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Stories within worlds: Garth Nix on ‘Clariel’

‘The long-awaited prequel to Garth Nix’s “Old Kingdom” series (Sabriel, Lirael and Abhorsen) is going to make a lot of readers very, very happy,’ writes reviewer Holly Harper. She spoke to the author about his new book Clariel (A&U, October).

There’s been an 11-year gap between Abhorsen, the last book in the ‘Old Kingdom’ series, and Clariel, a prequel of sorts. What was it like returning to the world?
It was very interesting, not least because I’d forgotten a lot about the world and the many stories within it. I had to re-read my earlier books and also go back through various notebooks to remind myself about numerous small details. It was a bit like going back to an old school or university, once a very familiar place, that you have to get to know all over again.

Clariel explores the backstory of a character who first appeared in the original ‘Old Kingdom’ trilogy. What is it about her that spawned a whole book? And did you know you would return to explore her origins when you first wrote about her?
Clariel is essentially the ‘origin story’ of the ancient, evil necromancer Chlorr of the Mask, who first appears in Lirael. From the moment I wrote about her in that book, in her bronze mask and barbarian furs with two Free Magic creatures at her side, I wondered where she came from. In my manuscript book there is a margin note: ‘How do you get to be an ancient, evil necromancer?’ It took me a while to get around to answering that question and Clariel is the result.

The ‘Old Kingdom’ series has amassed fans across the world, of all ages. Why do you think it’s had such universal appeal?
It’s difficult to pinpoint particular reasons, and I’m not sure it’s actually possible or a good thing to try to analyse in detail the appeal of these books (or any books). Clearly readers like the imagined world, and the characters (Mogget and the Disreputable Dog in particular) and some aspects of the stories evidently resonate strongly judging from the feedback I’ve received over the years. Perhaps in the end it all comes down to a good story, told well enough to make it work, with a few distinctive touches that stick in people’s minds (which is just luck really, I never know when writing what will work for readers, I just put in what works for me).

Sabriel first came out in 1995. How do you think the young adult genre has changed since then?
YA hardly existed as a category back in 1995, it was just lumped in with children’s books, and consequently many teenagers and older adults missed out on finding many good books. Since its emergence as an independent category, I think the readership of YA has grown and broadened dramatically. The commercial success of the really phenomenal books like ‘Harry Potter’ (where the early books are clearly children’s novels but the later ones are YA), ‘Twilight’ and ‘The Hunger Games’ changed the industry expectations enormously, with a corresponding change in how seriously YA books are taken by publishers, booksellers, the media and the public at large.

Does the release of Clariel mean that fans can expect to see more books in the ‘Old Kingdom’ series?
I am writing another ‘Old Kingdom’ novel, which takes place soon after Abhorsen, but it is also connected with some of the things that happened 600 years earlier in Clariel.

One for the fans—when will Mogget be getting his own series?
Mogget is a scene-stealer. He plays quite a major part in Clariel and he may well return in the next ‘Old Kingdom’ book.

What was the last book you read and loved?
The last book I read and really loved was Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, which I thought I’d read but realised I hadn’t when it was quoted in The Victorian City: Everyday Life in Dickens London by Judith Flanders (Atlantic Books), a fascinating nonfiction read.



Category: Features