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Sarah Ash répond à nos questions

Par Joss, le jeudi 16 mars 2006 à 14:10:52

Interview with Sarah Ash, english version

The first volume of The Tears of Artamon trilogy was released last month in France. How does it feel to realize that your books are available in foreign countries?

I’m delighted that my novels will reach a wider audience this way. And I’m doubly delighted that this is my first novel to be translated into French, as this is something I’ve dreamed about for a long, long time.

Compared to your previous works, does this new trilogy hold a special place in your heart?

The work in progress usually tends to be the one closest to the heart. But Les Larmes d’Artamon is special to me in that it is my first published trilogy, and, therefore the first time that I‘ve been able to follow a cast of characters through a three-novel story arc. I’ve loved that experience; it’s been immensely rewarding to be able to develop a relationship with the characters over a much longer period of time than that afforded by a standalone.

Was there a specific reason behind your use of an slavonic background?

Some of my favourite music comes from Eastern Europe and I am very influenced by music when I write. Russian music was one of my first loves and, in discovering composers such as Rimsky-Korsakov, Glazunov and Moussorgsky, I also discovered Russian myths and legends, especially the byliny, the tales of Prince Vladimir of Kiev and the Knights of the Golden Table. As soon as I had developed the initial idea of a young man who discovers that he is heir to a distant and barbaric kingdom, I knew that Azhkendir, the land of "snow and shadows", had a Slavonic ambience and the whole story began to come together.

I really enjoyed the Drakhaoul concept, and the links we can etablish with the Dracula myth. How difficult is it to not be overwhelmed by the weight of this myth?

In creating the Drakhaoul, I was alluding to the Dracula myth - and at the same time, establishing, I hope, something utterly different. In a recent article for Sffworld, I wrote: « The name "Drakhaoul"... draws on a number of sources: the Greek word "drakon" meaning "serpent" from which our word "dragon" comes; "Dracul" the name given to the fifteenth century Prince Vlad Tepes "The Impaler" of Walachia which means "dragon" and came also to mean "the Devil" because of Vlad’s barbaric behaviour towards his enemies in war. ("Dracula" signifies "son of the dragon"). » It was the combination of serpent, dragon and devil that particularly intrigued me - and devil, in "Artamon" also takes on the implication of fallen angel, as Gavril Nagarian comes to learn more of his dark heritage. There is also a moral ambiguity in the concept of a fallen angel that is crucial to The Tears of Artamon. Even though the physical toll imposed by the Drakhaoul eventually drives its host to seek out "innocent blood", like the vampires of legend, the Nagarians are not undead, neither do they only appear at night or sleep in coffins!

To promote your new series, your French publisher drew comparisons between you and Robin Hobb and Sara Douglass. Do you believe that female fantasy authors have a different approach to writing?

Well, I’m very flattered, of course, to be compared with writers of such imagination and scope as Robin Hobb or Sara Douglass! However, I like to think that there are as many different approaches to telling a fantasy tale, as there are authors, male or female. J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were my first favourite fantasy authors, swiftly followed by Ursula LeGuin, and I know that my writing has been influenced equally by all three. Is there a feeling, perhaps, that female fantasy authors tend to write softer fantasy romances, whereas male authors produce gritty, action-packed sagas? It’s impossible to generalize these days. George R.R. Martin and Steven Erikson, for example, combine characterization with tough military action and complex strategic plots - but then, so do Mary Gentle and J.V. Jones. The pleasure today for the reader is that there is such a variety of different types within the genre, ranging from dark and Gothic fantasy, through comedy, historical and epic, to the New Weird. Something for everyone!

What is your favourite aspect of writing?

Story-telling. What draws me back to writing again and again is the desire to tell a compelling story. I particularly love those exciting moments when I get flashes of insight into what’s going to happen, especially when links start to develop. In Artamon, the moment the Prince Eugene appeared, out for his morning ride in the grounds of his palace - and saw his little daughter Karila playing ball with her nurse, I knew how powerful an enemy Gavril (the Lord of Snow and Shadows) was up against. I also knew that Karila was crippled by a difficult birth that also had robbed Eugene of his beloved wife Margret. Suddenly, from such a simple vision, many story-threads began to unroll before me. I knew who Eugene was and what made him tick. I just love it when that happens!

