Michael Pryor is the best-selling author of the Laws of Magic series. Hour of Need, the sixth and final book of the series, is due for release in May.
What authors/books did you read as a child? When did you first discover your love of books?
As a child, I was a hungry reader - and I still am. I read everything I could get my hands on, but I was particularly excited by fantasy books. CS Lewis was an important early find, and Tolkien's The Hobbit, but also books of folk tales from around the world, myths and legends, King Arthur and Robin Hood stories. I also loved Pooh, The Wind in the Willows and the great Enid Blyton.
When did you first realise you were a writer? What do you hope your readers will take away with them from reading your books?
While I was at school I always thought I could write, and tell a story (they don't always go together) but I didn't really think about writing seriously until I was older, after I'd been teaching myself for ten years or so. After I had my first few short stories published I still didn't think of myself as a real writer, but when I had my first novel in my hands, that's when I thought that I was a true and proper author person. I hope people will enjoy reading my books - and want to read another one of mine. That might sound simple but I prize the quality of engagement in books. If a book doesn't engage it can't do anything else. It can't entertain, it can't amuse, it can't change someone's life if it has been put aside because it didn't engage.
Do you find it difficult to read purely for pleasure? Does everything you read come under your 'writer' microscope?
I can, and do, still read for pleasure but I find myself at times examining sentence structure, or word choice, or dialogue, either in admiration or with a shake of the head. I think about my writing deeply and I can't help but do that for other people's writing.
Do you have to avoid reading certain types of fiction while writing your own? Does what you read while writing have an effect on what you write? In what way?
I can't read anything that's too close to what I'm writing. Currently, I'm writing in the steampunk mode, which means I can't read Scott Westerfeld's newest work, or Richard Harlan's. This is a pity because they both sound just like the sort of thing I like to read. When I'm writing historical or historical fantasy, however, I do a great deal of deliberate background reading to help me develop a style which is suitable to my current project. For instance, I read the complete Sherlock Homes stories before embarking on writing the first of The Laws of Magic series to help embed a sense of vocabulary and the rhythm of dialogue. Other reading is more deliberate research, but this osmotic method - where the language seeps in - is an important part of my writing method.
Name five authors of books that have influenced or inspired your own writing in some way.
Tolkien/Lord of the Rings - for showing me that made up stories could be grand, adventurous and moving. CS Lewis/Narnia - for showing me how our world and a fantasy world could be linked. Tim Powers/The Anubis Gates - for introducing me to Steampunk. Terry Pratchett/Discworld - for showing me that funny stories could still be serious. Robert Heinlein/his early stuff - for showing me the importance of story.
If you were travelling and were told you could only take one book with you, what book would it be and why?
The Complete Works of Shakespeare. So much in one volume - romance, tragedy, comedy, with some of the greatest language ever to be spoken.
What makes a book 'too good to put down'?
Story. A book can have interesting characters and an intriguing location but if nothing happens then that book is all too easy to put down. A story must have a narrative drive, a compelling beat that makes the reader desperate to know what's going to happen next. Naturally, good characterisation and a strong sense of location are impotant and will help keep a reader interested, but the vital third leg of a good book is that narrative impulse.
What makes you put down a book without finishing it?
If it's boring. Life is too short for a boring book. Having said that, I find it's much easier to read a fat interesting book than a skinny boring book. I get impatient with pretentious writing where the author postures about, drawing attention to themselves, where characters moon about, contemplating things and where interior monologues masquerade as characterisation. I'd much rather lear about characters by what they do rather than by their thinking about what they'd like to do.
Do you have a favourite author? Who is it and what is it about their writing that draws you to them?
At the moment (and this changes the more I read) it's a toss up between Neal Stephenson and Tim Powers. I'll buy their next book, whatever it is they publish. Both of these writers are astoundingly inventive, astonishingly erudite and language craftsmen, but they never let any of this get in the way of telling a rattling good yarn.
If you had to list them, what would be your 'top ten' reads of all time (excluding the classics) and why?
The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien
The Cryptonomicon Neal Stephenson
The Baroque Cycle - Neal Stephenson
The Anubis Gates - Tim Powers
Declare - Tim Powers
Lord of Light Roger Zelazny
The Last Call - Tim Powers
Hyperion - Dan Simmons
Longitude - Dava Sobel
The Dying Earth - Jack Vance
All of these are in the basket that I call 'Literature of the Imagination'. They all have great and grand ideas. None of them are limited by the here and now. They all grapple with ideas that are timeless and of great consequence. They are thick with characters who are complex and fascinating, who face great moral, ethical and personal dilemmas. And they all have a sweeping, relentless narrative drive that hooks the reader early on, straps them in and takes them on one hell of a ride.
What was your 2010 best read? What was it that made it number one?
Anathem by Neal Stephenson. An epic story (900 odd pages) which brought together higher mathematics, philosophy, the fate of the human race, the ethics of engineering and the role of self-determination. A mind-expanding book.
What do you think of the non-traditional publishing methods - eBooks etc? Do you think the new technology will encourage more people to read? Do you think there's a future for print books?
I think print books and ebooks will exist side by side for the forseeable future. Ultimately though, the medium isn't important - the Story is.
Michael has published over twenty popular and critically acclaimed novels and more than forty short stories, and has over one million words in print. Along the way his work has been six times shortlisted for the Aurealis Award, shortlisted for the WAYBR Award, longlisted for an Inky Award and been five times listed as Children's Book Council of Australia Notable Books.
Find out more about Michael at http://www.michaelpryor.com.au/