AN INTERVIEW WITH
GEORGE R. R. MARTIN
George R. R. Martin began his career as a science fiction writer with the sale of the short story 'The Hero' to the
Galaxy magazine in 1971. Since then he has published several novels and dozens of short stories which ranged from
science fiction and fantasy to horror. His works include such masterpieces as 'The Armageddon Rag', 'Windhaven',
'A Song for Lya', 'Sandkings' and many more. During his literary career he recieved a number of major awards, including three
Hugos, two Nebulas, and a Bram Stoker Award. George R. R. Martin has worked extensively in television as well, particularly
on the series 'The New Twilight Zone' and 'The Beauty and the Beast'. He is currently working on 'A Feast for Crows', the
much anticipated fourth book in his bestselling fantasy series 'A Song of Ice and Fire'...
When were you first drawn to the SF & Fantasy genre? Which writer and book influenced you the most on a
I started reading fantasy when I was still quite young, back in grade school and then in high
school. I think the first fantasy writer who really had an influence on me was Robert E. Howard. I read his Conan stories
when I was still in grade school, after I first discovered them in an anthology edited by L. Sprague de Camp. I liked that
first story enough that I looked for them wherever I could. You know, a lot of them weren't in print back then. And then it
was some years later when I discovered J. R. R. Tolkien and 'The Lord of the Rings' and that was an even more profound
influence, I think. Reading 'The Lord of the Rings' trilogy for the first time really had an enormous impact on me, I
thought it was the best book that I had ever read, it was one of those books that I did not want to end. As I approached
the end of 'The Lord of the Rings' I was almost sad that the experience will be over. So years later when I became
a writer, fantasy was one of the things that I wrote.
And have you always known that you wanted to become a writer one day?
Pretty much. I was always making up stories, even at an early age. I used to make up stories,
monster stories when I was just a kid and sell them to the other kids in the neighbourhood for a nickel so I could buy candy
bars. But when I was young I had other ambitions as well, like being an astronaut or something. I loved science fiction so I
thought I wanted to do that but at a certain point I realized that I probably wasn't actually going to go to space, but I
could write about going to space and write about fantasy worlds and so forth.
What do you think about the situation in the science fiction and fantasy genres today? Why is it that they are
often frowned upon by the mainstream critics?
I think you have to separate the genres, because the field has separated them, at least in the United States. Fantasy is
booming commercially, it's selling very well. On the other hand, a lot of it is very bad. Not all of it, I think there are
some very good people writing fantasy; Robin Hobb is doing some excellent stuff, there's still Jack Vance who is, I think,
one of the grandmasters of both of these fields and there are some other people; but there is also a lot of very bad fantasy
out there and it's selling well. Science fiction is just the reverse. It's not selling as well as it used to. It's kind of
struggling over here but on the other hand, some excellent work is being done in science fiction. There's a lot of very
fine new writers. But these things are all cyclical and every genre goes through its ups and downs, periods where
it's flourishing and periods where it's struggling. I think all this will change in time.
As to the question about
mainstream critics, I don't know how much of this would be applicable to Croatia, but I think it all goes back to the
19th century, the end of the 19th century and the early 20th century and the great literary feud between
Henry James and Robert Louis Stevenson, who had very different ideas about what fiction should be about. They conducted a
very celebrated feud in the pages of some of the magazines and journals of that day. And I think you had a division in
English literature at least at that point where some people followed James and became the so called 'literary writers'
following his tenets of what was the appropriate subject for literary matters, like realism and so forth. Other people
followed Stevenson and a much more romantic tradition, the romance, the adventure story, fanciful stories, fantasies.
Certainly, science fiction and fantasy are both very much in the Stevenson camp and are following in his tradition but most
of the mainstream literary critics are very much in the James camp and still go by the rules that he layed down, that
something can't be serious literature unless it is very grounded in reality and common ordinary experience.
Some questions about 'A Song of Ice and Fire' series. You took a lot of care to describe your world down to
the smallest detail, also inventing many sigils and coats of arms. Is there any particular reason for that?
Do you like heraldry?
Yes, I love heraldry. It's a lot of fun. I always wanted to create an epic with a large cast of
characters. Before 'A Song of Ice and Fire' I've been working in Hollywood for a long time and you are very
constricted there. When you write a television show or a movie you only have an hour or two hours. You have a budget
that limits the number of sets you can have and the number of actors, and extras you can have in some of the scenes
because everything costs money; so my work for Hollywood was almost always too big and too expensive. I was always having to
cut it down, make it a little bit smaller, and after ten years of that I was sick of it and I wanted to do something
expensive, something large, so I created Westeros. I think part of the appeal of fantasy, ever since the time
of Tolkien certainly, and maybe even going back to Robert E. Howard and the Hyborian Age, is the setting. You want to
create an entire world, an entire secondary universe and to do that you need a lot of detail. You need a lot of space. Creating
the details is part of the fun for me and hopefully part of the enjoyment for the readers.
And if you were a hedge knight in medieval times, what would you choose as you own coat of arms?
Seeing that I am a writer I would probably choose a quill pen. Or something like that...
