This interview was first published by the Italics web-zine
Interview by Randy M. Dannenfelser
UNDER HOT LIGHTS AND A FALLING SKY
WELCOME TO THE LIFE AND TIMES OF PAUL BARNETT
His name is well-known to British science fiction and fantasy publishers. It should be, since Paul Barnett has enjoyed a thirty-year career in just about every area of editing and writing genre books in the UK. Most of his work has been as a free lance, although he has held posts as Commissioning Editor ("Editor-in-Chief in US parlance...") and Editorial Director for various UK publishing houses.
But it is Barnett's other name that is well-known to fandom on both sides of the Atlantic. Writing almost always as John Grant, Barnett has had over fifty books published, both fiction and non-fiction, including the Hugo and World Fantasy award-winning (1998) Encyclopedia of Fantasy, which he co-authored with noted fellow-scholar and critic John Clute. From 1989 through 1994, he spun Joe Dever's Lone Wolf role-playing game into a series of twelve tie-in novels, The Legends of Lone Wolf, and it is from here that one of his most famous character creations, the comical Thog the Mighty, comes. (Indeed, Thogís cult following was at one time so large that the character was a "Virtual Guest of Honor" at a British SF convention. It is Thog who gave his name to the perennially popular "Thog's Masterclass" column, originally cooked up by Dave Langford and Barnett for a convention newsletter, in Langford's fanzine Ansible.) Other fiction written during this period includes the otherworldly Albion (1991) followed by The World (1992), his most ambitious novel to date. The imminently to be re-released The Hundredfold Problem features futuristic law enforcer Judge Dredd in a humorous sci-fantasy. Much of his fiction has ranged from spoof to satire, as can be seen in the latter volume and other works such as The Truth About the Flaming Ghoulies (1983), Sex Secrets of Atlantis (1984), and two collaborations with David Langford, Earthdoom! (1987) and Guts (2002).
However, Barnett (as Grant) has been equally prolific as a non-fiction author. His Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters received high marks from critics upon its initial release in 1987, and established him as a highly respected animation authority. Before this, he was known for having written The Book of Time (1980, with Colin Wilson); The Directory of Possibilities (1981, also with Wilson); and A Directory of Discarded Ideas (1981), among others. He also earned praise as Technical (i.e., Managing) Editor of the second edition (1993) of The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction.
In 1997, Barnett experienced a slight career shift when he accepted the position of Commissioning Editor for the worldís leading publisher of science fiction and fantasy art books, Paper Tiger. (Recently, they were acquired by Chrysalis Group plc.) Since then, he has also written the accompanying text for several artists' books, including Anne Sudworth. This after he wrote The Encyclopedia of Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Techniques with noted illustrator and writer Ron Tiner in 1996.
Recently, Barnett (as Grant) revisited the animation genre. His Masters of Animation, released this past fall, is a critical history of the medium written in a crisp biographical format. Thirty-seven of the most influential animators, partnerships and teams are profiled in this handsome volume, liberally supported with some of the finest animation cel reproductions seen in a work of this nature to date. This April, Paper Tiger will release Perceptualistics: The Art of Jael, with text written by. . . John Grant. Also this spring: a compilation of Barnettís interviews with twenty-five prominent science fiction and fantasy artists that originally appeared in Paper Tiger's e-zine, The Paper Snarl, the Internet publication Barnett created for the imprint as an indirect marketing tool in 1999. He is currently at work with Bob Eggleton on Dragonhenge, a fictional "reconstruction" of the legends and mythology in which the long-extinct dragon civilization believed. The two have been exchanging text and illustrations as the creative impetus for the book. It is scheduled for release later this year. Barnett also squeezes duties as Reviews Editor for InfinityPlus, a British literary genre webzine highly regarded within the industry, into his busy schedule. (In case youíre wondering, his workweek typically runs seventy to eighty hours.)
So I was delighted when I received Paul's email early last November in which he agreed to allow me to interview him for Italics. This would be, I thought, an appropriate offering to E. Catherine Tobler for her new web site - sort of an Internet housewarming gift. I figured that a few anecdotes from Paul on his extensive career would be most entertaining and insightful to the writers who stop by here. And after contributing bits of reportage to Paul for The Paper Snarl and book reviews for InfinityPlus, I felt I was entitled to cash in a favor chip or two.
Preferring a face-to-face grilling as opposed to the "e" variety (". . .for hours on end, you'll have to listen respectfully to what I'm saying rather than interrupt me with idiotic and totally misguided contradictions the whole bloody time"), he suggested that my wife Barbara and I visit him and his wife, Pamela D. Scoville, the respected animation art appraiser and founder of the Animation Art Guild, at their northern New Jersey home the night of the Leonid meteor shower. ("The seeing conditions here aren't all that bad.") The invitation was not totally unexpected. We live less than an hour from each other, and the four of us had enjoyed our share of book and antique shop treasure hunting and exotic dining together mixed in with a slight bit of carousing over the past year.
Paul, an expatriate Scot by marital agreement and employer request, and Pamela, American born and raised, moved to "the wilds of northern New Jersey" two years ago after living in Manhattan, ". . .about two hundred yards from Times Square." The two have adjusted quite well to their new environs, a rural multi-level house set on several wooded acres, though they still miss the Japanese and Indian restaurants down the street from their former address. Barb and I arrived early in the evening and the four of us caught up while devouring a delicious, home-baked pan of sausage lasagna. Then, as our wives disappeared into their own world of common interests, Paul and I retired to his office, popped open a couple of cans of Guinness (we have ways of making them talk), and turned on the tape recorder.
After several hours of repartee, Paul began his meteor watch. He bounced in and out of the house periodically, even though the newspapers advised that the greatest shower activity would occur at around four in the morning. After more conversation and late-night beverages, Pamela, Barb and I retired to our respective rooms at around one. Paul stayed up working.
At three-thirty sharp, Barb and I were awakened by a knock at our guestroom door. Yes, we did ask Paul to roust us just before the meteor shower's peak activity time, didn't we. We dressed and joined Pamela and Paul outside on their driveway for the show in the night sky. It turned out to be a marvelous sight, although not as spectacular as I'd imagined it would be, never having seen a meteor shower before. Then, as the sun took its place in the eastern sky, it was lots of coffee, quick good-byes and a weary but happy trip home.
Paul Barnett has never been one to hold back facts or truths, although there were points in our conversation where I could sense that he was acting very discreet in the wording of his responses to a few of my questions. He answered every one completely, yet with the conciseness he knew from his years as a savvy interviewer and researcher to be necessary in keeping the piece manageable. His responses to the questions that called upon his editorial and writing experience will be food for thought for young writers to feast on, since they contained the insight of a seasoned professional who'd been there and done all of that. And the dry humor that crept out from most every anecdote kept me laughing for most of the evening. One cannot hear about The Life and Times of Paul Barnett and maintain a serious pose throughout.
Originally, I had envisioned this piece as a four-part "personality profile". However, when I played back the tape, I began to appreciate the freedom of Internet journalism; it became apparent early on that Paul had given me enough substantive conversation for a series at least twice as long as my original proposal. E. Catherine has generously allowed me to submit the entire interview for posting. So call this Part 1 of 8.
I hope you enjoy reading this interview as much as I enjoyed listening to Paul, er, dictate it.
Commencement; or, Who's That Lad With the Book From the Adult Section, Trying to Look Invisible?
It says in The Encyclopedia of Fantasy that Paul (le Page) Barnett was born in Aberdeen, Scotland in 1949. This is entirely accurate of course, since the passage was written by the subject himself. The younger of two brothers, Paul's intellect came from both sides of the family. "My father was an agricultural biochemist," he began, revealing his middle-class upbringing, "and when I was born, my mother was a housewife, basically, although she graduated years earlier with a degree in geography, with psychology as an ancillary." At the age of six, Paul lost his father to a long bout with heart disease; and his mother, who had years earlier operated a meteorological substation in the remote Scottish Highlands, was forced to put her education to more profitable use, joining the University of Aberdeen Geography Department where she split time as a cartographer and a map archivist.
I discovered that Barnett's love of writing began at an early age when I asked him if he could remember when he wrote his first story. "Oh Jesus, yes," he chuckled, wincing. "I was seven. I can remember the title of it. It was called, 'The Ghost of Horror Mansion.' And I was onto chapter four of it, which meant that it was around page three - the chapters were very small and the handwriting was very big - and I can remember the last sentence of it I wrote almost exactly: "I suddenly realized that the mayor of the town was a dirty, rotten traitor." And I looked at this, and even at the age of seven I thought to myself, 'That's not very good, Paul.' And as I couldn't bear revising, that was the end of that. I didn't write another until I was about thirteen or fourteen, when I wrote several short stories for school homework assignments and the school magazine. I look back on them with embarrassment as well."
