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Ian R Macleod

Interview with Sean O'Connell

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Ian, in your new novel 'Wake Up and Dream’ you leave the settings of ‘The Light Ages’ behind. What is the new book all about?

It’s set in a somewhat alternate version of Hollywood in 1940. The talkies are old hat, and have been replaced by the feelies, which transmit emotions through wire recordings which are fed out through grids from behind the screen. The main character is a failed actor called Clark Gable. He gets an offer to impersonate a successful screenwriter which turns out (as these kind of offers so often do) to be too good to be true. It’s an exploration of a world which is both bright and glamorous, but also dark and mysterious.

Would you say that 'Wake Up and Dream’ is rather a crossover fiction than a classical fantasy novel, and if so, isn’t it something that makes publishers upset, because it will never really fit into the streamlined pigeon-holes of the so called best-selling genres?

I guess I have to agree in that, like most of my works, Wake Up and Dream lies at the boundary of several different kinds fiction. But genres are always shifting, and if writers didn’t experiment, fiction itself would have long ago been dead. Not that I write slightly unusual works to be difficult; it’s simply what appeals to me most. But it is a harder task to get your work out there into the marketplace. Books are products at the end of the day, and, rather like the sellers of any other product, be it biscuits or hotels, publishers tend to try to repeat past successes or imitate products from other companies which have worked in commercial terms. Of course, that will only take you so far, and people tire of having endless small variations on the same theme. So innovation is important, but does involve a higher element of risk. But the rewards are also potentially greater, too.

Does the fantastic literature in your opinion need new frontiers? Do we have to go and discover new terra incognita?

Maybe that’s in part what I’m trying to do, although, as I say, I’m really just trying to find things which interest me. That, and I’m very wide in what I like to read, and am continually trying to find new and surprising and different things (at least for me) to try to write about. One thing which I imagine will happen as the so-called West ceases to be economically dominant is that we will see even more input from other cultures, and not just as “local colour”.

In your novel ‘The Light Ages’ (dt. “Aether”) London played a great role – why are such cities fascinating for the writer and the reader?

I do think that one noticeable development in the genre has been the urbanisation of fantasy. But that fits in with most of our own core experiences when we were young. We didn’t spend our childhoods wandering in dark forests - most of us didn’t anyway. More likely, it was old factories, odd shopping centres, strange-seeming streets which excited our sense of danger and curiosity. There is a sense in a big city that what’s around the corner could be surprising, or could have changed from the last time we turned that way. Cities are so big and have so much life going on in them that there’s a feeling that no-one’s really in control, or knows exactly what’s going to happen. Which is, of course, very appealing to writers.

It seems that during the years British writers have abandoned ‘Sword and Sorcery’ and ‘High Fantasy’ more and more and turned to a more industrial influenced kind of fantasy. Where do you see the origins of this development?

To develop what I was saying in the last answer, machines are much more a part of our lives than plants or animals. And, of course, we invent our own personal feelings and mythologies for them, just as people in the past or in other cultures would have done for horses and trees. Think of how we feel about our cars or our computers - we may not like them, but we know we’re dependant on them, and that, in a sense, they are also beyond our comprehension. As to why so much fantasy (mine included) has often used the Victorian period, I think that it’s a question of finding a way of incorporating what I’ve described without making it too ordinary, and also casting a backwards glance toward the more traditional fairy story. So, it’s a halfway station which allows you explore the modern and the old, and the strange and the familiar, all at once. There are also certain times which seem to be particularly iconic. The Victorian era was one. And, as I hope I illustrate in Wake Up and Dream, Hollywood in its Golden Age was another. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if we soon encounter a fair amount of fiction set in, for example, the Swinging Sixties. In fact, that gives me an idea…

 

This is the English language version of an interview with Sean O'Connell on the German website http://wortwellen.wordpress.com/

 

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