Author interview with Ian C. Esslemont

Author interview with Ian C. Esslemont

author bio:
Ian Cameron Esslemont was born in 1962 in Winnipeg, Canada. He has a degree in Creative Writing, studied and worked as an archaeologist, travelled extensively in South East Asia, and lived in Thailand and Japan for several years. He now lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, with his wife and children and is currently working on his PhD in English Literature.

Ian C. Esslemont and Steven Erikson co-created the Malazan world in 1982 as a backdrop for role-playing games. In 1991 they collaborated on a feature film script set in the same world, entitled Gardens of the Moon. When the script did not sell, Erikson greatly expanded the story and turned it into a novel.  


Hi Ian, Welcome over to the Book Plank and for taking your time to answer these few questions for us.

BP: First off, could you give us a short introduction as to who Ian C. Esslemont is? What are you hobbies, likes and dislikes?
IE: Hello Jasper and Book Plank readers.  Thank you for the opportunity to discuss all things Malaz.  So, who am I?  Well, right now when I’m not writing or reading I’m raising boys or cutting wood to help heat my house here in Alaska.  As a hobby I’m very interested in electronic music as a genre and have educated myself in its history and development.  As to likes … Fantasy and SF of course.  One of my personal favourite sub-genres in fantasy literature and film is post-apocalyptic tales, and so I do hate the current piling-on we are seeing in these recently. 

BP: You have been writing for many years now, do you still know when and where you decided that you wanted to become an author?
IE:  I have always wanted to be a writer – secretly of course – as it wasn’t something one confessed to in school. As a teenager I had an old typewriter in my room that I bashed away at hammering out pseudo- R. E. Howard, Leiber, and H. R. Haggard short stories.  I even told my high school guidance counselor that I wanted to be a novelist.  His answer was: no, you can’t. 

BP: You are the co-creator with Steven Erikson of the Malazan Empire universe. What gave you the inspiration behind the world of Malazan?
IE:  Steve and I have been very up-front about how the world developed as the milieu for our gaming.  Early on we decided to develop the sort of fantasy world we’d like to see if we had our way.  Malaz was the result.  Now, nothing emerges out of nothing.  We were of course influenced by our readings in the genre.  We took what we liked and discarded the rest.  The authors behind our writings are many.  I’ve mentioned a number already.  We always offer a special shout-out to Glen Cook, Fritz Leiber, Karl Edward Wagner, Tim Powers, and Stephen R. Donaldson, just to name a few. 

BP: The Malazan world was created in 1982, but your first book Night of Knives was published in 2004, why was there this gap?
IE:   Life, man.  Life intervened.  We had to pursue careers.  First it was archaeology, then academia in creative writing and English literature.  I was far along towards the professorial track as a Nineteenth-Century expert in English lit when Bantam emailed to say that they’d take on Knives.  At that moment I faced a choice: keep on with pursuing a secure, predictable job as an English Lit. drone / adjunct lecturer, or jump into the unknown scary world of writing.  Well, not much of a contest in that writing was always closest to my heart. 

BP: The Malazan Empire series you are writing falls in between the Malazan Empire of The Fallen series of Steven Erikson. How did you and Steven decide who would write which part and how? Many of the characters do make an appearance in both books.
IE:  Steve and I divvied things up fairly early on.  We always knew, unofficially, who would be responsible for which tales and regions.  Nowadays, if he or I want to take on something new, we just have to talk it over.  As to characters – each plot has its requirements to tell its tale fully, and, if I find that the thematics demand one certain character, then I let Steve know and we discuss it.  The answer from either of us is always: go for it! 

BP: Did you feel any added pressure from the success of the Malazan Empire of the Fallen Books when you were writing the Malazan Empire books?
IE:  Actually, no, I did not.  As an author, that the books were to be published was success enough.  Anything after this is pure icing, as they say. 

BP: Picking up such a task could not have been easy, how did you went about and plan writing Night of Knives and the subsequent sequels?
IE:  Night of Knives and most of the rest were already planned out – in a broad sense – long before any success in the series.  Steve and I had gamed most of it!  He ran me as a player through the events of Knives, while I had run him through the events of Gardens of the Moon
     Of course this is not to say that it was all drawn and dry beforehand.  Rather, the main skeleton of events were known while we each then had a free hand in filling it all in. 

BP: The character cast is enormous in the Malazan books, how do you keep track of each and every character?
IE: You may be horrified to hear that we actually do not keep very close tabs on such things.  We’re neither of us detail-oriented in recordkeeping.  Rather, we go with our instincts on who’s needed, or not, and then hunt them up. 

