What other things help define who you are (foods,
TV shows, etc.)?
I cook certain things pretty well, and I like doing it and
eating the result. Roast beef, for instance, and lamb or fish
dishes with cous cous. Unlike the stereotypical author I've never
had a job as a short-order cook, but I love cooking hot breakfasts
for lots of people, juggling the eggs and the bacon and the tomatoes
and the fried potatoes and so on.
I don't watch a lot of TV and I hardly ever have time to keep
up with series, though I do love reruns of old favorites from
my childhood like Dr. Who, The Goodies, and Get
I like movies in particular, on video or TV. I have lots of
old favorites, like Danny Kaye in The Court Jester or
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty or James Stewart in Winchester'73. But I also like a lot of modern films. I laughed myself
stupid watching Galaxy Quest the other day, and I tend
to see about half of the big films of any year, either on first
release in the cinema or on video.
You live in Australia, but what
other countries have you visited? Which are you favorites? I you
were to move, where would you choose?
I live in Australia, but I have traveled (sometimes very briefly)
in the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, Germany,
Austria, Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran, Pakistan
Every country has its attractions. I'm very interested in
history, so I often find places of historical importance fascinating.
People are also fascinating and I have met great people in every
country I've visited.
If I were to move anywhere, it would probably be to the USA.
I'd love to see more of the USA, because while I've been there
three times, I've only had one actual holiday where I drove around
Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. so there’s a lot more to
see. The USA is also the most important market for books in English,
so in terms of being a writer it’s the best place to be.
Any other plans in the works? Upcoming
Writing The Seventh Tower series is keeping me pretty
busy at the moment. But I do have a new young adult fantasy out
in October 2000, called Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr.
It’s sort of a sequel to my book Sabriel, and there
are lots of fans of the latter book who've been patiently waiting
for the follow-up since 1997.
I'm not sure what I will be writing after The Seventh Tower.
I have quite a few deals in the works, and I am still fine-tuning
the sequel to Lirael, which is a 2001 release called Abhorsen.
EDITORS NOTE: Abhorsen was released in 2003 in the Unites
States and was
a New York Times Bestseller. Garth is currently writing The
Keys to the Kingdom series.
What do you like best about writing
a book for children?
I think what I like best is being able to use my imagination
as a sort of starter motor for readers. I like to write books
that I would have liked as a child, that would have got me thinking
and imagining beyond the words on the page. In a way, my audience
is always how I remember myself as a child.
If you were not writing, what
might you be doing instead?
I might be bodysurfing down at the beach, or fishing from
the rocks down at Brawley Point where my parents have a holiday
house, or going out to the theater or a film with my wife, or
lying on the couch reading a book, or making homemade pasta
and trying to get the machine to roll it right, or walking up
the hill from the beach reading a paper and trying not to run
into anything, or checking in two hours earlier than I should
for a flight because I always do...
What are your hobbies?
I'm a keen fisherman, something I learned form my father,
who I still fish with a lot. I mostly fish off the rocks or
the beach, in the sea, but I also occasionally go freshwater
fishing for trout. I used to cross-country ski quite a bit,
but as my knees have deteriorated and I live further away from
the Australian snowfields I haven't been skiing for quite a
few years. I collects books as well as read them, so I buy books
with interesting covers or bindings or that are limited editions.
I watch films and videos and go to the theater, though never
as much as I would like.
What books and authors did you
read as a kid? Which are your biggest influences?
I read very widely as a child (I still do). My favorites tended
to be science fiction and fantasy and historical novels. In
no particular order, here are just some of my all-time childhood
favorites. Nearly all of them are still around, even the ones
which were pretty old when I was a kid, which I think shows
just how great these books are:
Robert Heinlein: Have Spacesuit Will Travel, Citizen of
the Galaxy, Starman Jones, Tunnel in the Sky, Space Cadet, Between
Planets, Farmer in the Sky.
Rosemary Sutcliff: The Eagle of the Ninth, The Silver Branch,
The Lantern Bearers, Knight’s Fee, Warrior Scarlet.
Andre Norton: Sargasso of Space, Plague Ship, Postmarked
the Stars, Witch World, Star Man’s Son.
J.R.R. Tolkein: The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings.
Diana Wynne Jones: Charmed Life, The Nine Lives of Christopher
Chant, Fire and Hemlock, Power of Three, Eight Days of Luke.
Ursula Le Guin: Wizard of Earthsea, The Tombs of Atuan,
The Farthest Shore, Tehanu, Very Far Away From Anywhere Else,
and her adult science fiction novels, particularly The Left
Hand of Darkness and The Dispossessed..
Lloyd Alexander: The Prydain Chronicles.
