Paul Stewart & Chris Riddell e-interviewed by J. A. Kaszuba Locke (June, 2008)
Paul Stewart taught in Sri Lanka and England before becoming a full-time writer. A highly regarded author of books for young readers - everything from picture books to football stories, fantasy and horror - he has had over fifty titles published since 1988. Chris Riddell is an accomplished graphic artist, who has illustrated many acclaimed books for children, including Pirate Diary by Richard Platt, and Jonathan Swift's Gulliver. In addition to his children's book work, Chris is a renowned political cartoonist, whose work appears regularly in UK newspapers. Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell are co-creators of the prizewinning Far-Flung Adventures series, which includes Fergus Crane, Corby Flood and Hugo Pepper. They are also co-creators of the bestselling Edge Chronicles series, which has sold over two million books and is now available in over thirty languages. Both Paul and Chris live in Brighton with their respective wives and children.
Q: What inspired you to write Beyond the Deepwoods - and to keep on writing new episodes in The Edge Chronicles?
Paul: The books started with the map at the beginning of the book. Chris drew it and gave it to me saying, 'Here is the world. Tell me what happens in it. And make it interesting!' I think my primary influence and inspiration were Grimms fairy tales. I loved the darkness of the forest tales. I lived in Germany for several years, where I read the originals, which are far more brutal than the sanitized versions we tell our kids. It was because of these stories that I decided to set the first book in the middle of the Deepwoods.
Chris: The books I loved as a child always had intriguing maps in the front of them - the Hundred Acre Wood in Winnie the Pooh, Narnia in The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, and Middle Earth in the Hobbit and Lord of the Rings. But I always wanted to know what lay beyond the edges of the map - where the heffalumps were, over the Northern Mountains or across the sea to the West. So I drew a world that was, literally, on the Edge, and asked Paul to imagine what happened there.
Q: In all the Chronicles, do you plot direction and outcome of each book in advance or simply let them evolve as you write?
Paul: A bit of both. Sometimes the books start with an incident or image, like the sacrifices at the beginning of Vox, or Sanctaphrax in the grip of a neverending winter, as at the start of the Winter Knights. The stories gradually unfold. Even when we think we are heading toward a certain conclusion, the story changes in the writing, and we end up some place else.
Chris: Paul likes to plot and I don't, so planning an Edge Chronicle is always a compromise. We have to be engaged with our characters and excited by the story, so if things get interesting, we ignore the plot and, like Twig, leave the path!
Q: The descriptive action of Maris and Quint climbing the ironwood tree in Clash of the Sky Galleons is impressive. Are these 'ancient pines' modelled after any tree of the past or present? Is one of you a tree climber?
Paul: It is always important that the inventions in the world have some basis in the reader's reality, e.g., wig-wigs were based on a neighbour's vicious Pekinese dogs, snickets are airborne piranha, while the bloodoak is a Venus fly-trap with attitude. The ironwood pines are like redwoods, only much larger! We both have kids who climb trees, but I fear our own tree climbing days are now over. When I was taking my exams as a kid, I would often revise up a huge elm in the park at the back of my house.
Chris: The biggest tree I ever saw was an ancient pine tree in the Knysna Forest on the coast of South Africa. It was called 'King Edward VI'. As a child in a small village in Worcestershire, I used to climb trees with my brothers. They were much more adventurous than me and sometimes I used to get stuck, and they would have to talk me down - giving me directions on where to put my hands and feet. I once lost my nerve inside the hollow trunk of an old elm tree, and it took my brothers two hours to talk me back out.
Q: The technicalities of engineering and operating skyships, along with their structure (e.g. flight rock levers, cooling rods, sky crystals, stone harvesting) are impressively detailed. Were did this come from?
Paul: In the Edge world, it was clear from the map that certain rocks could float. What would you do with a floating rock? The answer seemed obvious; it would be used to keep a skyship up in the air. From this basic premise, everything else developed, logically and ever more intricately, as we explored the world and got to know it better and better.
Chris: Ever since I drew the first skyship in Beyond the Deepwoods, I've wanted to explore them in more detail. Finally, in Clash of the Sky Galleons, I was able to really get to grips with them and do a cross-section of the Galerider. Paul and I talk about the Edge world and how it works endlessly, and make notes and diagrams all the time. Skyships are just one example of this process.
Q: Does the battle between the galleons, the sky pirate ships and league ships follow any historical battle scenarios?
Chris: I was thinking about the naval battles of the Napoleonic Wars, and particularly, the Battle of Trafalgar. In these battles, the key objective was to 'break the line' of the opposing fleet and bring as many of your guns to bear on the enemy, while avoiding his 'broadsides'. The sky pirate fleet breaks through the line of leagueships, using their razor sharp keels in an echo of even earlier naval battles, such as those in Ancient Greece, where prows were used to ram opposing vessels. Finally, the Bringer of Doom was inspired by the Dreadnought, powerful ships from the early 20th Century, which outgunned the opposition.
