|George R. R. Martin Webchat Transcript|
The Game Of Thrones author explains his methods - and what's left to write...
George RR Martin was already a successful writer, but his career exploded when he began the series called A Song Of Ice And Fire in the 1990s. It went stratospheric when the story was adapted by HBO as Game OF Thrones, one of the most talked-about shows of last year. As the show's second season gets underway on Sky Atlantic, we invited the author in to answer your questions on what's happened so far, what's left to write, and what his favourite sandwich is. Surprisingly, what follows is relatively spoiler-free, except where marked.
francesemma says: Are the direwolves what you imagined?
Well, this season they are. In the first season we were using dogs, a breed called the Northern Inuit that was specially bred to look like wolves, but they were also bred to not have the ferocity of wolves, and that actually caused problems when we were filming because the dogs were too nice. We wanted them to bare their teeth and growl, and instead they would lick the actors' faces and wag their tails. So we had to lose them from a number on scenes they were in. In this season, we're using real wolves, in very controlled conditions, plus CG and CG enhanced wolves, and we're getting something much closer to what I imagined in the books in terms of size and ferocity and the danger of the wolves.
portnoy says: Is there an update on when The Winds Of Winter will be published? The books have always been worth the wait but would be great to know.
When it's done!
Bryan89 says: How much planning do you do when you're writing a book? Do you have a plan for each chapter, or do you write with a general outline of where the story is headed?
Don't write outlines; I hate outlines. I have a broad sense of where the story is going; I know the end, I know the end of the principal characters, and I know the major turning points and events from the books, the climaxes for each book, but I don't necessarily know each twist and turn along the way. That's something I discover in the course of writing and that's what makes writing enjoyable. I think if I outlined comprehensively and stuck to the outline the actual writing would be boring.
Jim_Roper says: With regard to the singer Marillion, are you a fan of the band or is this just coincidence?
It's just a coincidence; I had never heard of the band until the book came out and people pointed it out to me. Perhaps I had heard of them and the name stuck in the back of my mind when I was looking for a name for the singer, but my taste in music runs primarily to ‘50s and ‘60s rock, the kind of music I talk about in my novel The Armaggeddon Rag. There are homages in the books, tips of the hat to other writers I admire, and occasionally entertainers or icons or pop culture figures just for the hell of it. But Marillion is not one of them. The Three Stooges are in there though, if you can find them!
Jen Louise says: Have you got a favourite House?
Probably the Starks. After all, it all began with the Starks.
Mikey says: I have a question that's been bothering me for six books now - what's with hands? How come characters keep getting hand injuries?
Well, actually hand injuries were very common in the Middle Ages. When you fight with swords and axes and do a lot of hand labour, you get a lot of hand injuries. In fact, even leaving out the swords and axes you get a lot of hand injuries. my father was a longshoreman, a stevedore, and I know they would always get hand injuries. They would wear protective gloves, but they would still get injuries. There are other touches of realism; my characters who fight in repeated battles in these books tend to get scars. They lose noses and ears and become disfigured, and that's a consequence of those battles. That's where the icon of the Scarred Warrior comes from. Every time you go into a fight you risk emerging a little less pretty than when you went in.
Risinger says: Is there a work a of fiction with which you would compare A Song Of Fire And Ice?
Well, not exactly. I mean, obviously I stand upon the shoulder of giants; there are many great fantasists that have gone before me, and many great writers of historical fiction, and I built A Song Of Ice And Fire upon those foundations. I was inspired by these great writers. But then again, I wanted to tell my own story, a story that was unique and that only I can tell. One work I will mention because I know that Harper Collins is coming out again in the UK, a series of novels by Maurice Druon called The Accursed Kings, written in France, seven books long and six have been translated into English but they're hard to find. They have a similar feel to Ice And Fire, although not fantasy: they concern the curse of the Templars, the fall of the Capetians, the start of the Hundred Year War. And they're coming out in English in new editions.
What's your favourite type of cheese?
My favourite type of cheese? Well, I like cheese too much perhaps! I'm very fond of cheddar, the sharper the better. You say "mature" here, right? I also like soft runny French cheeses like camembert and brie, and stilton, and a Swiss cheese called Gjetost.
Qhorinmate says: I have read that Westeros is "sort of based on medieval Britain". How true is that and what would be the most fascinating thing about this set of islands that has attracted you to its history?
Westeros is probably closer to medieval Britain than anything else. Geographically, it occupies a somewhat similar position off a larger contintent, although Westeros is considerably larger and is, in fact, a continent itself, more like South America. And although I've drawn on many parts of history, the War of the Roses is probably the one my story is closest to.
MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT! Bensio says: You’ve mentioned that the Red Wedding is the most difficult thing you've ever written. How much of an emotional attachment do you have with the characters you've created and how do you see the opportunities of creating new characters? Do you dread their fate?
I have a huge emotional attachment to characters I've created, especially the viewpoint characters. When I'm writing from a character's viewpoint, in essence I become that character; I share their thoughts, I see the world through their eyes and try to feel everything they feel. So when you share that bond with someone, even a fictional someone, it does become difficult to kill them. So that's why the Red Wedding was so painful - and there are other painful things too. So it is difficult to kill off a viewpoint character in particular. But on the other hand, I love creating new characters, as you can tell by the number that I create.
Sometimes when I create a new character, even a very minor character, I have all these ideas about them, and it's almost as if I could write a whole story about them. Even a character that comes in for a short scene, I want him to be as fleshed as he can be, a real human being, even if it's just one character. We're all the hero of our own story. So you might have a scene where two lords are drinking a cup of wine and a servant comes in to pour the wine, and it may be that all our attention is on the lord, but the serving man is a person too, and from his point-of-view the story is, "How long will these guys be talking? My feet hurt. I'm worried about my daughter; is she fooling around with the stable boy?" I may not put that in, but sometimes all it takes is a single word or a single line for a minor character, and suddenly he emerges as a real person before fading back into the background.
emmie87 says: I loved one of your earlier works, Fevre Dream. Am I right in thinking you haven't written another vampire novel since? What was the inspiration behind writing that one and have you considered revisiting the genre?
You are right; fevre Dream is my only vampire novel. I do have some ideas for a sequel to that book, which I've had for decades. It's a question of finding the time to write it, and whether I will. I don't know if I ever will. I had always wanted to write something about vampires, going all the way back to the beginning of my career. For some reason, when I thought about vampires, having read Dracula and all that, it always seemed to me that it had to be a period piece, it couldn't be modern day. But again I didn't want to do something that had been done before; I wanted it to be something original. So it began to gel for me in the late ‘70s when I took a job teaching college in Dubuque, Iowa. Dubuque is an old river town on the Upper Mississippi, when the steamboats used to ply their trade, and I got interested in the history of the place and suddenly it seemed to gel for me. Vampires and steamboats: there was a certain dark romanticism to both, and as far as I knew, no one else had ever done vampires on teamboats, and Fevre Dream was the result.
ElliotSquash says: If you could recommend any one fantasy novel or series, other than your own, and other than Lord Of The Rings, what would it be?
Jack Vance, The Dying Earth. It's not a series in the same sense that mine is. it's four books, largely made up of short stories, and share only a setting with each other, and a character in the case of the middle two; the wonderfully amoral and unscrupulous Kugel the Clever, whose schemes and plots always come back to bite him in the butt. But Vance is the great stylist of sci fi and fantasy, no one writes like him, and The Dying Earth is his finest work. With my friend, I edited a tribute anthology a couple of years ago, when writers wrote stories set in the world of The Dying Earth, including myself, Neil Gaiman, Melissa Shepherd, and on and on...
hamburglar says: When something I have read has been adapted to the screen my visualisations of the characters change having actually seen a representation of them visually. I was just wondering if, having had the characters placed on the screen, the image of them in your head has changed at all, or if, having been with them for so many years you have a very concrete idea of what they look like in your head?
The latter! I know the phenomenon that you're talking about and it does affect me when watching adaptations of other books by other writers. For example, I recently read The Hunger Games and saw the movie and I think if I go back and read that book now I will see those actors; but it doesn't happen with my own work. I've been living with these characters since 1991 in some cases; their images are fixed very strongly in my head, and it would be very difficult to replace them with our actors, good as they are. Also, I've seen dozens of other versions of these characters in the comic books, the card game, the book covers. These are characters that change over and over again, so there are a wealth of characterisations to choose from.
rhysbane says: you've probably been asked this before but which character is the most "fun" for you to write?
Mafalda Correia says: What are your favorite authors and books, and which authors influenced you (in terms of prose, characters, everything you can remember)?
Well, I've already named several in this chat. Jack Vance, JRR Tolkien, Maurice Druon... I think the authors who influence you most are probably the authors that you read and love when you're young, and in my case those would include Robert A Heinlein, HP Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Fritz Leiber. In historical fiction, Thomas B Costaine, Frank Yerby...I love Bernard Cornwell, Steven Pressfield, F. Scott Fitzgerald, but really I could go on listing names for an hour. There are a lot of great writers out there in all genres that I enjoy and appreciate.
Matty B says: Would you ever consider making a cameo in the TV show? If so, what sort of role would you play?
