Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Brian Ruckley Answers Questions Five

Brian Ruckley is the author of Winterbirth (my review), the first book in a new epic fantasy trilogy that has been garnering a bit of attention lately. It’s been out in the UK for some time, but was released this month in the US as the debut book in the SFF imprint, Orbit US. Brian Ruckley was born in, raised in, and currently resides in Edinburgh after a few adventures around the world ranging from London to Borneo. The second book in The Godless World trilogy, Bloodheir, is written and planned for release in June 2008.

I’m very pleased that Brian has taken to the time to answer Questions Five – his enthusiastic answers are perfect for following the huge attention the GRRM interview has received.

Brian, as a Scot, I can only assume that you eat haggis 3 or 4 times in the average day. How do you think haggis is best served?

BR: You do know every year in Scotland several tourists who are flippant about haggis get hunted down and slaughtered like curs by howling, kilt-clad, claymore-wielding mobs, don’t you? It’s virtually a national sport.

When I was but a wee lad, I loathed haggis with a passion. I considered it a vile concoction, developed for the sole purpose of torturing children in general, and me in particular. Fast forward to 2007, and the best night out I’ve had all year was when eight or ten of us gathered at a friend’s house back in January for a Burns Supper (a noble Scottish tradition it would take too long to explain in detail). The company was good, the alcohol was flowing, ‘The Ode to the Haggis’ was delivered with enthusiasm, and the haggis itself was devoured with unseemly gusto. I long ago overcame my aversion to the “great chieftain o’ the puddin’ race”, for the simple reason that it is the finest, most characterful national dish to be found anywhere on the planet, and its offalish splendour can brush aside even the most deeply ingrained childhood trauma.

How to serve it? The first task is to select your haggis. What you really want is not one of the widely available ones that is sealed in plastic, but the proper, original form which comes encased in the pale sheath of a sheep’s stomach. Never ask your supplier exactly what bits of the sheep are used to make the filling, as the answer may render you incapable of eating the thing.

The traditional accompanying vegetables are tatties and neeps (mashed potatoes and mashed swede/turnip), and in this case you will not go far wrong by sticking to tradition. When eating haggis at home, I personally tend to leave out the neeps, and instead indulge myself with a gigantic heap of potato and parsnip, mashed together with plenty of butter and salt and pepper.

The above is not the whole story, of course. If you find yourself stumbling out of a pub in the small hours of the Scottish night, in a state of intoxication, with an urgent need for fast food and a temporary lack of interest in the potential consequences for your coronary arteries, the only way to serve haggis is coated in batter and deep fried, with a good serving of greasy chips beside it. Pretty much every fish and chip shop in Edinburgh stands ready to provide just that, as a public service.

Incidentally, the second verse of the Ode to the Haggis begins (there’s a little bit of translation involved here, for those not up on the old Scots language, which includes me):

“The groaning platter there you fill
Your buttocks like a distant hill …”

If I were going on holiday to Edinburgh and I can only visit one pub, which pub do you recommend and why?

BR: This is my kind of interview. It’s obviously absurd to try to narrow Edinburgh’s titanic array of drinking establishments down to a single recommendation, but given how long I spent on the haggis question I should probably try.

I think the best I can come up with for you is the Bow Bar. There are two reasons: one, it’s a small, friendly pub with a mix of locals and visitors (but mostly locals), good beer and a startling array of whiskies if you’re into that kind of thing; two, it’s just round the corner from Edinburgh’s sf/f bookshop, Transreal Fiction, so on a rainy afternoon (it rains a lot in Edinburgh, but don’t let that put you off visiting) you can potter around the bookshop, have a chat with the owner, buy a few books and then retire to the pub to settle into a corner with a drink and read. Lovely. Also, if you lose track of time and end up drunk, there’s a chip shop within staggering distance to supply you with haggis and chips: a perfect end to a perfect day.

