What are you working on now?
I’m just about to revise the draft of a novel for Young Adults, the sequel to Attica which is to be filmed by Johnny Depp’s movie company Infinitum Nihil. The book was first sold to Warner Brothers by Tim Holman my Little Brown editor at the time of publication, but I assume WB have passed it on to the Captain Jack Sparrow to work his magic on. (GK Pictures also has a hand it somewhere, but I’m not sure where they fit in, apart from borrowing my initials.) The sequel, which has gone at snail’s pace for the last two years, is called Deepest Attica and involves a hoard of spears, shields, drums and carvings left by Henry Morton Stanley in the loft of a house in Surrey and a steam train crossing an attic the size of Africa. Want to read more? I hope so.
What have you recently finished?
My autobio, which has turned out to be the longest book I’ve ever written at 150 thousand words. I suppose one’s ego jumps into the driving seat when writing about one’s life. I found myself so interesting I couldn’t drag myself away from the keyboard. I’m sure others won’t feel the same attraction to the text, but hopefully there’s enough humour and quirky bits in there to keep them reading to at least halfway through. The title is On My Way To Samarkand – The Autobiography of a Travelling Writer. I have never been to Samarkand, though I’ve lived and worked in 9 countries and visited 60 others. However I do intend going there before the reaper gets his hands on me, so the idea is ‘On my way to Samarkand, I had a life’. Catchy, eh? Well, I thought so.
So what prompted you to turn to autobiography?
The autobio came about because the years have caught up with me. Not gradually, swiftly. All of a sudden I’m 70. This is why I did the motorbike ride in Queensland, to prove to myself that I can still have adventures. I didn’t even have a motorbike licence six weeks before I left for Oz. I went there with 20 hours in the saddle after solo-ing on the streets of Ipswich. However, the bikes were not big beasts, just sturdy little Honda 125cc Ozzie postie bikes – colts rather than full-blooded stallions – that are able to take a beating in off-road conditions. On reaching my 70th I realised I had not asked all those questions of my parents and grandparents. They are all dead and gone. So I answered my own questions.
What’s recently or soon out?
Recently out is a long novel entitled Winter’s Knight, a sort of fantasy with demons and mythological creatures entering the story, but usually they come when the protagonist is in a fever, so one is not quite sure what is real and what is not. There are no dragons in it, but it’s chock full of knights. The hero is a young blacksmith’s son who meets two dead men in the forest – a hanged murderer and his victim – who are arguing about who was in the wrong. As an aside to this quarrel they reveal that they have an insight into the youth’s future and they tell him he is destined to become a knight templar and will travel to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Indeed, this prediction is fulfilled, but the road is far from smooth and the rewards do not meet expectations. It’s written under a pseudonym, Richard Argent, purely for reasons which elude me now. It is without a doubt the best historical novel I’ve written to date, but then I always think that about my latest work.
Your work is very diverse: what’s the appeal of the various genres you’ve worked in? When your work is so varied, how do you settle on a particular idea to write next?
I never set out to be a science fiction writer, or a any set kind of writer, I simply love to write. Science fiction is my first love, followed closely by fantasy/ghost stories. I’m not as keen on horror, but I do it if the mood comes over me. Other stuff – historical sagas, historical war novels, young adult books, non-fiction – the urge to write them comes from some inner source which I’ve never really challenged. It’s usually while I’m travelling through foreign places, or at concert lost in my own head, somewhere where I’m left to dream a little. I did a motorcycle rally through the Australian Outback in 2008 and saw the telegraph line that was built across that continent in 1880 with the loss of many lives. ‘Yeah,’ I said, dreamily looking up at the singing wire, ‘I’d like to write a novel about that.’ And so I will. Given that I was a telegraphist for 18 years, my first job, I think I know a little about the mechanics of the thing this time, which is not always the case when I set out to write a book. Usually I have to spend hours researching the hell out of the subject.
Short stories or novels?
Short stories every time. I love the white heat of getting a short story down in one go. It makes my head spin with excitement and I think – I hope I’m right – that my short stories are closer to an art form than my novels. Novels are interesting animals, but they are slow ponderous beasts and have such long tails you can’t see the end of them when you’re sitting down day on day churning out the words. Short stories are like kingfishers, bright turquoise darts that flash across the still waters of the brain. Yeah.
You’re well-travelled and have lived in a number of countries: how do you think this has influenced your work?
A huge amount. I find other cultures magical. They stimulate me to a fever of writing. My first great journey was to Aden (now South Yemen) as an 11-year-old at a time (1952) when people of my class did not travel further than the nearest seaside town for a two week holiday. I went by troopship through the Suez Canal and down the Red Sea and found myself living with a wide desert out back and a volcano just beyond my front door. My school friends for several years were Arab and Somali boys who treated me with warmth and friendship. A spiritual people with a fiery element, who moved with a grace I could never equal. I still dream of my childhood in Aden, an earthier landscape that continues to haunt me.
Describe your typical writing day.
Get up, have breakfast, take a cup of coffee with me to my study, sit down at my desk computer (which I never have on-line for fear of viruses) and write. I have a laptop next to me, to check things and do research as I work. I usually do a thousand words at a sitting, then have a break, then do another thousand. If the second thousand takes me into the afternoon I sometimes find my eyes closing and my head drooping, so I get up and lie down on the carpet and have half-an-hour’s kip. My former cat Dylan used to look for me at this time and curl up with me. He died in 2004 and we’ve never replaced him. I find this nap refreshes me enough to get up and finish the two-thousand words. After two-thou my creativity steam runs out and even though I’m physically able to continue, I know I’m mentally shagged, so I stop.
What would you draw attention to from your back-list?
Ah, my favourite children! The Drowners, House of Tribes, 3 collections of short stories, The Navigator Kings trilogy, The Welkin Weasels double-trilogy and Hunter’s Moon.
Which other authors do you think deserve a plug?
You’re an excellent author yourself, Keith, but also Guy Adams, James Barclay, Lisa Tuttle, Christopher Evans, Geoff Ryman, Claude Lalumiere, Christian Lehmann, Kim Stanley Robinson, oh, and Isaac Asimov. Actually, there are many, many great genre authors out there who deserve a lot more attention and recognition than they get from the literary world and the general public.
If you were to offer one snippet of writing advice what would it be?
Persevere. Ignore any rejections and continue to write.
Garry Kilworth was born in York city in 1941, never spending more than two years in the same house until he reached 40 years of age. He began to write at the age of 12, trying to emulate Richmal Crompton and Rudyard Kipling, his two favourite childhood writers, but only succeeding with the odd word. His first novel was In Solitary, a science fiction work published in 1976. A shorter novel than most, the author was described by Malcolm Edwards as having ‘verbal anorexia’, not realising that Garry Kilworth was at his best with brevity and economy of words. Since then he has written some 80 novels and collections of short stories in various genres, hoping that readers will recognise quality amongst the quantity. He is a father to two and a grandfather to five.