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Joanne Harris Interview

Joanne Harris by TakazumiFebruary 12th 2014 sees the release of one of the most unique, fun and wondrous fantasy novels set to be released this year, The Gospel of Loki by Joanne Harris.

The novel is a brilliant first-person narrative of the rise and fall of the Norse gods – retold from the point of view of the world’s ultimate trickster, Loki. It tells the story of Loki’s recruitment from the underworld of Chaos, his many exploits on behalf of his one-eyed master, Odin, through to his eventual betrayal of the gods and the fall of Asgard itself. Using her life-long passion for the Norse myths, Joanne Harris has created a vibrant and powerful fantasy novel.

Fantasy-Faction will have a review up shortly, but in the meantime the author, Joanne Harris, has been kind enough to stop by and answer some questions we had about where inspiration of the book came from and her writing process. At the end of the interview you will also find a link to more information on Joanne’s tour where you will be able to get a book signed and ask her questions yourself 🙂

So, I guess the most obvious place to start is by asking: What made you want to write a book from the perspective of Loki and on Norse mythology?

Loki Lesson 1Because he’s the ultimate unreliable narrator – and because I knew I’d enjoy writing his voice. I’ve made it very modern because Loki seems to me to be a very modern anti-hero – flawed, morally ambivalent, yet charismatic. His moral and sexual ambivalence; his inability (or refusal) to integrate into Asgard’s society; his outcast status; his subversive temperament; his changes of mood and his almost existentialist sense of humour make him very accessible to a modern audience. And of course, he‘s very funny – he’s the ultimate Joker – I wanted to take some of the humour I found in the original myths and expand them to make something fresh and new.

In addition to being a fantastic fantasy novel, The Gospel of Loki is informative and, I am sure, will leave readers feeling they have a better understanding of Norse mythology upon completion. How much research did you need to do going into this book and how true to the mythology did you want to remain?

loki-2I’ve stayed pretty close (almost geekily close) to the original material. I’ve been interested in the Eddas and Sagas since I was very young, and I’ve brought all kinds of things into this book – kennings and references to the Sagas, runic verses, even a partial verse translation of Voluspá – but I’ve expanded some of the original material (which is sometimes incomplete) and added details of my own, as well as trying to give the whole thing a kind of linear structure.

I flew through the novel in just under 2 days. Although it isn’t short, it isn’t one of those 400,000 word tomes that fantasy is famous for either. With so much material available to you, how did you go about choosing which myths to include and add a ‘Loki-ish’ twist to?

Norse mythology is different to Greek and Roman myths, in that comparatively little of the original material has survived. Most of the myths are from the Prose and the Poetic Eddas, and I’ve tried to use as much of the source material that fitted by narrative structure. In some cases I’ve had to rebuild timelines and remove inconsistencies, but I’ve tried to stay as close as I could to the original text, whilst giving it a unique character. As for Loki’s involvement, he’s such a pivotal character and such a catalyst for drama that he’s nearly always in the thick of whatever action is going on. It was quite easy to select the myths in which he plays a role…

As a reader, I found Loki great fun to ‘listen’ to. How did you go about developing his voice and, as a writer, was Loki always fun to assume and narrate as?

Yes, I enjoyed writing his voice very much; and I found it surprisingly easy. My daughter says that it’s because that’s mostly how I talk anyway…

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Obviously, due the Thor movies, a lot of people have recently been exposed to a character named ‘Loki’. Did this raise any concerns for you as an artist?

Not really. I’m not the first to have drawn extensively from Norse myth, and neither are Marvel Comics. Norse myth is a sandbox that artists of all kinds have been playing in happily for hundreds of years, and we all have our own way of using the stories. No-one can claim ownership of the myths (not even the writers of the Eddas), so as far as I’m concerned it’s just a testament to the strength and vividness of these tales that they’re still being used and read and re-invented in so many different forms.

Although you’ve written books that contain fantastical/supernatural elements, this is being billed as your ‘first adult epic fantasy novel’ by the publishers. How did you find this new genre and the additional freedom it gave you?

I don’t think it’s really such a new genre for me. RUNEMARKS and RUNELIGHT were both fantasy novels set in a world of Norse gods, and although they were billed as YA, I found just as many regular adults reading them. However, it’s great to be able to embrace some of the more traditional fantasy aspects of literature, though; the different races, the complex world picture and the exploration of runic magic. In some of my previous books, the magical elements have been quite subtle and open to interpretation; here, I’m allowing myself to really embrace the fantasy world and all its magical potential.

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On being awarded your MBE (congratulations by the way!), the Queen reportedly expressed concerns to you that children are moving away from reading traditional books. Personally, I think The Gospel of Loki is the perfect kind of book to show older teens to early twenty-somethings that there is just as much fun to be found in literature as video games. Do you share the Queen’s thoughts and what would you say to someone who has been reluctant to pick up a book as they feel they can’t compare to video games?

Games and books are such different things. I don’t think they’re at all incompatible. Basically, they’re two different ways of entering a narrative. The important thing is to exercise the imagination; to make potential readers aware of the value of story. I don’t believe in trying to force young people to read. Games can lead us to books and films and graphic novels, if they are allowed to. And if a game (or a film, or a graphic novel) leads a person to search out a book and to explore the story further, then all the better for everyone. That’s what stories are for.

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Finally, I just want to touch upon the media and aesthetics attached to this novel. In addition to an absolutely beautiful hard back, I really liked the book trailer for The Gospel of Loki. What were your thoughts on the cover and for book trailers as a means of promoting books?

I loved the cover. Andreas Preis has such a graphic, individual style (secretly I was rather expecting a version of the ubiquitous Hooded Figure jacket), and it was a good decision to leave the artwork to speak for itself in the trailer. I love book trailers when they’re good – and this one was excellent. With the rise of the Kindle, we’re having to re-invent the concept of jacket art, and book trailers are a great way to do it. The only problem is that some readers tend to assume that it’s the trailer for a film – and they’re disappointed when they can’t go and see it!

Trailer & Tour

As part of the promotional work for this book, the wonderful Joanne Harris will be touring the UK signing and talking about The Gospel of Loki. You can see the full schedule of Joanne’s Tour here. Once again, the book was released on February 12th 2014, so you can head to your favourite book store and pick it up now! 🙂

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One Comment

  1. Avatar Jeff Seymour says:

    That IS one hell of a trailer! More importantly, it sounds like a great book. Can’t wait to get my hands on a copy.

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