Stan Nicholls



My interview with Robert Jordan last month seemed to go down fairly well, as did the one with Joseph Pistone (“Donnie Brasco”) in the June 2022 update, so I thought I'd post another. The following interview with Marvel supremo Stan Lee appeared in UK's Fantazia magazine issue 18, cover dated November 1991, which after so long I guess qualifies it for an airing – and I've reinstated a few passages that were excised at the time because of length considerations.

The main challenge when interviewing someone like Lee, who'd been profiled numerous times before I got to him, is what you can ask that he hadn't already been endlessly questioned about. And there's always the risk that going over well-trod ground yet again might solicit cliched or less than enthusiastic answers. I needn't have worried. Stan Lee was an exemplary interviewee, a polished anecdotist, and if he was wearied by my questions he certainly didn't show it. He was funny, too. He was tickled that we shared the same first name, and when he found out that my girlfriend at the time was called Joan, which was also his wife's name, he thought it hilarious. “Okay,” he said, “I'll be Stan one and you're Stan two. The girls can duke it out for first place.”

I think the title of the piece was something the magazine decided on rather than whatever I called it, but we'll go with theirs:



Stan Lee entered the comicbook industry in 1940, when he was just sixteen years old, as assistant to Joe Simon and Jack Kirby at Timely Comics, the forerunner of Marvel. A pretty mind-blowing experience for an ambitious teenager. “Yes, it was,” Lee agrees, “but I had worked before, believe it or not. While I was still at school I had some freelance jobs, including writing obituaries for the Associated Press.

“But I got tired of writing about living people in the past tense. It was very depressing. I went on to write publicity releases for a hospital, and I never could understand what I was supposed to be achieving; were we trying to convince people to get sick so they would go to that hospital?

“Then I saw this ad for an assistant at Timely, although I never thought it would be a steady job. In those days comics were nothing, they weren't thought of highly at all. But I figured, 'Well, it's a living; I'll learn something about how magazines are done then get out into the real world.' I've stayed there ever since.”

In a little over a year he was editing the company's entire line. “What happened was shortly after I came to work there Simon and Kirby moved on. It was such a small company I was about the only fellow left, and the publisher said, 'Do you think you can handle things until I hire a real adult human being?' When you're seventeen what do you know? So I said, 'Sure.'”

Shortly after this he changed his name from Stanley Martin Lieber to Stan Lee. “I started using the name Stan Lee because I felt I didn't want to use my real name,” he explains. “I was saving that for the great American Novel I was going to write. Stanley Martin Lieber was on my driver's licence and my credit cards, but then I started getting credit cards in the name of Stan Lee, because everybody knew me as Stan Lee. Sometimes I'd go to a store to charge something and they'd say, 'What name?' and I'd say 'Stan Lee' and they didn't have that, so I'd say, 'Oh, try Stanley Lieber', and felt like an idiot. It became so confusing that finally I legally changed my name. I'm sorry I did it because Stan Lee is such a dumb name. People say to me, 'What's your name?' I say, 'Stan Lee', and they'll say, 'Stanley what?' Now I'm thinking of changing it to 'What'.”

Cut to the early sixties. The industry is moribund and Lee is thinking of looking for a new career. “Oh, I was going to do that all the time. I got married at about twenty-five, and I kept thinking, 'Now I'm an adult and a married man how can I be in the comicbook business?' I would say to my wife, 'After the new year I'll quit.' Then I'd get a raise or we'd publish some new books I'd be interested in and I'd say, 'Next year I'll quit.' I was always aiming to quit and write that Great American Novel or a movie or something. All the time I was there I never thought I would stay.”

In fact it was his wife, Joan, who in 1961 pushed him into a decision that was to prove historic. “That's when I finally, really was going to leave. She said, 'All these years you've been saying you wanted to do stories the way you wanted to do them. You're going to leave anyway, what have you got to lose? The worst that will happen is they'll fire you.'
“So that's when I brought out the Fantastic Four, and tried to make it what I thought of as more realistic. The characters would act toward each other the way perhaps real people might act towards each other. For instance, instead of the girl just being a token female who was in love with the male but doesn't know he's really a hero, she knew damn well who he was, and she was a member of the team also. She wasn't just some helpless girl always screaming, 'Save me!'

“I made the Torch a teenager, but instead of the typical teenager who follows the heroes around I tried to make him somebody who's pretty independent. In fact he didn't particularly want to belong to the team. He though, 'Hey, I'm not getting paid enough,' or, 'I want to go out and polish my car and meet some girls.' So I tried to be realistic about it. The older readers started buying the book and they considered it satire. I discovered I was a great satirist, and I didn't even know it.

