My own personal recollections are many. Where should I begin?
First, I want to send a HUGE thank you to Michael and Leonia Carroll,they are way to humble for their own good but they deserve a huge
Who was there from Paradys? Well, there was Chrissie from Australia,
Jim Fields from Oaklahoma, USA, Patty Ann Trumfio from Connecticut,
USA, and me from Rhode Island, USA.
Chris Hart from Australia is now the world's biggest official
unofficial Tanith Lee fan. Chris won the manuscript that was
auctioned off at the Convention. His top
bid was 900 Euro (!!!!) -- Leonia bid up to 800 Euro and Michael who
was doing the proxy bidding for Chris finished the bidding at 810
Euro. Chris is a madman and I look forward to buying him several
rounds when I finally make it to Australia!!! He could have come to the Con for what he spent on the
manuscript!!!! Bill Pearson, unfortunately, could not make the Convention - he was missed.
Now, what can I say about the guest of honor, Tanith Lee? What can I
not say? She was not only gracious and generous and very interested
in why everyone showed up, but she was so humble about her writing
and about her skills. I don't want to give away a veneer at all, but
she is very motherly, even. We were all thrilled to meet her. She was
gracious enough to be on several panels, one on making a living by
writing, and my favorite one called "Unhappily Never After", all
about faery tales.
The day I met Leonia she bought me lunch and asked me a favor, some
favor ... I was asked to conduct the guest of honor interview. I was
really, really nervous about this. I wrote out a few questions, and
with the help of Jim Fields and a lovely guy named Dennis, there were
a few more questions. The minute I sat down at the table, all my
nervousness went away and the questions just flowed. This is to
Tanith's credit, and she put me immediately at ease.
What can I say about John Kaiine? Well, firstly, John's artwork
is stunning. Had I not been manning a panel myself on the sunday, I
would have gotten to see his photoshop exhibition, which was
wonderful from all reports. As for his humor, well, his questionable sense
in humor is, for the most part, my questionable sense of humor. So we got along equally as well.
I even managed to shock him a few times, woo-hoo!!
Juliette from Egerton is a wonderful person, with an equally mashed-up sense
of humor (thank goodness). We spent a considerable amount of time together during the Convention.
It was all I could do to get in a round of drinks every now and again. Tanith and John and
Juliette are some of the nicest people you would ever want to meet.
They would not let me pay for a single drink
or dinner while I was in their company - and that was nearly all
weekend - it was maddening. Michael and Leonia did the same thing. I feel very humbled
about this and I look forward to getting many dinners and drinks one day to
make up for all of their kindnesses.
John, Tanith, Julette: I look forward to again demonstrating the correct way to eat an oyster,
something I never imagined I would ever have to do. It seems as if you can never have enough oysters ;-)
So, all in all, it was a joy to meet everyone - guests and memebrs
of Paradys and convention goers.
Michael and Leonia, a huge hug to the both of you!! You did an
incredible job, and don't be humble about this.
|Written With Water: A Fan's Perspective of the Writing Of Tanith Lee
Maynooth College in the reflection of the Rock Garden Pool
I stayed at the College in Maynooth - the grounds and the loding was lovely.
Considering the College used to be a Catholic Seminary, the very pagan rock garden with it's standing stones seemed out of place.
I caught the reflection of one of the college buildings in the pool of the Rock Garden.
Below are the scans of the article on the work of Tanith Lee I was asked to write for the Octocon Program.
I was honored when Mike Carroll asked me to write this - and quite pleased by the way it turned out.
This is but a low quality scan of the article. Official copies of the program book are still available.
Written With Water - Pages 1-2
Written With Water - Pages 3-4
|Transcription of Guest of Honor Interview
I am looking for a photo or two of the interview, so please email me and scan a few if you have some good ones.
Octocon 2004 Guest of Honour Interview: Tanith Lee
Saturday 16 October 2004, Glenroyal Hotel, Maynooth, Co Kildare, Ireland
Note: This interview with Tanith was conducted by Allison Rich – webmistress of www.daughterofthenight.com –
and Octocon committee member Leonia Carroll.
Transcribed by Leonia, and edited by Mike Carroll.
Allison: Hello everyone, good morning. Tell me if you can’t hear me, because I tend to start getting quiet!
This is going to be very fun! I have a couple of questions and I will try not to take up the whole time because
there are many of you here who want to ask questions, so my first question is: I believe you began writing at either age nine or age eleven?
Tanith: Age nine. I couldn’t read... Can you hear me by the way? So tell me if I get too quiet!
I start swallowing words... I couldn’t read until I was nearly eight; I had something which is called dyslexia which now people recognise.
I don’t have it badly and I didn’t have it badly enough. Particularly then as it would never be recognised, which is basically why most
people thought I was an idiot!
