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This interview was first published by the Italics web-zine


Interview by Randy M. Dannenfelser

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.

Part 1

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."

Part 2

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."

Part 3
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 fiction writing.

"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 friend Webber.

"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 told."

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 books."

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 good."

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 David Langford.

"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."

Part 4
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 John Grant

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 Fiction."

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 `significant helpers.'

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 Contributing Editor."

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 liked."

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

Part 5

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 same lines.

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.'"

Part 6
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 personal favorite.

"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 the book."

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 forgotten."

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 terrain."

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."

Part 7
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 yet?'"

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 it."

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 a flop."

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 love."

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."

Part 8
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 science fiction."

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 2002."

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 bit."

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 fall.

The End