C.S. Lewis: The Narnia Chronicles.
Alan Garner: The Weirdstone of Brisingamen, Moon of Gomrath,
Elidor, The Owl Service, Red Shift.
John Christopher: The Tripods Trilogy, The Prince in Waiting
Peter Dickinson: The Blue Hawk, The Changes Trilogy, The
Robin McKinley: The Blue Sword, The Hero and the Crown.
Patricia McKillip: The Riddlemaster of Hed Trilogy.
What are you reading now?
Right at this moment, I have a whole stack of books I'm working
through. I read very quickly, so I get through three or four
books a week usually, even when I don't have much time to read.
Here’s a few:
Nathaniel’s Nutmeg by Giles Morton. Popular history
about he spice trade and nutmeg, mostly in the 17th and 18th
Feeling Sorry for Celia by Jaclyn Moriarty. A very
funny story about a teenager’s life, written entirely in letters,
fridge notes and so on. Half the letters come from imaginary
organizations, like "The Association of People Who Will Fail
The High House by James Stoddart. A very interesting
fantasy, about the young heir to a house that actually contains
The Vintner’s Luck by Elizabeth Knox. A literary novel,
concerning the relationship between a young French winegrower
and an angel, set in Napoleanic times.
What advice would you give to
young writers today?
I think the best advice is quite simple. Read a lot, write
a lot, revise a lot, and send your work out.
Reading is essential because it helps you learn how to put
words together, how to create characters, how to tell stories
and all the other parts of the craft of writing. The best thing
is that if you read all the time you learn all this stuff without
even really trying.
Writing is also something you need to practice. the more you
write, the better you will get. Even if you have a lot of natural
talent, you still need practice. If you write a chapter every
week for a year, you'll have a novel, or maybe even two. Maybe
it won't get published, but you still have written one and that’s
more than most would-be writers manage. Then you can start on
another one, and maybe that will get published.
Revision is also important. You can nearly always fine tune
a story or a chapter. If possible, I think it’s best to write
quickly, leave the piece for a few days or even a week, and
then look at it again. Read it aloud, because that shows up
weaknesses and language that doesn't work. Fix up the things
that don't work.
Finally, when you've done your revision, send the story or
the book to a magazine or a publisher. That’s the only real
way you can find out if it’s any good. It’s nice if your family
and friends like it, but then they will probably always say
they do. Find out magazines or book publishers or even websites
that publish the sort of thing you've written and find out how
they like to have material sent to them. There are lots of books
and sources of information on the Web for sending material out.
Never give up. Keep on reading, keep on writing, keep on revising,
keep on submitting.
What is the first book/story you
My first ever published story I wrote when I was 19 and was
published before my 20th birthday. It was set in the near future,
in a sort of Mad Max-like world though not as bad. I thought
then that I would write and sell lots of short stories, but
I was wrong. I didn't get another story published for years,
though I kept on writing them.
My first published book was The Ragwitch, which is
still available from Tor Books. It’s about a boy and a girl
who discover a rag doll which grows to be seven foot tall, with
shark teeth and evil green eyes. This is the Ragwitch, and she
takes them back to the world she came from. The girl is imprisoned
inside the Ragwitch’s head and her brother has to try and rescue
her. It’s kind of a C. S. Lewis story but with a harder edge...
I started writing the book when I was 20 and finished it when
I was 25, it was published when I was 26.
Did you always want to be a writer?
I'd always written stories and I liked telling them as well.
But I didn't really decide to be a writer until after I left
high school. I was traveling around England and Europe, re-reading
lots of books and I also started to write one. When I went home
to Australia I decided that the book I was writing was a load
of rubbish, but I still decided that I wanted to keep trying.
So I went and studied writing at the University of Canberra.
Because I knew it was hard to make a living from writing books,
I majored in screenwriting. But after I left university, I decided
to try and work in book publishing and keep writing books as
well. I did get a job in book publishing, and I kept writing
away at nights and on the weekend. After quite a few years,
and a few published books, I realized that I had actually become
Where, when and how do you write?
I often write longhand with a fountain pen in a small hardbound
notebook, so I can write anywhere. My novel Sabriel, for instance,
was partly written on the walls of a Crusader castle in Syria,
above the tombs of the ancient Persian Kings in Iran and on
a rocky headland on the south-eastern coast of Australia.
But most often I write in my home office, in an apartment
just up the hill from Coggee Beach, in Sydney, Australia. I
usually write for three or four hours a day, sometimes for much
longer. I work two days a week for a literary agency (because
I like to get out and talk to people), but even on those days
I usually write at night as well.
So I either write longhand in my office, or I type on either
my old Power Macintosh or my new Macintosh iBook so I can type
and email when I'm away.
