Book interview: Paul Stewart and Chris Riddell

The Edge Chronicles is a popular children's novel series begun in 2004, set on an island apparently floating in the sky. Created by author Paul Stewart and artist Chris Riddell, the books have gone on to generate something of an internet phenomenon - and the two chaps have embraced the fan fiction, websites and reader blogs as part of the creative process. SFX caught up with them this month to ask them about their experiences online, as their latest book (The Immortals) is released.

SFX: How has the internet changed the nature of fantasy fandom?

Paul: "The internet has massively changed the nature of fantasy fandom. Everybody can now self-publish and post up your thoughts and opinions online and become part of the fantasy world. The internet allows people all over the world to meet up online and discuss the world, characters, plot, exchange ideas. It's like a giant fantasy/sci-fi convention going on all the time!"

Chris: "There is a Russian fan site for the Edge Chronicles, with dozens of interpretations of Chris's artwork from people al over the world – it's called deviant art, whereby fans adapt and change Chris's artwork and on the Russian fan site a lot of it has been changed to many style illustrations, We love to see people playing around with the Edge illustrations because it means they're thinking about it, adding to it, joining the creative process, and that's what we're all here to do – create wonderful stories and drawings."

SFX: What content is up on the fan sites for your books? Who runs them and how long have they been going?

Chris: "There are loads of fan sites for the Edge including deviant art, song lyrics using Edge language, multiple entries on Wikipedia, there are even some Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? games all about the Edge. There are people out there who have become greater experts on the Edge than us!"

Paul: "I once saw a Red Dwarf quiz where the actors from the series were tested against fans, and the fans won! That says it all."

Chris: "It gives fans a great sense of ownership I think."

Paul: "I Googled The Immortals (our latest book) before it came out this month and a lot of the sites were saying 'I heard this is happening or that is happening.' People are spreading rumours about potential plot lines or character developments – which is so fun to see."

Chris: "On the Sedge Chronicles fan site ( www.anzwers.org/free/sedgechr/ ), people have re-worked carols and songs to words used in the Edge language. There's one that goes:

God rest ye weary travellers
Let nothing you dismay,
For Screed Toetaker has taken
All of your toes away!
To save us from the Gloamglozer's power
When we are lured away,
O, tidings of discomfort and pain…'

And there's a site ( www.skypirates.ru/english/fanart_eng.htm ) which focuses on changing the artwork from the books and even doctoring photos of us sometimes."

Paul: "The nature of fan sites is that we don't know who runs them, names are nicknames, it's completely anonymous and we like that. It gives fans complete creative license. Our books are out there and we love to see any discussions about them, we don't mind who is doing the discussing."

SFX: What do you think it is about the Edge Chronicles which appeals most to fans?

Paul: "Each book in the Edge series is completely self-contained, dealing with the entire world; they involve battles, politics, moral dilemmas, relationships, death. In traditional fantasy it's often good versus evil, black versus white, so all you can do as the reader is take sides. In the Edge world it's shades of grey and so it's a matter of interpretation and an invite for people to discuss the world."

Chris: "We have tried to create a fully-rounded world with all the complexity of our world and I think this appeals to our readers, who, certainly on the web, see it as an invitation to partake in the that world. It's the fact that the Edge world is like our own but not, this ambiguity, that leaves space for fans' interpretations. Fans can make up their own minds about who is right or wrong, and what should happen or what they would do."

SFX: There is an interaction between reader and writer today. So when you're writing now, do you consciously include elements inspired by or suggested by fans?

Paul: "It's less obvious and more organic than that; however there are instances where we've talked to fans on tour who have posed questions we have had to address and enjoyed addressing in later books. For instance, the ratio of predators to prey in the Deepwoods, the actual physical shape of the Edge world and so on. We have done things like adjust the gender bias in the books to be inclusive and we've developed strong female characters after direct feedback from a group of female sky pirate fans from Windsor!"

Chris: "Yes, someone pointed out that there were too many predators in the Deepwood and not enough prey for them to live off, so in the subsequent books we created herds of Tilder, and Hammerhorns there just to be eaten! Fans write to us via our publisher and more than ever via the internet, blogs and fan sites, and good writers should be actively seeking out that interaction. Gone are the days when writers are dead or hidden away in dusty attics, nowadays you've got to get out there. We have just set up a website for it too, which is set in a hitherto unexplored part of the Edge, called the Farrow Ridges from which there will be weekly dispatches detailing the lives and fortunes of the various Deepwoods pioneers. You can find it at: www.weirdnewworlds.com ."

Paul: "We're being much more proactive about getting out there on the web now. We've done ten Edge books, the Immortals is the final instalment out this month but we couldn't say goodbye to the characters or the world so we have decided to do a blog in character every week. We're calling it our gobblog – goblin blog!"

SFX: So, without giving away too many spoilers, what can we look forward to in the final instalment, published this month?

Paul: "The Immortals is set 500 years after the end of the previous book, in the Third Age of Flight. This third age has been made possible by the unlocking and harnessing of Stormphrax's immense power: the power of lightning. Phrax crystals power the mighty sky vessels that trade between the three major cities of Great Glade, Hive and Riverrise, and enable their intrepid captains to travel to the furthest reaches of the Edge."

Chris: "We always intended the Edge Chronicles to be a self-contained series of books, and the Immortals completes the story arc. Various threads were left untied in the previous books. What happened to Cloud Wolf in the white storm? Was Twig alive or dead when the caterbird takes him to Riverrise? What happened to old Sanctaphrax when the anchor-chain was cut and it floated off at the end of Midnight over Sanctaphrax? Where did stone sickness come from? And what became of the gloamglozer? All these questions, and more, are answered in the Immortals."

SFX: What will you be working on next?

Chris: "We're working on something that we're really excited about but we don't want to say anything about it yet. It's a big thing for us; older, darker fiction with elements of mythology, survivalism and writes of passage."

SFX: Thanks guys!

The Immortals and the Edge Chronicles are published by Random House, and you can visit the official site here . You can read other author interviews every month in SFX magazine, and readers are discussing their love of books on our forum right now. Dive in!