Robert Redick, author of The Red Wolf Conspiracy: The Chathrand Voyage,
answers our questions
Tolkien was suspicious of allegory. Is the Chathrand an allegory? Or is it
simply a bloody big boat?
I'm with Tolkien completely. The Chathrand books are an allegory-free zone.
As a writer, the moment you pursue an allegory, you're trapped. Your story can't
breathe if you have to keep prodding it back towards something you've decided it
But Chathrand is certainly more than just a vast sailing ship. I think of her as
a character, with history, moods, loyalties and a destiny quite her own. Of
course she's also the stage on which much of the action takes place: a stage
with room for 700 players. This makes her a kind of village under sail. Indeed,
one deck is known as 'Night Village' to the rats and Ixchel, who live there.
It's clear, both from your author biography and from your book, that you love
languages. Do our languages shape our view of the world? Did the languages in
The Red Wolf Conspiracy shape your creation of Alifros?
Oh, very much so. This is a story of constant encounters with difference:
sailors were the original agents of globalization, for good or ill. And what you
find when you take such encounters seriously is that every last one must be
hand-tooled. Just so with language. It's easy to grab a handful of sounds and
call it a language: Barpish will be full of Bs and Rs, Gruntish will be full of
guttural 'ughs'. It's easy to say all the denizens of Doogong will start their
names with D. But language isn't like that. It borrows, it fuses, it breaks its
own rules. Look at English: a perfect witch's brew. Its grammatical bones have
stewed for centuries in a cauldron of exceptions.
The trick, I might add, is to honor complexity without drowning in it. And that
goes for character as well.
Pazel and Thasha are both teenagers. How did you get inside their heads?
Remembering your own teenage years? Or do you have younger relatives who will
recognize themselves in Thasha and Pazel? What special qualities do teenagers
have as protagonists in fiction? Are their qualities especially useful for a
I've been 16 ever since I was ten. Really: even before I reached that age, I
think I saw the self I could most comfortably call me in the 16-year-old I would
become. And certainly thereafter. It's a mode of being as well as an age: the
time when you gain both independence and an agonizing knowledge of the limits of
independence, the toil and arbitrary luck involved in going anywhere. And
doesn't that feeling last the rest of our lives?
So, yes, I think teenagers are a key fantasy age. Frodo may have been 33, but in
the terms I'm talking about he was very much a teen. As for my family: well,
let's just say there are a lot of psychic teens stowed away in the Redick clan,
fortunately. And some real teens on my wife's side, who've yet to have a crack
at Red Wolf.
Tell us about Nilus Rose. He's not your average ship's captain. Where did he
come from? Did he end up as the character you first envisaged?
I love writing about Rose. He is greedy, brutal, secretive and deranged. But
there are cracks in his shell his attachment to his old witch-seer, and
obviously to the parents to whom he keeps sending letters, although they may be
dead. Rose is just so drastically alone not even the other conspirators come
close, although they need his services.
Such isolation was a characteristic of the old sea-captains, although they
didn't necessarily go mad and see ghosts and lock people in cupboards. But Rose
isn't modelled on any historical or literary figure. He does bear some
resemblance to my old University of Florida professor J.F. Eisenberg, who was
probably the world's leading carnivore mammalogist.
Life on the Chathrand is vividly evoked. Have you sailed on a big sailing
ship? And did you make it up into the rigging? Was it terrifying?
I have, briefly, sailed on a tall ship. And yes, I climbed the 80 feet to the
crow's nest while under sail, up frayed and rotting ratlines. Not scary at all,
as long as you didn't move or think or breathe.
Can you name seven records and one book (you already have the Bible and
Shakespeare) that you'd be happy to be washed up on a desert island with?
(1) Pink Floyd Wish You Were Here
(2) Lutunn Noz Celtic Music for Guitar
(3) The Beatles Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts' Club Band (of course)
(4) Steve Klink Blue Suit
(5) Nusrat Fateh Ali Kahn Dust to Gold
(6) Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? (soundtrack)
(7) Violeta Parra Las Ultimas Composiciones
As for the book: it would have to be The Brothers Karamazov if only to
remind me that I'm not the only one with problems.
Reproduced from www.orionbooks.co.uk/ with permission of Del Rey.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher.
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