At this point, I couldn't help asking the stock author-interview question: "What did you read when you were growing up?" He gave the stock author-to-interviewer answer: "Everything!" Paul developed into a voracious reader early in his youth. He obtained a library card at his first chance, and before he reached the age of ten, he had "run through the contents of the children's library." His favorite reads were E. C. Eliott's Kemlo books, a series of children's sf novels that, according to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, ". . .had a powerful emotional impact on many of their youthful UK readers, shaping the thoughts towards sf of an entire generation of them." He also mentioned Rex Dixon's Pocomoto western series as being among his choices.
Barnett's interest in fantasy was strengthened when he received a copy of Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End from his older brother. "Also, the complete works of H.G. Wells were in the house and I'd run through them as well." But perseverance and waif-like charm usually pay off in the end, as the youngster quickly learned. "A couple of the librarians took sympathy on me because we were not allowed to borrow the adult books until we were fourteen or so, and they allowed me, assuming no one was looking on, to borrow adult books as well. So then I ran through the science fiction section of the entire library."
Paul remembers being influenced by C. S. Lewis' sf novels, as well as a book of Chesley Bonestell art. "I came across it in the house one day and looked at the spine and saw it was an artwork book and I thought, 'Boring!' But I dragged it out anyway and opened it up and I was just stunned. I can remember that very vividly."
A very good student, Paul attended some of the finest schools in the UK. "I went to Robert Gordon's College in Aberdeen, which is a very famous Scottish school. And then I went to boarding school, 'public school' as we call them in Britain; Strathallan, where I spent the last four years of my schooling. Then I spent a year studying sciences -- math, physics and astronomy -- at Kings and University Colleges in London, attending both at the same time. I tried to re-apply to University to study English Literature. This took me two or three years to organize, and by the time I'd organized it, I'd already gotten a job in publishing. By that time, it seemed stupid to give up a career in order to go back to University."
Young writers should note that the doors to the publishing world did not open serendipitously to the young scholar. "I kind of groomed myself [for a career in publishing], really. I'd had a couple of holiday jobs from school, working in Fleet Street for a newspaper called the Daily Express as an errand boy. And also, I'd spent a year after leaving University working in one of London's major bookshops, Dillons. So at the end of that year, I just wrote to every publisher in sight, telling them I was a useful person, and there was one publisher who was in some decline or was stupid enough to say, 'okay.' Years later, I found my old application letter and it was filled with spelling and grammatical errors, and I thought, 'Jesus, I wouldn't have hired me on the basis of this.' They probably thought I'd work cheap."
Sex Secrets, Discarded Ideas, Acquired Expertise and John Grant Emerges from Behind the Bar (in no particular order of importance or chronology)
"I never have more ideas than I could possibly write, but I always have more than I could possibly find publishers for."
Paul Barnett's first full-time job in book publishing was as "the dog's body" of the editorial department at Muller in London. "Basically the editorial staff was an Editorial Director, an Editor-in-Chief and me. I was the Editorial Assistant. I coped with rejecting manuscripts, with proofreading; eventually, I became trustworthy enough to do copy editing. I then took on the foreign rights duties, which was quite exciting. I was still, maybe, nineteen, and there I was, an editorial assistant with one hand and Foreign Rights Manager with the other. Then about a year later, the Editorial Director retired and the Editor-in-Chief took over both duties, and then he went to look for another job, and suddenly at the age of twenty, there I was, the Editor-in-Chief of a major publishing company - and still doing the foreign rights! A year later, after an extensive six-week business trip to the United States and Canada, I was promoted to Editorial Director."
But still, Barnett was not getting paid for his own writing, save for a French book on folk-rock music to which his publisher owned the rights. "I felt the only way to make financial sense of the damned thing was if I translated it in my spare time. I ended up both translating the book and enlarging it by about forty percent."
It wasn't long before Paul left Muller to pursue his fortune elsewhere. And it wasn't long after that when he acquired his other name, the one by which his readership knows him to this day. Paul told me how he came to write under the name "John Grant":
"It was because one of the first books I did was while I was still working in a publishing house, David & Charles. It was an anthology of science fiction stories. And the only way we could do it was for me to edit it in-house. So rather than doing something under my own name, I decided I ought to get a house name (so-called), so that if I left the company halfway through the project, they could get somebody else to pick it up and still do it under the house name. So myself and one of the other commissioning editors went out to the pub one lunchtime to pick a suitable nom de plume for me. And as I was buying him a beer, he stooped beside me at the bar and looked all through the whisky bottles along the back. He saw Johnny Walker, and he saw Grant's, and he said, 'That's. . . that's your nom de plume, Paul - John Grant.' And then a few years later, after I'd been working for various different publishing companies, I was suddenly made redundant - downsized out of a job, as you say here. And I realized that, as we lived 200 miles from London and I had a small child, I now had to be either a free-lance editor or a free-lance writer or both, which I ended up being. By that time, I'd had a couple of 'John Grant' books under my belt that I'd put together under this house name, and it seemed to make sense to write under the name that had a couple of books as opposed to writing under my own. Which, of course, is a decision Iíve regretted many times since, but I'm stuck with it now."
Barnett's first two non-fiction books were The Book of Time and The Directory of Possibilities, published in 1979 and 1980 respectively, with noted supernatural novelist and criminology writer Colin Wilson. TBOT was a collection of essays on man's relationship to time, as well as its nature; TDOP was a collection of ideas that couldn't be proven. Says Paul of the latter: "The published book ended up being less ambitious than Colin and I wanted it to be, but it ran the gamut from spiritualism to the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, through black holes and the outer fringes of science, as they then were."
These books led directly to Paul's first solo non-fiction endeavor: A Directory of Discarded Ideas. Published in 1981, it was a collection of scientific theories "that had fallen by the wayside so to speak." I wondered if Paul had written ADODI in the spirit of creative inspiration or simply because it was a book he thought would sell. "It was a mixture of both, actually," he responded, analyzing on the fly. "The time was right for it, because it was during the period when The Book of Heroic Failures was very popular, as were the early trivia books. So as a commercial project, it had a tick mark against it right from the beginning. But the idea initially came to me because it was something I wanted to do."
When Barnett mentioned his idea for ADODI to Wilson, his former collaborator said he knew a publisher who would probably be interested in it. "And the next thing I knew, I was getting a phone call from this smallish publisher who said that Colin Wilson recommended this book, and would you kindly send me an outline. So I swiftly sent him one, and within a week I had sold the thing."
Paul's early editorial experience furnished him with an understanding of what editors look for in an outline and in sample chapters when considering a manuscript. This insight helped him in his younger days when he pitched his own projects to publishers.
"I don't know if it helps me these days, because I've become much more arrogant as both an editor and a writer; as an editor in the sense that I know what editors should be looking for - and I don't think most of them do - and arrogant as a writer in that, as I've felt since about the time my twenty-fifth or so book had been published, that, well, I ought to be able to put into outlines what I want to put in, rather than having to tailor them for somebody who, probably, has never written a book in his or her life. I don't know if this [attitude] is actually helpful to my career, but I maintain it nonetheless." I suggested that this arrogance might have come from a sort of personal integrity, but Paul felt it came from the respect he's garnered in the UK over the years as a freelance editor, and on his track record as a writer. "I also feel that I often know most people's job in the publishing industry better than they do."
Paul's first full-length work of fiction was the 1983 humorous fringe-sf novel, The Truth About the Flaming Ghoulies. But his next novel, published the following year, had the title that intrigued me the most: Sex Secrets of Ancient Atlantis. "Having done ADODI, I thought I was suitably qualified to write SSOAA, which is a fiction from beginning to end, but with various genuine nutty theories interspersed, sort of bolstering my own imagination for inventing others."
1987 saw the publication of Earthdoom!, a disaster spoof novel Barnett wrote with longtime friend David Langford. It also was the year of The Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated Characters, a book lauded by those within the animation industry as well as its fandom to this day.
What struck me about this work was the amount of research that had gone into producing it. Explains Paul: "This book took quite a long time. It was my main occupation for the best part of a year. And, fortunately, I had been paid enough where I could do that." I asked him how he acquired the contacts he needed to put the book together, Disney normally being tight-to-the-vest with outsiders. "Oh, that was weird. An editor for whom I had done some work called me up to London one day and said, 'You must come and have lunch.' So I met him at his offices. And then, as we went to the restaurant, he said, 'My girlfriend's joining us.' I thought, "What the hell's going on?" And his girlfriend arrived, and she proved to be the Editorial Director of a packaging company called the Justin Knowles Publishing Group. But I still couldn't work out what she was doing there. It seemed so odd bringing along an editor from another company, or a girlfriend - you know, either way I tried to work it out it was odd. (And, by the way, she has since become a very dear friend.) So about halfway through the main course, she said, 'How would you like to earn an extremely large sum of money and make at least one trip to the Disney lot for six weeks or so, all expenses paid?' And I gulped, because she'd named a good year's salary. And I said, "This all sounds good, but what is it about?" And she said it was about Disney animation, to which I responded, "Well I don't know much about animation; I watched all the movies when I was a kid, but I haven't watched many of their recent ones, so it'll be a question of starting cold." And she said, 'Nevertheless, (my boyfriend) said you'd be the ideal person to take it on, so would you?' And I said, 'Yeah, fine,' and that was when my career as an internationally recognized expert in animation began."