Well, I was, but that wasn’t why I couldn’t read! My father panicked and taught me how to read very very quickly. And once I could read,
a year later – when I was nine – I started to write. So basically I started to read everybody and started ripping everybody off instantly!
Allison: Do you remember the title of your first story, the plot, and have any of the elements of that story worked their way into anything modern?
Tanith: I hope not! It was sweet, I do remember.... It should be embarrassing! I was nine, I was another person! It was called
The Story of Twinklepaws.
It was about a cat. That cat was abducted and made to perform in a circus. It was a white cat with blue eyes,
and it became the best performer and the highest paid and everybody in the circus got jealous and they gave it enormous amounts of money to go back home,
so it had a happy ending. I suppose thinking about it elements of that first story do go into things, don’t they, unconsciously?
I have to tell you a story I wrote before
I could write! I dictated it to a long-suffering aunt, and I don’t remember the title,
basically it was about... It was a take on the wolf, the wicked wolf, but the wolf was always after the ducks, and I’m afraid the ducks tricked it,
the wolf fell into the pond and the ducks – this was a kid of seven! – the ducks pecked it to death!
Tanith: I love wolves, I love ducks, but it was justice
Allison: Do you have any characters in any of your stories that you feel you know better than others?
And who might some of those favourite characters be?
Tanith: I've got so
many! I've got so
many... And they often take me by surprise. I don’t know if anyone here has read the first Lionwolf
book, but there is a character in that... He was one of those characters, and mind you this often happens to me – you think they’ll be
there for half a paragraph or a couple of pages, they’re really just in there because they’re part of something that’s going to happen,
this guy came in, he was basically an ignorant swine who was part of what was – or appeared to be – a very primitive society – a very angry
male culture and quite prepared to carry on and do the most terrible things. His name was Guri – and is
Guri. This guy came in, and it was as
though I knew him, he was like a long-lost relative that I cared about. I became fascinated by him. He got killed in the first, I think,
twenty pages, but in these books that doesn’t stop anything! Once they’re dead they have a much more interesting life! So he goes on through
the three books, and I loved him so much that he actually goes in the second book through a progress to get rid of all the karmic rubbish and
come back something decent. He’s a very good example...
I have so many characters that I love. I’d literally have to think of every book... I can tell you a couple of ones that I found a pain in the neck!
, the heroine. Now, I wanted to do a take on the dark house, and a woman, and it was faintly Jane Eyre
, with that sort of Bronteish...
The woman with these strange, macabre people in the dark manor, it was a take on that. She was called Racheala – she’s still
because there’s supposed to be a fourth book so she’s still extant somewhere in the back of my brain... She wouldn’t tell me a thing! It was like –
I described this in an interview recently, for Scheherazade
, the magazine – it was like taking somebody out to lunch to interview them.
She wouldn’t tell me a thing! She wouldn’t order any food, she might have a glass of wine, or maybe a glass of water, but you couldn’t find out a
thing about her! She drove me mad! And I hated every second of it, but I kept going because I liked other characters, I got very interested in other
people in the book. Finally – thank goodness – something happened that she came through and I had her, and it was such a relief to get to know her.
The other book which I felt very difficult, and this was partly do so with something not to do with characters, is the children’s book –
I have to say Young Adult book, and it’s just the same as an adult book, really – Piratica
. The heroine, Art, is the daughter of a female pirate,
a very successful female pirate, and when I started with her, I was having trouble with the book anyway, for a number of reasons, but she also was
very enigmatic, partly because she’d forgotten who she was. In the first couple of lines of the book she remembers what she’s forgotten for a number of
years, she – for that reason, not because she was trying to be difficult – was very, very hard to get close to.
But I have to say that probably the characters that are my favourites, just like my favourite books, are always the ones in the group of books
that I’m doing at the moment. But I still have loves from the past, and there are so many, I can’t list them... Oh, I could, but we’d be here till
Allison: There seems to be a certain fascination with ancient cultures, either near-eastern, middle-eastern, some of them have what I imagine
to be ancient cultures but they’re not historically ancient cultures, they’re perceived
ancient cultures. Do you have a certain historical
period for which you have a great fascination or a great love?
Tanith: Probably the guts of about thirty, and that’s possibly selling it short! I mean, I am fascinated by the ancient world anyway;
I love ancient Rome, the ancient Celtic, I love the ancient middle-eastern, I love the ancient Greeks. I just have read a lot about them,
I’ve thought a lot about them, and I’ve dreamed a lot about them, because my dreams are usually very vivid and I remember an awful lot, and
I’ve got great chunks from my dreams that I’ve used in books. And because so much has gone in, and because I’m able to write fantasy, I’m
to write fantasy – because when I started to write fantasy I didn’t know you were allowed to do this, I was just doing it,
I finally read some fantasy books and realised this is what I was doing – but because I do it like that, I can use everything I feel I want to use,
and I can do research if I need to or feel I should, but I don’t have to stick to the laws which we think we have laid down here, on what ancient
cultures were doing, so I can really use everything I want, and everything I want to bring in, but that’s it.