Actually, I made a cameo in the original pilot, which was filmed in Morocco. I was a Pentoshi nobleman, and one of the guests at Dany's wedding to Khal Drogo. however, subsequently we recast the part of Dany, so the entire Morocco wedding sequence was cut, and my brilliant cameo was left on the cutting room floor. I also had investigated the idea of being a head on a spike, and David and Dan were going to put my severed head on a spike at one point, but then they got the quote for what that would cost. Those severed heads are expensive and our budget is tight! So unless I provide my own I don't get to be a severed head! But one of my fans who does that sort of thing has offered me the chance to make one next time I go out to LA. How could I resist? I could have my own severed head and carry it around in a bowling bag.
Jonny Holloway says: From Dreamsongs, it seems you started your writing career by writing short stories and getting them published in magazines. Do you think this is still a viable way for an aspiring writer to start their career?
Yes, definitely. In fact it's still the advice I give to all aspiring writers. Start with short stories. After all, if you were taking up rock climbing you wouldn't start with Mount Everest. So if you're starting fantasy, don't start with a nine-book series. Short stories have their own discipline, but you can try different things as you are finding your own voice, and hopefully you can sell a few and make a name for yourself before writing that first novel.
Gorillotaur says: Do you regret splitting A Feast For Crows and A Dance With Dragons by geography instead of chronology?
I regret the necessity to split the books, but if I had to split them, then I think geography was preferable to chronology for a variety of reasons.
Del says: How do you feel about the changes from the books that the Game of Thrones TV series makes?
I like the fact that David (Benioff) and Dan (Weiss) are doing a faithful adaptation so when the scenes are the scenes from the books, I like those. And I like almost all of the new scenes, not from the books, that David and Dan and the other writers have added. The only thing that I miss is the scenes that are left out, scenes from the books that are not included in the TV show that I wish they would have included. As I watch a show I'm always thinking, "Oh, this is coming next" and then that scene isn't there.
But I understand the necessity for that. We have ten hours and that's always we have. You cannot put every line of dialogue, every incident, in the TV show. You have to cut to the chase. I do rather wish we had more than 10 hours. Not a lot more: 12 hours per season would be ideal. Many other HBO shows are 12 hours per season. If we had had those extra two hours, we could have included some of those small, character scenes that would have helped develop the characters more and flesh them out, develop their depth and contradiction and be a little more subtle. But we don't have 12 hours, we have ten. And given that I think the television show is extraordinary.
AJamesDarkly says: I was interested in knowing which film you’d consider to be your favourite and what film or kind of films inspire your writing, if at all?
Well, I gave a list of my top ten sci-fi films and top ten fantasy films of all time for the Daily Beast, like a year ago. Those lists might still be up on their website with my explanations. But I believe I named Peter Jackson's LotR trilogy as the best fantasy film, and Forbidden Planet as the best science-fiction film. If you want to widen the parametres to include non-genre films, then I have many favourites including some classics like Casablanca and Citizen Kane; some perhaps more idiosyncratic choice like The Hudsucker Proxy, which is my favourite Coen brothers film.
jenifun says: And have you ever met anyone that has learned Dothraki? Tyroshi? You know, like some people learn Klingon...
David Peterson, the man who invented the language for HBO, certainly knows Dothraki. I now consult him when I want to invent a new Dothraki word. He's prepared a dictionary and a lexicon. It's amazing; it added so much to the show to have them speak Dothraki with subtitles rather than just English. In 2010, I visited the Jenolon Caves in Australia, and in some of the caves they have self-guided tours where you pick up a headset and get descriptions of what you're looking at. Since this is a big tourist destination they offer these in many languages. One of which is Klingon. I was startled when I saw that - I do wonder how many people choose to take the Klingon tour. But that has now become my ambition, to have the Dothraki language added to that, so we have equality with the damn Klingons.
dtb47 says: Ice And Fire and really looking forward to the next instalment... but how are you going to finish it in just two books?
Two BIG books. 1500 manuscript pages each - that's 3000 pages. I think I have a good shot. And you know, if I really get pressed, I've already established that red comet. I can just have it hit Westeros and wipe out all life.
Bensio says: I’ve heard that you were a fan of HBO's Rome, which character, if any, were translated into A Song Of Ice And Fire in some way or was just your favourite character of the TV series?
Titus Pullo! Who could not love Titus Pullo?
thefield says: What's your favourite sandwich?
Probably a classic Philadelphia cheese steak, as made only in Philadelphia; accept no substitutes that claim to be Philadelphia cheese steaks but come from outside Philadelphia. They're not the same.
The secret is the cheese. You cannot put good cheese on a Philadelphia cheese steak. People in other cities try to put on mozzarella or brie or something. But they're making a fundamental mistake; the secret is Cheez Whiz, applied to the steak and onions, and gives it that really sleazy three-in-the-morning taste.