Curtis Jobling interview, October 2012
Curtis Jobling is an author and illustrator famously known as the designer of the BAFTA winning BBC show Bob The Builder, as well as creator of Frankenstein’s Cat. Early work in animation included model and puppet painting on Wallace & Gromit’s A Close Shave and Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks! Curtis is also the man behind the Wereworld series (a Fantasy Book Review favourite) and just as the fourth book in the series, Nest of Serpents, rolls out from the publishers Sean Mason caught up with him to talk about the series, his inspirations and his influences.
Lyssia (the setting for the Wereworld series) is a rich and fully realised world. How much time did you spend planning it before-hand and how much did you know about it going into book one?
I knew that Lyssia would be a continent based (very loosely) upon Europe – that’s probably evident by the Werelords who inhabit the Seven Realms (Wolves, Bears, Stags, Foxes etc.). Drawing the map helped me to get my head around who lived where and how they were connected with one another via alliances and animosities. A map at the front of any fantasy novel is a handy device for the reader to get better acquainted with the world they’re entering. Rise of the Wolf took a few years to write and it was the fifth draft that was finally picked up by Puffin. By this time I was fully immersed in the world.
I was aware that Rage of Lions would see the introduction of the Catlords of Bast, which brings a taste of the exotic to the books after the familiar feel of the world in Rise of the Wolf. With each subsequent book there’s an even broader cast of characters (and therianthropes) introduced, which was always ambitious for a middle-grade to young adult series. I’d hope that the audience has grown with the series and that the more intimate feel of Rise of the Wolf means they’re better prepared for a multi-layered, multi-character strand story.
After book four, Nest of Serpents, there are two more books planned for the series. Had you always planned to extend the saga or were you just not ready to leave Lyssia yet?
I’d originally imagined the series to consist of four books, but it quickly became apparent when one saw how many characters had quite separate tales to tell that I wouldn’t be able to fit them all into four volumes. In adult fantasy this wouldn’t have been a problem, but remembering the younger end of my audience we felt it best to trim down the number of plot threads in the books. For example, Whitley and Gretchen’s storyline from Nest of Serpents was originally planned for Shadow of the Hawk, but alongside my fab editor at Puffin we decided to withhold it until book four. Books five and six will follow all the main characters’ stories, although some might drop out of focus as others become more important.
It’s worth mentioning I’ve other stories in my noggin set within Wereworld but they’re unlikely to see the like of day unless there’s a demand from the readership to see them. That’s when we see the horror stakes get ramped up considerably and also the reappearance of some rather ancient therianthropes from the past…
*** Spoiler alert *** With Drew losing one and Hector’s becoming necrotic, what do you have against hands?
Nothing at all! The clues are in book one to be honest – a sleuthing reader might have an idea as to where we’re ultimately heading (Chapter Four, ‘Talking to the Departed’). I know fantasy novels can sometimes be weighed down by portents and prophecies, and indeed I planted that seed in Rise but haven’t been back to it since. I’ve known where the story was heading all along and the fact that both Drew and Hector have had ‘limb trouble’ will come to a head in book six. I can’t say more than that. If I do, I’ll have to chop your hand off…
I believe I have spotted a definite Star Wars influence in the Wereworld novels. Is this fair comment and what other influences might the keen-eyed be able to spot in your writing?
You wouldn’t be wrong – I grew up on Star Wars. As a child of the 70s they were my favourite movies, whilst my favourite books would have been The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. I’d also have to mention the old Ray Harryhausen movies as being influences, alongside the black and white serials of Flash Gordon and King of the Rocketmen: cliff-hangers play their part in these books! George RR Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire informed me as a writer no longer in short pants, with the multi-character storylines. And anybody who’s ever taken part in the roleplaying games I’ve run down the years (MERP and Call of Cthulhu) would see where Wereworld takes it’s beats from too.
There’s certainly a lot of horror in your Wereworld books and some pretty gruesome violence (this isn’t a criticism by the way!). Has anyone ever said "Curtis, that’s a bit much!" and made you take stuff out?
Oh yeah – Shannon, my editor, asked me to rein it in when I delivered my first draft of Shadow of the Hawk – in her words certain chapters ‘read like Peter Jackson’s early films’ (she’s a New Zealander with a fine knowledge of her fellow countryman’s work!). I try and self edit and curb my gory excesses – invariably a lot of the finished work ends up PG13 rated as opposed to the sometimes monstrous stuff from early drafts. I would like to write some adult horror one day – I have a few stories simmering on the backburner – but suspect I’ll need to pull out the CJ Jobling pen name to get some distance from my present work.
Was it easy or difficult to sell a werewolf story in a post-Twilight world? What challenges does a market like it is today bring?
It’s a challenge. I visit lots of schools and colleges holding talks on animation, illustration, creative writing and Wereworld – invariably I’ll get asked if I wrote the books because of the success of Twilight. I started writing Rise before that work was even published and, as folk will know if they’ve read the books, Wereworld is a lot more than simply a Werewolf story. First and foremost I’m an unadulterated lycanthropologist nerd, and I wanted to write a Werewolf tale that had some nuts. But it’s that thing about challenging misconceptions. I think some girls might occasionally dismiss the books out of hand as being ‘boy fantasy’, but it’s fair to say there’s a wee dose of romance in there too. Besides which, I’m a firm believer that fantasy is genderless (or at least should be!). And don’t get me started on glittery vampires. If your boyfriend sparkles and won’t have sex with you, he’s not a vampire. He’s gay.
What new werecreatures can we expect in the next two novels? And how do you pick which creatures you introduce next to your world?
Book five is called Storm of Sharks so that should give you a big fat clue as to which Werelords we’ll get to meet. It’s fair to say the Kraken will finally put in an appearance whilst book six (provisionally entitled War of the Werelords) will see just about every faction from the Seven Realms (and beyond) join the party for a cataclysmic final battle. All shall be resolved by the end of War, although I’ll be leaving things open for a return to Lyssia should the demand be out there.
Who is your favourite character to write?
I love Vega and Hector. I can do things with these two that Drew might shy away from.
You’re a northern lad (born in Blackpool, you live in Warrington). Would you say that coming from the North West has influenced your work in any way?
I don’t think being northern has influenced me, but my parents worked really hard to provide for us when I was growing up. I’ve taken these principles and run with it! I work late most nights with my wordling, and my past life in the animation industry taught me that nothing comes for free. You have to put in the hours if you want to break into any creative business, and the same goes for being an author.
Wereworld would make a great film (which I would love to direct) and/or role playing game. Is there anything you’d like to see happen with the series/world outside of the novels?
Funnily enough there’s been interest in film rights, but it hasn’t gone anywhere as of yet. If it happened, great, but as with many adaptations of novels it would probably differ from the original work. I’d LOVE a roleplaying game set in this world – I do think it’s ripe for exploration. Who wouldn’t want to shapeshift into a Werelord and roll some d20′s? A good friend of mine, comic artist and graphic novelist Ian Culbard (New Deadwardians, At The Mountains Of Madness) is a long time collaborator of mine and he’d be keen to adapt a prequel to Wereworld which tells Wergar’s story. As ever, for this to happen would all depend on the novels continuing to grow in popularity so fingers crossed there’s some good therian-lovin’ going on out there!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these questions Curtis. I would just like to wish you the very best with books 4, 5 and 6 and any future works.
Sean Mason, Fantasy Book Review