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Interview de Robin Hobb aux Utopiales 2008

Par Graendal, le mardi 19 mai 2009 à 11:45:04

L'interview en anglais

I've read that you like to read Fantasy books written by other authors. Are you happy with the quality of the Fantasy books that are released these days?
Oh, I think that 99% of Fantasy is... crap. (laughter) But, see, I'd add that, according to Sturgeon’s Law, 99% of everything is crap. So, I think you have to be responsible for your own choices... Not every book works for every reader. I am sure there are books that I have loved that other readers would discard and say that this makes no sense or I don't like this. I think we need to have a wide spectrum of stories published so that every person can find what they're looking for.
When you read the best-selling books list, what do you think about it? Is there an author in particular that you like and that really does not sell well?
Oh, like the New York Times' Top Ten, or...
I'm always surprised by how many books on prominent best seller lists are actually SF or Fantasy but don't admit it. (laughter) Hum, do I know of writers that I think deserve a wider audience? Many, many, many of them that do not have the level of fame that I think they deserve, but again, each of us have our own books that we read, and what I enjoyed was not perhaps what the general public would enjoy.
Is there anything in the Fantasy genre that you feel is too commonplace or that you really don’t like?
I like to see very original work. I don't like to see stories that are, like, based too strongly on worlds that we have visited a hundred times before. You may have a book with elves without having dwarves also. And dwarves do not always have to live underground and be miners and carry axes. I think that too often, people are taking the stereotypes and not making them fresh and new for themselves. They're not looking at this and saying what could it be like? If I met someone who was an elf would I know it immediately or is it much more subtle? Not looking with fresh eyes, I guess, would be what I find frustrating.
Your writing style is sometimes depicted by fans and detractors alike as feminine. Do you think so and why?
Do I think I have a feminine writing style? I think that's one of those questions that it would be very hard for a writer to look at impartially. One of the reasons that originally I choose the pen-name Robin Hobb is because it's quite gender-neutral. And at least the first three books were going to be written from the view-point of a male. And I still to this day will get e-mails and letter that are addressed to Mr. Hobb, so I think that it might be something that people think about after the fact, knowing I am female. Knowing that, perhaps, people look at it and say this is a feminine kind of writing, but I don't know that, if you handed the book to somebody cold, if they would say that. There is a lot of internalisation in the book, looking at what people are thinking and feeling, but I don't consider that necessarily the province of women. I do think men have emotions. (smile)
The books you have published under the pseudonym Megan Lindholm are different from your books as Robin Hobb in terms of content and of writing style. You also said that you’re better at writing Fantasy than Science Fiction, although you like reading both genres. Why do you think that is?
I think that Fantasy and Science Fiction have their own unspoken rules. I think I am more comfortable in the Fantasy genre than I am in the Science Fiction genre... Just as I am more comfortable writing Fantasy than I am Romance or Western or Adventure novels. In the end, I think you write what you enjoy reading the most.
And do you think you might write another SF book one day?
The world is so full of what if questions that... Hum, yes I would love to some time, but there are only so many hours in a day, and only so many words I can write in a day. Sometimes it is hard to look and say if I write one book a year, how many books can I write in the rest of my life, and to know that I have hundreds and hundreds of ideas for books in my head and that I'm going to have to choose!
While you are still in the process of writing a book, before it is published, do you often go back to your writings and alter them? And do you hand them to other people?
Oh yes, I do a lot of re-writing. My style of writing is not linear, it's more... woven. The first step is to trap the story on paper. But if I get stuck or if I can't think how to begin the next chapter, I will go back to the beginning of the book or go back several chapters and go through them again, and add pieces and change words and correct dialogues or add more dialogue or sometimes edit it all. So by the time I finish writing a book, it has already been re-written probably ten or fifteen times at least. I use Word and it keeps track of how many times you have opened a file and made changes, sometimes it's 70 times that I've opened this file and added to it and made changes and checked something.... I re-write constantly. To me it is the heart of the writing. The first time through is just getting it down. The real writing, to me, is the re-writing. When you go back in and you change it, you make it clever, you make it pretty... That, to me, is the best part of writing, the part I enjoy the most.
Do you think there is room for improvement in your published books, would you change anything if you could?
Oh yes, I always find errors after the fact. I'm not going to tell you what they are! (laughter) but whenever I look back at a book, I always think Oh, I should have tightened up that action sequence to make it more active maybe, or perhaps I should have dropped a hint here, because readers didn't seem to pick up on what was going to happen between these characters. So I think if I didn't have a deadline, I think I would re-write endlessly.
Throughout your work, some strong moral values make a repeated appearance (the need for tolerance, respect, empathy…). Do you wish to convey these specific moral values in your works, or do they just pop up in your stories as you go?
I don't like writers and stories in which there is a strong feeling or element that the writers is telling you this is how you should think and this is how you should behave. I do think, yes, that the character should say something to the reader, and again, that the readers should know what the character's values are, even if they're different from modern values or if they're different from the reader's values. So, I don't always agree with my characters and what they do. I think the writer has to let the characters be themselves and follow their own interests, and behave as they would behave in their own lives and world instead of behave as I would behave. I don't think I am wise enough to tell anyone how they should live their life, but when my characters are going through something, I let the reader know what they think about things.
