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Interview with Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

Posted by Michelle on February 5, 2009

Paul and Chris are the people who have brought us The Edge Chronicles, and the final book, The Immortals is published today, Feb 5th. I feel honoured to have been able to review this book very recently, and I’m now working my way through the earlier books.

Over to Chris and Paul..

Q. Who came up with the initial idea for the series, and where did it come from? For those who are new to the series, how would you briefly describe it?

A. The Edge Chronicles themselves started in one of these sketch books. Back in 1994, Chris drew a map of the Edge, with its familiar jutting rock, floating city and endless forests. He gave it to Paul, saying ‘Here’s the world. Let’s find out what happens in it.’

The Edge Chronicles are a series of books based in the Edge lands where all sorts of adventures happen. There are battles, funny moments, characters you empathise with, sky pirate ships, strange creatures, lots of illustrations and a cracking good story.

The books are not traditional fantasies. They are influenced by the tales of the Brothers Grimm and Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast. In much traditional fantasy, a world of good versus evil is depicted. The Edge does not deal with black and white in this way, but rather in shades of grey, which is far more like our own world. There is also no magic. We thought it would be too convenient if a cloak of invisibility or magic spell was used to solve a problem. Instead, the world has its own physical properties, from floating rocks to solidified lightning.

The Immortals is the tenth and final instalment and it publishes this month. It’s set 500 years after the end of the previous book, in the Third Age of Flight. This third age has been made possible by the unlocking and harnessing of stormphrax’s immense power: the power of lightning.

Q. How did it progress from the initial idea.. does Chris add the illustrations after the stories are told, or do you gain inspiration from each other?

A. Our working method varies. Sometimes passages influence the drawings, sometimes the drawings influence the text as we are working. Most important, however, is talking. The Edge Chronicles are a collaboration. We plot and plan together, talking over every aspect of the storyline and the Edgeworld itself. Out of these long conversations, the books slowly emerge, first as text, and then final illustrations are added.

Q. What was your initial vision, did you intend to write just one book, one trilogy, or the whole series.

A. When we first started the series, we thought it might turn out to be a trilogy – if we were lucky. By the time we’d finished the three books about Twig, Beyond the Deepwoods, Stormchaser and Midnight over Sanctaphrax, we had so many ideas remaining that we decided to produce two more books – the first, Curse of the Gloamglozer, a prequel, to tell the tale of his father, Quint; the second, the Last of the Sky Pirates, a sequel, to reveal what had happened to Twig. This book introduced a third main character, Rook Barkwater, Twig’s grandson. His adventures also turned into a trilogy, with Vox and Freeglader.

So both Twig and Rook had three books each about them, but Quint only had one – though not for long. The Winter Knights and Clash of the Sky Galleons followed his boyhood through the Knights Academy of Sanctaphrax and off in the Galerider in search of his family’s murderer. The Lost Barkscrolls is four stories in one book, taken from episodes that occurred in the first and second Age of Flight.

Once we had got so far, the Immortals – the tenth and final book – had to be written to bring all the threads of the stories together and, as American therapists put it, to achieve closure.

Q. Do you have to keep lots of notes, to remind you who lives where, the developing time lines etc, or is it all stored in your mind?

A. Yes, it’s a complex world! The thing is we’re so absorbed in it, it’s as if the characters are our best friends, and you don’t forget your best friend’s birthday or what happened to their parents, or when they were injured in a battle! We have lots of notes, but mostly we talk, talk, talk – plus our editor at the publisher is very good at spotting when we make mistakes or there are inconsistencies.

Q. Do you feel that all the books in the Chronicles are aimed at the same age group, or has the writing changed as your initial audience grow up?

A. We write the Edge Chronicles for ourselves, or rather the twelve-year old boys we once were. Both of us loved adventure books when we were that age, from Henry Treece to Willard Price. We’d have loved the Edge if it had existed then! Throughout the writing of the Edge series, both of us have had long, detailed conversations with our sons about the world, and their reactions have helped us steer a course through the books. Our readership is very varied, from enthusiastic boys and girls and their parents, to a post-graduate student in Los Angeles who was writing his thesis on the Edge. And Chris’s mum, a vicar’s wife in her seventies, also loves them.

Q. Do you have a favourite book or trilogy? How about the characters, do any stand out for you as your favourites?

A. Paul’s favourite character is Xanth Filatine. He is a complex figure, with divided loyalties, sometimes doing good things for bad reasons, sometimes doing bad things for good reasons.

Chris’s favourite character is Zelphyius Dax, a librarian knight of the Third Age of Flight, who voyages through the Deepwoods aboard his skycraft, the Varis Lodd. He remembers and reveres the past, and is an opponent of new phraxships and the ecological damage inflicted by progress.

Q. The Immortals wraps up old stories, and is said to be the final instalment in The Edge Chronicles – did you always plan to write that final book, rather then letting the series continue on indefinitely?

A. We had to stop somewhere! We’ve been in absorbed in this world for over 10 years, we live, eat and breath the Edge – it can be all–consuming.

We always intended the Edge Chronicles to be a self-contained series of books, and the Immortals completes the story arc. Various threads were left untied in the previous books. What happened to Cloud Wolf in the white storm? Was Twig alive or dead when the caterbird takes him to Riverrise? What happened to old Sanctaphrax when the anchor-chain was cut and it floated off at the end of Midnight over Sanctaphrax? Where did stone sickness come from? And what became of the gloamglozer? All these questions, and more, are answered in The Immortals.

Q. So now The Edge Chronicles has come to an end, where do you both go now? Will you continue to work together, or working on separate projects?

A. We don’t think we’ll ever stop working together! And yes, we have a very exciting idea we are working on at the moment but we’re not allowed to say any more about it. Ssssshhh!

Q. What else have you both written or illustrated?

A. Paul has a number of picture books and novels out like Dogbird and The Weather Witch, and Chris writes and illustrates the Ottoline books; Ottoline and the Yellow Cat and Ottoline Goes to School. Chris also does some picture books for Walker.

Q. Finally, what did you enjoy reading when you were younger?

A. Paul loved Rupert annuals, the Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, the ‘Alice’ books, all the novels of Alan Garner, especially Elidor. He also read huge amounts of science fiction.

Chris, as a boy, loved Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown, old Dandy and Beano annuals, Professor Branestawm by Norman Hunter, and the Weirdstone of Brisingamen by Alan Garner.

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