Author Talk with Garth Nix
Talks / Lecture
Meet one of Australia’s masters of fantasy fiction as he explores Goldenhand, his long-awaited fifth instalment of New York Times best-selling Old Kingdom series.
Garth’s books include award-winning young adult fantasy novels Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and Clariel. More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, and his work has been translated into 40 languages. A full-time writer since 2001, he previously worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Army Reserve.
In association with Allen and Unwin.
Transcript of ‘Author Talk with Garth Nix’
Speakers: Stuart Baines (SB), Garth Nix (GN)
Location: National Library of Australia
SB: Good evening. Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the National Library. I'm Stuart Baines, the Library's Assistant Director of Community Outreach.
As we begin I would like to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, I think their elders, past and present, for caring for this land we are now privileged to call home. I'm delighted that so many of you have come along tonight and it seems to be a slightly different audience to a normal library audience and that's excellent. Thanks for coming along and thanks for joining us tonight to hear from one of Australia's bestselling authors.
Born in Melbourne, Garth was raised in Canberra, and makes us one of our own. A fulltime writer since 2001, he previously worked as a literary agent, a marketing consultant, a book editor, a book publicist, book sales representative, and bookseller and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve.
Garth's books include the award winning young adult fantasy novels, Sabriel, Lirael, Abhorsen and Clariel. The dystopian novel, Shade's Children, The Space Opera, a confusion of princes and a regency romance with magic, Newt's Emerald. His fantasy novels for children include The Ragwitch, the six books of the Seventh Tower sequence, the Keys of the kingdoms series and the Troubletwisters series. He also co‑authored Spirit Animals, Blood Ties with Sean Williams. Quite an extensive collection. More than five million copies of his books have been sold around the world, appearing on the bestseller lists of the New York Times Publishers Weekly, The Guardian, The Australian and his work has been translated into 40 languages.
Tonight Garth will reaffirm that he is the master of the genre, delivering his long awaited fifth instalment of the Old Kingdom series, Goldenhand. Please now welcome to the stage, Garth Nix.
GN: Thank you very much. Thank you very much, it's always good to be back here in Canberra in the ... my old home town. I'm going to talk for a little while; I'm going to read a little bit from Goldenhand. There'll be time for lots of questions and hopefully answers as best I'm able and I'm also going to read a little bit from Frogkisser! as well, a book I've got coming out early in March. And then of course we also have the giveaway for the bell charms. I've brought my hat with me to draw from, so we'll be doing that as well.
I was thinking, every time I come out on the road with a new book, I've been doing this for quite a long time, I always try and think of new things to talk about and new things to say because I kind of get tired of the performances that I do, the shows that I do when I'm talking about books and I'm on the road. So I always try and make things a little bit different. And I was wondering what I was going to say this time, what I was going to talk about as well as doing the reading and so on. And one of the things that struck me is that I have been doing this a long time. And thinking about writing stories and storytelling.
I cast my mind all the way back to actually when I was here in Canberra and I was a student at Turner Primary. And I was sorting through some things the other day and I found some of my old class photos, and it just prompted memories of some of the things that I used to do when I was at school. And I realised looking back that a lot of them actually showed that I was already thinking about stories that I wanted to be a storyteller and earlier today coming over from the airport we went past Turner Primary, my old school, past Turner oval and I remembered and I'd almost forgotten this until we went past. And I remembered that in probably about Year 4 or Year 5 I convinced half a dozen of my friends that we needed to treat the oval as if it was a pyramid which we had to completely imagine, of course, because it was a large square of grass, and that over numerous lunchtimes we slowly made our way into the centre of the pyramid. And it's only looking back it occurred to me how weird that must have looked to other people, to have lines of kids where I'm going along in front, saying okay now we're going down the narrow passage, you know, and they're all following along behind me. And now we've got to step over the pit, we'll go along the edge. And we did this, you know, over numerous lunchtimes and really I was making up a story for them, a story that we all shared and I wanted them to believe that story. I wanted them to believe we were in a pyramid, even though we were actually in the middle of the oval, you know, under the ... that hot Canberra summer sun. And of course eventually we'd got to the centre of the pyramid and I'm sure there was a treasure or something we'd been aiming for, and then I said, okay, now we've got to get back out of the pyramid. And someone said, we'll just go back the way we came and I said, no, we can't do that, not for actually story reasons but because I couldn't remember how the hell we got into the middle in the first place. So the story had to go forward, the story couldn't go back.
