Author Ian Irvine is currently touring blogs across Australia in celebration of his latest novel, Grim and Grimmer Book 3: The Desperate Dwarf. And guess which blog he’s stopping at today? Take it away, Ian…
10 Things I enjoyed most about writing this book
by Ian Irvine
I had the idea for the series Grim and Grimmer in Borders’ in Perth, while waiting for a scientific meeting. I’d been struggling with a title for months, then it came in a flash, the best title I’d ever thought of.
Titles are rarely easy, and can be a nightmare. For my fantasy series, Song of the Tears, I spent 24 hours going through options and still wasn’t satisfied; it’s a special joy when a title comes right. I’ve never mentioned Grim and Grimmer without getting a smile, and the title expresses my storytelling philosophy – make my characters suffer, ha, ha!
I generally write heroes who, for all their faults, are clever in one way or another, so it was a treat to begin with a kid, Useless Ike, who couldn’t do anything right. Ike is tall and gawky, hopeless at sport, bottom of the class and, because he knows he’s useless, always gives up. The one thing he can do is draw, but what use is that?
This posed special challenges. Few people want to read about a hero, no matter how good-hearted, who’s so hopeless that he never does anything. Therefore I put Ike to a personal crisis in the first chapter, when his oafish classmates are mocking him and his teacher, the perpetually disappointed Mister Flogger, is about to expel him. In that moment Ike realises that he has to make something of himself, or shrivel and die inside.
Ike’s other fault is impulsiveness. He’s forever going off half-cocked and getting himself in worse trouble – as when, after he’s drawn the door that takes him to magical Grimmery, he tries to save Princess Aurora from robbers lurking in the woods, only to discover that they were her rescuers and he’s betrayed her to the wicked Fey Queen. To death! But, reckless to the end, Ike vows to rescue Aurora no matter what, though she mocks him cruelly and refuses to be saved by a no-account peasant. This precipitates the events of the next 3.75 books and sets in motion his personal growth from Useless Ike to the hero who saved Grimmery.
I have a great fondness for Ike. Perhaps because he began so low, his rise and transformation is all the more moving.
3. World of Grimmery
Being used to setting my stories on epic canvases – whole worlds and multiple worlds – in these books I enjoyed being restricted to Grimmery, a small, mountain-locked land surrounded by great enemies.
But even here, I succumbed to the temptation to send my heroes, Ike and his friend, the apprentice thief-girl, Melliflua di Sorrowgrove (Mellie) to foreign lands, like glorious Feyrie and the grimly magnificent underworld of Orcus. Small compasses just aren’t for me.
4. Humour and Risk
I’ve never set out to write humour before, and had no idea how to go about it. What if I tried to write funny and it wasn’t? It would be as humiliating as some of the disasters I put Ike through – like his disastrous wyrm-dung fuelled rocket, or the disgusting troll-bum door he has to squeeze himself and the pretty princess through.
Books didn’t help. I read a dozen books about writing humour without learning anything save that no one understood how it worked. Then I found John Vorhaus’s The Comic Toolbox, which explained humour in terms that even I could understand.
Don’t get the wrong impression – there’s an awful lot of schoolboy humour of the farts and bums variety in Grim and Grimmer. But it’s my first stumbling step on the path to making people laugh.
5. Wacky Characters
When writing comedy, there’s no such thing as too much exaggeration. For the first time I allowed full rein to my wacky side, creating characters like the malicious guard imp, Nuckl, whose sole desire is to eat Ike’s liver; the insane hermit, Gorm, whose fifty-year obsession with the Key to all Magic is so all-consuming that he hasn’t bathed in that time and new ecosystems have evolved under his disgusting toenails; and the sweet, murderous old lady, Fluffia Tra-la-lee, whose cave is carpeted in foot-deep shag pile and defended by an arms’ race of weaponry.
Such fun I had with the many crazy characters in these books. I’ll miss them.
I’m best known for an 11-book, 2.3 million word epic fantasy series consisting of two quartets (The View from the Mirror and The Well of Echoes) and a trilogy (Song of the Tears), which can be read as one gigantic story. I love writing epic fantasy and I’ve spent much of the past twenty-four years doing so, but it’s an enormous investment in both time and creativity, and very draining.
At the end of each series I work on something completely different, and when Song of the Tears was finished in 2008 I decided to write some relatively short, humorous stories for children. But not books that were mainly wit and wordplay – I wanted to write funny stories with strong, driving plots. That’s the kind of story I like best.
By this time, I’d written many children’s books – the relatively long Runcible Jones quartet as well as the brief Sorcerer’s Tower series (fabulously illustrated by DM Cornish). On reflection, the Runcibles are too long, but the Sorcerer’s Tower books, considered ideal for reluctant readers in mid-primary, were a greater challenge – I struggled to adapt my writing style to such a small canvas. The Grim and Grimmers, at 40-50,000 words each, seemed perfect – long enough for a depth of characterisation and an involving plot, yet short enough that they only take a pound and a half of flesh to create.
7. Publisher and Artist
These books are put together by the lovely people at Omnibus in Adelaide and they’re a pleasure to work with. The covers were done by World Fantasy Award-winning artist Martin McKenna. Never in all my books have villainous characters been so perfectly realised as Aigo on the cover of The Grasping Goblin, and Con Glomryt the leering huckster on The Desperate Dwarf.
8. Age Group
These books are for ages 8-14, and older readers too. Readers in their thirties have told me they really enjoyed them. I love writing for this age group: they’re young enough to be captivated by a well-drawn story world, yet old enough to want something longer and deeper and more complex. I struggle to write stories for younger readers.
2010 was a desperate year for me, 2009 and 2008 too. (Moment of self-analysis: must have a problem with over-commitment). Each book of Grim and Grimmer was written to a more urgent deadline than the previous one, yet each book is better than the one before. For Book 4, The Calamitous Queen, which will be published in June, I ended up with so little time that it could not be done, and I despaired. Then I told myself, the book has to be done in a couple of weeks, and done well, and I’m going to do it.
And sometimes, when I plan a book well and write it at a furious pace, it works far better than the stories I stop and start, sweat over and grind out over months – perhaps because I’m in the zone the whole time. But don’t get the wrong impression; I could never work this way on the first book in a series, only the last. And only in desperation.
My editor and publisher loved it and thought it a fitting end to Grim and Grimmer.
And then they said, “But we weren’t expecting it for a couple of months.” Teeth, ungnash!
If there’s anything better than writing a much-loved series, it’s sending off the last proof corrections and knowing it’s out of your hands forever, and away to live or die on its own.
Finished at last. The best feeling of all.
Two hours pass.
What am I going to write now?
George’s bit at the end
To find out more about Ian Irvine and his books, check out his website. And tune in next time, as Ian returns to tell us the 10 things he found hardest about writing book 3 in the Grim and Grimmer series.
Catch ya later, George
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