps there is a certain Australian irreverence or sense of humour that comes into play. I have also drawn on my experiences in the Australian bush, cross-country skiing and so on, but I don’t make these things explicitly Australian when I use them.
Interview by Prema Arasu
Garth Nix will be appearing at the Perth Writer’s Festival from Thursday 23 to Sunday 26 February.