David Howe talks to bestselling Fantasy author Terry Brooks about his new novel, set in the popular realm of Shannara.
When Terry Brooks wrote his first novel, The Sword of Shannara, in 1977, he had little idea of what it would lead to. Since then he has published some sixteen best-selling fantasy novels and two film tie-ins (including the novel of Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace). Like many authors, writing has always been in Terry’s blood, and despite training as a lawyer – ‘I thought that perhaps I should have a fall-back position and in those days being a lawyer was considered a good thing. I liked the aspect of being a small town practising attorney, taking anything that walked through the door, the jack of all trades aspect of it’ – he was writing fiction since the age of ten. Having finished his first novel Terry set about trying to sell it. ‘It was strangely easy,’ he says today. ‘At the time I knew nothing about getting published and all I knew to do was go research some publishers, then send the manuscript off. The first company I sent it to said it was too big for them, and suggested I send it to Del Rey which had just started up. I did and they published it. I was extraordinarily lucky. I didn’t have an agent. I didn’t know a thing. I was living in the middle of the United States in a town which didn’t even have a book store, so it was not from an informed position that I did this.’
The initial Shannara novel grew into a series of connected novels, and Brooks has now returned to that fabled land with his new novel, Isle Witch, the first in a new sequence of three books collectively called The Voyage of the Jerle Shannara.
‘I had always intended to return to Shannara,’ Terry explains. ‘It’s not a sudden decision. The last book chronologically in the series was written in 1992, Talismans of Shannara, and when I finished that book I knew that next time I was going to be focussing on Walker Boh’s efforts to re-establish the Druidic Council, say a hundred years or so down the road, which was pretty much what happened. I’ve been away from the series for long enough to have recharged my batteries and I’m now ready to go ahead and do five books without bogging down halfway through and wondering why I ever agreed to do this?
‘I always knew I didn’t want to write a range of books about the same characters every time, where one story followed the other, because I knew where that was going to lead. I therefore conceived the idea of doing the books as a generational saga in which we would move down the road, and in that way I could leave it, then pick it up with other generations further on and there would be some kind of evolution. It wouldn’t be just repeating the same things over and over again. One of the advantages to writing generational sagas is that you leave your characters at the end of each story so you wrap up their lives to the extent that you want to, and next time you get to start everything fresh. I like that aspect of it.’
Terry plans out all his novels before starting work on them. ‘I’m a big believer in outlining, organising my characters and doing character profiles, thematic structure and all the other stuff. My first editor, Lester Del Rey, raised me as a writer to plan my stories out in advance in three stages: dreaming, where you just think about it; outlining, where you out it down on paper and organise it; and then writing, where you actually write it. At each stage it evolves into something else, into something more, and it’s all fluid. None of these stages is definitive, and it remains indefinite until you submit it to your editor and let them do what he or she thinks is necessary to make it stronger.’
Brooks has already written the second volume in this new Shannara series, and is about to start the third book. ‘I’m thinking about it,’ Terry says. ‘I’ll write the outline for it when I get back to the States, between mid-November and the end of the year, then I’ll start writing the new book in January. That will complete this Voyage series, and then I want to do two more novels, spinning off the ideas, which brings the total to five. Then I’ll write in one of my other series: maybe a Magic Kingdom novel, or a Word and Void novel, or I’ll write something completely new. After these five books I won’t be writing any more Shannara books for a while.’
Isle Witch is published in hardback by Earthlight. Available now.