Are you influenced by book reviews, or do you seek to write something that satisfies you in the first place?

To be true to one’s original vision of the book is, for me, one of the most important factors. However, it’s always very pleasing to receive a good review, particularly in these difficult days of being a mid-list author, when a good review may mean one’s work is moved a little further forward in the book display instead of languishing at the back of the shop. Conversely, it’s very distressing when a reviewer either seems to have read a completely different novel - or just hates the work. As a writer, you can’t hope to please everyone! In the past, I’ve been rapped over the knuckles for inventing titles such as "zhudiciar" and using "qaffë" instead of coffee. But I’m writing fantasy here and sometimes using different names goes with the territory... (Since then I confess that I’ve always called coffee "coffee".)

I have seen on your website that you love anime and manga. With Earthsea being made by the Ghibli Studio, is there hope for your own books ?

Well, if there are any anime or manga people out there reading this who are interested in developing an Artamon project, I’d be thrilled to hear from them! When I first encountered anime series like Vision of Escaflowne, Last Exile and X it was like coming home. And I love Totoro and Spirited Away. The Japanese are not afraid to use the supernatural in their writing, to delve into their rich mythological heritage and to treat it in a genuinely serious way. (In the UK, we have lagged far behind France and the US in appreciating the art of comics, and they are still generally dismissed as kids’ stuff or simply ignored, with a few lone champions in the media striving to change readers’ and viewers’ attitudes.)

If anyone can do justice to Le Guin’s wonderful Terremer, it surely has to be the Ghibli Studio - although I understand it’s Miyazaki’s son who is undertaking the project, and there have been rumours (hopefully unfounded) of some creative differences between father and son.

I’m very envious of my friend Juliet McKenna’s gorgeous Japanese edition of her first novel The Thief’s Gamble which has manga art!

Speaking of the internet, is the web an important tool in terms of communicating with your readers, do some research, etc?

The website has been invaluable for me as it’s put me in contact with so many readers. I’m always so pleased that they take the time and trouble to write and tell me what they’ve liked in the stories - and I do try to answer all their queries as best I can. Research-wise, it’s useful in checking out little details that might once have entailed a time-consuming trip to the local library. For example, in Seigneur des Neiges et des Ombres we had a last-minute query from one of the in-house readers about ice at sea; the internet was invaluable for swiftly providing essential verification. But I’d still rather read a book if I’m checking out background material (important for authenticity, even in a fantasy). (When writing Artamon I usually had these titles to hand: Saint Petersburg, Slavic Sorcery, Georgia and A Dictionary of Angels.)

Do you have any book recommendations for our readers, fantasy or otherwise?

Well, I’m currently enjoying Fabien Clavel’s L’Antilégende; I love the way he’s constructing an intricate game with other authors’ characters (including old friends from Dumas). And I’m looking forward to re-reading Scott Lynch’s thrilling picaresque fantasy The Lies of Locke Lamora when it reaches the bookshops; I was lucky enough to read it in double-spaced typescript. Both these young authors are very talented! On the manga front, I’ve been seduced by Yun Kouga’s Loveless, a perverse and dark tale with wonderful artwork - and a genuinely likeable high school comedy/romance School Rumble from Jin Kobayashi, which sets out to show that even a bad boy in high school can change when he falls for a girl in his class (although unbeknownst to him, she already has her sights set on someone else!)

Have you sold the rights to your other novels to French publishers?

Apart from the Artamon trilogy, not yet... but here’s hoping! Although Nicolas Cluzeau made an excellent translation of one of my short stories Merveille, which appeared in Faeries #13.

Last but not least, is there anything you wish to share with your French fans ?

I fell in love with France when I was nine and first read Alexandre Dumas. Then, as a music student, I got hooked on Debussy, Ravel and Fauré. I spent hours practising Jardins sous la Pluie and Le Tombeau de Couperin. I didn’t get to visit France until I was fourteen, but I’ve been coming back regularly ever since. Imagine my surprise and pleasure at being published by Editions Bragelonne!

  1. Entretien avec Sarah Ash, version française
  2. Interview with Sarah Ash, english version

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