Herbie Brennan Gives Us Dish

Herbie Brennan has written over a hundred books in science fiction, young adult fiction, children, and nonfiction genres, all of which speak of his interests and his mind. His YA titles are Faerie Wars, The Purple Emperor, Ruler of the Realm, and Faerie Lord; all in the Faerie Wars series. He has also released a mystical James Bond novel for teens called The Shadow Project.

Faerie Wars is about a boy named Henry who is suffering from some family problems– his home is breaking, his father is leaving, and his family doesn’t understand him. The only person who even kind of gets him is good old Mr. Fogarty, the odd old man Henry helps around the house. Alternately, in a parallel but not quite world, there is Pyrgus. He is a bleeding heart prince that can’t stand the sight of anything being intentionally injured. Prince Pyrgus gets off on the wrong foot with an influential member of the Faeries of the Night, forcing his father to send the boy away somewhere safe. Something goes wrong and though Pyrgus was supposed to end up on a secluded island where he can relax in the sun, he winds up in Fogarty’s backyard as a tiny faerie with wings. Henry and Mr. Fogarty get wrapped up in Pyrgus’s world and try to help him get back to where he belongs. Together they must figure out the ulterior motives behind sending Pyrgus off track.

This has been one of my favorite books for years. It was one of the first to get me into fantasy for young adults. Of course, I had been reading Harry Potter and Artemis Fowl. Faerie Wars is what really started it, though. Brennan wasn’t afraid of touching upon themes and ideas that young adults weren’t used to at the time. I almost dropped the book when I found out in the first few chapters that the main character’s mother was having an affair with a woman. I was 14 at the time. Brennan masterfully blended scientific research with fantasy, keeping everything in a realistic light. One thing you’ll notice that I love about Young Adult is when there is honesty in the writing, and that’s what Brennan had. His characters were true to themselves and their hearts, even the villains. I can’t help but to smile when I hold this book in my hands because I know that between the covers there’s a wonderful story waiting to carry me through alternate universes and on a perilous journey. If you like Harry Potter, love Artemis Fowl, then read this series. It will blow you away.

Mr. Brennan gladly took the time to talk to me and give me insight on his experiences as a writer. Luckily, we were able to Skype chat between his sunny Ireland and my cloudy New York.

Kiss My Lit: Where did you get the idea for Pyrgus and his world?

Herbie Brennan: I had no interest whatsoever in Faeries or Faerie mythology. What happened in a nutshell was that a friend of mine that was in the toy business at the time rang me up several years ago and said they were doing some market research, and as far as they could see the coming thing in toys was going to be Faeries. They wanted to do a range of Faerie figures—getting the actual figurines made in America. The big gimmick was that they would have silk wings, butterfly wings. He wanted me to write some booklets to go with the individual figures. I said sure but nothing came out of it. A couple of years later he was over visiting me and I asked him about this old Faerie project. He said “It’s gone onto the back-burner and we’ve gone onto other things. The point of fact is that research we did was rock solid. I’m absolutely convinced that Faeries are going to be the coming thing and you should be writing about Faeries.” And I said “Look, Steve, I have no interest in Faeries in the wide world.” And he said something odd, Mary. He said “What do you know about butterfly names.” I told him that I knew nothing about butterfly names. He said “Humor me. Get yourself a book on butterfly names, and tell me if you don’t think it would make fantastic fantasy characters.” I went out the following day and I bought this guide to butterflies and moths and I leafed through it. He was so right. You’ve got characters like the Purple Emperor and Holly Blue, and even the Latin names were absolutely fantastic. There’s the Pyrgus Melvae, which is the Grisly Skipper. The names started to work in my head. An environment came up around them and the characters came up. I couldn’t let them go. Eventually, I wrote a couple of chapters (I didn’t have a publisher). After 3 or 4 chapters I thought I was wasting too much time on this, I have other projects on hand. I sent it to my agent, and I said “Look, do you think this is worth following through?” She said to me “No, I don’t like this. It’s too separate strands of a story. You’ve got a boy in the human world and he’s got his own particular kitchen sink problems and you’ve got these fantasy characters living in another world. They don’t come together.” So I said “I’ll see if I can bring them together.” And I wrote another 4 chapters, that was 7 chapters in all. I sent them off and didn’t hear from her for months. Suddenly she optioned it. It was on the day of 9/11 and one of the editors was actually stuck in New York and couldn’t get out. He did a deal and I finished the book.

Kiss My Lit:Was Faerie Wars always going to be a series?