In your books there are no black and white characters; they are all driven by their own motivations. Yet some of
them are bound by notions of honour and others don't care about that. Which of them are more fun for you to write
The character that is the most fun to write is Tyrion Lannister, my poor tormented dwarf, because
he is witty and very complex and his chapters really seem to write themselves. The characters that are hardest to
write for me are probably the children. Particulary the younger children. I think Bran is probably the single hardest
character. But I do believe in portraying grey characters. I think grey characters are more interesting then black and
white ones. If someone is always heroic he can get pretty boring to write about and I think he's
going to get pretty boring to read about. Also, it's not real. I don't see any people like that in real life.
Is 'A Feast for Crows' proving so far to be the hardest book to write in the series?
It has been the hardest book, yes. I've made some mistakes on it which is why it's so late. First
I wanted to skip some of the material and present it in flashbacks and just go on to 'A Dance with Dragons'. I spent about
a year doing that when I realised it wasn't working. So I then had to go back and start all over and not do the five year
gap that I was going to do. But even so, it's been a very tough book to write. It still is a tough book to write. I'm still
writing it, I'm still struggling with it. Hopefully it will be worth the wait.
So there is no time gap between 'A Storm of Swords' and 'A Feast for Crows' after all... What would you like to do
after you finish the series?
Probably something else. I really don't know. I still have 'A Feast for Crows' to finish, and at least
two more books to write after that. So giving the fact that each book is taking several years, my next five or six years are
kind of layed out for me. After that I don't know. I'll have to see how I feel at that time.
There are a lot of references to the British Isles in the features od Westeros. Was that intentional and are
there any other similarities between the real world and yours?
Well, certainly I wanted the series to have some of the feel of historical fiction as well as the
feel of traditional fantasy. I wanted that sense of gritty reality. So I did a lot of research and for someone
like me, an American who speaks only English, the easiest source of medieval history to research is the history of England.
Of course, we don't have any medieval history in America and while places like France and Germany and Spain have
fascinating histories of their own, a lot of the detailed books about their middle ages are not available
in English and therefore not accesible to me. That probably gave it somewhat of a British flavour. Also I am writing in
English for an English speaking audience; the books have been translated into many other languages which is great, but the
language and the culture and tradition that I really understand is the British one.
There are no maps of the complete world in the books or on the Internet. Does such a map exist?
No such map exists.
Will it be available later?
Each new book will have a couple of new maps. Each book so far has added a map or two so maybe by the
end of the series you will be able to take all the smaller maps and piece them together into the map of the world. Partly I
did that deliberately because, again, I'm going for the feel of the real middle ages. The truth is that in the real middle
ages, if you go back to 12th century or so, they didn't have a really good idea about what the rest of the world looked
like. Their concept of geography was pretty shaky. They knew what their own country looked like and the next country over,
maybe the one beyond that but then things started getting a little hazy. People didn't travel very far for the most
part. We still talk about people like Marco Polo who went to China but the fact that his name is still known
hundreds of years later shows how rare that was. The actual geography of the world was not understood and I think you
get some of that feel by not having maps, particularly of the farther away places.
Another novel of yours, 'Windhaven', was written in collaboration with Lisa Tuttle. How much does the process of writing
with a co-author differ from writing on your own?
Every collaboration is a little different, it really depends on the people involved. It's like
a marriage or a love affair. There are no rules, you make them as you go along. I wrote 'Windhaven' in the late seventies
for the most part. We wrote it initially as a series of novellas which we then expanded into a whole novel. When we
began the project I lived in Chicago, Illinois, and she lived in Texas so there were about a thousand miles between us. I
would write a section and then send it to her and then she would rewrite what I wrote, continue the story onwards and send
it back to me. Things went back and forward like that. Occasionally, once a year or so, we would get together at a
convention or one of us would visit the other and then we could sit down and talk about where the story should go. For the
most part it was manuscripts going back and forth in the mail in those primitive days before email.
What do you think about 'The Lord of the Rings' movies? If a movie or a series based upon 'A Song of Ice and
Fire' was being made and you had an unlimited budget, whom would you cast?
Yes, I love 'The Lord of the Rings' movies. I can't wait to see the third one and I think they
are terrific. I have some quibbles about one or two decisions they made but for the most part they are marvellous. As for
an 'Ice and Fire' movie, I don't know. I don't think they would be able to do it, the books are just too big. I mean, 'The Lord
of the Rings' is requiring these three enormous movies, but if you actually look at the book it's... all three books are not as
big as 'A Storm of Swords' which is only one of my books. So if it took three movies to do the Tolkien trilogy it would
probably take like 27 movies to do my story, and I don't think any studio is going to commit to 27 movies.
Still, do you have some particular actors in mind?
Not really for all the roles, but I have a few people in mind. I think Nicole Kidman would be good as Cersei.
I always liked Ron Perlman, the actor I worked with on 'The Beauty and the Beast'. He would be great as Sandor Clegane. Ron is
very good in heavy make-up and he's also a big, strong kind of guy. He has a great voice that he can do all sorts of
wonderful things with. I think he would be terrific as the Hound. For Jamie Lannister, a couple of years ago I would have
said Cary Elwes but he might be too old now. I don't know...
Finally, a few words for all of your fans in Croatia...
Well, keep reading the books, I hope you've enjoyed them. I certainly enjoyed my visit to Croatia
this year and I would love to come back some day and see more of your country. It's a gorgeous country.
Interview by Goran Zadravec