The First Novel Series; Thog the Mighty; "Differently Good" Things;
and Barnett Creates "The Polycosmos"
"No I don't, and I actually quite like doing it that
way. Keeps me refreshed." - PB on whether he has difficulty
switching between fiction and non-fiction writing
After Encyclopedia of Walt Disney's Animated
Characters, Paul Barnett continued to tiptoe just beyond
the fringes of the fantasy genre with non-fiction tomes such
as Great Mysteries (1988) and An Introduction to
Viking Mythology (1989). But it was a popular British
role-playing game that brought him into the realm of fantasy
"The editor at a company called Arrow (which, after
several mergers and acquisitions, eventually became part of
Random House UK), for whom I had written a book that was
very much a potboiler, called The Advanced Trivia Quiz
Book,left. And I was taken over for the tag-end
of the project by an editor called Nancy Webber. Nancy and I
got along like a house on fire - she's still a very dear
friend. I'd bounced a few ideas off Nancy for other books
and none of them quite caught her. And one day when I went
to meet with her, she greeted me with, `Before you even open
your mouth, one of the other editors here has a book which
you would be ideal for.' And I sort of said, 'Gulp!' as one
does . . . and she led me to the Children's Editorial
Director of what was then called, unfortunately, Beaver
Books; which was then the children's wing of the whole
conglomerate. So Nancy said, `Alison, Alison, uh, this is
the author you've been looking for.' And the Editor looked
up and said, `Oh, oh . . . right.' And Nancy ushered me into
her office, saying, `Go on, keep going . . .' And it was
then that I learned of this series of game books, which I'd
never heard of before."
And thus, The Legends of Lone Wolf novel series
was about to be born. But not before the writer berated his
"I said, `First of all, you ought to have warned me.
Second of all, I have no real track record that I could have
brought to the meeting had I been asked for a track
record,' because I hadn't written straightforward fantasy
novels before, and [I felt] I wasn't really qualified. Had I
been asked to present a couple of specimen chapters, I
couldn't. But very luckily, the editor took Nancy's
word for it, that I was the ideal person, and I signed the
contracts; for four books to begin with, and for twelve all
Barnett's series emanated from the Tolkien-influenced
sword and sorcery game books created by Joe Dever.
"The first two books in the series was rather stock
stuff, I suppose," Paul explained, "then number three was
quite good, and number four was actually beyond quite
good. And number five was kind of tired because I hated the
publisher. And then, a bunch of the rest of them were also
quite good, with a couple of them very good: one, The
Birthplace, I regard as among my foremost fictions. I'm
very proud of the series as a whole, in fact." Although only
seventy thousand words, the first book in the series took
Barnett "forever" to write - about three months in real
time. As the series progressed, the books grew longer than
this. "One was about a hundred forty-five thousand, until
the publisher slashed it," Paul added with
exaggerated disgust. "The editor I was working with at the
time told me it would make over 400 pages and no one would
read a fantasy novel that long! I was stunned that she'd
clearly never looked at the fantasy section in a bookstore
and discovered that 400 pages is a short one. One of
the things I've got to do, because the fans know that the
publisher slashed it, is at some point get the series back
into print - actually recreating some of the stories and
putting back some of the stuff that was taken out."
Character creation was, in part, tied to the role-playing
game. "I was sort of stuck with where the character of Lone
Wolf went, because I couldn't disagree with the games books.
Joe Dever would give me kind of a plot of what happened, a
set of numbers to follow, and basically I had to do all the
things that were there. Then it was up to me to put in all
of the other things that Lone Wolf did. I was able to create
secondary characters, though. And, after awhile, they just
kind of took over. In fact, in one or two of the novels,
Lone Wolf is a minor character." The plan was for Dever, who
had creative control over the novels, to edit each. "But
after a while, he said, `Uh, this all seems fine to me,
carry on and do it.' From then on, he concentrated on,
essentially, correcting factual mistakes; you know, me
calling the monster by the wrong name or something like
that. But there weren't any of those because as I got into
them I started making my own stuff separate from the game
Among the "stuff" Paul made up was a comical barbarian
warrior named Thog the Mighty, who would go on to become one
of Paul's most famous and beloved creations to date.
"Thog the Mighty is sort of a middle-age barbarian
berserker; well past his best, but he remembers when times
were good. He looks back on the times when men were men and
women were women - no, men were men, women were available
and `lich' was a word on everybody's lips. I had used him as
a comic cut in one of my Lone Wolf novels, and I
became fascinated with the character about two or three
novels later. I wrote one which was basically his novel, because I wanted to take a comic cut character and
actually have the reader become deeply involved in his
welfare. You know, sort of have the reader identifying with
him even though he was a clown, essentially. But for some
reason, the character got picked up by British sf fandom
after we did `Thog's Masterclass'. In fact, Thog developed
such a cult following that, at one Eastercon, he became a
`Virtual Guest of Honor'. This was great because I, as his
amanuensis, was given a free trip to the con."
Ah yes, Thog's Masterclass.
"Thog's Masterclass comprises quotations discovered
primarily in science fiction and fantasy books; also in
horror books and occasionally in crime books, their
sentences or extracts of which are differently
Proving that unintentionally awkward usage from respected
authors does have amusement value, especially when it
finds its way past professional editors and into print.
Paul told the origin of what has become one of the
genre's more infamous wink-and-nodders. And in explaining
it, he gave insight into his long friendship with writer
"Dave and I have been writing to each other for the past
twenty-five years or so," Paul began, "and he and I gossip
constantly - it used to be by letter, then it became by fax
and now it's by email - every two or three days at least,
we're in touch. At one point, I sent him examples of some
funny stuff I had come across [humorously awkward usage in
books or professional publications], and then he'd send me a
little. We weren't really doing much with it. Then we got a
bit more conscious about it when we were writing the initial Earthdoom! [spoof disaster novel] because we'd found
bits of stupidity that we could use as chapter head
quotations. About the same time, Neil Gaiman's and Kim
Newman's Ghastly Beyond Belief came out, which we
both enjoyed. Years later, we were running the newsletter at
an Eastercon and we were thinking beforehand, `What could we
put in the newsletter from stock stuff that we can take
along with us?' I said to Dave, `How about some of those
idiotic quotations that we'd been exchanging all these
years'? And we did it, and we'd assumed it was just going to
be a `one-off.' But by the end of the convention, we had
members coming to us with quotations they'd come
across; so Dave kept it going in Ansible [Langford's
Hugo award-winning fanzine].
A downside to writing a series so closely tied to a role-
playing game was in the marketing. "Basically what the
publisher had done - which was very stupid - was that they
tied the novels terribly closely to the game books, which
meant the novels were getting stocked alongside the
game books, so they ended up in the game book section of the
book shops. You never saw them on the fiction shelves,
which, to a great extent, defeated their purpose. It also
meant that when the role-playing game book market collapsed
- which happened quite suddenly - it left the novels high
and dry." And like many a role-playing game from the
eighties and early nineties, the Lone Wolf gamebooks and The Legends of Lone Wolf series still attract a cult
following, primarily on the Internet, to this day.
I wondered how Barnett and Dever got along.
"Very luckily, Joe and I are terribly different people. I
haven't seen him for years, but Joe used to be very formal;
suit and tie at all times. If there was a meeting, then
there ought to be minutes and somebody taking down notes to
produce a record of it afterwards. And then there was me,
you know, in my jeans and tee shirt, my usual scruffy self.
And it was quite good, because we had nothing in common
except an interest in this particular series of books. So as
it were, we hit it off. He and I went to conventions and had
a great time together; which of course was quite confusing
to the other people at the convention because here were two
(apparently) such different people who were obviously
having a hell of a good time."
*** *** ***
During the time he was writing the Lone Wolf books,
Barnett was also at work creating two other fantasy novels.
I asked Paul how he came to write the novels Albion
and The World, the latter being his most ambitious
work of fiction to date:
"The Lone Wolf series meant I could do
Albion and The World because, suddenly, I had
a track record in writing genre fantasy, which I hadn't had
before. And I suppose there was also the element that ideas
were coming into my mind the whole time I was writing
Lone Wolf books that I couldn't possibly put into
them; in large part because, as far as the publishers were
concerned, they were supposed to be for fourteen year-olds.
In fact the case was, they were being read by people between
the ages of fourteen and thirty.
"But the truer answer is that I have difficulty thinking
about almost all of my fantasy writing in terms of different
books and stories, because, in my own mind, the whole lot
are part of one single work. I can point to a few stories
that are quite out on a limb. They're different. But all the
others - in my own mind, they link up. And there are links
between, for example, The Legends of Lone Wolf and
Albion and The World; there's actually a
shared character or three in them. And those characters have turned up in all kinds of different
contexts. There are one or two other characters from
TLOLW that have turned up in short stories. And Thog
the Mighty has appeared in all sorts of stuff, also. A
character I created for TLOLW called `Qinifer' -
that's Q-I-N-I-F-E-R, not Q-U - has in fact appeared in all
sorts of contexts, as has Alyss, who's the other main shared
character between TLOLW, Albion and The World.