Herbie Brennan: When I started it I had no idea it was going to be a series. By the time I finished it, I knew the story wasn’t finished. I wanted to do at least a second book. When I finished Purple Emperor, I knew the story still wasn’t finished. I realized I was into one of these things that go on. I wanted to see what would happen to Henry and Holly. To me the whole series was Henry’s story. I love happy endings and romantic endings. I wanted them to get married and they did eventually.

Kiss My Lit: Do you think you might revisit those characters as adults?

Herbie Brennan: I didn’t when finished fourth book. I thought that’s it, I had enough of Faeries, I’m going on to do something else. I did, in fact, start another series. Then I started getting e-mails from fans saying wait a minute, what happened to Henry and Holly after they got married, and you didn’t tell us what happened to Fogarty, and you didn’t tell us what happened to Pyrgus, and what’s going on about this and what’s going on about that. Eventually I just caved under the pressure. I wrote one more; it’s a thing called Faeman Quest. Faeman being an amalgamation of Faerie and human. That’s coming out next January. Having got that one out of my system, I told the publishers this is definitely a stand-alone thing just to tidy up loose ends. I got an idea for another one about Faeries. This will go on forever.

Kiss My Lit: Will there be The Shadow Project?

Herbie Brennan: There’s one more also coming out in January of next year. There is a second Shadow Project called The Dooms Day Box with the same set up, same characters, with one new major character added. The theme of that one is time travel. I don’t know whether that will go beyond the two books. I was contracted originally for two books in that series. I would imagine that an awful lot of that will depend upon sales if the publisher will come back to me for more.

Kiss My Lit: Why did you blend science fiction and fantasy?

Herbie Brennan: I was brought up on sci-fi, I had never much of a fantasy reader. I absolutely adored science fiction. Occasionally I would come across something that’s a blend of science and fantasy. One that impressed most was The Birthgrave by Tanith Lee. That took you through the whole book thinking you were reading a sort of Sword and sorcery type fantasy, but right at the end twisted the thing and you’ve been reading science fiction. The characters, when they came for Faerie wars, were very much fantasy characters, but my leaning has always been science fiction. I don’t plot my books. I do a synopsis for publishers, and then throw it away. The characters go their own way. End up with books totally different from what I set out to write. They are usually as surprising to me as they are to anyone else.

Kiss My Lit: You’ve written many nonfiction accounts of elements and ideas that many people consider to be science fiction. How is it different exploring those themes as an academic rather than as a fiction writer?

Herbie Brennan: I didn’t start out as a fiction writer, I started out as a factual writer. My very first book was a consequence of a peculiar out-of-body experience I had when I was in my twenties. I was intrigued by that and researched it to discover other people had similar experiences. I produced a book on the subject called Astral Doorways. That was a reflection of what an interest I had. To be honest with you, I tended to write like that for a very long time. I become interested in something, research it, and simply write it. After about three or four published books, my agent got me a commission to write a historical novel. I wrote three historical novels at that time. They didn’t sell particularly well. One of them was quite a good novel, the other two not so good. I went back to nonfiction. I was at that for years and years, and oddly enough the same man who gave me the idea for Faerie Wars years before rang me up one day and said “Have you ever heard of Game books?” and I said no. He went on to say “You should have a look at this, there’s a couple of writers that put together something called Warlock of Firetop Mountain and it’s a game book based on a sort of dungeons and dragons type of approach. It’s a very good idea, but it’s not particularly well written. You could do better.” And I went out and got a copy. I thought great idea, I think I could probably write it a little bit better. I sat down and I started writing GrailQuest. That’s been my biggest seller ever. It ran into millions internationally. What this comes down to is these things grow on me organically rather in any planned way. Developing things factually, to me, is exploring ideas. Developing the same things fictionally is just another way of exploring ideas. I have noticed, and I was fascinated by, people pay far more attention to an idea you put forward as fiction than an idea you put forward as fact with scientific research.

Kiss My Lit: Do you have any upcoming projects?

Herbie Brennan: There’s nothing literally in the pipeline. I’ve got three proposals going out. Literally any day now my agent is en route to New York, you might bump into her on the street. Hopefully might strum up a bit of business there. At the moment I’m sitting in the sunshine in Ireland without a cloud in the sky, doing absolutely nothing.

Kiss My Lit: Who was your favorite character to write?

Herbie Brennan: Henry. Very closely followed by Mr. Fogarty. I love Fogarty, I thought he was absolutely gorgeous. I wish they’d make a movie because I’d love to see him on-screen.

Kiss My Lit: So what are you reading now?