Most probably why it has the feeling, as you say, it’s ancient but it’s not. But you see all
cultures are ancient. If we continue,
in two hundred years this is going to be an old culture, and if we still continue, in five hundred years, this will be an ancient...
We will be primitive savages, with our silly little computers which can’t clean the house for us yet, and all these terrible diseases,
and all these silly things we have to do, we have to work, and we run out of money and the government won’t give us anything and won’t help
us in any way, in the future, if it goes on, I would imagine it’s going to be better, if it goes on. And why shouldn’t it? We’ve got this far,
against great odds. So we will be an ancient culture, so really we’re always living in ancient culture and it’s what I was sort of squeaking on
about earlier; basic human psychology is always the same, and that’s the culture where we belong.
Allison: That being said, do you believe in the theory of reincarnation? If so, who and where do you think you might have been before?
Tanith: We can’t
know. I am an agnostic, which means I do not know. I’m not an atheist, because I do not know if there is a God or
there isn’t. I am an agnostic, but basically what I really feel is that there is a God, but not probably in any form that any of us could possibly
think of. I do think that part of us – our best part, our higher selves – goes on forever, and has been going on forever. And I do think that if
there’s anything it’s reincarnation because it’s the only thing that would make any sense, I suppose, or to me, the only thing that would that
would make any sense. Now this may all be nonsense, I may get out, there may be nothing, and I’ll say, “Oh, right. That’s it, okay.”
But I think that this is what there is. I think we come back. Now previous lives, ho ho ho... I had obsessions with things from such an early age
that I am inclined to think that if my feelings are correct and there is something to reincarnation then what I’m remembering, what I’m drawn to,
is where I’ve lived. And I have these very strong connections. I mean I was quite a feminine child, of, what, twelve – ten or twelve – well,
twelve isn’t really a child, but even so, and I was obsessed by the Roman legions. I wanted to know everything about them. I wanted to know about
the armour, the equipment, what they did, and I had a feeling about them and I knew, and I knew
that slog – marching along with all the stuff on your
back, fighting, not being treated properly.
A film like Gladiator
– which is an excellent film – and I’m not just saying this because of Russell Crowe – but one of the reasons he’s so
wonderful, is because he’s wonderful as that guy, he’s wonderful as Maximus, he’s the sort of leader you would have prayed to have, and very
rarely got. He took care of his men, he didn’t stand back, he got in the front and looked after them. And when I saw that film I got this great
twang inside me. I fell for him because he was the leader; if I ever was a Roman centurion, and I suspect I was, or a soldier, several times,
so I felt that.
One of the very big ones, now I don’t tell anybody this, but there’s no reason you shouldn’t know now... Somebody told me that I had a life
in the French revolution. Now unlike all the other things I’d been drawn to in history, I have never been interested in the French revolution.
I had felt an absolute allergy
to the French revolution. When I was told this I sat on it for about four years. A number of things happened in my
life, which disrupted my life, because we all know real life always gets in the way of what you want to do. When I came out of that, I started
looking at the French revolution, and I found a particular character, a real person, and when I found him – and I’m afraid it was a him; because
as we reincarnate there’s no reason we should always be the same sex in this life as we are in previous lives – I thought, “You are such an idiot!”
I recognised his idiocy in me, but he has these wonderful qualities which I don’t have, and he was terrifically... he was a nervy, clever,
brilliant guy, and very committed, and he meant for the best and therefore, alas, caused a lot of trouble.
He was a very minor figure in the revolution, I have to say, but I was so intrigued because he knew all the really important people like
Robespierre and Danton, and then I found out things about his life. So I wrote a book about him, which is called The Gods are Thirsty
, now this
is probably one of the books, if any of you have tried to read it, I recommend it as a doorstop. It will keep your door open! Everything I’ve done
I’m sure is massively flawed, but I sort of feel I always do my best, that book is so flawed it’s ridiculous, but it’s got some of the most passion,
conviction, and intensity that I’ve ever had, for the very reason I’ve just outlined. So that I thought I was him. His name was Camille in the
anglicised version. And the strangest thing, and I will tell you this too – and it may all be nonsense, I realise this – but, when I was doing it
I believed it, and there was a picture of him, which is very uncommon, and I don’t have a copy of it, somebody else found it, he looks different
in every picture of him, now this is when I was writing this book when I was about thirty-four, thirty-five, which is just the age he died,
when he was thirty-four in fact, and this picture looks like he could have been my brother, the way I looked then. Very, very strange.
But maybe it’s not true, but it didn’t half give me
a lot of fun!
Allison: That being said, the two newest books that you have out, Fatal Women
, you are writing as
“Tanith Lee writing as Esther Garber”. Could you tell us a little bit about Esther Garber herself, her character, where she comes
from and most importantly how she is you?
