Interview with Philip Reeve
1. What inspired you to write Here Lie’s Arthur?
When I was growing up I loved fantasy stories, and many of my favourite authors, like Tolkien, Alan Garner, Susan Cooper and Lloyd Alexander, were clearly influenced to some extent by the Arthurian legends, or by the older celtic stories in which they have their roots. But I don’t remember reading any actual Arthur books which I found particularly inspiring. I really only became interested in the original legend when I was fifteen and went to see John Boorman’s film Excalibur, a very bold and eccentric re-telling which packs the whole of Arthur’s life into a couple of hours, and is full of the most extraordinary visual images. (It’s also full of blood and rude bits, and so quite rightly, carries a 15 certificate).
2. How long did it take you to write your books? A long time?
Mortal Engines took about six years, because I didn’t know if it was publishable and had to work at it during little bits of spare time between illustration jobs. Now that I can afford to devote more time to writing I find it takes between eighteen months and two years to complete a book of that length.
3. What books did you like to read when you were growing up?
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis, The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff, The Owl Service by Alan Garner and The Lord of the Rings all topped the list at different times.
4. Would you like your book to be made into a film and if so which one?
I think Mortal Engines would make a good film if it were done properly, so I’d like to see that; just so long as they don’t make Hester pretty.
5. Do you ever base your characters on people?
6. When did you decide you wanted to write books and why?
It was never really a decision, I’ve just always made up stories. I enjoyed reading books when I was young, and I was always trying to write my own as well. Later, in my twenties, my ideas tended up as comedy stage shows and no-budget films, but when I got the idea for Mortal Engines I knew it would have to be a novel, because I couldn’t afford the special effects, so that brought me back to writing books.
7. How did you find the ideas to write about Mortal Engines?
Ideas are easy; they pop up all the time, and often I have no idea where they come from. But ideas in themselves aren’t all that important; the tricky bit is building characters and stories around them.
8. Which character would you most like to be and why?
I wouldn’t want to be any of them, as they all keep getting plunged in terrifying adventures. I’m very happy just sitting in my nice warm house, writing about them all having a horrible time.
9. Why did you want to do a story about Arthur?
Ever since I was fifteen, I’ve wanted to write my own Arthur story, and after Mortal Engines was published I started to think seriously about it. But the magical, mediaeval dream-world of Arthur has been covered so often and so well that I decided that the only way in was to do a ‘historical’ version, set in the world that the real Arthur may have lived in; Post-Roman Britain in around AD 500. That’s also been done a lot by other writers (most notably Rosemary Sutcliff) but it gave me a bit more elbow room, and gradually I came up with my own way of telling the old story.
10. Are some of these books non-fiction stories?
No, all of my books so far have been works of fiction. Here Lies Arthur is of course based on the legend of King Arthur, although in fact there is no firm evidence that Arthur ever existed, and most of the things that happen in Here Lies Arthur are based on later stories – I’ve just tried to strip the magic and the romance off them and imagine what might really have happened. I’ve tried to make the 5th/6th century setting believable, but I’m not interested in absolute historical accuracy, and it wouldn’t be possible anyway, since so little is known about Britain in those years. Gwyna my central character is completely made up.