Herbie Brennan: I’m reading Scarlett Thomas’s Our Tragic Universe. I read her first novel called The End of Mr. Y, I thought it was absolutely fascinating. When this one came out I grabbed it and I’m enjoying it hugely.

Kiss My Lit: You’ve written endless numbers of titles for nonfiction, adult fiction, and young adult. Which is your favorite genre?

Herbie Brennan: I think Young Adult. I can relax into it more. I endlessly fight with publishers about content of YA books. Publishers have this feeling that young adults should be treated as children and I feel they should be treated as adults. If I’m absolutely honest, I don’t think I’ve ever grown up properly. My mind runs along the same lines as it did when I was eighteen which is a very long time ago now, but it hasn’t changed a great deal. I like writing for youngsters, but only up to a point. It’s like eating chocolate, if you eat too much it sort of palls on you eventually. But up to that point I do enjoy writing for kids because you can be silly. With young adults you can explore ideas that an older generation of readers just isn’t interested in. I find that intriguing. Even though I happen to be reading Scarlett Thomas at the moment (and she’s an ideas writer), I find that when I want to find really stimulating ideas, I go to young adult authors. I just think that there are much more interesting ideas coming up in young adult literature now than in more serious adult literature.

Kiss My Lit: Can you tell me a little bit about the Servants of Light and how your affiliation influenced your writing?

Herbie Brennan: I’m not a member of the Servants of the Light. I’m terribly friendly with the woman who runs the organization. When I was in my mid teens and early twenties, I underwent magical training for about nine years. The first four years was with a very sober organization called the Society of the Inner Light, which is part of the Dawn Tradition. I joined the Society, but left soon afterward because I felt it was turning into a sort of religious group, which I have no hassle with. I just wasn’t interested in joining a religion. I was far more interested in magical practice. I discovered then a program called Helios which was written and run by some former members of the Society of the Inner light. Helios just concentrated on magical training, so I trained in that for five years. I left the training aspect. Helios then turned itself into the Servants of the Light. The original founder of Helios, Ernest Butler, God love him, died. He was diabetic and lost both his legs before he died. Absolutely tragic end. When he died, the organization was taken over by a woman named Dolores Ashcroft-Nowicki. Dolores wrote to me a few years afterward because she read a few of my esoteric books. We became friendly and remained close friends ever since. I give talks to them occasionally; a lot of them think I’m a member. The influence… I don’t know. There obviously must be an influence. The training I had was cabalistic. That certainly sends your mind in particular directions. It wasn’t a question of becoming interested in the subject because I was involved with these organizations. It was a question of becoming involved with these organizations because of my interest in the subject. I’ve been interested in magic since I was a child. I’ve been interested in hypnosis, I hypnotized my first subject when I was nine years old. I have been interested in spirituality, yoga, Indian, Oriental mysticism from my early teens. When you have these interests, you tend to follow them through which is what I did. I think the interests are certainly present in my books. All you have to do is look at the list of titles and you see it’s spread all over. All you have to do is pick up Faerie Wars and you see it all over the text. I am interested in magic, I’m interested in mysticism, and I’m interested in science. That comes through as well.

Kiss My Lit: I read that there was some movie interest in Faerie Wars, did that pan out?

Herbie Brennan: It did and it didn’t. I don’t know if you know anything about the movie business, andI certainly didn’t until Faerie Wars. What they do is if they’re interested in your book, they take out an option. That means they pay you money and you aren’t allowed to sell it to any other studio or movie maker until the option runs out. They are on their second option at the moment, each option running for three years, I think. Or 18 months, I can’t remember. At the moment there is no actual sign of them making the movie. It looked very hopeful a year ago. When the recession hit, I think they were trenching. Movies take such astonishing amounts of money. You can see that you have to be extraordinarily careful if you’re going to make one. If you write a book that doesn’t succeed, you just lost a bit of time. If you make a movie that doesn’t succeed, you lose millions and your career comes to a screeching halt. I can’t say I blame them. There’s also been a bit of movie interest in The Shadow Project. They’ve got a Hollywood producer who is at the moment talking to studios about the possibility of funding. But it hasn’t gotten as far as the option stage yet.

Kiss My Lit: Is there anything you’d like your readers to know?

Herbie Brennan: I’d like them to know I love them.

I’d like to thank Mr. Brennan again for giving me his time and talking to me about his career and upcoming projects. Show him some love at his website, check out Herbie Brennan’s Bookshelf to learn more about him and his work. Don’t forget to check out his books for sale here.