“We had four characters, and you were always trying to get a lot of variety. So okay, we had the good-looking hero, we had the young boy who's also good-looking, we had the girl. What about a real ugly guy who was a humorous, sympathetic monster? The Thing I guess was one of my all-time favourite characters. I loved doing his dialogue, I loved having him argue and fight with the Torch, and tell Reed he was the biggest bore in the world, and why can't he use one word instead of twenty? I adored him because he was so grumpy and irascible. Kind of like me, I guess.”

At the time, did he regard the Fantastic Four as just another story? “Oh that's right; I didn't think it would be anything special. I was just getting it out of my system because I thought I'd be fired. I didn't even think about it once it was out of the way. In those days you didn't see your stuff as being anything great, you know? Then the sales figures came in and it had sold so well my publishers said, 'Hey, make up something else.' So the next one was the Hulk, and that did pretty well, and they said, 'Do another one.' That was Spider-Man, and we were off and running.

“It was an incredible period. It was as though we couldn't do anything wrong. I don't understand how it happened. It was like something up there just shone down and said, 'We're going to give you two or three years when everything you make up will work.' And most of those titles are still selling amazingly well today.”

Ironically, Spider-Man nearly didn't appear at all. Publisher Martin Goodman was not keen on the idea, and thought spiders too icky a subject. “He said, 'You can't make a hero out of a spider, people hate spiders; and his name sounds too much like Superman,'” Lee recalls.

“Then when I told him I wanted Spider-Man to be a seventeen year-old, he said, 'You can't let a teenager be a hero. Teenagers are always sidekicks, heroes are adults.' He hated everything about it. I had to wait until we had a magazine that was about to be discontinued [Amazing Adult Fantasy] because when you're going to drop a title nobody cares what you put in the last issue. So I sneaked Spider-Man into that and, again, forgot about it. A few months later we discovered it was the best selling book we had ever had. My publisher said to me, 'That idea we both liked, Spider-Man, let's make a series out of it'!”

Lee always hated the idea of teenage sidekicks and stoutly refused to conform to the convention. “The publishers, not just mine but all of them, felt that if you're doing stories for children you have to have a child as one of the main characters so the reader can empathise. I thought that was stupid. When I was young I read Ulysses and there were no little teenage sidekicks in it. I read about Robin Hood and he didn't have a teenage sidekick. Tarzan didn't have one. Sherlock Holmes didn't have one; he had Doctor Watson, a full-grown adult. In all the things I loved there were no teenage sidekicks. The only teenage sidekick I could think of was Robin, with Batman, and I hated Robin. I used to think that if I were an adult superhero why would I want to pal around with a teenager? At the very least people would talk. It's ridiculous.

“You know, I loved Spider-Man because he was very much like me in a way. I had all the wisecracks I thought I would use if I were fighting a villain. I liked getting him into trouble and making it so that whatever happened to him it didn't turn out good. Even if he won, and defeated a criminal, I'd arrange it somehow that the police would think he was in league with the villain or something. It was fun dreaming up those situations.”

One disadvantage of not having a sidekick was that the superhero had no one to talk to and convey plot aspects to the readers. Lee got around this by using thought balloons more than they had probably ever been used before. “He [Spider-Man] was always soliloquising, and the reason was of course that there was nobody else for him to talk to. He was kind of his own sidekick.. By putting in all those thought balloons you felt you knew him much more than another character who's saying, 'There goes the crook, I'd better catch him before he gets away.' With Spider-Man you knew what he was worried about and dreaming of.

“I felt the perfect formula for these stories was to take a fantasy angle and make the reader accept it. Like you have to accept that a guy could be bitten by a radioactive spider and then crawl up walls. But, assuming there was such a person, what would his life be like in the real world? How would he react to girls? What would happen to his school work, his family problems? How would he make a living? Wouldn't he still have to worry about acne, dandruff, in-growing toenails, allergy attacks? It made the character seem real to the readers. Suddenly they were reading about a hero who had personal problems. You never read of Superman or Batman having personal problems, or not until after our books became popular anyway.”


One of Spider-Man's achievements was to help soften the draconian Comics Code when Lee decided to write a story about drugs in issues 96-98. “What happened was I had a letter from the Office of Health, Education and Welfare in Washington DC, recognising the influence Spider-Man had on the youth of America, and asking if I could do some anti-drug stories.

Well, I don't like to lecture or seem as though I'm preaching, so I wove the theme into a regular story. I know nothing about drugs. I've never taken them and know less about them than anybody, so I couldn't get too technical. So I just had a guy, a friend of Spider-Man, and said he had overdosed on something. I'd read that when you take a trip or whatever they call it sometimes you think you can fly. So he was on the edge of the roof and he said he was going to fly, and Spider-Man of course saved him just in time, and said, 'You idiot, what are you doing that for?'