But since reasonably early on, I haven't been able to answer
questions about specific books, because, as far as I'm
concerned, all of those books are part of something else
which is bigger."
I asked what that "something else" was.
"Given the ideal world and I didn't have to worry about
publishers' contracts, what I'd like to do is a pretty large
sequence of novels and short stories which are all tied in
with each other, painting a picture of what I call the
"polycosmos", which is very loosely similar to what Mike
Moorcock calls the "multiverse". And the trouble with
writing about the polycosmos is that, in essence, there is
no kind of limit to the interrelated stories and novels that
lie there. If I were to have, say, four novels and God knows
how many short stories to write, I know that if, tomorrow, I
sat down and was able to write the four novels, by the time
I'd finished writing them I would have created another dozen
or so in order to complete the painting.
"I've never been much of a short story writer. They're
few and far between, as far as I'm concerned. The trouble
with part of my creative process is that I get an idea for
something, and then another idea comes along and layers on,
and then another idea comes in. And by the time I've got six
or eight ideas and I think, `Yeah, those all blend
together, I can make a story out of those, it's no
longer a short story. And so, even if I keep it short, it's
going to be sort of a novella with a whole lot of things
mixed into it."
Paul doesn't get strangled by all of the layers to his
stories. "But I think they may begin to strangle the reader.
The more layers there are and the more ideas there are
intertwining, then the happier I am, because that means the
whole story becomes an adventure for me, too."
Getting back to Albion and The World, I
commented to Paul that when I hear "polycosmos," I think
"alternate universe" story. Was I close?
"The polycosmos is the collection of all the possible
alternate universes that there are. And it's not just the
collection of them; it's a kind of enveloping and over-
embracing of them all as well. If I were by instinct a
science fiction writer, I would love to get into the physics
of that. But I am by instinct a fantasy writer, and I'm not
just writing a whole string of alternate universe stories;
what I'm doing is trying to fill in the stories that could
come from anywhere in the polycosmos and yet share aspects
with each other. In other words, I'm interested in how the
alternate realities could relate to each other, and what
remains constant through the alternate realities and what
doesn't. So I may come up tomorrow with an idea for a story,
and I know what the story is, but I haven't yet worked out
its part in the polycosmos."
Two Encyclopedias and the ("First") Hugo Award
"And I think that, even in what appears to be fairly
dry prose sometimes, I think that passion comes through." -
PB On The Encyclopedia of Fantasy by John Clute and
In building up to Paul Barnett's work on two award-
winning encyclopedias - the first being The Encyclopedia
of Science Fiction and the second, The Encyclopedia
of Fantasy - I asked how he met his collaborator on
both, John Clute.
"It was actually through my association with the
publisher of the first edition of my Disney book. Justin
[publisher Justin Knowles] told me he would like to do an
encyclopedia of science fiction and I told him frankly,
there was no point in doing one unless it was better than
the Peter Nicholls/John Clute encyclopedia, which I showed
him. And he said, `Okay, do you want to do it?' I suggested,
since the book was ten years out of date, that we contact
Nicholls and Clute and see if they'd like to do a revised
edition. Then, not only would we have two experts in the
field, but since the book is so much the standard work
already, it would be a commercially better prospect [to
update it] than to start from scratch with a new book. So he
went along with this. But then, his company went bankrupt.
By that time, a fellow named John Jarrold, who was then
working with Macdonald Publishing, had wanted to buy the
book from Justin as a package. He then said he'd buy it
directly from Clute's and Nicholls's agent, which he did,
but I was still going to be the out-of-house freelance
editor putting the whole thing together. Then, three-
quarters of the way through the project, Macdonalds found
itself in a difficult position. The owner, Robert Maxwell,
fell off his yacht and died, and suddenly it was revealed
that what everyone thought was a profitable publishing
company wasn't, and that it was going down the tubes fast.
Receivers were called in and all that sort of thing. And
there we were, about three-quarters of the way through this
thing, apparently not having a publisher. Fortunately at
that point, Little Brown, the American company which had a
tiny division, Little Brown UK, stepped in and bought
Macdonalds. And although it scrapped almost all of the
ongoing projects that Macdonalds had, among the relatively
few it kept on was The Encyclopedia of Science
I didn't understand why the entire encyclopedia was
revised, as opposed to writing a supplemental edition.
"First off, the only way one could do a `Volume Two Updated'
would be to get the initial publisher to re-release Volume
One, and that wasn't going to happen. The other thing is
that it wouldn't have been a commercially successful
proposition because Volume Two would have cost almost as
much to do as a completely revised Volume One - even with
half thickness it would have cost just about the same. And
it would've had a substantially lower print run. Plus, there
were things that John and Peter had not been happy about in
the first edition . . ."
*** *** ***
Clute and Barnett came up with the idea for their Hugo
award-winning The Encyclopedia of Fantasy together.
"Before we even started on TEOSF, I had become much
more interested in fantasy than science fiction, primary
because . . . Well, ten years before, my attitude was that
fantasy was kind of rubbish, because I had read so much
bad fantasy. And then, because I had done the first
few of the Lone Wolf novels, I was becoming
interested in fantasy from doing it. I was also reading a
wider variety of fantasy and discovering there was quite a
bit of good stuff out there. You know, ninety-five percent
of it was garbage, but there was the five percent of
good stuff, and I was getting very interested in what
fantasy could do. And also, coming to the conclusion that
science fiction was merely a subset of fantasy. So it really
came to a head around the time John and I were working on
the entry for The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction on
the definitions of science fiction. I contributed a
definition to the debate that science fiction was a form of
fantasy which pandered to the scientific pretensions of its
readers and writers, and this caused a ghastly silence from
Australia [where Nicholls lived]. Whereas John phoned me up
and said, `You bastard, I think you were right,
dammit,' although he then added, `But we're not going to put
that definition in the book.' It was about then that
John and I began thinking, really, we ought to be doing an
encyclopedia of fantasy with science fiction just a part of
it, although at that time it was more an idea than a going
concern. It was later that we knew we had to do one.
For various reasons, we decided to do it between the two of
us, with people like Dave Langford and Ron Tiner as
Paul's list of friends and acquaintances had grown
substantially by the time he and Clute began work on The
Encyclopedia of Fantasy, so he had several notables he
could call upon to contribute. "Oh yes, [besides Langford
and Tiner] there was Brian Stableford as well. And [critic]
Gary Westfahl, a friend of John's who is now a dear friend
of Pam's and myself. And Roz Kaveney was the other
I wondered how it fell to Paul to write all of the movie
entries in TEOF. "That was from the outset, when we
were talking about it initially and deciding which bits John
would actually do and be responsible for, and which bits I
would do. It was decided that John would be responsible for
the vast bulk of the authors, and I would do what turned out
to be just about all of the cinema entries. Then, John did
the bulk of the theme entries, although I did a few of them
and Dave Langford did a few of them; but John did the bulk
of those. The thing about my doing the cinema entries was
that it was born out of my Disney career. And I was the one
on the team who knew a lot about the movies."
The Encyclopedia of Fantasy was a harder sell than
The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, "Because
initially, they wanted to contract us for TEOF at
under half the length of TEOSF. In fact, we
did sign the contract for the book to be that length,
but after six months time we realized that it just wasn't
possible. So we gradually broke it to Little Brown that it
was going to be longer and longer, until in the end, when we
told them it was going to be longer than TEOSF they
had a fit, so it ended up being just slightly shorter. But
ideally, it should have been twice the length that it is to
even approach covering the topic as fully as we would have
And yet, the critics loved it.
"When we'd finished it, we felt it a much stronger book
than TEOSF, while at the same time, we'd thought it a
much rougher book. You know, we knew the bits that were
missing that we hadn't had the time or the space to tackle.
We knew there were a few entries we weren't too happy with
but there wasn't a thing we could do about it; again, for
reasons of time and/or space. But we felt it had a kind of
vigor to it, and I still think it has a vigor to it. I mean,
it seems silly to say about a reference book, but I think
it's quite an exciting book, basically because there's so
much in it about which John and I feel quite passionately."
It seemed a natural for another encyclopedia to be
created - an encyclopedia trilogy, if you will - that being
an encyclopedia of horror.
"Stan Nicholls - no relation to Peter - wanted to do one,
and he wanted us to write for it. We were actually pretty
keen on this, because neither of us wanted to actually do an
encyclopedia of horror ourselves. John doesn't like horror
at all, and I don't feel passionately about it, either. I
kind of like horror insofar as it's fantasy, but I'm not
really much of a horror reader. And so, when Stan said he
wanted to do a horror encyclopedia, that sounded great to
us. But then in the end, Little Brown looked at Stan's
proposal and decided not to do the book."
Of course, The Encyclopedia of Fantasy brought
Barnett a Hugo award ("My first Hugo," Paul
clarified. "I hope.") as well as a World Fantasy Award. Did
Barnett think he had a chance to win the Hugo when TEOF was nominated?
