Author Garth Nix Talks to Scholastic Student Reporters
Left: Alaina Alvarez
Right: Monika Lay
Author Garth Nix recently visited the Scholastic News headquarters in New York City. He met with two Student Reporters (and Nix fans) who talked to him about his new series The Keys To The Kingdom. The first installment of the series of seven books, Mister Monday (Scholastic; $5.99; Ages 9 and up), hit the stores in June 2003. A second installment will follow in January 2004.
Nix has received many awards and much critical acclaim for his novels. He is the author of Sabriel, Shade's Children, The Ragwitch, Lirael, The Seventh Tower series, and Abhorsen. Born in Melbourne, Australia, to the sounds of a brass band, he decided to become a writer rather than a scientist (like his father) or an artist (like his mother). Nix currently lives in Coogee Beach in Sydney, Australia, with his wife and son.
Sixth-graders Monika Lay and Alaina Alvarez of New York talked to Nix about his new series and its unlikely hero, Arthur Penhaligon.
The book begins on a school day. Arthur has an asthma attack and is supposed to die. Instead he is saved by a Key shaped like a clock's minute hand. Arthur is safe—but his world is not. Along with the Key comes a plague brought by bizarre creatures from another realm. A menacing stranger named Mister Monday, his avenging messengers with bloodstained wings, and an army of dog-faced Fetchers will stop at nothing to get the Key back—even if it means destroying Arthur and everything around him. A desperate Arthur ventures into a mysterious house that only he can see to unravel the secrets of the key.
Here's what Nix told Monica and Alaina about his latest project.
Q: How do you set the atmosphere in your work area when you are writing?
Nix: Sometimes I listen to music, and often when I'm writing a big action scene, where there's a lot of action going on, like you know, Arthur is being chased by creatures, I'll listen to some sort of fast, strong music. Sometimes I'll just listen to music at random, but sometimes I put on specific music that matches the mood I'm trying to get in the book. If I'm trying to get some sort of high-energy action scene, I might listen to some kind of fast rock music or a really poppy tune, and sometimes I just prefer songs. I don't always do the same things.
I drink a lot of hot tea when I'm writing. Writing's not always just about sitting down and putting the words on the paper. Sometimes I go for a walk to try and think through the next chapter, so I might be walking around, or take a ride on the bus, or do something just to try to get away from sitting at a desk, and let my mind wander and work out what's going to happen next.
Q: Who's your favorite fictional character and why?
Nix: I have so many favorites! Probably one of my favorites would be Gandolf, from Lord Of The Rings, who I always admired from when I first read The Hobbit. When I was a child, I think I wanted to be Gandalf. There's so many, in fact almost any book that I really like, I really like the protagonist, so you could almost name a book and I'll say, 'Yeah I like that book and I really like those characters.'
Q: What place do you want to visit most and why?
Nix: Right at this moment I want to visit my home and see my little boy and my wife. My son is not quite 1 yet, and while I've only been away for a week, he's learned to say his first word and he's also learned to clap while I've been away.
Q: Is the main character inspired by the legendary King Arthur?
Nix: To a degree, yes. There are certain connections to the myth. Arthur is raised as a boy not knowing what his birthright is. It's not exactly the same in the Keys To The Kingdom, but you're meant to feel a sort of a connection. As a reader I think it's good to have things to wonder about in a book. It makes it seem more interesting.
Q: What are some of your hobbies?
Nix: I have very few hobbies, because I spend so much time writing, but I'm a very keen fisherman. I like fishing. That's something I try to do as much as I can. I go to Balling Point, South of Sydney. That's somewhere I've been going since I was very young. I used to fish there with my father when I was a boy, and I still fish there. And reading is something that I like to do, of course. I read all sorts of things, all kinds of fiction. I think it's very useful for a writer to read as widely as possible, and to read nonfiction as well.
Q: Do you base the characters in your books on real people?
Nix: Yes and no. No character is totally based on a real person, but I do steal little bits and pieces from real people, and it might be something like, I just see someone walking who walks in an interesting way, and I might take that. I might notice how two people are talking to each other and use that characteristic. I do, in some of my books, use some of my friends' surnames just as little jokes. Some of Arthur's brothers and sisters have names of some friends of mine.
Q: What's a typical writing day for you?
Nix: I actually have an office separate from my house, and typically I might walk down there. I actually live by the beach and I walk around a bay to get to my office. It's actually an old shop, but it has a reflected window so you can't see in, but I can see out. I didn't put it in, it was just there when I rented it. I normally get there around 9 o'clock, and most mornings I actually spend a lot of time doing administrative things that I guess are associated with any sort of business. If you're a successful writer, you're running a business that is yourself. So in the mornings I tend to just do messing around. I read the papers sometimes, do my phone calls, pay some bills, but normally by the afternoon or mid-morning I start writing.
I'll either be doing notes for the next chapter I'm going to write, or I'll actually sit down and write a chapter. I normally try and write a chapter at a time over a day or in a couple of days, but it takes me typically about a week of working out what's going to be in a chapter or the next few chapters and then it probably takes a week to write the chapter and revise it, get it to a point where I'm happy with it.
I normally stop for lunch. Sometimes my wife and son come down. We just go down to the little beach nearby and have lunch. I write all afternoon to about 5, 5:30, and then I go home. And, quite often I'll even do some more work at home until about 9:30 or 10, it just depends on where I'm at with the book. Toward the end of the book I often write at night as well, because the closer I get to the end the more momentum has built up, and the more I just want to keep working at it to try and get it finished.
Q: Are you one of the characters in the book?
Nix: I'm all the characters in the book. You have to keep yourself separate from the story, but at the same time there's a bit of me invested in all the characters. You know I'm thinking, "What would I do if I was Arthur?" You can't just lose yourself in the story completely, you do have to be aware of how you tell it, otherwise you'd just daydream. You wouldn't have to write anything down.
I have a natural inclination to embellish, and to add to reality I think. I like making things up, making up stories and trying to convince people of things that aren't true. I can tell tall stories and I am very convincing and people do tend to believe me, even though they know it's not true. That's my inclination toward fantasy; it's just more interesting, but you have to have a large part of the real world too. I'm very keen on basing things in reality and then adding the fantastic, you can't just start with totally fantastical things.
Q: Did you think you could do this as a kid?
Nix: No, I mean I was always writing stories, but it didn't in fact work out until I was about 19. I didn't know if I'd be able to keep doing it. There have been times where I thought I wouldn't be able to, that I'd have to stick with my day job. But I love to tell stories and I'm really glad that people keep reading them. I have actually written a thriller, but it needs more work, so I might go back to it, or I might not. I like historical fiction, and a thriller, but I think my natural ability tends towards fantasy, so I tend to go in that direction. I find when I'm writing sort of normal, realistic fiction, I often tend to drift off—you know, I can't help myself—and introduce a talking rat, or something like that.
Q: Which is your favorite of all your books?
Nix: My favorite book is always the one that I haven't written yet. My favorite book is always the next one that I'm going to write. It's a bit like being a mom or a dad, you can't pick your favorite child or you get in trouble with the others.
Q: What's next?
Nix: Grim Tuesday is the next book, and it begins straight after Mr. Monday. In fact, Mr. Monday is on Monday night, and Grim Tuesday very early Tuesday morning, so poor Arthur doesn't get a chance to rest, because straight away Grim Tuesday is on the case.