“When I sent the book to the Comics Code Authority they said, 'You can't use these stories because they mention drugs.' I said, 'But they're not telling kids to take drugs. I did this because a branch of the federal government asked me to do it.' 'Sorry, you can't mention drugs.' So I figured these people were crazy and just ran the stories without the comicbook code seal of approval on them.

“We got a lot of affirmative reaction from teachers and social workers in the United States. They loved it. But we also got headlines like, 'Comics Code Authority in dispute with Marvel Comics over drug issue.' Somehow those headlines made it look as if we'd published a drug book and the Code was trying to stop it. But it turned out pretty good actually, because after that the Comics Code got a little more lenient. They realised that mentioning drugs isn't bad if you're trying to tell kids not to take them.

“Actually, without the seal, the books sold better. People have asked me if I've felt inhibited because of the Comics Code, and I say no, because all that the Code provided was we shouldn't be too sexy or too violent, or insult established institutions. I had no intention of doing any of those things.”

Most of Marvel's success, Lee contends, comes down to hard work and, perhaps even more importantly, the ability to adapt. “Years ago, when I was doing a lot of editing and hiring writers, I remember one guy coming to me who wanted to write for us. I said, 'Great, I have a western story I need a writer for right now; you can try that.' And he said, 'I don't write westerns. I just do mystery stories.' I said, 'Wait a minute. In comics you write everything. A story is a story.' In a mystery story you write, 'Follow that car!'; in a western you say, 'Follow that stagecoach!' In a mystery you say, 'Put down that gun, you rat!' In a western you say, 'Drop that gun, hombre!' A story is a story. You have a guy who wants to do something bad, you have a hero who wants to stop him. Either he rides a horse or he rides in a car; he wears a cowboy hat or he wears a cap. I used to write everything. I wrote romance, westerns, humour, war stories, on and on. I didn't consider myself a war story writer or a western writer. I never thought, 'Gee, now I've got to write a science fiction plot.' You just did it. Whatever had to be written, you wrote. When you're writing fiction it seems to me you should be able to write anything.”

Believability is another vital ingredient. “I think you have to believe it when you're writing it,” Lee maintains. “When I read Sherlock Holmes I knew he was a fictitious character but I believed in him. I knew there was no Tarzan, but while I was reading it I worried about him, I hoped the lion didn't eat him up. I think we all do that. It's the same when you write; you have to believe it while you're writing it even though you know it's not for real. In fact, not only do I believe in it but my wife used to come in when I was writing and say, 'Who are you talking to?' She'd laugh because I'd be acting the dialogue out loud. If I was Doctor Doom I'd be saying, 'Oh no you don't, Richards!' If I was doing Thor I'd be Odin and I would say something like, 'Thou shalt not and I have spoken!' I got into the mood of the thing all the time.

“I lived in New York and most of the artists and writers did, so by basing the stories there we could make everything as real as possible. That was another little trick. We were one of the first companies to mention real places and things. Like, Johnny Storm didn't drive a Whiz-Bang V7, he drove a Chevy Corvette. When they went to the movies they didn't go to the Bijou, they went to Radio City Music Hall. Peter Parker lived in Forest Hills, and Tony Stark had his mansion on 5th Avenue facing Central Park. The characters lived n New York. They didn't live in Gotham City or Metropolis or any other phoney place.”


Finally, Lee says, you have to surprise the reader at every opportunity. “If you know what's coming how can you enjoy the story? It's the anticipation, the suspense. That's why Alfred Hitchcock was such a good director; you never knew what was coming next. Of course you try to do that in your stories also. But it's something very difficult to do because you can't have the hero do something totally against their nature just to surprise the reader. It has to be something logical and possible. So to do it correctly you must know your characters.”
He looks back to the pioneering days with affection, even if they were tough. “Nobody was making much money in those days. It was not a highly paid profession. But I think we all had fun doing what we did. There was a lot of kidding around and joking, but there was also a lot of tension because we lived with deadlines. We were always worried if a book was due on the 15th of the month and here it was the 12th and we hadn't even started drawing it yet or something. If a book was ever late it was very serious because the publisher paid for the printing time in advance - whatever it was, $20,000, I don't know - and if it wasn't there to send to the printer he still had to pay the $20,000. So it was a combination of a lot of fun, a little like a college dormitory, and this never ending tension and pressure making sure books go out on time.”