So I guess I've been telling stories for a very long time. And over the years I've gone from pretending the oval was an ancient Egyptian pyramid to writing stories and I find a kind of, you know, socially acceptable way of being able to tell stories that doesn't get me into trouble and is actually seen as kind of useful as opposed to making up stories that perhaps might involve more criminal enterprises like trying to sell bridges to people or something like that, which I don't own, of course.
So yeah I've been doing this a long time and one of the other things that I did was, I looked back, most of my earlier books I wrote longhand first in black and red notebooks like this one. I've got many, many black and red notebooks on the bookshelf in my office at home. Sadly I've also got one blue and white striped notebook when there was a stationery shortage and I had to buy some other books. But one of the things I did quite early on in these notebooks is that I'd write a chapter longhand first and then I'd type up that chapter. So the first typed version would in fact be a second draft. I'd change it as I typed and then I'd print it out and correct it and carry on and so on. And when I'd typed that chapter on the computer I would write the work count down and the date in the front of the book. I haven't actually bought any of those old ones with me this time.
I did take the Sabriel one to the event in Kinokuniya in Sydney, but I didn't want to bring it with me to Canberra because I didn't trust the people here. No, I was worried about taking it on the plane and so I said ... saying I would lose it and there would be a disaster. So I didn't actually bring it but I did make a note of the things I used to write in of the record I had of writing those chapters. And so I thought, oh well, when I found ... I got that Sabriel book out, that manuscript book out, I thought I'll open it up and it will tell me exactly when I typed the first chapter of Sabriel because I'd entirely forgotten that when I, in fact, opened it I saw that for some reason I didn't start doing it until chapter five. But I can tell you exactly when I first typed chapter five of Sabriel and when I finished it. And I wrote Sabriel the beginning of the Old Kingdom books so the ancestor of this book, I typed chapter five on the 4th of July 1993, probably before quite a number of you were born. And I finished it 9:57pm on the 20th of April 1994. And it was published in 1995. So Sabriel is 21 years old in its book form. And it's great that it's lasted so long and it's kept going and of course it was the ancestor of all the other books that have followed it in the Old Kingdom series.
Now Goldenhand is also a continuation, of course, of Lirael. Of Lirael and Abhorsen. Goldenhand picks up the story six months after the end of Abhorsen, it overlaps with the Novella, the creature in the case which is in my collection across the wall. And Lirael is again one of the main characters, though there is also a new main character, a woman called Ferren who comes from the far north, beyond the borders of the Old Kingdom to the north. And also Nicholas Sayer features in the book as well. So I thought I'd look back to where Lirael started. And Lirael actually has a slightly more interest ... well slightly more complex history because I originally wrote Lirael and Abhorsen as one book, which some of you may have gathered, if you read Lirael and didn't have Abhorsen to hand, you probably got to the end of Lirael and went, bloody hell, that bastard, because they really are one big book. And I originally wrote them as one story but it wasn't as long as the two books ended up being. And I started the first version of Lirael on the 10th of August 1997 and I finished that on the 29th of April 1998. I hope someone's writing this down for a PhD or something. No. There won't be a quiz, don't worry. I can't remember the dates, how could anybody else. And I sent it to my editor, Jenny So, it was actually my American editor was dealing with the books first. And she said, it's great, we could publish this as it is, but I would really like to know more about Lirael when she's a bit younger because in its original form Lirael started with her already a librarian, already 18, and went on from there. And I reacted in the usual way I way I react to editorial comments requiring enormous amounts of work by being very cross and irritable for about 24 hours. But having been an ex-editor myself I knew that I should wait and not respond immediately with, don't be ridiculous. It's the silliest thing I ever heard. And I thought about it for a while and I realised that she was right, we did need to know more about the characters. And I went back and I re-wrote the whole book and I extended not only Lireal's story but also Sameth's story and told much more about what happened before they met up. And that required almost another year of writing so the book was finished in August 1999.