Tanith: I feel I channel, I feel I take dictation, I feel something tells me and at the very best I really feel them clearly, and when
it’s not so good I haven’t quite caught what they’re saying. I mean they are probably pacing about and turn their backs and I miss a few words –
that’s what it feels like. It doesn’t feel like me
doing it. Now, Esther Garber – like all the characters I’ve written about, all the characters
I’ve written as – is not me. I mean, you say “as she is me” – she is not me, I actually rather admire her, she is much colder-hearted than me,
she is not nuts on animals which I am. I was quite shocked by some of the things she came out with about her intolerance for animals. I mean she
is one of those people, she would probably wouldn’t hurt them, but there is a dog and she says, “my sister she loves all animals, I would have
trodden on this thing like a cockroach,” she says, and I was horrified. But there you are, that is what they do, they are alive these things!
Whatever causes them and even if they come from in here [Tanith points to the back of her head], at the back, they’re allowed go their own way.
She is such a strong character that she completely... she had to be written as her, it couldn’t be me and the woman in the book was called
Esther Garber, her name had to be on there – she signs the books! I sign the book and she signs the book and I can’t always get her signature
right and she doesn’t like it! I’m not sure I admire her, I’m not sure I like her that much, I find her very uncomfortable. A friend of mine,
when I’d just written the books, read them and he said, “she’s a psychopath!”, because there is a moment in Thirty-Four when she says
“every time something happens I have to sit down and ask myself what I am supposed to feel.” This is not exactly how she puts it but this
is basically what she says, and he said that is classic psychopathic self-analysis.
So there we are, that is her, but what she actually is, I think, she’s probably ten years older than me which would make her in her sixties –
in her middle to late sixties. She is a European Jewess, and I use the word Jewess which is no longer favourable, because I know that she prefers it.
She doesn’t think of herself as Jewish or a Jew, she is a female Jew so therefore she is a Jewess, and that is her. She’s very clever.
She obviously had a father who was enormously rich and something dreadful happened, because this appears in everything she does, she is always
getting at this father, because I’ve written other things about her that haven’t been published yet about her. And her mother has always died
dramatically, and always differently! At the start of Thirty-Four
her mother dies by falling down a marble staircase, breaking both her ankles
and her neck (well that would do it!), in something else that has yet to be done, she describes how in her father’s very rich house, they are
all out on the terrace watching the sunset and some fool was taking pot-shots at the birds (which doesn’t bother her in the least),
the shot hits – again it’s marble, which is interesting – a marble statue and ricochets and goes straight through the mother’s head.
At the cocktail hour! So that’s her! She fascinates me, she tells me when she is ready, she came at a time when I wasn’t doing very much
else and she just literally was there. I actually dreamt I saw something that just had the number “34” on it so naturally I rushed out and
did the lottery! And I got nothing, so I thought I must do something else with this and she came from that!
Allison: There are some great sweeping constructs in your writing, one of them is of course sex, the other is death.
But there is also quite a lot of gender-bending, either within the same lifetime or as a transformative experience;
men being reborn as women, women being reborn as men. It is something which may make some people uncomfortable but it does
happen a lot in your writing and I was wondering if you could shed some light on your motivation.
Tanith: Now, first of all, please don’t think this is incredibly arrogant and BS, but my job ain’t
to make people feel comfortable.
I’m afraid I don’t even think it is “my job” – I just like what I do and I’m lucky enough that I can do it. And with all its faults
and all its mistakes – and believe me if you’ve read them you will know that there are plenty – it is lovely for me, I just enjoy it.
This is one of the reasons I am so pleased if other people actually like it and have got something from it.
The world is a big place and we are all everything and if we do
come back – if we do re-incarnate, not to keep going on about that! –
then we have been lots of different sexes, not being men all the time or not being women all the time; we’ve been everything, and every
kind of permutation. To me there are no barriers with that, really there aren’t. There are certain areas of violence that I am cautious
with – at least in young adult books, probably even in adult books, there are things you do, certain ways to say things, there are certain
things I would not describe in certain ways – but sex and gender, to me, it is so fascinating I mean what a wonderful astonishing weird
thing it is. Aside from its biological purpose, and what wonderful weird amazing things we all are – aside from our biological purpose,
and we are much
aside from our biological purpose, we have a much bigger purpose then that. So, people fascinate me, I’m crazy on people,
they are just an endless source of joy and horror and divine inspiration! As this is part of people; I explore. It is just one other facet.
The other thing is that I do think that we all carry within us – not necessarily sexually – the other
. Hence, the idea of anima
The woman has a male element inside her and the man has a female element inside him and the most balanced people are the ones that have
that centred; it’s there, it’s up-front, they are not afraid of it. There is no reason to be afraid of it, it is a gift. How are we ever
going to understand each other, ourselves or anybody if we don’t recognise that we all have everything potentially in us –
the sexes, because there are as you know more than two?