These days his function is quite different. “I'm no longer involved in the day to day operation, but I still stay in touch; I talk to the editors and the people there and I look at the books to keep up with what's going on. But really I spend all my time on the movie and television projects. I live in Los Angeles and work with producers, directors and screenwriters, which is incredibly glamorous and exciting to me. All the people I have read about for years I now meet, like Francis Ford Coppola, people like that.

“Oh, in case you don't know it, there's going to be a Spider-Man movie, and it's going to be written, produced and directed by James Cameron, who did the Terminator movies. Jim wants this to be a bigger movie that Terminator 2. He told me, 'Stan, I've wanted to do Spider-Man for years.' I just met with him before I came out here to London and I'll be meeting with him again when I go back. He's really the best action director in the business, and I think it's going to be the biggest thing ever for Marvel.”


[An intriguing might-have-been that of course never happened. It's interesting to think how Marvel on screen might have gone had Cameron helmed a big budget Spider-Man project.]

NOTE: Some concluding comments concerning possible forthcoming Marvel UK titles (most of which didn't materialise) have been cut.

It goes without saying that there are few deeds, no matter how heinous, I wouldn't undertake in order to write for Marvel. Well, actually I once did …

OK, it was young adult and an adaptation of an animated TV series, but I got to play with Spider-Man.  Spider-Man!



There's something rather sad, and perhaps slightly spooky, about supposedly fun objects like this being stored over Winter.  Dormant, silent, waiting for the light to return.

On balance, I think I prefer a more surreal take …



There's more to this website than you might have noticed.  Departments include my Biography, a Bibliography, Photo Galleries and a News Archive going back to 2008.  Why not hit the menu at the top left and explore.?



Robert Jordan

In London, on 11th November 1993, I interviewed Robert Jordan, bestselling author of fantasy series The Wheel of Time. Due to circumstances beyond my control – just one of those perils freelancers often encounter at the hands of contrary commissioning decisions – the publication I believed would run the interview didn't take it. As I was deep into writing a book at the time, along with other commitments, and the interview hadn't even been transcribed at that point, I put the tapes aside with the intention of finding another market at a later date. What with one thing and another I never got round to that. For years, decades in fact, those tapes sat in storage, half forgotten.

I've finally written up the interview, which has never been published anywhere before, and with apologies to Robert Jordan's memory for the delay, here it is:


An Interview with Robert Jordan

“I've often said that if you want your child to be a writer make sure that he or she has a miserable childhood,” Robert Jordan says. “Put the child under as much stress as possible. I don't mean child abuse and beatings or whatever, but make sure this child is under as much stress as possible from the day of birth until the day he or she finally kills someone to get out.”

He's kidding, of course. His childhood wasn't miserable, but it would be fair to say it was out of the ordinary, and stressful in its way. Born James Oliver Rigney in Charleston, South Carolina, the author whose epic fantasy series The Wheel of Time would sell over 90 million copies worldwide was by his own account a precocious child. “I taught myself to read when I was three or four,” he recalls. “I was into Mark Twain and Jules Verne and so on, and I had my own public library card by the time I was six. That gave me access to the children's section, and when I looked around at what they expected six and seven year olds to read I thought it had to be some kind of a joke. If you've just read 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea you're not going to settle down to The Velveteen Rabbit for God's sake.”

He found respite in the reference section, the only other area of the library children were allowed to enter. “In there I managed over the next few years to read my way through the Encyclopedia Britannica, the Encyclopedia Americana and a number of other reference works. But that was only because I was kept away from where I really wanted to go, which was to dive into the adult fiction area. Eventually I figured out a way to sneak in there, and I would grab two, three, four books at random and hustle back to a small room near the children's section where I could sit and read. And if I discovered a really good author I liked I'd try to get my hands on everything they'd written. I kept this subterfuge up for years.”

The stressful aspect came from something recognisable to anyone, including many writers, who in their younger years are of above average intelligence and maybe a little eccentric: being considered an oddball. “Looking back I suppose I was a very odd combination of the sort of childishness you expect and rather disturbing precociousness. I can remember saying things and making observations, very adult observations, about situations around me or things I'd seen in the paper as young as five or six. My parents quickly became used to it, but other adults would either say, 'Oh, how cute he is' or else they would look at me very oddly, and sometimes someone would ask who had told me that. A couple of friends of my mother thought I was pretending to read the newspaper.” Other kids picked up on it too. “It gave me I think a certain sense of isolation, of separateness. Because I was separated by this from those around me. I was separated from everyone.”

