© Mark Pringle
What are your five favourite books, and why?
Emma by Jane Austen. It is the cleverest of books. I especially love the dialogue every speech reveals the characters? obsessions and preoccupations, yet it remains perfectly natural. Emma lacks many of the qualities that one would imagine a book needs to make it compelling. True, some fairly dramatic things happen (a young woman is torn between an illicit romance which may make her happy, and her duty which will surely make her miserable) but the heroine manages to miss pretty much all of them so the reader does too. The central conflict and romance is not in the least melodramatic, but it is absolutely gripping. And none of the characters is malicious. Even in Jane Austen there is usually one character with a little wickedness, but here there is only very ordinary vulgarity and selfishness.
The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K.Chesterton. It?s something like a very exciting detective novel and something like a poem and something like a theological puzzle and most of the dialogue reads as if it were written by Oscar Wilde. Unsurprisingly it?s not much like anything else in the world. It?s very visual. The scenes are laid before you in a series of images images that are exact, startling, simple and colourful. It?s like entering a beautiful hallucination or a benevolent nightmare. As in detective novels (and poetry and theology) the most mundane objects or actions can have immense significance. At the same time it is perfectly of its time and conveys a sense of what it was to be a certain sort of dandified English gentleman in 1908.
Watchmen by Alan Moore. This is a graphic novel - and it?s about superheroes. Nevertheless it?s full of real characters and real situations. The first time I read it I could not put it down. I managed on very little sleep and when I had to go to work I felt physically ill until I was able to go back to it. Moore does things in Watchmen which are impossible to do in a film or a novel without getting tricksy or arty. For example he can easily interweave two apparently unrelated stories, happening at the same time in New York - showing one in pictures, and running the dialogue of the other over the top. Of course the stories aren?t unrelated they comment on each other and make each other deeper, darker, more moving. It is simply virtuoso..
Sherlock Holmes stories by Arthur Conan Doyle. I read all of them most years. Doyle creates a perfectly realised world and a quirky, cold, difficult hero who nevertheless is absolutely morally reliable.
CAMRA Good Beer Guide 2004. So many beers, so little time..
Who are your five favourite authors, and why?
Jane Austen who got as close to perfection as anyone can.
Alan Moore (see above) who, in the words of Jonathan Ross, causes middle-aged men (and women) to fall to their knees in comic shops, weeping in gratitude.
Charles Dickens: There is no one Dickens novel I could pick over all the others. Dickens is huge like the sky. Pick any page of Dickens and it?s immediately recognisable as him, yet he might be doing social satire, or farce, or horror, or a psychological study of a murderer or any combination of these. He?s always much more than you remember more playful, more surreal, more campaigning, more sentimental, more Victorian, more good and more bad.
Neil Gaiman who is the most audacious and surprising writer. In the first comic of his I read, he emptied Hell. I was quite shocked. I thought 'Are you really allowed to do that?' Apparently you are.
Joss Whedon and other assorted writers of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Not perfect. The plots often creak. But the dialogue is wonderful and the characterisation is as almost as good. Apparently Joss Whedon starts from emotion. He asks what emotion does the viewer need to feel? and what emotion does the character need to feel? These are very good questions for any writer in writing any fiction. Get that right and your readers/viewers will want to keep reading/watching.
Who or what was your biggest influence in deciding to become a writer? What inspired you to write Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell?
Boredom, probably. And a restless, intrusive sort of imagination. I could always imagine more interesting places to be than where I was. And more interesting people than me being there. Eventually this led to making up stories and writing things down.
I always really liked magicians. I?m not even sure why except that they know things other people don?t and they live in untidy rooms full of strange objects. In C. S. Lewis?s Narnia stories there are only two magicians. One is weak and wicked, and the other barely gets two lines of dialogue. But they both fascinated me. One (the weak one) has a tray of magic rings, green and yellow, as shiny and bright as sweets. They?re magic, they?re jewelry and they look like scrummy sweets. What?s not to like? In Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell I wanted to create the most convincing story of magic and magicians that I could. The closest model was Ursula Le Guin?s Earthsea stories. While you?re reading them, magic seems perfectly real. You feel it must exist and it must be just as Le Guin describes.
It seemed to me that you make magic real by making it a little prosaic, a little difficult and disappointing never quite as glamorous as the other characters imagine. As one of the characters says in Strange & Norrell: "Magic! Do not speak to me of magic! It is just like everything else, full of setbacks and disappointments." That?s a very key statement.
Were Jonathan Strange, Mr Norrell and the Raven King modeled after any historical figures?
Not really. Their antecedents are mostly literary. Strange has a touch of Byron in him, I suppose, and a little of the eighteenth-century rakes Valmont in Les Liaisons Dangereuses and so forth. I wanted him to have a little wickedness in him or the potential for wickedness, at any rate.
The Raven King had an odd genesis. Ursula Le Guin has a magician in the Earthsea trilogy who has no name: the Grey Mage of Paln, whose magic was so dubious, his name was forgotten. And there?s a magician in The Lord of the Rings, right at the very end, who comes out of Mordor to do battle against our heroes, and no one knows his name because he himself has forgotten it. I thought this was rather cool, and when I was developing my magicians, I wanted one without a name. Unfortunately I hadn?t quite understood what would happen if I had a major character without a name. The consequence has been that he has acquired more names than most people: the Raven King, John Uskglass, the Black King, the King of the North and a fairy name that no one can pronounce.
Mr. Norrell is more difficult. The only person I can think of that he might be based on is me. We share the same hobbies: staying at home, surrounded by books and not answering the phone. I think I got him originally from a jigsaw puzzl