The following are a small selection of the questions I am asked by readers via e-mail or in letters.
Q. Is Garth Nix your real name?
Yes. I guess people ask me because it sounds like the perfect pseudonym for a writer of fantasy. However it is my real name!
Q. Are you going to write another book about Sabriel?
I’m unlikely to write another book in which Sabriel is the main character. However, I have returned to the Old Kingdom and Ancelstierre, for Clariel (October, 2014) and will do so again in another novel which takes place almost immediately after ‘Nicholas Sayre and the Creature in the Case’, so not long after the events in Abhorsen.
Q. How do you pronounce Sabriel, Lirael and Ancelstierre?
I always say you can pronounce the names however you like. I sometimes change how I pronounce them myself. However:
Q. Will there be a movie of Sabriel and the other books in the trilogy?
Maybe. This isn’t something a writer can control. There’s always been interest in my books, but to date this interest has not crystallised into the required commitment to make the films, which would not be cheap or easy to produce. Sabriel has come very close on several occasions in the last five years, with various last-minute issues derailing it. This is typical of the film business. Shade’s Children and The Keys to the Kingdom series have also been through the hoops for film and television adaptations. So you never know. I have written a screenplay adaptation of Sabriel and I stay open to the various approaches. My film/tv rights are represented by Matthew Snyder at CAA in Los Angeles.
Q. What’s Touchstone’s real name?
Have a look at the last chapter of Abhorsen (not the epilogue), when the seven are attempting to bind Orannis. Touchstone uses his true name then.
Q. The map on the front page describes one area, is there more to this world?
Yes. There is much more to both the world of Ancelstierre (some other countries are mentioned in Lirael and Abhorsen) and the world of the Old Kingdom. The Old Kingdom basically impinges on two other worlds, the southern border being the Wall and the northern border (a long way north of the Clayr’s Glacier) is marked by a river gorge.
Q. Why did you choose bells as the tools of necromantic magic?
It’s always difficult to work out where particular ideas come from. However, in the case of the bells that necromancers and the Abhorsens use, I think there were two points of inspiration. The first was that I was trying to think up a kind of magic that was a bit different to that normally encountered in fantasy fiction, and as it was to be used by the Abhorsens I was looking into folklore about exorcising evil spirits and so on. Possibly the most famous form of exorcism is ‘by bell, book and candle’. That set me to thinking. Books were out, because I wanted something different from books of spells. Candles were out because they would not be very dramatic and also highly impractical (at least so I thought back then, I have since considered ways they could work). That left me with bells. Around the same time, from reading Dorothy Sayer’s murder mystery The Nine Tailors, I became aware that church bells often had names. That led me to look into the naming of bells. The two inspirations converged and I made up the seven bells, with their names and characteristics.
Q. Where do you get your ideas?
Ideas do not as a rule spring fully-formed into or out of any writer’s head unless you put something in that head in the first place. You need to fill your mind and memory and both consciously and subconsciously work with all the material you have gathered to create ideas.
I personally gather ‘raw idea material’ from everything that goes on around me, from everything that I observe and experience, either directly or vicariously. I get ideas from my own life, from other people’s lives, from reading (particularly history, biography, myths and legends), from television, from the Internet. I might get ideas from observing people in the street; from incidents in or details of history; from myth and legend; from landscape; from the living natural world; from the sciences; from all the fiction I’ve ever read.
By ‘ideas’ I don’t mean fully-fledged plots, situations or characters, for these are expressions of ideas, things that are worked up from the raw material. The fleeting bits of information that lodge in my head could include ‘ideas’ like:
These are all just bits of information that arrived in my mind in various ways. At various times I have spent a lot of time looking at spring skies with the rain falling — in fact I look at the weather a lot and think about how it might be used in stories. I read about the Venetian agents who stole the body of St Mark in John Julius Norwich’s history of Venice. I have seen Roman nails in various museums and have handled replica nails. The Persian carpet I saw in a mosque in Syria, but I might just have easily have seen it in a book or on television. The mynah birds are a pest in my back garden, and the absent-minded man walks past my office at least once a week and his peculiar progress is always of interest.