When he was ploughing through that library, or reading any books he could get his hands on at home, Jordan came to a realisation. “At eight or nine you're starting to think what you're going to do when you start writing. To find the point where you said 'I'm going to write one day', that I don't know. I simply knew that I was thinking about the fact that one day I would write. But even then I was fairly sensible; I knew that very few writers made a living from writing. So I was going to have a profession, and I would one day write on the side when I had become successful at my profession. One ambition about a profession was that I intended to be a career army officer, until I discovered that I wasn't going to make it to West Point.”
But he did serve as a helicopter gunner in Vietnam, returning with the Distinguished Flying Cross with oak leaf cluster, the Bronze Star with "V" and oak leaf cluster, and two Vietnamese Gallantry Crosses with palm. Back home in 1970 he studied Physics at the Military College of South Carolina, known as The Citadel, graduating in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science Degree. After which he worked as a nuclear engineer for the US Navy.

He finally began writing in earnest in 1977. His authorised novels continuing the adventures of Robert E Howard's Conanwere well received. He also wrote a western (Cheyenne Raiders) under the pen name Jackson O'Reilly and historical fiction (the Fallon series) as Reagan O'Neal, among other pseudonymous works. 

Did his background in the military, and in Physics and Mathematics, prove useful in any way when it came to writing fiction? “In many ways. Mathematics certainly teaches you about structure. Physics does to a certain extent, although a lot of modern physics is approaching Theology really. I was talking to some physicists recently, I mean true physicists with PhDs, not a Bachelor of Science like I have, and after a while I realised that I was talking to high priests discussing mysticism, and it really was mysticism. And it might even be the truth for all I know!” He laughs. “But Maths and Physics teach you about working things out, about how things are put together, and it does help in putting together the books. That and my reading over the years, which has been voracious to the extent that I read between four hundred and five hundred books a year, meant I began to be able to build a society or a language and have people believe that this society or this language could exist. People who know about these sort of things have told me 'Yes, this is a recognisably viable society in the way it's structured and yet it's different from what we're doing, but all the rules and customs and things fit together in a very real way.'”

And his military experiences? He reflects before answering, “I think the only thing the military really gave me was the knowledge of what it was like having someone trying to kill you, and to know what it is really like to kill someone. And to know what it's really like to be absolutely certain, one hundred percent convinced, that you're going to die in the next 30 seconds. I think that I can convey those things to some degree because I've experienced them.” To clarify, Jordan did not claim to have killed anyone during his time in Vietnam, although he could well have done so as a result of being a gunner. But he did see the bodies of friends and foes, up close.

Why choose fantasy as a vehicle? “Well, I have written books in other genres under various pen names, and I've ghosted books in other genres.” One of those ghosted books was apparently a bestseller in the thriller genre, credited to a noted author. That's all Jordan will say about it. Given that the real writers of ghosted works are usually restrained by confidentiality clauses in their contracts his reticence is understandable. He's content to let readers play a guessing game in this instance. 'But when it came to The Wheel of Time,” he says, “I always dreamed of writing what I liked to read, and I do like fantasy. You have to shape a book to two things: the story you want to tell and the things you want to talk about, and the story I wanted to tell in The Wheel of Time was particularly suited to fantasy.”

“If you've read the books,” he adds, “you'll know there's more than one storyline and more than one main character. That major, major storyline is along the lines of what is it really like to be tapped on the shoulder and be told that you are the saviour of Mankind. Oh yes, and that at the end of it they're going to nail you up on a cross. That sort of thing lent itself to fantasy, and some of the other thoughts that came to me lent themselves to fantasy. About cyclic natures that turn up again and again, for example, and the greatest exemplar of that is the Wheel of Time itself, with any point being both in the future and in the past, depending on which way you look. There's the concept that these people we see, these characters, are the source of our legends, we are the source of theirs, and that did lend itself well to fantasy.”

While keen to express certain ideas in his work he doesn't want his books to read like polemics. “I don't like putting themes and discussions up front. I don't like anybody to say, right off the bat having read my book, 'This book is about the struggle against evil and how far can you go before you become as bad as what you are fighting. But on the other hand how far dare you hold back if holding back means the victory of evil.' Because the point I'm trying to convey, although not overtly, is about the distortion of information and the fact that no one ever knows the entire truth, and that even if something happened yesterday and someone you consider to be a reliable reporter comes and tells you about it you have not heard an actuality. You've heard something that's been filtered through their perceptions. If you were there you know the truth with a hundred per cent confidence of what you actually saw. Anything else you can only have a ninety-nine point whatever, at best, level of confidence. So how much more degradation of information do you get if something happened a hundred years ago? Something that has been through the hands of three or four revisionist historians. Or that happened a thousand years ago or three thousand years ago and has taken on the trappings of myth. Those things are inherently there in the Wheel of Time books. The thing is I'm not trying to make anybody come to any particular conclusion about most of these questions. Even questions I feel strongly about. The idea is to get people to think about these topics and let them come to their own conclusions.”