Allison: In terms of being a writer, one of the things I most enjoy about your work is that you are unclassifiable, in many ways, which I adore.
Allison: You have written things that can fit into a horror genre, a fantasy genre, a dark-fantasy genre, and a fiction genre.
Two of my favourite works are short stories that are starkly realistic, and very psychologically motivated. One of them is “Nicolas”
and the other is “Simon’s Wife”. I’d like to know how they came to you.
Tanith: Right, well I’ll take “Nicolas” first. If you haven’t read it I’m going to ruin it for you, because I have to, to explain.
It doesn’t matter because by the time you do
read it you’ll have forgotten! It is very short, told from the point of view of a woman,
who appears to have an abusive, unappreciative, horrible, ghastly male lover, who she found sitting on the stairs on the first day in her
new flat, took in, and he sleeps with her and she feeds him and he is always out and he ruins her work; she is an artist, and he destroys
her work – it is dreadful. At the very end he has been gone and she is so worried about him and you keep thinking just be thankful he’s gone,
this horrible man, perhaps he’ll never come back. And he comes back and she lets him in, and she feeds him, and then she is lying in bed
and he comes to bed with her and the last lines – I can’t remember exactly – basically you hear his purring! He is a cat!
And this sprang from having been victimised, and terrorised and having my life ruined and filled with delight by cats really from quite
an early age. It was very simple, and I just thought this is what they are like. It was a particular cat called Barry. Barry was a large cat –
and he was large; he was a little bit overweight, but he was also huge
. He was black and white – magnificent – he had long, long hair...
He wasn’t a long hair but he had long short hair! He really adored my father, and my father said this cat is a male chauvinist pig!
My father subsequently became ill and I had to look after this cat and I didn’t mind because I loved him, but he treated me so badly!
In my house he treated everybody okay, he was polite to my mother, he adored my father; he bit me! If anyone has read the sequel
to the Birthgrave
– Quest for the White Witch
– there is a city in that called Barribithne, and that comes from my constant
cry of “Barry Bit Me”! But he was a doll, but he gave me the idea directly.
On “Simon’s Wife”... this is something – I don’t want to say too much, because I don’t want to give too much away – but this is something
I heard about. It involves a woman staying with her lover in his flat that he shares with his partner, his female partner who is away.
Certain things happen, certain very alarming things happen – I won’t
give all that away – but it did actually came from something I was
told about. I have to say that what I was told about, these alarming things didn’t happen but went through my friend’s mind. And yes,
I did clear it with her and she said she certainly didn’t care – partly because the guy was a beast, so if I wanted to use the story it
was fine with her.
Allison: One of the things that I find is a constant throughout Tanith Lee’s writing is even when there is no music, the prose is very
musical and it always reminds me of something like Prokofiev or Scriabin, and I’m wondering if you feel that that’s an accurate assessment
and what kind of musical genres do you like, and do you feel that they permeate or have some kind of influence on the way you write?
Tanith: Well they certainly do! I do feel amazingly complimented that you said that. I am sort of slightly overwhelmed by that –
I do love that! One of my favourite classical composers is
Prokofiev. When I was about fifteen-ish, possibly a bit younger, I’d heard
a lot of classical music and I’d loved it but it was gramophones and records in those days, good old vinyl. One day, and this wasn’t
actually Prokofiev it was in fact Shostakovich... my main favourites are Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Rachmaninoff and Handel. This particular
one was Shostakovich’s fifth piano concerto. I had never heard it before. It was put on and when I heard this music it was as though I had
been waiting for it, all my musical-hearing life. I was so thrilled by it! And Prokofiev was very much the same, the way they do their music...
It does things that you can’t do and they do them! And it produces feelings and cerebral reactions, internal reactions in the psyche that you
can’t produce and they do it – or they do it to me! Very great geniuses.
An awful lot of music has been very inspirational to me in my writing and it still is. I also like, I don’t know what it is called now,
I like people like The Sisters of Mercy, XTC and Elvis Costello and at his best he has just produced the most wonderful – I don’t know if
anyone has heard it – Midsummer Night’s Dream
ballet music! It’s sensational! It’s very accessible. I mean it is not difficult music
but it is certainly not un-profound! It’s excellent, very tuneful. You hear it once and you come away with the tunes going round and round in
your head. So it is a great inspiration to me, and often if I’m writing a book – even a short story – I’ll have one particular work that I will
use mercilessly and poor John hears this noise going on – well, it’s not a noise, well it is a noise but a beautiful noise – but he will hear
it going on and on and on. I don’t play when I’m writing but I play it between.
Allison: I have a couple of little frivolous questions: The first one is do you enjoy travelling and if you had a year to travel
uninterrupted in which money was no object where would you go?