"John and I looked at the shortlist. One of the nominees
was the memoirs of a much-respected science fiction writer
[Robert Silverberg], and we thought the wise money was on
that. But the only book on the shortlist we really worried
about from a moral sense - forget who the Hugo actually goes
to, just think about the moral competition - was Vin Di
Fate's book, Infinite Worlds. So John and I looked at
the list and we got on the phone to each other and I said,
`There's that book, and that's the only one, frankly,
that if it wins rather than us, I won't be unhappy.
Obviously it will be a bit disappointing for us, but I won't
feel as if we were robbed.' And John said, `That's curious,
because that's exactly what I was thinking; that's the one I
wouldn't mind losing to.' And later, after I'd gotten to
know Vin, I told him this tale and he said, `You know, when
I looked at that shortlist, I thought the only one I
wouldn't mind losing to was TEOF."
Paul and I speculated on the crop of non-fiction books
that might pull in this year's Related Book Hugo. We both
agreed that the Barnett-edited The Art of Chesley
Bonestell by Ron Miller and Frederick C. Durant III
could reasonably be considered an early front runner. "I
would hope so," was Paul's reaction. I mentioned that
another Barnett-edited Paper Tiger book, The Art of
Richard Powers by Jane Frank, could also make the
shortlist of nominees. "It's possible that they could both
lose out because they were both there. Split votes can
cancel each other out. But that's sort of speculating
overconfidently because, of course, we have no idea who'll
get on that shortlist."
I asked if he and Clute still ever worked together. "We
haven't worked together as such for quite a while now,
although we do have various vague plans for books involving
each other, because it'd be nice to work together again.
There was some talk about doing on-line editions of both
Encyclopedias. We did quite a lot of talking about how we
would organize it, but the plans fell through. Basically,
when the various dot-coms
Barnett Becomes a Paper Tiger (employee, that is)
and a Fanzine Editor (The Paper Snarl, that is)
" . . .if you dress up in a suit, you don't get half
the respect you do if you're the guy who turns up in jeans
. . ." -PB, on meetings psychology
In 1997, Paul Barnett began his new and current life as
Commissioning Editor for Paper Tiger, the world's best-
selling imprint of fantasy art books. I asked him how he
became affiliated with PT:
"That was thanks to Stephen Jones [noted UK columnist and
editor]. Collins and Brown had bought the Paper Tiger
imprint after its fairly checkered history for the previous
decade or so. And when they bought it, they realized that
there was nobody [at Collins and Brown] who knew anything
about fantasy art. So they thought, `What do we do with the
imprint? A highly respected imprint, great brand
recognition, but what do we do with it?' And they puttered
around for about six months to a year trying to run it
themselves; but with an unusual self-honesty because they
thought, `We need somebody who knows about this stuff.' And
so they got in touch with Steve Jones, and he very kindly
told them, `Get in touch with Paul, `cause he's the guy you
want.' So they just phoned me up from out of the blue, and
said, `You ought to be a consultant in our operation; you'll
be an Acquisitions Editor for Paper Tiger.' For me, it was
kind of a dream, but a nervous dream: I'd been freelance for
twenty years, so did I want to take on a regular job? It was
quite frightening, because they said, `Can you come to
London to see us?' And it was only when I was in the train
on the way up that I realized that this was not a meeting,
it was a job interview. And I thought, `Shit, people
get dressed up for job interviews and here's me in my jeans
and trainers,' because I go to business meetings in jeans
and trainers. See, if you dress up in a suit, you don't get
half the respect you do if you're the guy who turns up in
jeans. Anyhow, to my good fortune, they turned out to be
delightful people. I was interviewed by Cameron Brown, the
`Brown' of Collins and Brown, and by Cindy Richards, the
Editorial Director. And to give you an idea of how relaxed
it was, Cindy had brought in her three week-old baby to the
office, and at one point when she went to get something, she
threw the baby onto Cameron's lap. Later, I said to Cameron,
`That is one of the major reasons why I took the job,
because I thought any office where the people were like that
. . . well, they're the kind of people I want to know.'"
I told Paul that I was expecting his anecdote to end up a
breast-feeding story. "I think that might have
happened three weeks or so later," he responded, laughing.
Paul's relocation to the US came in early 1999 as a
result of his marriage to Pamela. I asked if the move ever
jeopardized his position with Paper Tiger.
"No, that was funny, actually. The reason I moved to the
States rather than Pam to Britain, and there was a big
discussion about switching countries that didn't last very
long because, you see, Pam is an appraiser of animation art
and there isn't any animation art to appraise in Britain.
And although she said she could fly transatlantic to clients
and the clients could pay her plane fares, I said that it
would be a bit ridiculous; whereas I as a writer and editor
could work in either country. At the same time I thought -
and I didn't realize how true it was - it might be difficult
to penetrate American publishing, so I said I'd better keep
Paper Tiger going. I also wanted to, because the job
is very rewarding, producing top grade books and working
with people I like working with, being amongst all the
artists. So I thought I'd better do a bit of fast talking to
Paper Tiger about how much better it would be to have their
Commissioning Editor in the States than to have him in
Britain. And also, because I was working two hundred miles
out of London anyway. Using emails, it's no different for me
to be two hundred miles away than it is for me to be three
thousand miles away. But it was very much an advantage
having an editor amongst the Americans and be able to go to
the big conventions here.
"So I listed on a piece of paper all the advantages of
being in the States. Then I phoned up and spoke to Cindy.
And I said that Pam and I had decided to get married and
that we wanted to move to the States next spring. And I was
just about to launch into my list when Cindy said, `Oh,
that's fantastic! It will be so much better for us.' And she
more or less ran through the list I had prepared, which I
scanned before my eyes as she told me all the
advantages. I was a bit let down because I had been all
prepared for me to have to do a bit of fast-talking. And
what I hadn't known was that we were in the advanced stages
of beginning to distribute the books directly into this
country, rather than sell the American rights. And that was
an even bigger clincher."
At the subsequent in-person senior staff meeting to
"rethink the way Paper Tiger would do its editorial
business," Paul became a fanzine editor.
During the brainstorming session, Cameron Brown suggested
the idea of a fanzine in support of the imprint. Paul was
wary of the notion, having seen too many "commercial
fanzines" that were not much more than thinly-disguised
advertisements. But at the same time, he knew that if done
properly - with sophistication and respect to its target
audience of artists and art book patrons, while maintaining
a certain dry sense of humor about it - a fanzine could turn
out to be a very good idea. He also knew who the best person
was to edit the thing. "Me," he told the group. Brown
readily agreed. Seems he had been thinking along exactly the
And so, The Paper Snarl was born.
"So we decided that The Paper Snarl . . . would be
first and foremost a fanzine . . ." Paul writes in his
introduction to what is provisionally called The Paper
Snarl Interviews, a paperback collection of in-depth Q
and A sessions Paul conducted with twenty-five prominent sf
and fantasy artists, scheduled for release this spring. "To
be sure, anything connected with Paper Tiger that might
genuinely be of interest to those readers would be included,
and prominently, but alongside other material which caught
my fancy: news, features, gossip, nonsense."
After a shaky start in the summer of 1999, The Paper
Snarl quickly rose in stature within the industry.
Contributors during its two years of existence have included
Brian Aldiss, Stephen Baxter, Joe Haldeman and Ellen Datlow,
as well as old cronies John Clute and Dave Langford and a
host of award-winning artists too numerous to list here. The
e-publication, which ranges in length from fifteen thousand
to twenty-five thousand words each month, " . . .is now
gutted by sf newszines on at least three continents, is
cited as a reference source for information and opinion
. . . has developed a distinct voice of its own, and is in
general a heck of a much bigger thing than its humble editor
ever envisaged on that day in London in February 1999."
(Paul Barnett's quotes regarding The Paper Snarl are
courtesy of the author, copyright 2002, Paul Barnett.)
I was curious about Barnett's first artist associations
at Paper Tiger, and he mentioned Bob Eggleton right away.
Was Eggleton well-known in the UK at that time? "Yes," Paul
answered. "In fact, Paper Tiger had done one of his books
and had done quite well with it. Jim Burns was early on,
too. We'd also done one of his books, and we'd done quite
well with it, too. But for various reasons, due to the kind
of checkered past Paper Tiger had had for the previous ten
years before Collins and Brown bought the imprint, Jim
wouldn't touch us with a barge pole. So I went to Jim, whom
I had known before, and said, `I know you won't touch them
with a barge pole, but if you decide you'd like to, it's
under new management. I'm here, and you know my phone
number. And about six months later, his agent gave me a ring
and said, `Do you want to do a Jim book?' And I said, `Yes,
I'd love to do a Jim book.'"
Consorting with the Masters of Animation
"I think people will pick up the book if they think
animation is kind of interesting. And because of the book,
will become more seriously interested in it."