So, you know, there's a lot of work before we got to Goldenhand. Many, many, many of writing and some backwards and forwards steps before we got to Goldenhand. And so it was good just to look back upon all that. And of course I had no idea where I was going when I started these books. Sabriel, I thought, was just a standalone novel, I didn't know I'd write any more on the Old Kingdom. But I've always been drawn back to it, I've gone away from it, I've written other books, but I've always been drawn back to the Old Kingdom. There's so many stories to tell in the Old Kingdom that I sort of can't help myself, I'm always coming back. So Goldenhand is the latest of the books in the Old Kingdom, number five in what is now the Old Kingdom series no longer a trilogy or even a quartet with Clariel, the prologue, coming out two years ago. And I thought I'd read a little bit from Goldenhand now.
Again, going on tour, deciding what bits to read from books is always kind of tricky and it often takes me three or four events before I work out which are the best parts to read because I don't want to give you spoilers even when you're going to read the book fairly soon. And so looking at this I realised that I can only read the first three words and then I have to stop. So it's going to be a very short ... no, it's not going to be that short a reading. But there's various parts which I could read because there are ... there's sort of two intersecting stories and so we have actually kind of like several different beginnings. I've been reading the prologue in my previous events this week, but this time I actually think I'll start from chapter two. Sounds kind of intuitive but we'll see how we go. It'll leave you able to start the book yourself completely fresh without hearing my voice, lurking behind your mind as you read, which could be a good thing. So this is chapter two.
Two Hawks Bring Messages
The hawk came down through the clouds, dodging raindrops for the sheer fun of it, despite having already flown more than two hundred leagues. Born from a Charter‑spelled egg and trained for its work since it was a fledgling, the hawk carried a message imprinted in its mind, and with it the burning desire to fly as swiftly as possible to the tower mews in the royal city of Belisaere.
The rain-dodging hawk from the south beat another bird flying in from the north by half a minute, so it was the first to get to Mistress Finney, the chief falconer, while the later hawk had to be content going to the fist of an apprentice.
As a matter of procedure, Mistress Finney checked the anklet on the bird, to see where it had come from, though she already recognized him. She knew all the message-hawks of the Old Kingdom, having raised them herself, even if they were later assigned elsewhere, and became only occasional visitors to the capital.
From WyverleyCollege, my lovely, she said softly, making her own peculiar tongue‑clicking sound, one all the hawks knew from the egg. What a long way, and over the Wall too, my brave one. What’s your message, dear? The hawk opened its beak and spoke with a woman’s voice, that of Magistrix Coelle, who taught Charter Magic at WyverleyCollege, in that strange land beyond the Wall, where magic waned and then disappeared entirely, once too far south.
Telegram from Nicholas Sayre for the Abhorsen. Extremely urgent, said the hawk. Ah, for the Abhorsen, said Mistress Finney. Messenger.
A seven-year-old page who hoped to become one of the falconer’s apprentices leaped up from the bench where she sat with three others, waiting to take the messages the hawks brought in on the next part of their journey. Yes, Mistress. Find out where the Abhorsen-in-Waiting Lirael is. Tell her I am transcribing an urgent message from Ancelstierre calling for the Abhorsen, and ask her to either come here for it, or to stay wherever she is and you come back and let me know and we will send it on.