Tanith: I do like travelling. I sometimes don’t let myself do what I like to do because I feel I must be working,
because I’m behind at the moment on about sixteen deadlines and everybody has their axes out, and I shouldn’t really be here,
I should be at home like this.
What a nice question! I’d want to come back to Ireland, because I have Irish blood, and I would really love to come back here
and go and look and see where my lot came from, which is County Clare. I would love to go to Russia, although I would be a bit scared.
I would love to go back to America, but I am terrified at the idea of having to be fingerprinted, I think that would put me off!
Not of course, because I’ve done anything wrong, I have nothing to hide – I don’t unfortunately, it is rather embarrassing! –
but that worries me. I did love America, I have been there. I would love to go to France, there are parts of France that I haven’t been to.
I don’t think a year would be long enough – could I have three?
Allison: If you could have dinner with two people, living, dead, historical, even fictional if you like, who would they be and why?
Tanith: It’s tempting! Just two? [long pause] One I would really like to have dinner with is a woman and I think I would be so
much in awe and I think that I would also just find it impossible to communicate with her but as long as she would talk it would be
fine is Elizabeth Bowen who is one of the greatest – for my money – novelists of the last century. So it would be her, and...
we would have to watch the food but it would be Cesare Borgia! I’ve had a thing about him since I was that high!
Allison: One of the reasons I like Tanith Lee’s writing so much is that it is to me unclassifiable. I have been reading and
collecting since 1986, and people always ask me to explain her writing; “What kind of things does she write?” And I would say
that she writes well, she writes good books. “No, I mean what kind
of books does she write?” And I find that a very frustrating question;
I have no use for boxes! My question is because people tend to like boxes, do you think that this has hindered or made any difference to
you as a professional writer?
Tanith: Well, to me as a writer, whether a professional or whatever, it never made any difference to me, it is irrelevant!
Unfortunately, and I hate it as well, and I didn’t even think about it but I hate it now because I have been ghettoised.
I’ve been told “No, we like this book very much but we are not going to take it; you are not known for writing this kind of thing”
I’ve seen it happen to other people. That’s when it becomes frustrating and ridiculous. A book should be judged on whether the book works,
not whether it is going to sell a million copies, but whether it has got something! And individual tastes... Not every editor is going to
like every single thing, and you have to go to different people sometimes. I mean for example the first book I ever did, I mean the
first published book, Birthgrave, it went to about, goodness, I don’t know how many – I’d say certainly twenty publishers – over here
and it went to America by fluke!
I don’t know how many of you have read what Allison has written about me, but she said publishers have to be adventurous to take
this woman on! It went to DAW, and thank goodness they were one of the most adventurous houses then going. And they did take it on
and they launched me. But to me, it doesn’t make any difference whatsoever, it has no bearing on me and people say “you cross genres every time”
and I haven’t done it to be clever or even to stick the middle finger up at all the ghettoes; I just do it! It is what you do, writing
is writing, books are books, and life is life!
Allison: I have two more questions; we all know that Tanith Lee is a writer but she is also an artist. If you have ever read
Red as Blood
there are some works in there that accompany the text. Do you ever feel that you would be able to combine your art
and your writing again?
Tanith: I’m a sort of bluffy artist! I was never that good. And I certainly wasn’t well trained! Although I did manage to spend
a year at art college where they taught me nothing but I had a very good time! And I did a lot of work on my own account. I did evolve
a style which I think, although it is partly a bluff, is interesting because it seems to me it is individual and I can see it more now
that I have stopped. Unfortunately, when I got to a certain age, I began to be plagued by visual migraines, and I found that the artwork
that I liked doing, I could no longer do, because the moment I started they would start, so I had to leave it. So it’s possible that I may
be able to go back to that sometime, but I don’t know when. And of course it has been a long time, so although I would love to combine the two,
I think it would be a bit of a long shot. It may be like riding a bicycle and I would start doing it and it would come back, but I may find
that I can’t, but then again I may evolve a different style.
I am fascinated by it, I used to love it, I used to find it so relaxing. And also very helpful if I was stuck on a book, because I would
start painting or drawing something to do with the book and it would just come. I mean, I was once stuck and it wasn’t that I was in the
middle of anything, I knew that I wanted to write something, it was a desperate urge, like being starving hungry and you knew the food
was there and you couldn’t get at it, so instead I started a painting. And I was painting stained glass windows with figures in them.
The painting remained unfinished but I started to write Red as Blood, and that was why; because of the painting.
Allison: My final question is, we have about forty years of writing now, and do you feel that your writing has changed over forty years
and do you think your literary perspective has changed?
Tanith: I don’t think that my literary perspective has changed. Because I don’t know in a way – it sounds lovely but I’m not really
literary in that sense – I write, and they all have different voices and they all have different styles, but I would jolly well hope
changed! I mean I would hope I’ve matured. I really want to live to be about one hundred and ninety-eight, because I think
if I could do that, by the time I was about one hundred and ninety-seven I’d be sort of getting where I’d like to be.
