Thursday, February 28, 2013

Starry Wisdom - Warren Ellis in Conversation

On Tuesday evening, after being disgorged from the gaping maw of the Tottenham Court Road Station Construction Site, I settled down at Foyles to infect myself with a concentrated dose of Warren Ellis. Here are just a few of the best bits:

Following on from the “experiment” of his first novel Crooked Little Vein (“an exercise in discovering whether I could write a book”), Gun Machine was borne out of a desire to write about “old, weird America” and to show that “history is leaking up through the streets of New York as well”. (After all, publishers “don’t really care much for things set in Southend”). Ellis finds America “endlessly fascinating", referring to the idea of “the American Experiment” and observing that: “When you have a country that big full of that many people with that kind of cultural and financial pressure-cooker, you’re going to get some very strange chemical reactions happening.”

“It was definitely always going to be a book. The things that I wanted to do with this story were not going to work in a comic, not least because I knew I wanted to write a protagonist that was very internal, which can be quite difficult to do in any depth in comics, not least because it means you’re asking your artist (who you have to be aware of at all times) to draw eighteen pages of headshots.”

"Prose is almost like a theatre of the mind - it doesn't come alive for you until you're given the freedom to imagine the pictures yourself."

“If you walk around London with any kind of awareness of where you are and what’s around you, you do get the sense that everything is built on something else, and there are maps superimposed on maps all over the city, and you’re walking through several histories at once.”

“The most loathsome characters I've written are the ones that people want to see again. I've had twelve years of 'When are you going to bring Spider Jerusalem back?' I wouldn't give that bastard house room.”

“I grew up reading 2000AD and that taught me that the job of a writer is to generate new stories all the time, finding things to say and respond to time as it progresses...The idea of bending all my output to service, of all things, company-owned mythologies just seems weird to me.”

“Dad would buy me Superman comics and so forth, but it just didn’t compare to opening the first issue of 2000AD and seeing a fucking great dinosaur showing you a mouth full of chewed-up cowboy and a ray-gun dangling from a severed arm. American comics were all over for me at that point. I was nine...this was like giving me a full crack pipe.”

“Predictions, in general, are a mug’s game. It’s one of the reasons why people have such a downer on science fiction these days, because most science fiction has failed to predict the present day. Surprise surprise. 'Science fiction, that’s a bit shit, isn't it? Where were you five years before the mobile phone was everywhere, you and your rocket ships?' I don't think of science fiction as a predictive genre and I really try and avoid prediction, not least because it will help me look less stupid. I tell you what, though, the Apple iWatch is gonna be crap.”

On writing:

“Get it out in front of you so that you can have a good look at it. You've got to write and write and write, and then read it. Write something and then literally put it in a drawer for a month in a sealed envelope and set a reminder. Look at it with enough distance and see what you did wrong. And then repeat and repeat and eventually you’ll get all the bad words out and you’ll get to the good words.”

"I hate everything I've written ten minutes after I've written it"

"You're only as good as the available you on that day. If the available you on that day only got five hours sleep with a cat sat on your head, then that limits how good you’re going to be that day.”

On structure: “Don’t live and die by the skeleton, give yourself space to freestyle because you may end up going somewhere better.”

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