Clariel (Abhorsen #4) - Garth Nix


FOUR YEARS AGO, AFTER A CHRISTMAS LUNCH, my younger brother passed around a very small ‘book’ of four stapled-together pages that he said he’d found while helping my mother clean out a storage area under the family home. The book contained four stories written in shaky capital letters, with a couple of half-hearted illustrations done with coloured pencils. On the front, it had ‘Stories’ and ‘Garth Nix’ in the handwriting one would expect from someone aged around six.

The stories included such gems as ‘The Coin Shower,’ which was very short and went something like:

a boy went outside

it started raining coins

he picked them up

I had no memory of this story or the little booklet, and at first I thought it had been fabricated by my brother as a joke, but my parents remembered me writing the stories and engaging in this bit of self-publishing at an early age.

I wrote ‘The Coin Shower’ and the other stories in that collection about thirty-five years ago, and I’ve been writing ever since. Not always fiction, though. In my varied writing career I’ve written all kinds of things, from speeches for CEOs to brochures about brickworks to briefing papers on new Internet technologies.

I first got into print writing articles and scenarios for the role-playing games ‘Dungeons and Dragons’ and ‘Traveler’ when I was sixteen or seventeen. I wrote for magazines like Multiverse and Breakout! in Australia and White Dwarf in the United Kingdom. I tried to crack Dragon magazine in the United States, but never quite managed to sell them anything.

This minor success in getting role-playing game articles or scenarios into print led me to try my hand at getting some of my fiction published. I’d written quite a few stories here and there without success, but when I was nineteen years old, I wrote a whole lot more while I was traveling around the U.K. and Europe, broadening my horizons. I drove all over the place in a beat-up Austin 1600 with a small metal Silver-Reed typewriter in the backseat, a couple of notebooks, and lots of other people’s books. Every day I’d write something in longhand in my notebook, and then that night or perhaps the next morning I’d type up what I’d written. (That established a writing practice that has continued for more than twenty years: I write most of my novels in longhand, typing up each chapter on the computer after I’ve got the first draft done in the latest black-and-red notebook. I now have more than twenty of these notebooks, plus one very outof-place blue-and-white-striped notebook that I turned to during the stationery drought of 1996.)

I don’t write everything in longhand first, though; sometimes I just take to the keyboard. Most of my short fiction begins with handwritten notes, and perhaps a few key sentences put down with my trusty Waterman fountain pen, but then I start typing. The pen comes into its own again later, when I print out the story, make my changes and corrections, and then go back to the computer. This process often occurs when I have only part of the story written. I quite often revise the first third, or some small part, of a story six or seven times before I’ve written the rest of it. Often the revision occurs because I have left the story incomplete for a long time, and I need to revisit the existing part in order to feel my way into the story again.

Both my short and long fiction works usually begin with a thinly sketched scene, character, situation, or some combination of all three, which just appears in my head. For example, I might suddenly visualize a huge old mill by a broad river, the wheel slowly turning, with the sound of the grinding stones underlaid by the burble of the river. Or I might think of a character, say a middle-aged man who has turned away from the sorcery of his youth because he is afraid of it, but who will be forced to embrace it again. Or a situation might emerge from my subconscious, in which a man, or something that was once a man, is looking down on a group of travelers from a rocky perch, wondering whether he/it should rob them.

All these beginnings might come together into the story of a miller, once a sorcerer, who is transformed into a creature as the result of a magical compact he thought he had evaded. So he must leave his settled life and become a brigand, in