Q: The sister shrykes have appeared in previous Chronicles, but in number nine, Shrike Sister Screechscale has a chapter story all her own. Will Screechscale and peers play a more dominant role in future adventures?
Paul: The shryke bird creatures are important in the Edge world. Vicious and flightless, they originally reached prominence by establishing slave markets in the Deepwoods and trading off the misery of those they captured and sold. As their power grew, they founded the permanent settlement of East Roost. But they over-reached themselves and, in Vox, a battle with General Tytugg's goblin army leaves them weakened as a force. Many shrykes run taverns, perhaps the most famous being Mother Horsefeather of the Bloodoak Tavern in Undertown.
Q: How do you come up with the unusual names for characters, places, flora and fauna, e.g., Imbix Hoth, Zaphix Nemulis, Chopley Polestick, the Snatchwoods, and the Snetterbarks?
Paul: We spend a lot of time on the names, as they evoke the feel of the fantasy created. Woodtrolls have 'woody' names, like Snatchwood and Snetterbark. Slaughterers have 'meaty' names like Tendon, Brisket and Flitch. Academics have Latin/Basque names: Quintinius Verginix, Linius Pallitax, Vilnix Pompolnius. We say the names back and forth a couple of times and if they stick, then we go with them. Creatures often have names that describe their physically characteristics, like the razorflit, logworm and daggerslash. Our main character is named Twig because he is a tiny part of the great forest.
Chris: It is important that the names of the characters evoke an unspoken history and sense of place. We were adamant that we wanted to break away from the fantasy convention of lyrical, Celtic sounding names, and create a feel unique to the Edge. We also like descriptive names, like prowlgrin, which give us a clue to what the creature looks like.
Q: Will Clash of the Sky Galleons be followed by more exploits for the academics in the city of Sanctaphrax?
Paul: The series is made up of three trilogies; the Quint, Twig and Rook trilogies. Clash of the Sky Galleons is the third in the Quint trilogy. It is followed by the Twig trilogy, in which we learn much more about the machinations of the Sanctaphrax academics. Each book in the Edge Chronicles is a self-contained story and can be read as a stand-alone novel, but of course the more books that are read, the deeper the reader's understanding of the whole Edge world.
Q: The detailed illustrations are increasingly wondrous! Which come first, the illustrations or the story?
Paul: As Chris said, we talk about the Edge world a lot, often with our sons, who have even chipped in ideas that we have used. Chris draws annotated drawings in his sketch book - anything from a cross-section of the Sanctaphrax rock to the battle-dress of the Hive Militia. Then, using these notes, the text is written. Sometimes, it almost feels like writing a historical novel based on archive material. Once we are both happy with the text, the final illustrations are drawn to go with it.
Chris: There are now three Edge sketchbooks, bound in black cloth, full of notes and drawings. They are there for us to use or not as we choose when writing the Chronicles, but allow us to explore the Edge more deeply as we go.
Q: Did you originally intend The Edge Chronicles series to run for as long as it has, and how many more episodes are planned?
Paul: Originally, we were thinking in terms of a trilogy. By the time we got to the end of Midnight over Sanctaphrax though, we were becoming so intrigued with the world that we'd created, that neither of us wanted to stop until we'd explored it further. We have just completed Book 10 - the Immortals - and this will be the last book in the series. It is set 500 years after the end of the other books, in the Third Age of Flight, and answers every question that the other books raised - e.g. Did Twig make it alive to Riverrise? Where did stone sickness come from? And what did happen to old Sanctaphrax after it floated off?
Chris: Although the Edge Chronicles are now finished, we will re-visit the Edge world again next year in graphic novel form, producing some original stories based on some of the lesser known characters.
Q: How many more Far-Flung Adventures do you expect to write? And do you have any more series in the works?
Paul: We'll write one more Far-Flung Adventure. We have to, since we need to explain what happened to the kidnapped penguins and where the escaped clowns have got to. It will be called Bailey McCabe and is going to be set in the Wild West, where the 'cowboys' herd giant guinea pigs and ride emus. At the moment, we're working on a new series about a Victoria tick-tock lad called Barnaby Grimes, who gets about town by leaping from rooftop to rooftop, highstacking. We've completed Curse of the Night Wolf, Return of the Emerald Skull and Legion of the Dead, and are about to write the Phantom of Blood Alley.
Chris: I've got a new sketchbook - handbound in leather from a bookbinders workshop in Cairo, Egypt - and in it I've started drawing and making notes on a completely different world. Paul and I are talking about it all the time, and have been for a couple of years now. We're getting quite excited about it and can't wait to get down to the business of writing and illustrating it at the end of this year!Find out more about the author/illustrator team and all their excellent and popular series at StewartandRiddell.co.uk.
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