Believe me I’m not being modest here, I like my writing, I think I’m good, with all the flaws, I think I’m good and I know I do my best
and I think highly of what I do and I love it. But, there is such a way to go and there is such a way you could go. I doubt it I’ll get
to one hundred and ninety-eight but I hope I keep learning and I hope I keep getting at least some of it better. I’m having a better
perspective on people and life and things. As to style, well, I have a kind of feeling that I could probably produce something eventually
where the style comes second to the interior thought and I’ll have hit the nail on the head. I’ll probably only do it once, I’ll have hit
that nail so hard on the head it won’t even matter how I’ve written it and I will find it very interesting because I love
I am madly in love with it, so that would be something to aim for! Maybe when I’m one hundred and ninety!
Allison: Thank you very much!
Tanith: Thank you very much!
Leonia: Now we’d like to open the floor, if anybody has any questions?
Tanith: I’ve stunned them!
Question: When you are taking dictation, have you ever taken dictation from somebody who is completely evil and then wake up and think, “My God!”?
Tanith: I’ve taken dictation from people that I’ve been horrified what I’ve put down, yes. People who are completely evil are lovely
to write about! But I don’t think I’ve ever done one first-person, because when you do them first-person it is like acting a role and
I think probably if you have somebody really evil and you were doing it first-person – like an actor would – you wouldn’t think you were
being evil! You would think they weren’t being evil, you would think “There is a reason for this, I can see why they are doing it”.
There is a character I wrote about in one of the sequels to The Stormlord
, and he was a really nasty piece of work, but he was very
charismatic, and he popped up first-person but I found him fascinating because he was clever, he was an intriguer, and in the end he
comes very badly unstuck, dies rather unpleasantly. It changes. If they are human there is always going to be a reason for that, even though
they would probably be better to be killed, you still can’t help thinking that without certain things happening to you, you wouldn’t be like this.
No, I look forward to that, that waking up and going “Uuuggh!”
Leonia: You have a mainstream detective novel coming out – although I know we don’t like using labels! Can you tell us anything about
it without giving too much away?
Tanith: I don’t know why but I always like reading detective stories, particularly good ones by people like Ruth Rendall and P.D. James.
This thing just sort of arrived! I had the basic idea – and usually I don’t have the basic idea I start with the characters or just a sort
of image or something, but I had the basic idea of what this thing could be, and I started writing it. I actually wrote it in just over two
weeks and it is a huge thing, another doorstop! It is coming out from Egerton House and it is coming out probably next month or just the month
after. I love it actually! I’ve never done anything like it, not exactly like it, ever.
What to tell you...? It’s sort of contemporary; it’s set in the 1990s, on the Sussex Weald, which you may know is where the Norman conquest
took place, the battle of Hastings – which was really the battle of Senlac – and it involves a kind of connection with that past but it is
not an historical novel... A very nasty guy is driving back to his much-abused partner and something happens which causes his car to go into
a ditch. He gets out, as you would, very shaken and wanders off and finds this most peculiar house, it is almost like those horrible fairy
stories, a gingerbread house gone wrong. It has white carpets, it’s so clean it’s unbelieveable, there doesn’t appear to be anybody there,
but a peculiar horrifying noise going through the house, a metallic screaming that goes on and on and on. He wanders in, and because he’s a
prick he pockets something, he does a couple of things, he wonders out and goes away. We then lose him, and so does everybody else; he vanishes.
And this is where it starts, and the book really deals with what’s happened to him, what is going to happen to his partner, his partner’s
apparent lover, his
apparent lover, various other people involved and who the people are in this bizarre house.
This house dominates the book. It’s not an evil house but, my goodness, it has some dreadful things that came through hundreds of years before –
and a little bit closer – and I think that is all I can probably tell you, but it’s fun! And I hope it’s a page turner. It was given to an
agent originally, who loved it and said proudly “I gave it to my toughest reader, she hates everything!” This woman sent me a
seven-page e-mail – seven-page fax in those days, because this was back in the nineties – and she made a few little suggestions which were
rather good. She said, “I loved it, it’s wonderful, it’s unique, I’ve never read anything like it, I stayed up all night to find out what
had happened” – and I thought “what a compliment!” This book, it went to so many publishers and they were all saying, this is wonderful,
what an excellent book, well done, not one for us! But now it is coming out, so you must judge for yourselves! It is called
Death of the Day
– not soup of the day – Death of the Day
Leonia: The Silver Metal Lover
was the first one of your books that I ever read. It made a huge impact on me,
and on everyone on the Paradys mailing list – the Paradys mailing list is a mailing list for fans of Tanith Lee and her works –
there was a lot of talk about the movie rights being sold and who people would like to see playing the different characters.