Why do you think religion plays such a small part in your work, especially since you are a practising Catholic?
I think that for me to write about a fantasy world and then to overlay it with my specific religion would not work, any more than to take the literature of this world into a fantasy world and say this is the book they have read or this is the particular way they prepared this kind of cookie. To me it would jolt the reader out of the story that I am trying to tell. Some of the characters in my books are religious, and some of them are not. In this world, I have friends that are deeply religious and other people who've never set foot inside of a church or have a disorganised religion! So, I think that you bring your spirituality to your writing, whether you intend to or not. I think that it would be impossible for me to write in a way that does not in some way reflect what my spirituality is, just as it would be impossible for me to completely erase my nationality or native language from my work.
You declared that your characters are like friends you would like to have. But do some of your characters resemble real-life people? Does one of your characters closely resemble you?
Again, I don't think... I think that my characters probably have traits from people that I know, but I would never take my neighbour and say Oh, I'm going to write him as a character in this book, because it wouldn't work. The characters have to be a part of their own world, rather than a person that has been taken from this world and shoved in there, and that we'd try to make fit in, because the sensibilities would not match up. Sometimes when I'm reading a fantasy and it's set in a medieval time, but the protagonist is a liberated woman with 21st century values, to me it is very hard to sink into the world, because I always have to say where did she get these ideas? and how did she manage to grow up with the intolerance because for the most part in worlds like that it would not be tolerated. So I think that the characters do have to be a part of the world depicted in your book. A character that is true must be a product of the fantasy world, not someone transplanted from this world.
According to an article by Amanda Craig in 2005, you declared I see all fiction as escapism. I’d say literary fiction is a sub-genre of Fantasy, trying to mimic real life at its most depressing and oppressive. Do you enjoy reading literary fiction at all?
Yes, and no. It's exactly true, what I said, the way I see literary fiction. A lot of times I will pick up something from the Best-seller List, and I will read it, and I will say to myself this is a book that will be very popular for 6 months to a year, but 20 years from now, nobody will remember the title of it. I think that with literary fiction, sometimes you get a book that you read and you say this is a book that's going to speak across the ages, and other times it's a book that is like a newspaper that relates to this minute, and then doesn't anymore. It's kind of like popular music when you think about it. The songs that will be played again on the radio 10 or 15 years later are not always the ones that skip to the top of the charts and are the number one hit for a while. I do enjoy literary fiction, but sometimes I think it takes itself too seriously, and in the process of taking itself too seriously it does not entertain. When I pick up a book, I want to be entertained, I don't want to be lectured or improved.
So you don't think that at some point you'll ever write any literary fiction at all?
Not on purpose. (laughter)
In the past, your stories have been told as first person narratives as well as by omniscient narrators. Which point of view will it be in your next book, Dragon Keeper?
The one I'm working on right now has multiple points of views. There is no one character who knows all, it is not the omniscient little did they know that over the hill... , nothing like that. It shifts from character to character, and stays within the viewpoint of each character, The purpose for that is to be able to tell the story more fully because in this particular story no one character will observe every important event that happens. So again, I'm moving from character to character to tell the story from several angles, as you go through the book.
Do you know what you will be working on after this one?
In 2009, I hope to be working on a collection of stories that will have both shorter pieces by Robin Hobb and some of the works by Megan Lindholm. I want to do some new stories and bring something new to the collection.
The Farseer Trilogy is being turned into a graphic novel here in France, and a number of Fantasy books are being turned into films or TV series. If you had to design a project for turning one of your works into another format, which book(s) would it be and which format?
Oh! That's a hard choice. Hum... (a few seconds' reflection) I might go back to earlier work by Megan Lindholm, I think it would be rather fun to see Wizard of the Pigeons as a movie. It's a contemporary story that was set in Seattle, and I think that might be something that could be put into a film. But it's not something that I would do. I would not try to make the film any more than I would try to make a graphic novel. I think that I'm a writer, I know what I am. It would be interesting to see somebody else adapt a piece of what I have done. But I don't foresee me holding the camera or writing the script.
Do you have someone in mind, who could do that?
At this point... that's an area I'm not educated in, I don't really pay attention to who makes the movies that I watch. I'm like a kid, I go to the movies and I like what I like.
Now a question that is a bit political...(apprehensive smile) I found that some aspects of the Soldier Son trilogy could be understood as a political message against the war in Iraq. Is this a correct interpretation?
You have to realise that I write the books and then a year later they are published. So, there are no direct attempts at political commentary. There is, perhaps, a general comment on what happens when different cultures collide. I see it as the ways that humanity exchanges material.... Unfortunately this is one of our major ways to mingle and exchange not only genetic material but cooking and customs... There's a huge cultural exchange when we go to war with each other. It's a very peculiar side-effect. So there was no attempt at any direct commentary on any particular war, but it's about war and culture clash in general.
Anything you would like to add?
No, I think you've covered an interesting spectrum of questions...
Thank you very much for this!

Interview realized by Graendal

  1. L'interview en français
  2. L'interview en anglais

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