An Interview with the winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award 2001, for Dreamwatch



1) Bold As Love, the first of your books to feature Ax, Sage and Fiorinda,
won the Arthur C. Clarke Award. Did you find that a difficult act to follow
with this next installment?

Writing Castles was a breeze, though painful in parts, because it was all implicit in Bold As Love. The only thing that gave me trouble was (trying not to give anything away) figuring out exactly how to pitch the problem they have in the chapter called The Grove, where things first start to look seriously disturbing. Writing the third installment is more of a challenge, first because my life has been a tissue of interruptions this year; and second because developing the implications of what has happened by the end of Castles is like a whole new game.

2) Drug abuse, Child abuse and Islamic fundamentalism aren't the easiest
things to write about - what made you want to try?

Bold As Love started off as a story about a green rock and roll revolution, the joke being that if we all lived as if we were at a rock festival, (squalor and dodgy takeaway food in a field) how lightly we Developed Nations would tread upon the earth... The characters were young, grungey idealists, everything was goodwilled, and the worst thing that could happen was a bit of mayhem on the dancefloor. When I wrote the novel I knew I had to give the other side of the story, to make it a whole world. As you know as well as I do, sex with underage girls is something certain "respected" successful rockstars have considered a natural perk of the job; and just in the last couple of years there's been at least one household music biz name in this country in trouble for his taste for kiddie porn. The abuse of young people (typically, very young girls) is part of the music business. I felt it had to be part of Fiorinda's story.

There's a difference between Islam and Islamic Fundamentalism. When I was writing my fantasy, in 1999, the Islamic situation became a feature because if you're looking for things that could go dramatically wrong, in the future of this country, Islamic separatism comes out high on the list. I think the situation now might be close, in parts of Lancashire, to the kind of urban guerrilla warfare Ax Preston has to turn around somehow, in Bold As Love's pocket war in Yorkshire. This is what happens when you're working with the near future. If you're doing a good job you tend to get things right sometimes, even though you're really only trying to make a good story. But what I'm saying in Bold As Love still stands. We can live together, and be stronger together than divided into ethnic camps. We have to find a way to make this work.

3) Is this really how you see the future of British - European, even -

Well, no. Bold As Love is a dark fairytale, in a real-world, contemporary setting, but it's still a fairytale. I honestly don't think a small group of Indie rockstars will arise, about ten years from now, as the champions of civilised life, to lead the country through a cataclysmic breakdown. But when I look at the tv, news, and the internet news-sites these days, sometimes I wonder. Rockstar excess and exhibitionism as lifestyle norms? I think we're there. Millions of people hammering on the gates of Fortress Europe, demanding a share of the good life? Got that. Storms and floods? Yeah. Scary environmental damage? That too. (Fish stocks in the North Atlantic gone beyond recovery. My God.) If by any chance a 1929-sized global economic crash is added to the mix, then be afraid!

I made up an exciting story, out of myths and legends, and the possibilities I saw around me, which is what sf and fantasy writers always do. I hope the 'cataclysmic breakdown' part DOESN'T come true -because I doubt if the Once and Future King is going to turn up playing guitar at Reading Festival, to help us out of the jam. But no, in answer to your question, it's not going to happen. England as a paved over police state is much more likely.

4) What optimism can your trio of main characters offer us?

It doesn't matter how bad things get. You can get a long way with commonsense, goodwill and integrity, and still be happy, and have a terrific time. Just do the best you can, be good to each other, live for the moment. Total hedonism, with compassion, that's the message. But I don't deny, there's also a dark side...

Questions by Sharon Gosling
An edited version of this interview appeared in Dreamwatch, Sept 2002