New Paul Kearney interview

Having enjoyed Paul Kearney's The Ten Thousand (Canada, USA, Europe) from start to finish, I knew I needed to interview the author.

Once again, Adam ( was my partner in crime, thus insuring that this Q&A is even better!


- Without giving anything away, can you give us a taste of the story that is THE TEN THOUSAND?

Well, it’s the story of an army, a group of men who find themselves in almost impossible circumstances, and who can either lie down and die, or try and find a way home out of it. It’s about soldiers, the good and the bad in them, the way they react to the world.

- Doubtless, this one was heavily influenced by Xenophon's THE ANABASIS. Why this particular work?

It’s one of the great military adventures of all time – it’s battle, a road-trip, political and military intrigue, the clash of two worlds. It’s got it all – and the heart-lifting cry of ‘The Sea! The sea!’ at the end. I’ve always loved it.

- Given the fact that you had to come up with something new basically on the spot when Solaris took you in, can you tell us a little more about the road that saw this one go from manuscript form to finished novel?

I hammered my head against a wall for about a week, walked the dogs on the beach a lot, and stared into space for inordinate amounts of time, trying not to think of anything in particular – it’s then that the ideas come. If you sit at your desk staring at a blinking cursor, nothing good is ever going to arrive. It’s happenstance, luck, some form of peculiar mental alchemy. I don’t really know. I just know, that when I needed it, the idea arrived.

It was the first line – it popped into my head, and I liked it, and so wrote a paragraph. Then I had a couple of beers, thought about it, and wrote the whole first chapter at one sitting. Which is probably still the best chapter in the book. After that, the mental sluice gates were open, and I could get on with it.

- How happy are you with the way events unfolded? When I cross-posted a piece from your own forum last year, you appeared very close to quitting writing altogether. Then Mark Newton got in touch with you, and a few months later you have just released what could well be one of the best fantasy titles of 2008. Is there a lesson to take away from all this?

There are several obvious and banal lessons, mostly concerning fat ladies singing. I wasn’t going to quit writing because I couldn’t write, or didn’t want to. I just thought that, commercially speaking, I was through. At day’s end, I need to put food on the table, and if writing can’t do it, well, it’s going to be locked back in the closet until I find something that does. I’ve been doing this for seventeen years, and I have few illusions about the business of publishing. When it comes down to it, there is quite simply an immense amount of luck involved – it’s as simple and frightening as that.

- Will you be touring to promote THE TEN THOUSAND this fall? If so, are there any appearances you would like your fans and potential readers to know about?

No tours, no signings. I don’t think the budget stretches to it! Having said that, if anything shows up, I’ll nail it to the website.

- What's next for Paul Kearney?

Another Macht book. Plus some other stuff in the pipeline which I’ll keep under my hat for now. The Macht book will be another standalone, but Rictus will be in it.

- More so than a lot of authors, you seem to have had a lot of bad luck with publishers, and the conflict between marketing and art. Do you have any advice for other writers who find themselves in difficulty between what they want to write and what the publishers want to publish?

It’s not that the publishers didn’t want to publish my stuff. I’ve never yet had a synopsis turned down (he knocks on wood frantically). Editors love my work. Unfortunately, it would seem readers don’t. The average fantasy reader I feel doesn’t get me at all. I’m not into dragons and elves – I like to make the story about real people with real dilemmas. One Amazon review of The Ten Thousand said that it would have been a really great book if only there had been a few more non-humanoid monsters in it. WTF?

Publishing is a business, and to make your way in it, you have to shift copies off the shelves. It’s as simple as that. I write pretty decent books, but they haven’t sold, hence my peripatetic publishers. But hey, I’m still here…

- Way back, in an interview on the Malazan forums, you revealed you had an unpublished but complete military SF novel on file. Do you think you’ll ever publish this book?

Well, it’ll need an extensive rewrite. It’s basically The Ten Thousand in space – I only just realized that recently! It’s about the last true Terrans in the galaxy, who live on an enormous starship called the Laconia, and work as mercenaries for a bureaucratic federation intent on nannying every planet in existence. When the last enemy outpost falls, the Terran Division finds itself redundant, and dangerous, and the federation decides to destroy it. Epic battles – with tanks and dropships and battlecruisers. Great pulp. Great fun to write, too.

- Your fantasy novels seem closely based on real history, particularly THE TEN THOUSAND, whilst The Monarchies of God features some elements of horror (with the werewolves). Have you ever been temped to write an out-and-out historical novel? Or, further to the above, perhaps SF or an outright horror story?

