Ahead of his Melbourne appearance, courtesy of the Wheeler Centre and Supanova Pop Culture Expo, the author talks bizarre fan behaviour, sex on TV, and that infamous episode
Never mind about winter: Halloween is coming. George RR Martin has read the signs and seen the portents: outfits are starting to appear based on characters from Game of Thrones.
“They’re selling costumes for people to be Melisandre, or Daenerys,” say Martin, referring to the HBO series’ red witch and blonde dragon queen respectively. “But there’s one company that is selling a costume of me: a fake beard and a hat like the Greek fisherman’s hat I wear, and a pair of suspenders. You can go as me for Halloween!” He laughs. “That I was not prepared for.”
Speaking to Time Out on the phone from his home in New Mexico, Martin is reflecting on how life has changed for him since the world-conquering success of Thrones, which he co-produces and is based on his A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels.
In 1991 Martin was trying to write a science fiction novel when the idea came to him of the faux-medieval world of Westeros, its seven kingdoms and the bloody struggles for power among its denizens. Highly acclaimed and very popular within the genre, the five epic novels are now selling through the roof, with fans of the TV series eager to read what lies in store for the Starks, Lannisters, Greyjoys, Targaryens and the other many noble houses fighting bitterly over the Iron Throne.
Martin is currently working on book six, The Winds of Winter. This November, he will put down his word processor and visit Australia for a series of special appearances. In anticipation, Time Out asked Martin about…
…how that eagerly anticipated new novel is coming along.
“Well it’s coming! I don’t like to predict when I’m going to be finished because every time I do I seem to be wrong and a million people start sending me abusive emails: ‘You said it would be done in March and now it’s April!’ So I’m doing the whole Michelangelo thing to the Pope: ‘[The Sistine Chapel Ceiling] will be done when it’s done.’”
…that coffee table book he’s also working on.
“The World of Ice and Fire is a spin-off, a book of history and legends of Westeros, lavishly illustrated by a dozen or so of the world’s best fantasy artists. That has been in progress for a couple of years now but I hope to finish before I leave for Australia.”
"My imagination, as cruel as it may seem, has nothing on real life...”
…whether the show has changed anything about the way he writes the novels.
“Not really. I try to separate the two in my mind. Sometimes it’s a little difficult ’cos we have some great actors who have really made the characters their own. I realise that for many of my readers, when they read about Daenerys they may see Emilia Clarke, or when they read about Arya they may see Maisie Williams, and that’s understandable. You’ve got to remember that I’ve been living with these characters since 1991. Everything about them is firmly fixed in my mind and it’s difficult for the show to dislodge that.”
...Peter Dinklage, the Emmy-winning star of Game of Thrones.
“Peter Dinklage was the only possible choice for Tyrion; he’s amazing as Tyrion. Is he exactly like Tyrion? No, Tyrion in the books is considerably less physically attractive and also shorter. Peter is not exact; he’s just brilliant.”
…his newfound fame.
“There’s a difference between being a successful, popular writer and being a celebrity writer. Because of the show, I’m getting recognised in restaurants, I’m getting recognised in airports. People are asking for pictures and having me sign their books. I don’t think a writer prepares for this; I suppose an actor does but we writers are used to hiding behind the pages of our books or screenplays.”
…why there is so much cruelty and suffering in his books.
“I wanted to combine some of the wonder and imagination that is in some of the best fantasy with the grittiness and realism that you see in historical fiction. I read a lot of history and if you study the Middle Ages, the stuff I have in my books is nothing compared to what went on in the 100 Years War and the Crusades, the War of the Roses and so on. My imagination, as cruel as it may seem, has nothing on real life.”
…not being surprised by the response to the notorious “Red Wedding” episode in season three.
“I’d been through it all 13 years before when the book came out. I got mail and emails, some of them very angry, denouncing me. One said, ‘I hated that, I threw the book in the fire, but then I went and bought another copy because I had to know what happened next.’ So I knew there would be an outcry. The thing that really took me by surprise was the whole thing of people setting up cameras to capture the shock and grief of their friends. I still think it’s a little weird.”
"I like sex and nudity!"
…whether there’s too much sex and nudity in Game of Thrones.
“I don’t think so. I like sex and nudity! [laughs] In America, the fact there is so much sex and nudity on cable stations you have to subscribe to and pay for, including my show, is partly a reaction to the fact that you’re not allowed any at all on the broadcast networks.”
…having to finish the books before the TV show catches up.
“I’m laying track for the railroad but I can see the locomotive coming up behind me. It’s still several valleys back, but I can see the smoke and hear the whistle.”
…what it’ll be like when the books are finished.
“It will be a tremendous relief; I’ve been working on this for so long. At the same time, I love this world, I love these people. It will be hard to say goodbye to them. But I do believe that all great stories need a beginning, a middle and an end. So, two more books and we will be at that end, and I hope readers will find it a satisfying one.”
Game of Thrones with George RR Martin, Dallas Brooks Centre, Wed Nov 13, 8pm.