Tom Arden - A Life

Tom grew up in Australia and has lived in Ireland and England since 1990.

Educated at the University of Adelaide, he lectured in English at Queen's University of Belfast for seven years before becoming a full-time writer.

Other interests include theatre, music, comics, and visiting ruined castles. He also likes wandering in graveyards.


Tom Arden Interviewed: December 2004

The following interview was conducted by Donna Hanson for the reference book, Australian Speculative Fiction. Only a few quotes will appear in the finished book, so here are Tom's responses in full. The questions are standard ones given to all the authors approached.

Q. Why do you write fantasy?
A. Fantasy always interested me as a way of writing about the world indirectly. I didn't want to write autobiography or kitchen-sink realism. Fantasy is about taking metaphors and making them real.

Q. What are your motivations in writing fantasy?
A. I want to write about real characters in unreal situations. I want to say something about life. I'm not interested in fantasy because I believe in magic or paganism or supernatural beings.

Q. What is unique about your work?
A. My work avoids the medieval backgrounds common in epic fantasy, which have always bored me (it has always amazed me that a book as fundamentally turgid as LORD OF THE RINGS should have been such a success). The OROKON series is set in a sort of pantomime version of the eighteenth-century, with detours to an Arabian Nights world, and a realm of islands that is half out of THE ODYSSEY and half out of GULLIVER'S TRAVELS. My fantasy novels are known for their high-camp, operatic quality. I'm one of the few writers who brings a gay sensibility to epic fantasy, which remains, inexplicably, a dreadfully heterosexual field. Don't people realise how camp fantasy is? That's half the fun of it!

Q. Do you write in other genres or mainstream?
A. I have published two small-press books which are set in the so-called real world, though the plots are still fantastical: SHADOW BLACK (Big Engine, 2002), a gothic mystery about a reclusive movie star, a crippled press baron, and a mysterious stranger (REBECCA meets SUNSET BOULEVARD in an Elizabethan mansion); and THE TRANSLATION OF BASTIAN TEST (Immanion Press, 2005), a weird science fantasy adventure set mainly in 1920s Scotland. I have also published a DOCTOR WHO novella, NIGHTDREAMERS (Telos, 2002), featuring the Third Doctor (Jon Pertwee) and Jo Grant (Katy Manning). That was great fun to do.

Q. When did you first begin to write?
A. I've been writing since the age of eight. As a boy I wrote a great many short stories (mostly horror) and attempted many novels, which usually didn't get far. Later I wrote poems and terrible rock songs. It was a long time before I actually completed a novel.

Q. Do you do much research for your novels?
A. There are two answers to this, and both are true. One: a lot less than people think. Two: everything I read, everything I think, everything I do is research. The eighteenth-century background in the OROKON books wasn't researched from whole cloth. I have studied eighteenth-century literature and used to lecture about it at university level. I just knew a lot of that stuff. So, in a strange way, I write about what I know.

Q. If you could write and be published in another genre what would that be?
A. To me, fantasy is limiting as a genre, not because of what it allows you to do, but because of how it is perceived by others. My books have been packaged as blockbuster fantasy, but they are, if anything, a subversion of that genre. Most readers of Brooks and Eddings don't like my books; they don't know how to take them. On the other hand, the more left-field readers I'm looking for are put off by the genre fantasy covers. Consequently, Tom Arden fans are a lot thinner on the ground than they might be. Fortunately, they are fervent.

Q. What did it feel like when you had your first book published?
A. It is always disappointing to have a book published. No one makes nearly enough fuss of you. Many people don't even notice! Now, signing the contract ... that's the best bit.

Q. What are your goals for writing in future (e.g., break into the US market)?
A. If it is true that Americans have no sense of irony, then I don't expect ever to break into the US market. My books get published in places like Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic, which I'm very pleased about, though (alas) this brings in nowhere near enough money. As for future projects, I'm working on something, but I'll keep it under my hat for now if you don't mind. Superstition, and all that.

Q. In your opinion, are there any uniquely Australian elements in your writing, either in your characters or setting?
A. I've lived in England for many years and have never written anything set in Australia, but readers of THE KING AND QUEEN OF SWORDS might notice that the map in the front bears some resemblance to South Australia, where I grew up. Try reading the dialogue of some of my more insane characters (e.g., Polty, Captain Porlo) in broad Australian dialect and you'll soon see whether I'm an Australian writer or not. I have two voices: an English one and an Australian one. They're both in my books.

Q. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers?
A. Stop it at once and do a Business Studies degree. Failing that, keep at it no matter what. It takes years to get anywhere. The good thing is, you won't get bored. This is something you can do for the rest of your life. There's always more to do. There's always more to learn.

Q. Why do you think there are so many Australians writing in this genre now?
A. Hah! Australians live their lives in a fantasy world. This is not entirely a good thing. It means we have John Howard in the real world.

Read more interviews with Tom Arden:

SF Site interview with Neil Walsh (2001). The definitive OROKON interview, just as the series was ending.

Wavelengths Online interview with Cheryl Morgan (2001). Interview for US gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sf and fantasy site.


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