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Joe Abercrombie - novelist, creator of The First Law trilogy

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Joe AbercrombieNovelist Joe Abercrombie burst on the British fantasy scene with his trilogy The First Law, a grim and bloody epic of characters equally damaged and damaging. His reputation established, he visited the world again with two standalone novels, Best Served Cold and The Heroes, and has just released Red Country. While touring the country to promote the book, meet his fans and talk about his work, on the evening of Thursday 25th October he passed through Edinburgh and spared a few moments to talk to Geek Chocolate.

Geek Chocolate - The First Law trilogy, where it all started, was described as “fantasy with the edges left on.” Was that a deliberate response to the preponderance of fairies and princesses and easy solutions through magic, a genre that was fine for escapism, but whose divorce from reality made it irrelevant to serious modern readers?

Joe Abercrombie - Yes, I suppose is the short answer to that. When I was a kid I read a lot of fantasy of quite a typical post-Tolkien style, eighties and nineties commercial fantasy, and there are certain patterns that develop. It’s quite predictable, shiny, morally simple, focused maybe on the setting over the people, and in writing my own take on it, I wanted to maintain the things I liked about it but hopefully introduce unpredictability, a sense of realism, and some moral ambiguity, I suppose you might say, and also a bit of a sense of humour. That was kind of what I had in mind, very much a reaction to what I’d read as a kid, and also a lot of things I’d read in wider fiction, a lot of noir fiction, James Ellroy, people like that, and the kind of modern unpredictable edge they brought to things, I wanted to do something similar.

GC - Fantasy is often looked down upon by the literary mainstream, even more so than science fiction, yet in the past few years has enjoyed an enormous resurgence in popularity and critical acceptance, even acclaim. You’re part of that, and another obvious touchstone is George R R Martin’s Game of Thrones. What changed, and where did it start?

JA - I’m not sure that much has changed, I mean I think it’s still very difficult to get book pages to show a lot of interest in fantasy, as it is with many genres. I’m not sure fantasy is treated so much differently to romance. Crime, I suppose, is one that’s taken more seriously, but I think many genres have always been frowned upon.

There’s always a bit of a victim mentality within genres, how cruelly we are treated by the mainstream, but I think in a sense, you know, Tolkien after all, Lord of the Rings, you don’t get more fantasy than Tolkien, one of the biggest selling books of all time and has spawned one of the most successful movie franchises of all time, so you don’t get more mainstream than that. Game of Thrones, likewise, huge sales and massive success, and other hugely successful things of recent times like Harry Potter, Twilight, Charlaine Harris’ True Blood, they all contain fantasy elements of one kind or another, so I think fantasy is and always has been very much mainstream, as in read by a lot of people.

Whether it gets huge admiration from the literary press, I suppose, in a way that’s possibly asking the wrong question and looking for the wrong thing. I guess it’s up to them what they want to read and report on and readers will buy what they want to read.



 

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