INTERVIEW: David Tallerman on Writing, the Fantasy Genre, and Stealing Giants
David Tallerman is the author of Giant Thief and its sequel, Crown Thief, from Angry Robot Books, as well as numerous short stories, comics and film scripts, covering a wide variety of subjects and themes. David was kind enough to answer a few questions about his writing and work.
Paul Weimer: You’ve been writing professionally for a few years, and Giant Thief is your first novel. What drew you to writing fantasy?
David Tallerman: The obvious reason is that I love Fantasy as a genre, both to read and to write; but since I feel the same way about Science-Fiction and Horror, and since I’ve written short fiction in all three genres, I guess that’s not really an answer.
Partly it was just that my protagonist Easie Damasco’s story was the first I came up with that I really felt could work at novel length. There was something in the idea of a thief stealing a giant that, right from the beginning, felt as though it could grow and perhaps be the seed of an entire book.
Asides from that, I suppose I was conscious of how much I had to learn as a debut novelist, and felt like Fantasy would put fewer restrictions on me. What I didn’t know or couldn’t figure out through research, I could make up; where I ran into plot difficulties I could magic my way out. Also, I was very aware at the time of the clichés of the genre, and I’d got it into my head that there was more scope to come at Fantasy from an angle that maybe hadn’t been seen before.
As I went through the process of rewriting and refining Giant Thief, and at the same time broadening my knowledge of Fantasy fiction, I came to appreciate how wrong I was on both counts. I realised Fantasy isn’t an easy option; that the logic of a world you’ve invented has to be every bit as well thought out as that of a novel set in the real world, maybe sometimes more so. And there have been superb writers redefining the genre ever since it began; while it’s certainly not true to say there’s nowhere new left to take Fantasy, once I started to really dig into the genre, I came to appreciate just how varied and thrilling the best work that’s been produced in the field over the last century is – and how much great stuff is coming out right now.
Looking back at Giant Thief, though, I still feel like it’s distinctive in many ways … very fast-paced and fun, and perhaps more grounded than a lot of more epic Fantasy … and hopefully that excuses the slight arrogance and wrong-headedness I started out with all those years ago.
PW: Now that you have broken into novels, what is the experience of that like as compared to comics and stories? Was the process of writing a longer work different for you?
DT: Writing in any form has its peculiar difficulties, especially if you want to keep pushing yourself. But having written such a large amount of short fiction, the shift to novels was definitely a challenge. The first time around, the sheer scale and intricacy of, say, a hundred thousand words of story is very daunting. Getting all the pieces together, making sure that characters are consistent and believable, and things like pacing, keeping a reader entertained over such a long stretch … all of that is tough on a first try, especially when you’re used to wrapping everything up in a mere few pages.
As fond and proud as I am of Giant Thief, I think it’s with its sequel Crown Thief that I really started to appreciate the advantages of writing in a longer form, and to play to its strengths. The things I got right the first time more by luck than judgement were a lot more deliberate on my second try; things that were challenges started to look more like opportunities. It’s exciting to realise how much you develop a character in the space of a novel, or the extent to which you can seed plot threads through chapter after chapter. It was great fun, for example, knowing that I had a third book to play with and being able to place little clues towards Prince Thief in Crown Thief. Once it clicked that what I basically had another 200’000 words in which to develop the story I’d started in Giant Thief… well, that’s a thrilling opportunity as a writer.
PW: Crown Thief, the second novel in the Easie Damasco novels is now out. Second novels are tricky beasts. How did that compare to writing Giant Thief? Is there more to Easie’s story waiting to be told?
DT: Other than the above, the biggest difference was the pace at which I had to write it. My deadline from Crown Thief was about a year, compared with the three and a half or so it took me to come up with Giant Thief. That meant being much more disciplined and much more organised – which in turn, I think, led to a much tighter book. Because I’d had to present a synopsis to Angry Robot before I even started, I had a clearer, fuller handle on the plot from the very beginning. Similarly, I had most of the characters and much of the world already down, I knew Easie’s voice, and that meant I could concentrate a lot more on telling the story I wanted to tell. So if it was a far tougher experience thanks to the timescale, it was a simpler and more satisfying experience in many other ways.
Easie’s story continues in Prince Thief, which I’m currently in the process of redrafting and is due out in the second half of 2013. The deal with Angry Robot is for three books, and Prince Thief will definitively wrap up the story that began in Giant Thief. Then again, Easie’s a pleasure to write and I have an idea for at least one more novel, so who’s to say if we might not see more of him down the line? We’ve been hanging out for so long now that it’s hard to imagine my life without him.
PW: Are there subgenres of fantasy and science fiction that you haven’t written yet but want to dip your pen in?
DT: Always! I’ve never met a subgenre I didn’t want to try my hand at; a lot of the pleasure I take from writing comes from trying new things and setting myself new challenges. Just thinking about the novel concepts I’ve been working up for once Prince Thief is finished … there’s a post-apocalyptic superhero novel, a near-future Crime/Horror hybrid, a second world Sci-Fantasy, a historical Science-Fiction story set in the early twentieth century. I’ve had an idea for a hard military SF novel kicking about for a few years that I’d definitely like to write one day.
Having said that, though, and reading over that list, I suppose I’m getting less concerned with questions of genre and subgenre as I go. More and more, I just look at trying to tell the story I want to tell in the best way I can tell it, and don’t worry so much if that means tripping over a few genre boundaries.
DT: I’d say it’s all those things. Because writing isn’t nine till five, you get so little downtime, and I’ve found that occasionally it’s a good and necessary thing to force myself away from the keyboard. It’s terrific sometimes just to be outside and away from civilisation; and I think that since I’ve really make writing my life, whatever’s good for me can also lead me to new ideas and new approaches.
I started hiking seriously when I lived for a while in the Cotswolds, and kept it up when I moved back to Yorkshire; there’s a lot of absolutely stunning countryside in both. Any environment is fine, but if I had to settle on just one, I’d go for the North Yorkshire moors. They’re a very barren, very beautiful place.
PW: Where can our readers learn more about you?
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