Technically, The Ten Thousand is sci-fi, since there is no magic in it, but it does happen on a planet with two moons, and there is inexplicable technology at work (the black armour). However, to market it as such would be commercial suicide – the sci-fi elements are pretty well hidden I have to admit. You could also say however that I’ve hidden very conventional fantasy elements in there though – no-one has yet remarked on the fact that the Juthan could be Dwarves, and the Kefren, elves…

And yes, I have been tempted to write historical fiction, and I’m pretty sure I could make a job of it, but damn it all, I need the freedom that fantasy gives me – the knowledge that I can, as a writer, do absolutely anything I want. What other genre gives you that freedom? Even in sci-fi, you’re constrained by physics. In fantasy, nothing is impossible. That’s why I keep coming back to it. I know people complain that there’s not enough fantasy in a lot of my books, but as a writer, there’s enough there to make it interesting for me – and I don’t know if I could write without it, and the possibilities it allows.

- In our last interview, I asked you about your strengths as a writer. What would be your weaknesses, or aspects of your craft you feel you need to work on?

Pacing. I often lose it a little in the last third of a book. I always take my time over the first half, but the second half I’m rattling along to find out what happens (and usually cruising close to a deadline – or over it), so I think I lose a little of the detachment an author needs to truly take a step back and critically examine where he’s going with his work.

- The fact that there is a website dedicated to your work is an indication that interaction with your readers is important to you as an author. How special is it to have the chance to interact directly with your fans?

It’s more essential than I ever would have dreamed ten years ago. The feedback is invaluable, as is the encouragement. At times when you think you can barely stir up the grey matter sufficiently to write a shopping list, you’ll sometimes get a fan e-mail, or an entry on the forum which will make you realize that you are not, in fact writing just for yourself. That’s a real shot in the arm.

- Cover art has become a very hot topic of late. What are your thoughts pertaining to that facet of a novel, and what do you think of the cover that graces THE TEN THOUSAND?

It is, quite simply, brilliant. At first I had my doubt about the pretty boy on the front – I thought he should have been wearing a helmet – but now I’ve come round. It grabs the gaze. When it comes to covers, Solaris are a bunch of geniuses. And I have to admit that even a hoary old veteran like me still has my attention grabbed by the cover first – that’s human nature. First the cover, then the blurb, then the first line of the first page. If those check out, you’re more than halfway to making a sale.

- More and more, authors/editors/publicists/agents are discovering the potential of all the SFF blogs/websites/message boards on the internet. Do you keep an eye on what's being discussed out there, especially if it concerns you? Or is it too much of a distraction?

I do and I don’t. I’ll google the book title of course (any author who says they don’t on a regular basic is an outright liar), just to see if there are any new reviews. But I don’t really get into the whys and wherefores of the current ‘scene’ to be honest. I’m old-fashioned about this I guess, but I’m a little afraid that if I know exactly what’s selling out there, it’ll somehow contaminate my idea of what I should be writing, and it should be the story alone which dictates that.

- THE TEN THOUSAND has gotten an enormous amount of positive press from the internet, generating a fair amount of word-of-mouth about the book before it came out. How important do you think is it for writers to reach out to the Internet as way of generating interest in their work?

I think it’s become massively important. For the publishers, it’s cheap publicity, let’s face it. It extends a global reach, and has a ginormous audience – it’s definitely The Shape of Things to Come, not just for bookselling, but for pretty much every artistic endeavor also. Of course, there’s more crap to wade through now before you chance across the nuggets of good stuff, but it’s there. On the other hand, as I said earlier, for writer it still has to translate in the end into people forking over cash to read what you’ve written, otherwise it’s just an exercise in navel-gazing.

- Last summer, you were involved in a minor online "scuffle" pertaining to Aidan Moher's "non-review" of THE TEN THOUSAND. In retrospect, what would you have done differently to address that situation?

Well, my curt one-liner certainly kicked up a lot of dust. I didn’t regret the sentiments therein, just the way I expressed them. I said that in a – what’s the word? – a clarification further down the line, because with that one line, I did come across as a bit of a twat, to be honest. After that, I got the hell out of Dodge and watched as the bloggers slogged it out. Boy, did they get serious.

- Finally, can we hopefully expect to see The Monarchies of God omnibuses next year?

God Almighty, yes. If we don’t, I’m going to visit Solaris with a petrol bomb and a chainsaw.

- Anything else you wish to add?

Yes – I still owe you that beer, remember.

4 commentaires:

Dream Girlzzz said...

What's that about an online scuffle??? Missed out on that...

Gabriele Campbell said...

Another Macht book is great news.

And let's hope that the Monarchies omnibus (yes, go visit Solaris with a chainsaw, or do you want my sword?) is going to get the sales it deserves - after all, Fantasy without elves and lots of magic has become more accepted since ASOIAF.

I understand why you don't want to write historical fiction though I think you'd do just fine. But writing it myself, I know the limitations; and I escape to that Fantasy project I also have now and then. :)

Unknown said...

David Gemmell was huge in britain and Ireland with his brand of heroic military fantasy so with the right marketing the Ten Thousand should do well there.
Not sure how big Gemmell was in the states but its a quality read so hopefully it will make a niche for itself.

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