I was wondering if you had any thoughts on who you would like to see in the roles or if indeed you had people in mind when you were
writing the characters initially?
Tanith: I didn’t have any film stars in mind! When they bought the film rights which was all very very exciting, because they
hung about for around six years, but they kept renewing the option. I have to tell you, a name that was mooted – he may be a bit
old now, but I wouldn’t care – was Johnny Depp. And I think he would be amazing, but we heard this on the grapevine because they don’t
tell us anything. All we hear from is the producer who wanted to be part of it. [He] is Randall Kleiser, who has done some excellent
films like Blue Lagoon and Flight of the Navigator*, a wonderful guy. He loved the book and he did a screenplay, which he let me read,
and it was excellent. He’d only departed from the book where he’d felt it was absolutely necessary, it was very intelligently done,
needless to say. But neither he nor I know what they are doing and he has had the most amazing ideas which I am not going to go into,
because I have a feeling that when they finally did slam the money on the table they just seemed to have sat on it, this is Miramax,
and probably it will come out and I’ll be the last to know. And goodness knows if it will bear any relation to the original at all,
but it will be nice if the film does come out.
Leonia: And I believe you are working on the sequel?
Tanith: No – I’ve done the sequel! But as I have to warn everybody, if you liked The Silver Metal Lover
you are probably not going
to like the sequel. You have to read it in the interest of research. You have to think, “A few years ago, I had this exquisite strawberry
pavlova, and now they have given me this strange little wizened thing with a piece of cheese on it, which is going to taste bitter and strange,
but inside that will be little sparks, little moments, little unexpected things,” and in some strange way it will be linked to the original
first book. I couldn’t write that book again! That was a book, it was finished, it was done, the covers were closed and it was done,
it was there! For me it was one of the most “there” books I have ever done. I could see there could be a sequel, and the sequel I could
see would be the sequel I wrote. Now, here you have your warning, the first line of this book – which is told by the narratrix, who is not
Jane, but another girl – is “you’re not going to like me!” And this is the key signature to the book. But, it does have things in it that
the first book didn’t go near, it opens up a lot of passageways and the joke is that when you get to the last page, you – if you get that far! –
as I did, may say, “Ah, this
is where the sequel is going to be”, because it is writ large on the last couple of pages and I now would really
like to do this sequel, it’s extremely
interesting and that would be the sequel to The Silver Metal Lover, but I have a feeling that Bantam
very wisely are going to say to me “we don’t really think so, dear, there, there!” But never mind, it’s an interesting book.
Leonia: You have had a lot of publishers over the years, is there any that you have particularly loved working for, or is it more the editors?
Tanith: It is usually
the editors, but you do get some outfits where the publishers are the editors! Hodder, I mean I don’t have anything
to do with publishers but my editor there, Beverly Birch, is marvellous. My very first books, my children’s books... I was with Macmillan
and I never saw anything of the upper echelons, but my editors there were wonderful, amazing. Marnie Hodgkin, who retired some years after,
was probably exhausted from editing my books! She was lovely. And I have to say DAW, well Don was the editor, we didn’t always agree on his
editing but he did tend to leave my stuff pretty much alone, and I will never forget the fact that he took that chance on that book. He gave
me my professional life as a writer. And they were lovely people, Don and Nancy, they were special, and they were a marvellous outfit.
And also Peter Lavery, who is now at Macmillan. I sort of followed Peter Lavery like a deranged groupie. He kept moving from house to house,
now he is at Macmillan and I think that he has settled down there now; he is very, very good. I like editors who don’t try to mess you about.
They can see when you’ve got something right and they won’t touch it, and if they are worried they’ll ask you and if you can say,
“I want it because of this” then they’ll leave it and if you’ve made a monumental mistake, which of course does occasionally occur,
then they’ll say “you do know this dog died three pages back?” That is the kind of editor you want! And the kind of copy-editor you want!
But some of them are so trying. You hear Harry Harrison talking wonderfully about this; the silliness of editors, but I have been blessed,
I have had quite a few wonderful ones!
Leonia: That is wonderful! I’m afraid that we’ve just about run out of time, so we are going to have to end this, although I
would be willing to listen to you all night!
Tanith: You probably will!
Leonia: So, I’d just like to thank Allison Rich and Tanith Lee!
*Editor’s note: Those present at the interview may remember this a little differently!
Tanith accidentally said “The Neverending Story”
instead of “Flight of the Navigator”
Interview © Tanith Lee, Allison Rich & Leonia Carroll, 2004
Michael Carroll conducting the final auction
The hardworking - and very attractive - Octocon Committee members
The Convention was over far too soon.
The organizers and the Committee worked very hard, and seemed to pull everything off without any problems.
I've made some wonderful contacts - and hope to go to another Octocon sooner rather than later.
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