Interview : Anthony Durham

Réalisée par :mail
Date :janvier 2009
Allan : In France, was published last October the first part of «War of Mein» and I want to know if it was the first book you write on Fantasy World?
Anthony : Yes, it is. Yes, my first three novels were historical. Gabriel’s Story is about a black homesteading family in the 19th century American West. Walk Through Darkness is about a runaway slave being tracked by a slave hunter. Pride of Carthage is about the war between Hannibal of Carthage and Rome in the 2nd Century BC.

Allan : How can someone go from Historical to Fantasy Books?
Anthony : I don’t think it was hard switching to fantasy. For example, the 2nd Century BC is a very strange, foreign world for modern readers. Writing about it means writing about armies on elephants marching over snow-covered mountains, with charismatic leaders, enormous battles, strange cultures… To me, that’s not that different than fantasy.

Allan : Do you thingk there are some commons points between these two kinds of books?
Anthony : Absolutely. Neal Stephenson talked about this point when he wrote the Baroque Cycle. People asked why he was writing historical fiction instead of his usual science fiction. He said that both genres require making a very strange, foreign, imagined world believable for the reader. I agree, and that’s what I tried to do with Acacia.

Allan : I suppose that it has surprised some people this new direction on your career.
Anthony : Yes, but I feel the transition has been fairly smooth. Many fantasy readers have been curious about what I would bring to the genre, and quite a few of my literary readers have followed me. When they do, they find that my approach to developing characters and stories and themes is the same in fantasy as it was with historical fiction. My publisher was surprised at the idea at first, but when they saw what I was working on they understood that Acacia – in many ways – is a logical progression to follow a novel like Pride of Carthage.

Allan : I must say that I read the first books and I was really impressed by… All ! For a lot of people, your book is among the better one of fantasy. What do you think when you hear this?
Anthony : I’m overjoyed! Of course, that is exactly what I want to hear. I work hard to make sure my stories are complex, with interesting characters and with themes beneath the surface action. I want to write «serious» novels that are also enjoyable journeys for the reader. To hear that readers are finding that in my work is very satisfying.

On the other hand, it also keeps the pressure on me to make sure I continue to write good books. I am working hard to make sure that happens.

Allan : Someone says me that there were at least two editors interested by your book and so I want to know if you are ok explaining us what steps before be published on a foreign language ?
Anthony : All of the negotiations are handled by representatives from my American publisher, Doubleday. I have to trust that they are getting the book to the right foreign language publishers and are negotiating well on my behalf. So far, I think they have done a wonderful job. So far my work has been translated into French, German, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Swedish.

I am very happy with my French publisher, Le Pré Aux Clercs. They have bought the Acacia sequel, The Other Lands, and want to publish it late in 2009.

Allan : The point that really enjoys me is that, in your book, the «people» who attacked are finally not the worst… It’s relatively rare on fantasy literature: what’s your point of view about this?
Anthony : I wanted my fantasy world to be different than that of earth, but I also wanted it to be realistic, not simplistic. In reality nothing is simply good or evil, white or black. There are always more complications than that. That is what interests me – those complications. That is why I included it in Acacia.

Allan : The characters add to the interest as they were not black or white but between: which character was for you the more difficult to define?
Anthony : So many of them are plagued by contradictions. Mena is thoughtful and insightful, but she also has a talent for violence that she can barely control. Aliver is self-righteous in his youth, then discovers how mistaken he was about the way the world works, and then has to find some way to shape his idealism into a tool that can really change things for the better. Hanish does want bloody vengeance against the Akarans, but at the same time he fears the very ancestors that are prompting him to act that way. All quite complex…

I would say that Thaddeus Clegg was one of the hardest to figure out, though. He is both loyal servant to the king and a great betrayer. In many ways he aids the downfall of the Empire, but on the other hand he also acts out of love for the Akaran children. So what is he: a criminal or a savour? He is both, of course!

Allan : You have created a very complete world: there are different populations with their own characteristics, there are some strange creatures, you have created a specific politic environment with a lot of interactions… How do you work to stay «coherent» on the whole «history»?
Anthony : I think the coherence of the world comes out of imagining each feature in detail. Consider the map of the Known World and the difference races that populate it… Each time I set a scene someplace the details of that place become quite firmly established in my mind. It’s like I have travelled to that place and lived there a while. When I think of Talay and its various regions I am able to reference the memories that my own writing has created of those places. I simply know what the weather and landscape. I can smell the food and see the people and hear the music. And because of that it is easy to be reminded of the history of that place. There is an order to it that feels nearly as real as our actually history.

Allan : Is this way of writing very coherently linked to your previously books on history?
Anthony : Yes. Pride of Carthage especially. In that novel I had to learn a lot about European history and customs, and North African history and customs. I had to make sure the Roman culture felt different than the Carthaginian culture, that Celts and Gauls contrasted with Libyans and Numidians. Fortunately, the actual history provided me the framework to study. I used much of what I learned writing that book to help me write Acacia.

Allan : Have you still an idea of the number of books that will compose this cycle?
Anthony : Three. I may return to tell more Acacia stories after that, but I do want to conclude the present series of stories in the promised three books.

Allan : When I analyse the situation, I was quite surprised to discover that a lot of the action was prepared a long time ago… Will you, as it becomes to be usual, write after on the beginning, on the «prequel» of your world?
Anthony : Haha! Funny that you ask that… Yes. I am very interested in the possibility of writing a prequel novel about some of the characters – like Edifus and Tinhadin and Hauchmeinish – that are figures of ancient history to Aliver and his siblings. That seems interesting to me; hopefully, it would be interesting to readers also.

Allan : If we get out of «War of Mein», have you some other projects you want to see finished?
Anthony : Right now I am mostly thinking about the many complications of finishing the Acacia trilogy. I do have some other ideas, but none that I am sure about right now.

Allan : Have you a last word to say at our visitors?
Anthony : Thank you for reading this and for your interest in Acacia. I am very happy to be published and French and thrilled to finally be connecting with French readers. I have just learned I may attend the Imaginales conference in France this May. I hope it works out because I would very much like to meet my French readers. It will be great!

Crécdit Photo : ©Gudrun Johnston

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