George Mann has not only been a fan of science fiction and fantasy stories since a young age, he has also been a fan of Star Wars since he first saw The Empire Strikes Back. Mann’s love of scifi and fantasy eventually inspired him to begin writing his own stories, an activity that grew into his career for the last two decades. His work includes The Affinity Bridge, Ghost of Manhattan, various Doctor Who novels such as Engines of War, and many other critically acclaimed stories. Mann has recently ventured to a galaxy far away as the author of Star Wars: Myths & Fables. Wanting to learn more about his career as well as Myths & Fables, I was able to interview Mann for ScifiPulse.
Nicholas Yanes: When you were growing up, what stories did you love experiencing? Do you still enjoy revisiting any of these stories?
George Mann: Growing up it was always about fantasy stories. Tales that transported me to another world. I was lucky in that I got an early grounding – my parents read me The Hobbit and The Chronicles of Narnia at a very young age, and they left a real impression. From that point on I sought out all the fantasy stories I could.
I think that’s the reason why Star Wars resonated with me so much, too; I saw The Empire Strikes Back at the cinema at an early age, and aside from the spectacle of such an epic movie, I was drawn into the mythology of it all, the sense of history and place, of embedded story. I think that’s why it still appeals to me so much today.
Yanes: When did you know you wanted to have a career as a writer? Was there a moment in which this goal crystalized for you?
Mann: Yeah. I mean, I’d always written. I used to make little story books as a kid (with terrible illustrations – I’ve never been able to draw), and I’d enjoyed creative writing at school. But I remember the moment it crystallized. I was 18, living with my wife (then girlfriend) in a tiny house, and I’d just got my first PC from the rental store. I got it home, set it up – this is in the days when dial up internet was only just getting started – and booted it up. At which point I realized I didn’t actually have anything to *do* on the machine. No games, no browsing…so, not to be defeated, I opened a window and started writing a story. And just carried on from there. It reminded me how much I loved writing, and I’ve never really looked back.
Yanes: You have been professionally writing for nearly two decades. Could you take a moment to discuss how you first got your foot in the door? Additionally, any advice you could offer for people aspiring to become professional writers?
Mann: I’d worked as a bookseller for some time and had a good view of the market, and as a result I’d done some published non-fiction writing before I ever set out to sell my first novel. But when the time came, I was trying desperately to write a big, widescreen space opera, and failing miserably. I kept falling at the seventh chapter. Every time I’d start again, and then inevitably get to chapter seven, realize it wasn’t working, and have to start over again. I was too inexperienced to see what the problem was – that I wasn’t planning properly. Anyway, I was fed up and thinking of throwing the towel in when a friend urged me to forget about writing for publication, but to go back to writing for myself. To remind myself what I enjoyed about the process. So I did – I started work on the first of my Newbury & Hobbes novels, mainly just for fun, and op and behold, I broke the seventh chapter curse and finished the book. At which point it landed a publisher and I was able to carry on with a second book.
In terms of advice, I’d say:
- Read a lot.
- Write something every day, no matter how small.
- Remember that writing a novel is as much an endurance test as anything else. It’s all about coming back each day and adding more and more words.
- Enjoy it. Writing can be hard, and tiring, and occasionally upsetting, but it should also be fun, and personal, and saying something that needs to be said.
Yanes: Much of your bibliography is comprised of science fiction and fantasy stories. Why do you think these genres resonate with you?
Mann: As I mentioned above, I was influenced by fantasy from an early age, but I think they resonate with me because of what they represent. Sometimes that’s escapism, other times allegory. They allow us to put characters into situations that don’t exist in our world and to see how they respond. To explore people through the lens of a heightened setting. That can tell us useful things about ourselves. Also, it’s a lot of fun!
Yanes: One of your upcoming projects is Star Wars: Myths & Fables. How did this project get started? Was it pitched to you, or did you pitch it to Disney/Star Wars?
Mann: Michael Siglain, the Creative Director of Disney Lucasfilm Press, approached me with the idea after reading one of my recent novels, Wychwood, that dealt with fictional mythology and folklore through the lens of a police drama. Of course, I jumped at the opportunity to work in the SW universe (who wouldn’t!) which I’ve loved for so many years, and particularly to explore some of the folklore and mythology told by the characters in that setting.
Yanes: For Star Wars: Myths & Fables you got to work with the illustrator Grant Griffin. What was this working relationship like? For instance, did you know what he would be drawing before you started writing, or did you write first?
Mann: We started with a series of story outlines, from which we were able to derive briefs for Grant to work from. Grant then worked up ‘sketches’ – which to me looked almost as good as the finished things! – and I’d often receive those while I was working on the final text of the story – which served as great inspiration while I worked.
Yanes: On this note, how would you compare this experience to the times you worked with artists while writing graphic novels?
Mann: It’s a different experience, really, but just as rewarding in its own way. With a comic or graphic novel, you’re working in full collaboration with the artist to create the story – the two things are inseparable. When you write a comic script, you’re writing it for the artist, not the reader; here I was working for the end reader, while Grant was illustrating those stories to provide that extra punch. There’s quite a difference between an illustration and a comic page – but both serve to really bring the story to life, and that’s certainly what Grant did here.
Yanes: Reflecting on what you wrote for Star Wars: Myths & Fables, was there a character you’d love to visit for a longer story?
Mann: Oh, tons. And characters I didn’t manage to include this time, too. I think of all the characters in this book, I’d like to explore the story of Darth Caldoth, the ancient Sith Lord from the story ‘Gaze of Stone’.
Yanes: When people finish reading Star Wars: Myths & Fables, what do you hope they take away from it?
Mann: I’d hope they had fun, that they feel as though they’ve read some great Star Wars stories, and that they understand just that tiny but more about the SW universe and the people who inhabit it.
Yanes: Finally, what else are you working on that people can look forward to?
Mann: There’s a new novel forthcoming in my Newbury & Hobbes steampunk mystery series, as well as a couple of comic projects yet to be announced. But hopefully it won’t be too long before I’m able to return to a galaxy far, far away!