Robert Jordan

How long were the ideas behind The Wheel of Time germinating? “It was about ten to twelve years between the first thoughts and actually putting words on paper. There was a great deal of change, in terms of both plot and characters, during that time.” Given the complexities of the plot and the range of characters, was it originally conceived as a trilogy or a series? “My conceit was such in the very beginning that I really thought I could do the bloody thing in one book. I really did, and I was killing myself figuring out how to fit it into one book. It seemed to be a great deal of work but of course I thought I could do that. But by the time I got to my publisher I'd gotten a little more realistic and thought it could be three or four books, or maybe five. By the time I was into the second book I was saying maybe it would be six. Now I'm working on six and I think I can finish it up in seven. I do know the final scene though. I could have written that final scene five years ago, and when I do come to it there will only be very minor changes.”

It's hard to talk about fantasy without bringing up JRR Tolkien and the long, enduring shadow he's cast over the field. “Oh yes, definitely,” Jordan agrees. “If you'll forgive me for mixing my metaphors, he's both the plinth in the middle of the plain that none of us can ignore and also the foundation on which we're all building.” Would it be fair to say that Tolkien's influence could be seen as both benign and somewhat restricting? “In a way, yes. He gave fantasy at one and the same time possibilities, literary possibilities, artistic possibilities, and recognition of the form, but in many ways he drew a boundary around the field. So that it took a great while even to begin to edge out from Tolkien. Fantasy was Tolkien, and to a large extent people were very carefully staying in his shadow, because that was what fantasy was. I'm not saying they were copying Tolkien, but that's where fantasy was, and it stayed under his influence, if you will. It took a long time for people to move away from that. He just dominated the field to that extent.”

When some people initially referenced Jordan in relation to Tolkien, positively and negatively, his feelings about it were mixed. “Yes, it happened quite often in the beginning, especially after the first book. Because in the first book, maybe in the first hundred pages or so, it's very pastoral and in some ways, without trying to copy the style, very much a homage to Tolkien. I was saying this peaceful place that we're in, this peaceful part of the world, this ground you walk, you are familiar with. Because Professor Tolkien took us there. Then I said okay, now the roller coaster ride begins; I'm going to take you where you've never been before. I did do that quite deliberately to try to invoke him to some extent. Perhaps with a good deal of success because a number of reviewers said things like that. They called it something like 'The definitive exploration of Professor Tolkien's territory, but this century',” he recites from memory. “'The American Tolkien', someone called me. There were lots of reviews comparing me to Tolkien. My publisher of course loves Tolkien, so he immediately started using these quotes in all the advertising. I tried to stamp on it but they would pop up again. I think I've managed to get rid of them finally. It's very flattering, it really is, to have that comparison. But I'm not Tolkien. I'm not trying to copy Tolkien or imitate him. I'm trying to be me. Please stop saying that I'm some sort of Tolkien clone or imitation because it's going to mislead people. What I do is not to be seen in any way as a pastiche, or a homage to the extent of copying his style or content. I have my own values, my own background. My life is different. I come from a different place than Professor Tolkien, I've lived a different life. I see the world through a different set of eyes. There's no way I could write a book that would have the same values and express the same viewpoints. I'm very thankful for his books. The Lord of the Rings certainly. The Rings trilogy is stunning. I will admit subversively that I have never enjoyed The Hobbit. The trilogy is so wonderfully, exceedingly adroit that you forget that it is at its heart a children's book. But Tolkien did not give that depth to The Hobbit.”

Without claiming comparisons, Jordan sees himself as firmly within the same ancient storytelling tradition as exemplified by Tolkien. “I come from a family of raconteurs,” he says. “I have always told stories. I have in fact said before that I feel this direct line from me to a storyteller squatting in a village square somewhere with a begging bowl in front of him. If he tells a good story the villagers will fill the bowl with soup and give him a piece of bread, and maybe a place to sleep tonight. But if he doesn't tell a good story he's going to have to move on and sleep under a bush, hungry. I feel a direct link between myself and that person.”

