The Song of Gail and Fludd (Faber, 1991) ISBN 0 571 14374 1 / 0 571 16384 X
This book is currently out of print but you should be able to track down a copy online. If not, contact Philip to see if he can help.
WAY INTO THE WORLD OF STORIES
Interview with Philip Gross
Q You write for children and for adults. What's the difference?
A Less difference than you might think. Good writing for young people is as important as writing for adults. (It has taken the book trade and the media a long time to get around to seeing this.)
I always want adults to read my children's novels and leave with plenty to think about. I hope young people will read my adult poetry one day, and see the same ideas being played out in a slower, quieter more spacious way.
You can read some sample poems on this site.
Q Several of your book titles and book covers have something to do with stone. Why? What does stone mean to you?
A The first stone I knew and loved was granite — like the Dartmoor tors I walked on, and the Cornish cliffs I climbed, when I was young.
Stone is what people in my novel GOING FOR STONE are trying to become, as human statues...
and the standing stones of Stonehenge and Avebury in my poems: A CAST OF STONES...
and the rock and ice of Himalayan hillsides, where some dreadful hunting takes place in THE LASTLING.
More recently, a lot of my books seem to have feature water, but that's another story...
Q Your novels and poems have been described as "creepy", "chilling" and "hair-raising". Do you like scaring people?
A I've never written a simple horror story. Even TRANSFORMER and FACETAKER, two books in the Point Horror Unleashed series, are about real people with real problems in their lives - and no easy answers about good and evil in the end.
I write stories about people who go to the edge, or are pushed to it. Sometimes they find something and come back changed - like any explorers. Some of them don't make it back. The edge is what it's all about, for me.
Q No easy answers about Good and Evil...? I thought you were a Quaker?
A So I am. For me, that means being as honest as I can, and knowing there are some things words can't quite explain. It means that it's important to make peace... but you can't do that if you aren't willing to look at violence, fear and all the murky things that people really feel.
The stories are questions, not answers. You go on an adventure and you have to ask yourself: what would I do?
Q Doesn't this all sound a bit serious?
A Yes, it's serious... and wild and mad and playful too. A lot of it is high adventure... and some of it is funny, and some of it has been known to touch the toughest readers in a heartfelt place.
My idea of good writing is for it to be everything. And the first thing it must be is a good story — one that tells itself.
Q A story that tells itself? What do you mean? I thought you were a professor of creative writing. You tell other people how to write.
A I am, and I do. I tell them: Listen to your characters. If you make the people in your stories do what they don't want to, it will be a boring book.
Sometimes a character walks in and hijacks the whole story, and takes it to places I'd never have planned. Those are the best bits.
Q So it's as easy as that is it?
A Well... that, and the fifteen drafts I do of everything. And the pages and poems and chapters and whole books I throw away.
You have to do a lot of reading and looking and listening, all the time - hoovering up ideas and images and bits of story, masses of random information, to mix with your own memories and feelings. Then you have to let them simmer for a long time.
Waiting is the hardest part of all.
Q Aren't you going to tell us anything about your pets? Your favourite colour? What you have for breakfast?
A Muesli, with an apple chopped up in it, and maybe a handful of grapes. That kind of thing. Oh, and the pint or two or tea.
Apart from that, there are bits of me everywhere in the poems and stories — things I care about, things that scare me, and my memories of school and family and my childrens' lives... All mixed up with lives I've just imagined. Read the books and see if you can spot which is which.
If you can't, I'll be delighted.