How do you think your view of
the world has changed compared to when you were a child?
I'm much more aware now of the complexity of the world. As
a child, I think I used to have a more straightforward view
of everything. Then I could see things in black and white, and
not shades of grey.
However, I think I have managed to keep most of my childhood
sense of wonder and the ease of imagination. As an adult, I
know when I need to switch off that sense of wonder and curb
the imagination, but it’s still there. I can use it to daydream
and lose myself in stories, either writing them or reading them.
Then I can turn it off and talk about politics, or business
or do any of the things that the real world demands.
How did you get the idea for The
Seventh Tower series?
Unlike my other books, editors at Scholastic and Lucasfilm
had already made a sort of list of "influences and ideas" that
they thought would be a good basis for the series. Influences
like the bizarre buildings of the Spanish architect Gaudi, and
ideas like a world where it is always night for some reason.
So I had that list and then I had to work out a world, a story
and characters that would use most of these ideas and influences.
To explain the fact that it was always night, I thought up
the Veil. Then I thought of different means of providing light,
and from that came the Sunstones. Then I had to work out where
the Sunstones came from, and that made me think of the towers
which stuck up through the Veil into the sun.
In a way, each of the ideas and influences on the original
list was like a seed. The seeds were planted in my imagination
and things have grown from them, and I have helped them grow
and shaped them to fit into the story. Also, like any book,
as I write it, lots of other ideas creep in. Sometimes I feel
like the original ideas are tiny people in another world, and
as I write more and more, I am expanding the peephole into a
wider and wider window. So I can see more of the world, and
see more of the story as it’s happening, and I can then write
about it so readers can see and experience more too.
How long did it take to write
the first book?
That’s quite a hard question. I was thinking about the series
and the first book for quite a few months, and I wrote and revised
the outline for it three or four times before I sat down to
write the actual book. It was probably six months of thinking
and revising time and then two months of writing every single
Did you approach writing The
Seventh Tower differently than your other books?
It was a bit different because the initial "ideas and influences"
came from Scholastic and Lucasfilm, which was strange at first.
But as the story and characters were all out of my head after
the initial kickstart, I found that writing The Seventh Tower
was pretty much the same as writing anything else. However,
unlike my other books (which are much longer and usually take
a year or two to write), I haven't written the The Seventh
Tower books in longhand first. For those longer books, I
write with a fountain pen in a notebook and then type it on
my Macintosh. For The Seventh Tower I make notes in pen,
but then write it straight out on the Mac, usually a chapter
at a time. Strangely, there’s not much difference, except that
I probably have to revise more carefully.
How is this series different from
other books you have written?
Most of my other books are for an older audience, what is
known as "young adult crossovers," which means that they appeal
to teenagers and also crossover into the adult fantasy audience.
So they're longer, and there are some differences in the complexity
of the language and the plot. But to be honest, there is not
much difference at the heart of the books. In all my writing
I try and make a fantasy world as real as possible, the stories
as exciting and enthralling as I can, and the characters as
real as the people reading the books.
How did you come up with the characters
in the book? Are any of them based on people you know in real
life? Who is your favorite character?
I'm never really sure how I come up with the characters in
any book. I tend to think of the basic sort of person I want
to have and put them somewhere where I can develop their character
through the story. Like Tal, who is nearly fourteen and stuck
in a very bad situation with his family and everything else.
Then when I start to write about them the story picks them up
and I kind of know what they'll do and what they're like without
really having to think about it. I never base characters completely
on real people, at least not consciously. Often I realize that
I have taken a little characteristic from someone and put it
together with a characteristic from someone else. So I might
take someone’s fear of spiders for example and put it with someone
else’s funny way of speaking and someone else’s obvious curiosity.
It’s hard for me to pick a favorite character. I like them all.
They are all fun to write at different times. Great-Uncle Ebbitt
I enjoy writing, and I would like to have a slightly crazy unpredictable
great-uncle like him. But I'd also like to have a son like Tal,
knowing that he would always do his best for his family, and
I'd like Milla at my side if I walked into a dangerous place.
I wouldn't mind Tal’s shadowguard either. I have always liked
the idea of useful magical companions.
Did you make up the plot in every
aspect first by charting the characters and knowing exactly what
you would do with them, or did you just piece a lot of it together
as you wrote?
I do write quite detailed story outlines for each book, which
go back and forth between me and the editors for a while until
we're all happy. But when it comes to actually writing, the story
often changes a but, because the characters do different things,
or I decide the story would work better in some way. Often, I
get the feeling that the story is really happening somewhere and
all I'm doing is trying to work out the best way to tell it.