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Interview de Gary Kilworth VO

Interview de Gary Kilworth VO

ActuSF : Your first novel was published when you were 35 years old. Did you write before that, and what made that this novel was published ?
Gary Kilworth : I have written stories since I was 12 years of age, winning a school competition in 1953. In Solitary was not the first novel I ever wrote – it was the 4th. The other three novels never found a publication. I think what I did with this one was to try to find a new approach to an old theme – alien invasion of Earth – but I told it from the viewpoint of a man who had been raised by the aliens and therefore (like baby ducklings following the first moving creature they see and calling it mother) sympathetic towards them. My hero does not see his fratranisation as traitorous, but as a natural thing to do.

ActuSF : Many of your novels are mostly fantasy books, in particular of course The Navigator Kings. For which reason ? What do you like in this kind of writing ?
Gary Kilworth : I love stories rooted in folk lore and myth: stories which might have happened, but probably did not. Nathaniel Hawthorne, that wonderful American short story writer, called them 'Twice-Told' tales, meaning stories that have been told and re-told. But with each re-telling they change, sometimes slightly, sometimes drastically. I also enjoy inventing strange creatures myself. With The Navigator Kings, I wove my own very long tale out of some short Polynesian myths, altering (to the consternation of some) the Earth's geography to make the story more interesting. The Navigator Kings is probably my most ambitious work and a trilogy which I put my heart and soul into. I thoroughly enjoyed every step of my discoveries of the Polynesians, and the subsequent revelations which came out of them.

ActuSF : Same question for your historical novels ? You seem very interested by the colonial wars of the 19th century, if I am not mistaken. For which reasons ?
Gary Kilworth : Actually most of my historical war novels cover the Crimean War, which was not a colonial war. It was a war in which the French, Turks and British allies were intent on stopping Russian expansion into Europe. However, I did go on to write three more novels with the same character, which took me into India and New Zealand, simply by the date. The Crimean War finished in 1856 and the Indian Mutiny began in 1857, so it was a natural progression for my hero. I enjoy researching history and was in the military myself for nearly 20 years, but more recently – ten years ago – I became a Quaker, and Quakers are pacifists. War books do not promote war, they tell of its horrors. They are about men and women in adversity. It is the human condition under stress that interests me. History is again the stuff of legend – true or not true ? We don't really know, we can only surmise.

ActuSF : You write novels for adults and also novels for the teenagers. How do you choose to who you address the stories that you imagine ?
Gary Kilworth : I don't write my young adult books solely for kids, I write books which both adults and kids might enjoy. When I was a kid I lived in Aden (now South Yemen) and read books by Rudyard Kipling, H.G. Wells and Jules Verne. Were they written for adults or children ? Both groups read them, both groups enjoyed them. I certainly loved Kim, War of the Worlds and 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea both as a kid and as an adult. But marketing is everything these days and the publishers want a target, so they choose what seems to be the appropriate goal for a book.

ActuSF : You received several prices, in particular a World Fantasy Award and a British Science Fiction award. Did that change something for you ? Was that an additional pressure for the stories you imagined thereafter ?
Gary Kilworth : It was delightful. I wish I could win more, simply because they make me feel good and tell me people like my books. Too many of my novels have gone into a void and are never heard of again. No, I don't think I felt any pressure. I can only write what I write. I believe my best form is the short story, but there is hardly any market for shorts these days. The short story writer I most admire in the whole world is Julio Cortazar, a brilliant man, now sadly gone.

ActuSF : How were born The Navigator Kings. How the idea was born ?
Gary Kilworth : I can tell you exactly when, how and where the idea was born. 1975 in a dentist's waiting room. I was reading the National Geographic (Vol 146, No. 6) December 1974 Issue which contained three articles on Polynesian myths and navigation. It blew my mind. Over the next twenty years I kept notes, read books, gathered information and visited Polynesian Islands, until I felt ready to start on the trilogy.

ActuSF : Why did you choose a world which is much like Polynesia ? What attracted you in these people ?
Gary Kilworth : What attracted me to these people was their courage and enterprise. We in Europe spent hundreds of years hugging coastlines with our vessels, while the Polynesians set out across thousands of miles of open ocean with no charts or instruments, not knowing where they were going to end up, taking with them their families and animals, their plants and their gods, all they owned. How courageous was that ? Who could not admire such enterprise ?

ActuSF : Did you need much documentation ? How do you work ?
Gary Kilworth : I need maps, old and new. I need books, old and new. I pin pictures up around my study of canoes, people, islands. I read extensively before I begin the novel, and dip and dive into things once I'm actually writing. I contact museums and Ministers of Culture, and had the great fortune to meet an ancestor of one of the original migrants who sailed from Raiatea to Aitutaki – a man named Papa Tunui – whose grandfather had passed down his account of the voyage, having learned it from his grandfather, 'The Speaker for the 7th Canoe', the man whose job it was to record history by memory. While I am writing, the novel becomes a living thing for me. It's almost as if I'm in spiritual contact with those ancient mariners and can reach out and touch them.

ActuSF : Three volumes were published in France. What can you tell us concerting continuation ? What do you hold for us ?
Gary Kilworth : I am at this moment writing a novel set in the Maori Wars in New Zealand, which touches on those old legends and myths, though of course is straight history, not fantasy. I would dearly love to revisit Polynesia in my future writing, if I could find a publisher willing to publish the work.

ActuSF : What are your projects ? on what do you work for this moment ?
Gary Kilworth : My projects for the next year are Kiwi Wars (Published by Severn House) spoken of above, with my character Captain Fancy Jack Crossman in New Zealand. I have just completed a time travel novel set in 1903 Prague, where three kids meet Franz Kafka (Orbit Books) and am completing a collection of short stories written during my time in Hong Kong called Tales from the Fragrant Harbour which is split into two halves – non-supernatural stories and supernatural stories (to be published by PS Publishing).

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