I turned our conversation to Paul's current release, Masters of Animation, a critical biographical history
of the genre, focusing on thirty-seven of the greatest
individuals, partnerships and teams of animators from around
the world. How did Barnett come up with the idea?
"The publisher, Batsford, and the very same editor who'd
introduced me to his girlfriend - the one who'd ended up
commissioning the Disney book - was by now Editorial
Director at Batsford, and he'd heard that Pam and I were at
least getting very close and thinking about getting married.
He phoned me up and said, `This is a dream team. I want the
two of you to start producing animation books for me.' It
sounded good to me, so Pam and I sat down and we worked up a
list of about ten or twelve animation books that we'd like
to write. After we'd done that, I said, `Well look, when
you're dealing with publishing editors, the thing to do is
always to stick in a couple of bummers, because that gives
them something to reject. One of them was Masters of
Animation. So we offered the whole list to [editor]
Chris, who looked at it and what he really wanted from Pam
and me was a huge book again the same scale as The
Encyclopedia of Fantasy, to be called, "The Encyclopedia
of Animated Movies." But Chris, being a wily fellow, looked
down my list and immediately spotted the two bummers that
I'd put in there and teased me about it; you know, that I
was going to be able to pull the wool over his eyes. He
immediately knew which two to reject. Around that point,
Batsford got into financial trouble, and it was bought up by
the Chrysalis Group. Chris left, and the fellow who took
over for him briefly was a man named Richard Reynolds (now
half of the publisher Reynolds Hearn), who was the Batsford
movie books editor. Richard called me in, and he looked at
the list and said to me, `You do realize what we want to do
is "The Encyclopedia of Animated Movies," but we don't have
the money to spend on it at the moment. So we are keeping
you happy by signing you up for another animation book.
Which, obviously, we want to be a great animation
book, but this signing is basically to keep you here.' He
then went down the list and said, `The one here I really
like is "Masters of Animation."' And I said, `Uh, Richard,
not that one, how about this one here,' and he said, `No,
"Masters" is the one I really like.' So I, of course, said,
`Fine.' Initially, it was going to be a fairly unambitious,
shortish book with lots of pictures. Then I went off to
being sort of Mister Anal. I wrote the thing to about three
times the contracted length and it became, I think, a much
more ambitious, much more valuable book."
However, Barnett's manuscript did not turn out to be MOA's published length. "It was contracted, I think,
to be sixty thousand words, and I wrote it at a hundred-
eighty thousand. The finished book is at around a hundred-
fifty thousand words."
Ralph Bakshi appeared to have given Barnett the most
cooperation of any of the subjects covered in MOA,
with the possible exceptions of Bruno Bozzetto and John
Canemaker. As a result, the Bakshi entry seemed inordinately
long. With that in mind, I asked if this piece was Paul's
"There's a funny story about that, actually, because
there was going to be a magazine called `Film Animation
News,' and my friend Andrew Osmond was a consulting editor
for it. Before the magazine had appeared, he said to me,
`We'd love interviews with animators,' and I ended up doing
one with John Canemaker. Then I said, `What about Bakshi?'
And he said, `I'd kill for an interview with Bakshi!' So I
was able to get hold of Ralph's e-mail address. I wrote him
and said, `How about an interview?' And he got back to me
and said, `How about next Thursday at eleven o'clock [a.m.]?
And do it on the telephone.' So I phoned him next Thursday
at eleven o'clock, discovered it was his seventieth or
something birthday, which was why he had the spare time. He
said, `My wife is producing a special birthday lunch and I'm
just sitting in the studio doodling away, so we can chat
because I know I can't get a whole day's work in.' So we
chatted and got on very well, because the initial half-hour
we had slotted in became two hours. And in the end, there
were distant cries of, `Ralph, Ralph, come down the stairs,'
his wife calling him to his birthday lunch. So he left amid
promises that we should get together the next time he was in
New York. The interview was great fun.
"About a month later, Andrew let me know that `Film
Animation News' was not going to happen after all. So I
thought, here I've got two hours of prime time Bakshi, what
do I do with it? One of the jobs I hate doing is
transcribing tapes. I didn't do the sensible thing, which
was to transcribe the whole thing and then flog it to
somebody. I just put the tape to the side. So when MOA came along I thought, `Great, I have all this
fabulous Bakshi material.' And it was at that point I
discovered the connection between the phone and the tape
recorder hadn't been working properly. So I tried everything
to amplify the very distant signal you could hear, and -
gone! I haven't had the courage to tell this to Ralph.
Fortunately, I remembered enough bits and pieces from
hearing my end of the interview to use in MOA."
Paul was surprised when I told him I was able to pick up
an intimacy in the Bakshi entry that wasn't present in any
of the others (with the possible exception of the Canemaker
piece). "The other animator that was really helpful was
Bruno Bozzetto. When he and I corresponded, he gave me all
the stuff I needed - he was great! A lovely, lovely man. We
now have mutual friends in animation, and they tell me he's
even nicer than my impression of him. "
MOA was no overnight undertaking. "I mentioned
that I did one hundred eighty thousand-words, which is the
proper length of the text, but I must have twice that in
terms of notes and artists' material that were left out of
I asked Paul how much his Disney connections helped him
with MOA. "A bit. Dave Smith, who's the archivist at
Disney - a good pal, and who in fact was indirectly
responsible for how Pam and I had gotten to know each other
- he was great. When I emailed Dave and I needed a response,
he was back to me within the hour."
The chapter on Chuck Jones was extremely insightful. "I
got the information in it partly from Chuck, whom I'd gotten
to know thanks to Pam. The rest was my own research."
I then hit on my only nit-pick with MOA: Paul's
exclusion of those like Matt Groening and Jay Ward/Bill
Scott, who focused mainly on television animation. "There
was a consideration, which meant that, as it were, people
who started much after the seventies or eighties would have
to be especially distinguished to be included: as the title
is Masters of Animation, somebody who's produced one
extremely successful show . . . you can't really say that
he's a Master. You'd have to get somebody who's garnered
respect over time, someone who's had a really solid career.
The most recent animator in the book was Nick Park, but he's
won so many Oscars already that you can say, `Yes, he's
already had a solid career. In fifty years' time he's still
going to be revered, even if he gives up animation
tomorrow.' You just don't know with lots of television
animators. Five years down the line, they may have been
I asked Paul who his favorite animators were, in terms of
the respect and admiration he holds for them. "Let's see,
there's [Jan] Svankmajer. I have tremendous respect for
Ralph's work, which isn't to say I like all of it.
But I have great respect for him because without him,
animation would likely still be all fluffy talking animals
or cute little girls with eyes too big coming over from
Japan. And without Bakshi, and to a lesser extent, Bozzetto
(who was coming along with that same sort of intent,
although he really didn't impact on American animation
much), I don't think modern animators like Bill Plympton
could have had their careers in the same way. And for that
matter, even people like Nick Park might have had
difficulties, because without Ralph to rock the boat,
commercial animation would have become a totally Disney-like
What other animation book would Paul have done had he not
had an editor choose a title from the Barnett Suggestion
List? "Well, apart from `The Encyclopedia of Animated
Movies,' which as far as I'm concerned is still a live
project, there's one I'd really love to write, and that's
`Betty Boop: The Unauthorized Biography.' This idea assumes
that Betty is both a cartoon personality and a real person -
you know, kind of a Roger Rabbit in the real world. Writing
her unauthorized biography would give her affairs with
various American presidents, etc., mixing history and
nonsense. I'd also try and get parts of the movies in, too;
while, on the one hand, she was being sort of a Mata Hari in
Nazi Germany trying to bring about the downfall of Hitler,
she was also dancing topless in a bar in downtown Venice and
having a love affair with a dog."
Paul told of his attempt to obtain the rights from King
Features. "I got the standard reply. They didn't seem to
realize that it was a fun book. They thought that it was
going to be some kind of cartoon character tie-in. I mean,
they just didn't cotton onto it. They said, `Can we see a
synopsis? Then we'll see if we can help you find a
publisher.' And I said, `My agent is pounding on my door to
get me to produce a synopsis, because he thinks finding a
publisher isn't going to be all that difficult. All I want
is an okay to the rights and the character. Then somebody at
your end could talk to my agent about working up a deal so
that you could get your cut.' Their reaction was to `suit'
it into the ground, and I was very busy at the time and I
hadn't the energy or the time to go back and try to explain
to them again what the book was."
Returning to MOA, I asked Paul for his thoughts on
its target market. "I felt very much that the people who
were seriously interested in the subject - I mean, that's my target market, by which I don't necessarily mean
those who already know a lot about it - I think people will
pick up the book if they think animation is kind of
interesting. And because of the book, will become more
seriously interested in it. But I don't view it as a kind of
supermarket book that people will necessarily pick up
because of the illustrations. I did suggest to
Batsford that, because there is a fuller version of the
text, they might want to bring out the longer version
without any illustrations at all, but I didn't really get
anywhere with that."