I like to think of my mind as a kind of reservoir that is constantly being topped up with all kinds of information, which I am also unconsciously sifting all the time for things that might be useful in making a story. While the reservoir is constantly being topped up with new information, my subsconscious and sometimes conscious mind is at work on both sifting these chunks of information and connecting them up into larger rafts of ideas that may form the basis of a story. This is essentially daydreaming, taking thoughts and seeing where they might go and how they might connect with other thoughts.
In many ways daydreaming is one of the core prerequisites for writing. The trick of course, is to get past the daydreaming phase and actually do something with all that idle musing. Ideas by themselves are merely a raw material, and it is not enough just to have ideas. You have to work to turn them into a story.
Q. Do you have a favorite among your books?
My favorite is always the one I haven’t written yet, because when I imagine a book, it’s always better in my head than how they come out. I’m always wanting to try and get closer to the story as it is imagined. I never get there, but I always think it’s possible . . .
Q. Will you ever write a sequel/prequel to Shade’s Children?
I have no plans to write a sequel and no notes about possible storylines. However, I never know when a story will rise up out of my subconscious. A sequel is at least theoretically possible, as I always envisaged that the Overlords in Shade’s Children had taken over a single continent (basically Australia) and nowhere else, and the rest of the world was unable to intervene. So the Overlords could try and establish themselves elsewhere . . .
Q. I have to do a book report on your books. Can you answer all my questions?
No. I don’t have time to answer these sorts of questions. Anyway, the whole point of doing a book report or an author report is to gather the information yourself. There is a vast amount of information on the web about me and my books. It isn’t all correct, but if you check and compare the information you should be able to get fairly accurate data.
Q. I want to make a costume based on one of your characters for Halloween. Do I have to get your permission?
Not if the costume is just for your use. If you want to sell costumes or profit from my books in some way, then you would need to try and secure some sort of agreement from me. But if you want to make a costume for yourself to wear for Halloween or a fancy-dress party or whatever, that’s fine.
Q. How do you feel about fan fiction based on your books?
I have no problem with fan fiction based on my books and characters, though once again, if you actually wanted to publish it (other than putting it up on a non-commercial website) or sell it then you would need to seek permission. But if it’s solely for fun and you enjoy writing it, then go ahead. Please do not send it to me to read, as I won’t read it.
Q. Why don’t you answer e-mails from readers?
I really appreciate the e-mail and letters I get from readers and I read them all. But I can’t answer them all, because I typically get between 20-80 letters and e-mails a week. Assuming I could answer each one in five minutes, to answer 80 e-mails would take me 400 minutes, more than six hours, which is basically a whole working day. That time would not be spent on writing, and I figure that the great majority of my readers would rather I worked on new books and stories rather than answering mail.
But I do respond to tweets and Facebook posts from time to time. There’s no guarantee, but I might respond.
Q. If I send you a book to sign will you sign it and send it back?
Unfortunately I can’t do this as it takes time I don’t have and can be expensive, particularly as lots of people would like to send me books to sign.
Q. If I send you my manuscript will you read it and help me get it published?
No, I’m afraid I won’t. As I have no time and to avoid vexatious legal claims (as in claiming my work is based on something someone sent me) I don’t read any manuscripts, scripts, story concepts or anything like that which are sent to me. They go straight into the trash or are returned if the sender has provided a return address and postage. I appreciate that beginning authors would like feedback and assistance, but the best way to get published is not to send the material to other authors, but to publishers. Or to take the decision to self-publish, though as in anything else, self-publishing has risks as well as potential rewards.
To get help with being published or self-publishing, do some research. This is easy in this Internet age. Start with www.sfwa.org/writing for example, or the excellent primer on publishing written by my fellow Australian author Ian Irvine at www.ian-irvine.com (click on ‘The Truth About Publishing’ in the left sidebar). Read www.locusmag.com and the paper Locus magazine. Read author blogs. There are many resources for new writers.