BP: The Malazan world was opted for a filmscript early on, are there still or are there future plans to turn it into a series or film? Do you have any actors that you would like to see play a specific character?
IE:  Picking actors is way to far ahead of the curve right now.  Yes, various scripts have been optioned in the past.  But right now we’re not looking at any offers in film.  Though we would certainly like to, especially given the success of Game of Thrones.  Gaming, however, remains a possibility.  We are looking into that. 

BP: Did you encounter any specific problems while you were writing any of the Malazan Empire books?
IE:  Problems, hmm.  Well, I suppose the main problem was syncing with Steve on where he was with his books as I proceeded with mine.  We had to constantly check with each other to make certain we weren’t treading on each other’s heels, or creating continuity problems.  There are some trip-ups, but overall, I’d say we’ve done a pretty good job in keeping things straight – given that we’re dealing with more than three million words. 

BP: What was the hardest part in writing the Malazan Empire books?
IE:  Just as above, keeping everything in order and on track.

BP: Besides the hardest part, which chapter or scene or character did you enjoy writing about the most?
IE:  Just writing them is the enjoyable part.  Being able to do so is fantastic.  Best job in the world, as far as I’m concerned.  As for personal favourites, well, I suppose the Losts in Assail were particularly fun.  I’ve had a soft spot for them ever since Return of the Crimson Guard

BP: This will be undoubted a hard question: Who is your favorite character?
IE:  Man, I’m not supposed to answer that. Can’t have a favourite child, and all.  Kellanved, though, remains a lot of fun, and a real challenge. 

BP: The last book in the Malazan Empire series, Assail, was published last August. If you would have to sell it with a single sentence, how would it go?
IE:  Hmm.  Well, I suppose I would sell it as a major summation of a number of the largest of the Malazan world plot/arcs. 

BP: If you would be given the chance to make one final adjustment to Assail, would you do so? If yes which part and why?
IE:   Too early yet to look back to consider any changes.  When one finishes a novel one always feels just great about it.  As the years pass, however, most artists tend to see the mistakes and warts and begin to wonder why they made this or that choice – I’m definitely of that camp. 

BP: Now that you have finished the Malazan Empire series with Assail, do you have any other projects that you wish to pursue in the near future? Will there be more Malazan books?
IE:  I believe it’s out of the bag now that I’m under contract for three more Malaz novels.  These will be going back to the genesis of the empire, and Kellanved’s and Dancer’s beginnings. The first is titled, Dancer’s Lament

BP: Everyone enjoys science fiction and fantasy in their own way, what do you like most about it?
IE:  What I enjoy in these genres is that one is not constrained by the narrow conventions of contemporary literary fiction.  In SF, for example, the real work gets done of extrapolating current trends and looking ahead to where we as human beings might be headed.  In fantasy, we see the past explored as it nakedly was (when it’s done right).  The realm of fantasy (as a pre-industrial revolution setting) is in fact the vast majority of human existence.  We’ve been pre-technological for millions of years, and so it’s our natural state.  From this point of view, fantasy is currently the only genre probing humans as we truly are. 

BP: if you would have to give your top 5 favorite books, which would they be?
IE:  Yikes. Top F&SF books that I find I return to over and over, that sustain rereading … well, a few of my personal favourites would be Iain M. Banks  Consider Phlebas, Tim Powers The Drawing of the Dark, Robert E. Howard Conan, William Gibson Neuromancer, and Frank Herbert Dune.  As to a non-f&sf list, as an epic fantasy writer I must also put in a recommendation for Rudyard Kipling Kim, Robert Louis Stevenson Treasure Island, and, of course, Beowulf.   It has just occurred to me that this is a very male-dominated list.  So, if you want to read some really daring fantasy, hunt down anything by Angela Carter. 

BP: And just lastly, could you give us a sneak peek of your series and Assail for those who are not familiar with it?
IE:  Hmm.  Okay.  If you want to read some gritty, dark, realistic epic fantasy that doesn’t insult your intelligence, that doesn’t look away from the depths, or the heights, of human the human condition, then look into the Malaz series.  

BP: thank you very much for your time Ian and good luck with your future projects!
IE:  Many thanks Jasper!  It has been a pleasure. All the best to you and your readers.   
I C Esslemont. 


  1. Serious kudos to Stephen and yourself for (a) creating such an incredible world, and (b) for managing to keep it all straight, even after more than three million words. You guys don't get nearly the credit you deserve, but I'd argue that Malazan is one of the defining fantasy epics of our generation. Just incredible stuff.


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