Monday, 30 May 2011

An Interview With Joe Abercrombie

Joe Abercrombie has established himself as one of the most interesting and unusual voices in fantasy fiction over the last few years. After his terrific trilogy The First Law, he's just released a gripping standalone novel set in the same universe – The Heroes. He tells Den Patrick how he stops becoming jaded…

How do you think The Heroes differs from your previous work?

I’d hope that in the fundamentals it’s not all that different. I think in general as a writer you want to try and build on what you’ve done before – provide readers with something of what they expect and (hopefully) like in your previous work. But at the same time you don’t want to end up doing exactly the same thing over and over lest you bore both your readers and yourself.
So I’d hope The Heroes has that same mixture of vivid and unusual characters, moral complexity, hard-hitting action and a rich seam of humour among the cynicism which I fondly imagine has characterised my previous work.
At the same time I’ve tried something new in terms of structure and focus; The Heroes centres on a single battle, the great majority of it taking place in one small valley over just three days, which means that the paths of the central characters (on both sides of the issue) cross and intersect quite frequently and in a variety of different ways.

In all seriousness, when does Whirrun of Bligh get his own prequel novel, and when is it being released?
No immediate plans, I must confess. My advice is just to continue buying my books, whatever they may be, and you never know who may turn up.

We can't help noticing that you're moving away from the traditional thinking that fantasy books must come in trilogies or long, sprawling series. What is the thinking behind that? Is it conscious choice, and why?Well, despite the fact that I write what are, by most standards, pretty hefty books, my taste does tend generally towards tighter and more focused stories. I think the really huge series can sometimes end up being a bit of a burden for both readers and writers.
So having written a trilogy I wanted to try my hand at some shorter stories, that were set in the same world and featured some of the same settings and characters, so that hopefully they offered something in the way of continuation to established readers without putting off new ones, and also allowed me to try out some different styles and approaches and stopped me from getting jaded. I jade easily.

What's coming in the next instalment? Can we expect to see any 'old friends' and if so, which ones?Oh, you can certainly expect some old friends, but I wouldn’t want to spoil any surprises. I can say that if Best Served Cold was a fantasy thriller, and The Heroes a fantasy war story, then the next book is going to be a kind of fantasy western…

Do you ever get tempted to try your hand at science fiction or another genre outside of fantasy?There’s always a difficulty to trying something very different once you’ve got an established reputation doing something else. It’s a big risk.
I’m contracted now to do four more books in the same world as The First Law, but I wouldn’t mind trying my hand at something historical, or perhaps subtly alternative historical, one of these days. I guess, since my books are pretty light on the fantastical elements, that wouldn’t necessarily be a great change of tone anyway.

Are you a first thing in the morning or a late at night type of writer? Or do you just write whenever the kids are asleep or distracted?I’m a bit ill disciplined, honestly and, as you say, the kids can get in the way, so I lack a pattern somewhat. Before the kids, I used to be very much a night person, especially since I’d often be working the day job, so I’d write mostly from 10pm onwards. These days I find the morning a good deal more productive.

Your novels never seem to languish, there's always plenty of pace. Do you think that your time spent as a film editor and working in television has contributed to this approach to pace and storytelling?I’m sure it has. I worked on a lot of documentaries, and got to work on scripts and structure along with some very skilled directors and producers, so I saw how they go about telling stories in the most efficient way, and I try to do that myself (within the context of writing pretty long books, I will admit).
I think the experience of working as an editor in TV – where you have to work in a team, take on other opinions and use them as an opportunity to improve things from your point of view as well as theirs – is also great preparation for working with an editor on a book.

On a similar note, being well versed in TV, film and being a keen gamer has opened you up to a lot of influences. What is your greatest influence outside of books?I guess you’re influenced by everything you read, watch, play or experience and particularly enjoy or don’t, so I think of my influences as a mish-mash of history and fiction, TV – particularly of the more edgy, adult variety that HBO has been producing the last few years, film and computer games, plus some of the roleplaying games I played in my younger years.

You've done a fair few signings now, and are on a signing tour too. Any memorable or funny stories from when Joe Abercrombie met Joe Public?There’s one experience I try to keep always before me, which happened on my first visit to Holland, about four years ago.
The first book had only just been published then so you could say my profile there was not particularly high. I turned up to do a lecture at a medieval fair, and just before I went on there was a prize ceremony taking place with perhaps 200 people in attendance. I sat at the back feeling very nervous to have such a massive audience. When the ceremony ended, people began drifting out, and I was pretty relieved. Then they drifted out more. And more. I ended up with an audience of two…
It serves as a good baseline above which all attendances are good. Unless I get one with one attendee, I suppose. I wouldn’t rule it out…

The Heroes is out now (Gollancz). Click here to read the review.


This interview originally appeared at TotalSciFi.Com


  1. Awesome interview! And no spoilers! As - believe it or not I have STILL not finished The Heroes - sad, but true.
    Really need to sort that out.


  2. I think you may be my very first commenter. You win a signed copy of Embassytown.

    Glad you liked the interview.