So Jordan's saying that he sees himself as a purely commercial writer, albeit rewarded with somewhat more than soup and bread? “I think you have to look at my kind of writing as a sort of meeting place between art and craftsmanship. If you go too far toward looking at writing as an art it seems to me that you enter a realm of emptiness. Writers who say, as I've heard many say recently, that plot and character and dialogue and story get in the way of the writing and should be dispensed with … well, I've read some of their writings and they have done that. And they're left with exactly what you'd expect them to be left with. There may be some beautiful words in there but they don't qualify as poetry. What they qualify as is spun sugar froth. It might be pretty to look at for a moment but it falls apart as soon as you touch it. If you go too far toward craftsmanship it's better than going the other way certainly, but going too far that way you produce in effect what amounts to purely writing for the pleasure of the public and you give the public whatever the public wants, whatever the fans want. If they want you to write the same book over and over again, that's what you do. If they want you to write books that have more sex or more violence or less sex or less violence than you would like to write, then that's what you give them. If they want you to be cute when you'd rather be grim or grim when you'd rather be cute, you give them that. You can call it whoring if you want to, but many people who do this are very good writers, but they have strayed purely into the realm of being a craftsman. And a pure craftsman is at the beck and call of whoever gives them a coin. It seems to me you have to find that balance point between the art and the craft, and weld them together if you can.”

The flow of story is vital for him. “But so is the flow of the words and each individual sentence. The way the storylines flow together is important, almost as if the storylines were physical swirlings of paint. The flow of the language is as if it were a symphony. I sometimes perceive it and feel it in these ways. But at the same time I'm telling a story. I may be trying to make these beautiful blends, these beautiful flowing movements and these beautiful sounds, but I'm also telling a story, and I'm telling a story about people. You have to remember that all the time or you've simply fallen off the path as far as I'm concerned.”

The concept of genres, the labelling of different literary forms, is something he would like not to exist. “I would love to see them disappear. But it's not going to happen. There are writers who abandon labels. They do this, generally, by making their publisher abandon the label. They say 'I am no longer writing fantasy,' and quite often what they're writing still is fantasy, and the book stores quite often still put it right where they've always put it, with the other fantasy novels. I would love to see the distinctions disappear but it isn't going to happen because human beings categorise things. We always have, we always will. Whether it's 'us and them' or 'this and that'.” He'd like to see the end of categories because readers are ignoring books they might enjoy? “Oh, they are. Definitely. But it's one of the things that perhaps doesn't trouble me as much as it should because I do read so many things. Most people don't. I know people who tell me 'I never read genre fiction' and then I look at the books they've read that are mainstream fiction except that I find something that I consider a western or an historical novel or a war novel. But they don't read genre fiction. They at least have a wider range than people I run into who really do stick to one genre, which is what most people do. They read science fiction and fantasy, or maybe they read westerns or they read mysteries or they read war stories or they read historical and they don't touch anything outside.”

Mainstream itself is just another genre, isn't it? “Yes, that's what I'm saying. You can within what's called mainstream find every sort of book. Including books that except for the single fact that someone decided somewhere that this is not a western, this is not a mystery, this is not a horror story, whatever. There's also the issue of authors who want to move into another genre. There's a fear quite often on the part of publishers that the fans will not accept that, so they will try to keep a writer writing that particular thing. Of course a lot of the fans do prefer that particular thing and some of them will complain. They resist. You know, 'You wrote this and it's different.' And if the writer says 'Yes, I meant it to be different, but do you like it?' And the fans say 'It's different!' Readers, fans, can be rigid. Some writers give up under that sort of pressure of course and go back in their box.'

How does this relate to the old writing advice that says write what you know about? Can that apply even to fantasy? “I've always said forget about writing what you know. Write what you like to read. As far as writing what you know is concerned, you can research and learn about anything to a degree necessary to write about it convincingly. You don't have to have been there or lived there to write about it. As far as writing what you like to read is concerned, I'm thinking along those lines at the moment. I'm working in my head on what I'll do after The Wheel of Time. It's certainly past time to be working on what comes next.”

Robert Jordan

It was not to be. In March 2006 Jordan announced that he had been diagnosed with cardiac amyloidosis, a condition in which so called faulty proteins accumulate in the heart,
impairing its ability to pump efficiently and eventually leading to failure. The prognosis was that with appropriate treatment his life expectancy was four years. In the event, and after what by all accounts was a spirited fight, Jordan succumbed eighteen months later, on 16th September 2007. He was fifty-eight years old.

The Wheel of Time series concluded at fourteen volumes, the last three written by prolific fantasy author Brandon Sanderson, who had been chosen by Jordan as his successor, based on notes left behind. There was also a prequel novel and a companion.

During our interview Robert Jordan expressed the hope that the series might one day be faithfully adapted for the screen. It was fourteen years after his death before that came about, with the TV series based on his books beginning its run on Amazon Prime in November 2021.



Digging in the dusty archives has turned up some items associated with the graphic novel version of David Gemmell's Wolf in Shadow that I adapted.