Discuss one reason why Winterbirth may inspire a reader to strip naked and run screaming into the forest?

BR: If read backwards, very slowly and with just the right accent, certain sections of it are liable to summon the Great Old Ones from the vastly deeps or wherever they’re hanging out at the moment. Stripping your clothes off and running away screaming is a perfectly rational response to such a manifestation. That’s the most plausible reason I can think of. I’d certainly like to think it’d be an over-reaction to any perceived shortcomings in the text itself. Hopefully.

What other peculiar qualities of Winterbirth should readers be aware of?

BR: It is, to the best of my knowledge, unique amongst all fantasy novels ever published in containing the phrase ‘muculent saliva’ (I stand ready to be corrected on that, by the way). It’s also probably the best novel I’ve ever written. That’s maybe not so impressive when you consider that the only other novels I’ve ever written were done when I was still the wee lad who hated haggis (and probably were only long short stories, come to think of it, though they felt like novels at the time).

Why should Winterbirth be the next book that everyone reads?

BR: If you like Winter, it’s the book for you. If you like Summer, it’s also the book for you because it’ll remind you of all the reasons you don’t like Winter, and why Summer is a good thing. More importantly, I’ll be grateful, my publisher will be grateful, my agent will be grateful. My parents will probably be grateful, because they’re nice like that. Even my accountant’ll probably be grateful, since if no one buys the thing he’s a bit redundant. All that gratitude’s got to be worth something in the cosmic scheme of things, hasn’t it? Plus, you might like it. You never know.


Neth said...

Great stuff - if only I'd known which pub to go to when I was Edinburgh last October. I managed to find the bookstore, but the pub I spent the most time in was the White Hart Inn down the street (well, one of the many pubs anyway).

Anonymous said...

Not being... nitpicky or anything.

But that was it? That was the whole interview? I didn't learn anything about the book.

That just seemed like a particularly longwinded msn talk.

Entertaining though.

Neth said...


The whole point of my Questions Five interview series is to keep things light-hearted and humorous. I'm not aiming for a full-length interview discussing books in depth and the like. In a time when internet interviews are as common as they are, this is my attempt to produce something different, and to allow authors to relax and have a bit of fun (rather than reproduce canned answers). I explain it a bit more in this post.

If you want more in-depth interviews with Brian Ruckley, checkout interviews at A Dribble of Ink, Graeme's Fantasy Book Review, and The Book Swede

David Anthony Durham said...

Enjoyed that. The ole' haggis question again, but answered with detailed authority. Light and humorous is good. Keep it up.


Anonymous said...

neth: the White Hart's a perfectly good pub, but not quite up to the standard of the Bow Bar IMHO. It does have some interesting qualities, though: it's supposed to be the oldest pub in Edinburgh, I think, and is supposedly haunted. If true, the latter fact wouldn't be surprising, since it's within sight of the place they used to execute Edinburgh's miscreants in ye olden days (which is why one of the other pubs almost next door is called the Last Drop).

David: enjoyed your 5 questions too! Saw you mentioned vegetarian haggis. Interesting thing about haggis: it's one of the very few dishes where a direct vegetarian translation of the meaty original actually works very well. I've enjoyed many a veggie haggis in my time. Never quite as much as the ones made from minced internal organs, of course.

You see, once I start talking about pubs and haggis, I just can't stop ...

Neth said...

When I visited Scotland, I enjoyed both the veggie and 'leaded' versions of haggis, not that I'd want them every day though.

Next time I will make sure to visit the Bow Bar.

Humorous is good, and I'll try to keep things going that direction, but it works so well because of the responses I get. The responses I've been getting since starting these interviews have been outstanding.

Chris, The Book Swede said...

I like your Question Five series of interviews :) It's refreshing. Brian is great to interview. And now I know not to joke about haggis if I go to next year's Edinburgh Festival ;)

And thanks for the mention, here, too :)

The Book Swede


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