Perceptualistics. . .and the Business End of Art Books
"If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything
would appear to man as it is, infinite." -William Blake
The subject turned to a recently completed project near
and dear to Paul Barnett's heart: Perceptualistics, a
book of fantastic, free-interpretive paintings by the artist
Jael (www.jael.net), scheduled for release in May. Paul, who
wrote the accompanying text for the book, had been
attempting to get this project off the ground for quite some
time. "When [Ron] Tiner and I were doing The Encyclopedia
of Fantasy and Science Fiction Art Techniques [in the
mid-nineties], there was a picture that we really liked by
an artist whom we hadn't actually heard of. The artist was
called Jael and the picture, at the time, was called `Beauty
in Space.' I loved that picture very much and once I'd taken
over at Paper Tiger, one of the first things I did was
contact [fantasy art authority] Jane Frank and ask her for
Jael's address. And you know Jael: I wrote to her and never,
ever got a reply. Years later, after I'd moved to
this country, Pam and I were at a World Fantasy Convention
in Providence, and somebody - I forget who - said, `Did you
know Jael's here?' And I said I'd been wanting to meet Jael
for three or four years. Lead me to her! So eventually, the
two of us were kind of thrown together, and it emerged that
Jael had been too shy to reply to this letter from Paper
Tiger. And this despite the fact that Jane Frank had been
nagging her, saying, `Haven't you replied to that letter
You may be wondering, as I was, how long it took from
first meeting until the two discussed the prospect of a book
project. "Not long after we'd moved here. It must've been
early last year. One of the things we saw at that World
Fantasy Convention was Jael's slide show. She stuck in about
three of her 'Perceptualistics'. [Jael adapted the name from
author William Blake's The Doors of
Perception.] As I got to know her better, I began to see
more of them. And I said, `Jael, when we're going to do your
book, I'd almost be prepared to forget about the fantasy
illustrations because the Perceptualistics are just out of
this world. The fantasy illustrations are fine, but there
are lots of fantasy illustrators, and there's nobody else
doing anything quite like the Perceptualistics.' She was
initially shy about this. She had never taken them to
science fiction conventions because she didn't think the
fans would like them. So Pam and I worked on her, and now
she does take them to science fiction conventions.
Now she's selling them there and picking up awards for them.
By March of last year, I was determined to do a book with
Jael of her Perceptualistics, but I knew that it was going
to be a hard one to sell to head office, because they're
accustomed to Jim Burns and Chris Moore and Boris Vallejo,
and this is a long way different from that. On the other
hand, I'd sold them the Richard Powers book, which is a long
way different from that also, and we'd done very well with
I mentioned that the difference right now between Jael
and Powers was recognition. Powers is a legend; Jael's name,
although well known, is still a long way short of a legend,
although she gained additional recognition when she
presented the Best Professional Artist Hugo at last year's
Worldcon. Paul agreed. "That's exactly the case. On the
other hand, if you consider it from head office's point of
view, they didn't know who Richard Powers was either, so as
far as they were concerned, this book of rather freaky
artwork - which didn't look anything like Jim Burns or Boris
Vallejo - had done well. So I waited for a moment of
weakness at head office when they were thinking nice things
about Richard Powers and also because they'd been slow on
other things - we were slightly short with another book for
the coming spring. At that point, I said 'We should be doing
a book on these fabulous paintings.' And to my astonishment,
they came right back to me and said, `Right. We'll do it.'
It was around about then that Jael said to me, `And by the
way Paul, you'll be writing it.' `Hah,' I thought, because
that hadn't really been on my calendar."
I learned that an artist has great input as to who will
write the text for his or her book. "Some artists are
delighted to have you find somebody to write the text, while
others have strong feelings, either that they'll write it
themselves, which [as editor] I have to control slightly,
because some of them can write and some of them can't, or
that they have a writer in mind to work with. But in this
case, Jael had just said, `Well Paul . . . you're doing it.'"
When I asked Paul how much more work needed to be done on
Perceptualistics: The Art of Jael, he bent over and
picked up a stack of sheets. "Here are the final proofs;
black and white only. They're sitting here waiting for me to
go through them. But they'll be off to printing at the end
of this month."
The most important element in promoting
Perceptualistics . . ., according to Paul, is putting
the right picture on the cover. "You know, because they're
so different and most of them are so fabulous, I think just
getting the right image on the cover will cause people to
take one look at it across a Crown Bookshop and go . . .
[Paul makes startled, coughing sounds.] I think that's going
to be the biggest part of promoting it. I also think, to an
extent, it's going to be like the Anne Sudworth book, which
people thought was going to be difficult to promote, because
in this country, nobody knows who Anne is. Well they do now,
but they didn't then. And even in Britain, she's not an
illustrator. In Britain, the true science fiction fans know
who she is, and the art gallery crowd know who she is, and
the Goths know who she is, but your average punter who buys
Paper Tiger books had no idea who she was because she
doesn't do book jackets. There was a thought that this was
going to be a difficult book to promote, but it proved to be
dead easy, because I didn't do conventional publicity for
it. I simply sent editors at lots of different webzines a
couple of jpgs and gave them Anne's URL, and the next thing
I knew, they were falling all over each other to do features
about her. So it was the work that sold the book. And I
think it's going to be the same with Perceptualistics. Already, there are web editors -
Jean Marie Ward [www.crescentblues.com] is a prime example -
who are itching to help Jael with the book. They've seen her
work and they love it."
By now, I was beginning to wonder how many copies of
Perceptualistics would have to be sold for it to be
considered a successful project. Paul thought for a minute
and then answered, "It doesn't really work like that at
Paper Tiger. None of the print runs on Paper Tiger books are
huge to begin with, except for the Boris Vallejo books. With
the others, you're talking about a few thousand in the UK
and a few thousand in the US to start with. But the
principle with Paper Tiger is that all these books are meant
to stay in print for years - in effect, the notion is that
they'll stay in print forever. All their modest sales taken
together - all their modest but steady sales - add up
to a hell of a lot of books in any one year. So virtually
everything we do is a success, because even if a book
doesn't sell in large quantities in the first year or two,
over the years it's going to build up, and it will sell a
hell of a lot of books in ten years. Oddly enough, the
Sudworth book was the fastest out of the gate."
I asked Paul if an artist like Michael Whelan was so
married to one publisher that he wouldn't consider an offer
from, say, Paper Tiger. Was he unapproachable? "I just
haven't gotten 'round to him, actually. He's had a curious
publication career in that, a few years back, Bantam did a
colossal book that they spent an awful lot of money on and
printed an awful lot of copies of, and it didn't perform to
expectations. In fact, if you look at it from the correct
angle, it was a very successful book. The only thing that
made it an unsuccessful book was that Bantam printed far too
many copies of it. As I say, if you look at the number of
copies they actually sold, it was a very successful
book. Of course, publishing being publishing, it's never the
fault of the people in house, so obviously, this was Michael
Whelan's fault for producing a flop. So I don't know exactly
what he's up to with publishers at the moment, because it's
a bit difficult for him to sell projects since everybody
knows he's had this 'flop'. He sold forty thousand copies of
this seventy-five dollar book in no time at all, but it was
What does an acquisitions editor look for? "There's no
magic formula. Obviously, in some cases it has to be such-
and-such an artist who's very famous and people want to buy
a lot of her/his work. Other times, and it should be always
but it has to be at best some of the time, there's an artist
whose work I find fabulous - I love it. Then, we are
prepared to take risks with lesser-known artists. Somebody
like Anne Sudworth, whose work is astonishing. Then,
essentially I'm a typical member of the buying public for
our books, so that immediately means that there must be
others like me who'll take one look and see it's a fabulous
book. It does make me different, of course, when we
try and get it into bookstores and hear some stupid comment
like, `Never heard of her.' But we can get around that,
because Anne received huge search engine coverage. It got
people going into bookshops and demanding the thing, saying,
`That's the book we want!' That's almost better than
having the booksellers stock it in the first place, because
then, the third person goes into a bookseller and says,
`Where the hell is this book?' and the bookseller begins to
think, `Jesus, this must be some book.' But
obviously, the ideal thing is a commercially hugely
successful artist whose work I think is fabulous. And then
of course there are the dead dudes, like Powers and
Bonestell. We're hoping to do one very soon on J. Allen St.
John [the legendary Tarzan illustrator], whose work I
Does Paul worry about running out of great artists for
Paper Tiger? "No. One of the truisms of publishing is that
editors have always known how difficult it is finding good
stuff. Editing Paper Tiger is a unique thing. My big
difficulty is that there is more good stuff than we could
possibly publish. If we published twenty books a year, then
we might have to start scraping the barrel a bit. But at the
moment, I'm turning away, or putting on hold or whatever,
projects that, in an ideal world, I'd snap up."
Barnett Gives Us "The Biz" on Writing
As our chat began winding down toward its conclusion,
Paul Barnett told me of a book Paper Tiger plans to publish
this fall. "It's a very different book, called Dragonhenge, one that [multi-Hugo award-winning
artist] Bob Eggleton and I are doing together. For this I
am, in effect, writing fiction. The text of the book is
going to be made up of what are, ostensibly, legends from
the dragons' own oral mythology. The dragons will be telling
of their creation and the various important events in their
pre-history. So it's actually quite a challenging exercise
doing it, because I've got to get myself into a completely
different mindset in order to write myths that I think,
credibly, the dragons could've created for themselves."