Yes, Mistress, said the girl, with a slight hesitation that suggested she didn’t know where to look for Lirael, or why she was looking for Lirael instead of the Abhorsen herself. Try Prince Sameth’s workshop first, said Mistress Finney, after a moment’s thought. I believe she is often there, for he is making her new hand.
The girl bent her head in acknowledgment, spun on one foot, and dashed to the stairs. Slow down, called out Mistress Finney after her. You’ll do no good if you fall to the bottom. The clatter of footsteps slowed a little. The falconer smiled and lifted the hawk to the perch that sat on her writing desk. The bird stepped off onto it, watching the woman as she took up her quill, dipped it in the inkwell, and made ready to write. Now, my dear, give me the message, said Mistress Finney to the hawk, who once again spoke, clear and loud in the voice of Magistrix Coelle. WyverleyCollege, though it lay across the Wall, was close enough that Charter Magic could be wielded there.
Though its location meant Ancelstierran technology could not always be relied upon, a telegraph boy’s bicycle would not fail. So it had become the de facto place for Ancelstierran telegrams to be transferred to Old Kingdom message-hawks for onward delivery to authorities in the north. Abhorsen, I’ve just received a telegram. It reads, to Magistrix Wyverley College Nick found bad kingdom creature Dorrance Hall tell Abhorsen help stop this from Nicholas Sayre stop via Danjers Valet Applethwick end. Now, Dorrance Hall is several hundred miles south, so this seems very unlikely. But I have heard it is some sort of secret government place, so perhaps should be investigated. I have sent telegrams to the Bain Consulate and the Embassy in Corvere, but have not yet had an answer - The message ended suddenly. The message-hawks were invaluable, but their minds were small and could not hold very long communications, and their capacity also varied from bird to bird. Unless you knew the particular hawk in question and counted out your words beforehand, it was easy to be cut off in mid-flow. Senders often forgot this in their eagerness to pass on important information. Nor, once a message was impressed, was it an easy matter to start again.
Well done, my dear, said Mistress Finney softly to the hawk, carefully drawing a line below the message she had just transcribed and initialling it MF. She gestured to one of her apprentices, who came and took the hawk over to its own perch, to be fed some fresh rabbit and to have a drink.
The apprentice who had heard the message from the northern hawk approached her, passing over the paper where he’d written down that bird’s missive.
This one’s for the King, he said. From the Greenwash Bridge Company, at the bridge. Not marked urgent. Follow-up to their earlier report.
Spike it for Princess Ellimere, said Mistress Finney, gesturing at a table adorned with numerous spikes, most of them already impaling message sheets. She’s coming up this morning, I saw her at breakfast. Not taken to the King immediately? Does no one here pay attention to what is happening in the court we serve? asked Mistress Finney. It was a rhetorical question, and no-one in the mews dared to treat it any other way, remaining silent while hoping they looked suitably attentive. The King and the Abhorsen left for their holiday this morning. A well-deserved one. Their first holiday. Ever. You could all learn from their example. Hard work - She broke off as another hawk flew in, briefly settling on the landing perch before spying Mistress Finney. Upon seeing her, it immediately flew to her fist. Hello, my beauty, said the falconer, forgetting her rant. Come in from HighBridge, have you?
Lirael hurried up the steps to the mews. She flexed her replacement hand as she did so, marvelling at how well it worked. When her own hand had been bitten off by the Disreputable Dog almost seven months before in order to save her life from the ravening power of Orannis, Sameth had promised to make her a replacement. He had lived up to that promise, and shown he was indeed a true inheritor of the Wallmakers’ engineering ingenuity and magical craft, though it had taken him a long time to get it right, with much tinkering and adjustment. It was only in the last few days that it felt entirely normal to Lirael, really just like her own flesh-and-blood hand.
It was mostly made from meteoric steel, but Sam had gilded the metal, and unasked had added an extra layer of Charter spells atop the ones that made the hand work and even feel like flesh, so it also glowed with a golden light. Already, many people were calling her Lirael Goldenhand. Thank you.
[End of Recording]