Here's the first page of the publisher's press release announcing the Wolf in Shadow graphic novel, Bloodstone, and the paperback edition of The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend, all of which were issued on the same day in 1994:

The front and back of a promotional fold-out produced for the book trade:

We undertook quite a few signings for the Legend and Wolf in Shadow graphic novels, and here are flyers advertising two such events.

Though considering that I was Forbidden Planet's first manager and had worked there for about five years before becoming a full-time writer you might have thought they'd spell my name correctly …



I can't believe I've clocked up fifty months of these photos.

I've always had a bit of a thing about masks, though admittedly Covid knocked a lot of the romance out of them. When visiting another country we occasionally bring a mask back as a souvenir, and friends sometimes gift us one from their travels. Here are some of them, from Belgium, France, Hong Kong, Milan, Nepal, Portugal, Spain and Venice.

You can see all previous Photographs of the Month in the Photo Gallery.



And a happy New Year to all. We can only hope it'll be an improvement on what we've been dealt in the years leading up to this. In that spirit, this seems appropriate:

It's also relevant to the next item. Read on.



Back in 2016 my wife Anne and myself were among the guests of honour at that year's Sci-Fi Weekender event, held at Camber Sands, North Wales.

During that weekend I was interviewed on stage by genre journalist Robin Pierce. I was vaguely aware that the interview was being filmed, but only very recently discovered that segments had been posted on YouTube. These are very short clips, each covering just one question and answer.
In this clip Robin asked about the very first science fiction film I remember seeing. (The poster in the first item above is a broad hint.)
In this one he wonders if I have any advice for aspiring writers.
The two clips amount to just a few minutes, so you wouldn't be investing a huge amount of time if interested.



We're in the long and cumbersome process of clearing a storage unit we rent and going through a lot of long unopened boxes. One find has been a mass of flyers for signings at Forbidden Planet's original shop in London's Denmark Street during my time as manager there. I tend to be an in the present, looking forward to whatever time I might have left sort of person, not given to overly obsessing about the past (I hope). But I do think this sort of ephemera's important and should be preserved somewhere. The history of the fantastical genres and the communities surrounding them is often to be found in the peripheral items that tend to be discarded. For some time I've been working on and off on compiling an archive of this material which I hope to eventually add to this website. That won't happen for a while, so until then here's a sampling of the unearthed flyers.

I'm particularly pleased to have helped organise the very first signing Douglas Adams undertook, on publication of The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy novelisation, and again when The Restaurant at the End of the Universe was released. And I'm proud of these flyers that advertised those events.

Here's a fairly random selection of some others:

There are a lot more, but I think that's enough for now.



As a long-time reader and latterly a contributor to the much-missed Starlog magazine, I was interested to hear about this recently published companion:

The Starlog Compendium

The publisher's blurb best describes the book's remit:

“Beginning in 1976, Starlog magazine chronicled the science fiction field, taking readers behind the scenes of the films, TV programs, books, games, art, and more. Long before the Internet became the place to learn news about upcoming films and television programs, science fiction fans found this news in the pages of Starlog. And they argued about all of it in the letters pages, long before Facebook or online chat rooms became popular.
The Starlog Compendium  s an issue-by-issue synopsis of the first 200 issues of Starlog magazine. With information on the magazine’s evolution along with a listing of every article in every issue, this compendium is the companion for your Starlog collection - or your guide to accumulating your collection.”


I haven't seen a copy at this time but hope to soon. The Amazon UK listing (paperback and Kindle versions) is here.



I thought I'd share a piece of art my wife Anne completed on 9th December. It's in acrylics and entitled 'Assyrian Guardian'.

Anne regularly posts work on her Facebook and Instagram pages.



Regular visitors here will know that I usually post photos relevant to, ie taken in, the month they're posted. Things are so dreary and cold here in the UK at the moment that I thought I'd depart from that and show something more summery and cheering. This is part of the frontage of the house in Spain where my sister-in-law, Janet Calderwood, lived until recently.


All previous news updates, going back to 2008, can now be found in our News Archive.

And the menu on the top left of this page, or these links, will take you to all previous Photographs of the Month, as well as my Biography and Bibliography (Orcs series, Quicksilver trilogy, Nightshade Chronicles trilogy, Other Titles).
There are also sections on Conventions, Gothique & Stardock and a history of The David Gemmell Awards For Fantasy.


Previous news updates going back to 2008 can be found in the News Archive.


And note that the menu on the top left of this page will take you to my:
Biography, Bibliography (Orcs SeriesQuicksilver TrilogyNightshade Chronicles Trilogy, Other TitlesGothique & Stardock Section and Contact tab.


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