It was time to ask Paul the ever-banal, "Where Does Your
Inspiration Come From" question. I reckoned from our
conversation that Paul could summon his muse virtually on
demand. "No, it isn't quite true. As I was saying about Dragonhenge, that's really quite hard work. I can sit
down and write something that's okay anytime. But to
actually write something that's good, it's a bit more
than that. Usually, it's that ideas come along and land on
my shoulder and crawl into my ear, and there they find a few
others that have already done this before. And then months
go by and they all fester, and eventually, out of the whole
bundle of them comes the meat to actually start writing
something - in the knowledge that I don't know where it's
going to go. And, anyway, with anything longer than a short
story, I tend to get bored with the prospect of knowing
where the plot line is going. I want to start out with that
initial nexus of ideas and a vague idea of what's going to
happen, but then explore it, and also explore the ideas as I
go, so then the novel becomes as much an exploration and
revelation for me as I hope it becomes for the reader."
Does he ever get writer's block? "Hardly ever," he
quickly replied. "I certainly have never had it really
seriously. There's been the odd occasion where I've spent a
few hours just stuck; but I never really have any serious
writer's block. Some people I know have it for months on
end, and years."
I asked Paul if he starts his novels in the middle, as
some authors do, and works backwards and forwards. "No, I
usually start at the beginning. In my novel The
World, which is singularly the most ambitious thing I've
done yet; there, in fact, I did write some bits out of
order. But that novel is so oddly put together anyway, it
seemed natural that I would write some of the later bits
first, back before the earlier ones."
In October, Pamela, Paul, Barb and I had spent an
afternoon visiting with singer/musician Janis Ian, a friend
of Pam and Paul's from the Millennium Philcon, before
attending her concert that evening. During our visit, I
asked Janis if she listened to the music of other singers.
"No, not much, because I want to cut down on the possibility
of anything I hear imprinting and coming out when I write my
own music." I asked Paul, a voracious reader, if he's ever
afraid of rewriting something he might have imprinted. "Yes.
Sometimes I'll be writing a story or a novel, and I'll
suddenly think, 'Hmm, this seems a bit too good to be me,' and I'll worry. On occasion, I've phoned a lot
of people and said, `Hey, do you know a story where this happens?' And so far, it never actually has. I
don't know if it's a neurotic worry on my part, or something
I ought to be genuinely concerned about."
I tried to provoke Paul with the notion that, as a writer
who refuses to read fiction, I can cop "imprint" as my
rationale for not reading it. "On the other hand," Paul
answered, "if you don't read other people's fiction, you
don't know what the other kids are up to." I listened in
amazement as Paul responded to his own assertion. "It's a
double-edged thing, because if you don't read what the other
kids are doing you may come up with fabulously original
stuff - in other words, you don't run the risk of
unthinkingly accepting their 'rules' as to what you're
supposed to do and supposed not to do. But on the other
hand, if you steer clear of everyone else's writing you may
produce stuff that's incredibly boring and mundane because
you don't know that all the other kids have done it a
hundred times before."
I went from a banal question to a more banal question.
"What would you do if you hit a huge lottery jackpot and
didn't need to write or edit any more to make a living?" As
I expected, I did not receive a banal answer. "You are talking of a hundred gazillion, and not a paltry
ten million, aren't you? Well then, I would start a
publishing company. Because at the moment in American
publishing - fiction publishing - there is a horrific gap.
Basically, big publishers aren't much interested in the mid-
list. Small publishers that print fiction are picking up a
lot of the old mid-list, but they don't have the marketing
resources to be able to sell it properly. So what I'd do is
start up a publishing house that essentially would pick up
mid-list books - the really good stuff - and give it some
marketing oomph. I don't mean to be arrogant, but some of
those books would be my own - in market terms I'm a typical
mid-list author. There are a whole bundle of other mid-list
writers' books that I already know about, potentially good
books. I know the authors are having a hell of a time
finding publishers for them because the big boys all want
best sellers and the little boys can't produce the money to
market them properly as yet. It would be easy and it would
be a joy to start publishing great books. I know that Four
Walls, Eight Windows, the publisher, very much operates
under that kind of a principle; but they're publishing all
across the field, whereas I would do just fantasy and some
I asked Paul if he gets many unsolicited manuscripts from
friends in the industry. "I'm beginning to get more authors
asking me to come work on their book; `I'll give you good,
solid money to do so.' Strangers. Old friends realize that,
just because I work in books seventy hours a week, it
doesn't mean I want to fill up whatever leisure time I have
working on their book. But occasionally, when I know
a friend needs a book to be worked on, yeah, I'll do it.
I've just done that with Vera Nazarian's first novel and
Dave Hutchinson's first novel. Vera's, Dreams of the
Compass Rose, is coming out around now, I think, and
Dave's, The Villages, should be coming out in Spring
I asked Paul if the time ever comes when a writer who
repeatedly receives rejection notices without selling a
manuscript should find another dream to pursue. "It depends
on what their dream is. If it's to become a famous published
writer, then, yes, there does come a time where they
should simply know they're not going to make it. And of
course, what is happening at the moment in publishing are
various print-on-demand places where you can come in with
three hundred bucks and they'll publish your book. So an
awful lot of people who have dreams of becoming famous
published writers are in a way being pulled out of
circulation through print-on-demand. It's like vanity
publishing, but much cheaper. One of the genuine problems is
that some of the books that are published in this way are by
no means bad books. So you've got a big disadvantage in that
you're getting some good writers, or potentially good
writers, who are being taken out of circulation and who may
never have a readership simply because it has become easy
for them to publish their own things. And then, they've got
a book they can show to their friends, or maybe sell to
their friends, or give to their friends and which will be
read by about three people apart from that. So essentially,
I am in two minds about that particular part of modern
publishing. When people say to me from time to time, `I'd
like to self-publish my book with such-and-such, one of the
print-on-demand places,' I say to them, `I don't think you
should unless you're pretty clear on what you want to do. If
you want to go out and market your books, then all you're
actually doing is using a vanity press as a relatively
cheap, low-risk way of printing a book you're publishing
yourself. And that's fine if that's what you really want,
but then you're the person who has to make sure it gets to
its readership.' And if they have that sort of an attitude,
which some writers already have, then, yes, it is a
way of doing it. But if they simply want to get their book
published and get it to a readership, then self-publishing
can be an early grave."
I followed up by asking Paul if there was an industry for
"Joe Writer-wannabes" to write a novel, and then give it to
a professional editor who might say, "This is a piece of
crap, but I can punch it up and make it sellable."
"Oh yes, there is a definite industry. I do it myself
from time to time, when people have what is, essentially, a
good book, but can't write." I reminded Paul that, with his
extremely tight work schedule, he might not want people to
know this. I warned him that he might be showered with
manuscripts. Paul laughed. "It depends on how much money
they've got - I'm pretty expensive. It's up to the
individual person. If she/he is very honest about her/his
abilities and says, `I want to write this book but I just
can't write . . . I need a writer to make this book work,'
that can be a very happy thing for all concerned because
it's fun for somebody like me to do. I get paid for
something that's essentially fun. And they get a book that
they can be reasonably proud of; and, with luck, flog to a
publisher. Where it's difficult is that you do get some
people coming along and wanting my services but not willing
to admit to themselves that they can't write, and then that
becomes a very unhappy relationship because they won't leave
me alone to get on with it."
I finished this line of questioning by asking Paul how an
unpublished writer should know when to give up, that his or
her writing is never going to get any better than it is now.
"Well, that actually leads into the second part of my answer
to the last question; that being, whether the dream was to
become a published writer or whether the dream was to write.
Now if the dream is to write, no matter how many times they
get rejected, they should keep going forever and ever,
because that's bringing their dream true every time they sit
down and do it. I'd never suggest to someone that they stop
simply because they're no good at it. As long as it actually
gives them pleasure to write, then, yeah, they should keep
doing it. It's like saying to somebody, `You should stop
playing the violin because you're bloody awful.' Maybe they
should stop dreaming about giving a performance at Carnegie
Hall, but as long as they do it out of earshot, they
certainly shouldn't stop playing the violin, because they enjoy it. (And I meant to be more profound than
that, expound on an expression of human creativity, and
mumble, mumble, mumble . . .)"
The interview was grinding to a close. My last question
of the evening for Paul was, "Is there anything else you
think I should include in this piece?" "Devilishly handsome,
you might want to put that in," came his cunning reply. I
cut him off after, "Hung like an elephant, too - depending
on the size of the elephant, but you don't need to add that
I wandered downstairs to see what the ladies were doing.
Paul began monitoring the beginnings of the meteor shower.
He was almost childlike with the excitement of anticipation.
As I began to envy his enthusiasm, I could feel its
contagion. We were in for a fun night watching the sky