Ian Irvine – 10 Best Things about writing the ‘Grim and Grimmer’ series…

Today, my guest author is Ian Irvine, the popular Australian author of the Grim and Grimmer series. Ian is currently on a blog tour to celebrate the release of The Calamitous Queen, the last book in his series. 

Ian tells us some of his fond memories about writing the series. I also asked him to consider some things that almost drove him nuts, a more difficult task! 


 1. Villains
The most fun I had writing the Grim and Grimmer books, apart from tormenting and humiliating the hero, poor Ike, at every opportunity, ha! was creating the despicable (or in some cases, noble) scoundrels with which these books are peopled so extravagantly. (Covers, blurbs, reviews and first chapters for the four books can be seen here: http://www.ian-irvine.com/grimgrimmer.html.) Here’s a small sampling of villains from the scoundrel-crammed final book, The Calamitous Queen

There’s Achernix, the dreadful Duke of Darkness, the ruler of the underworld of Orcus. When he flies into a rage – as he did after Ike’s best friend, the apprentice thief-girl, Mellie, pulled off the most outrageous theft of all time in Book 3, The Desperate Dwarf, and stole his Bloody Baton – the very stones of Orcus grind together and the whole underworld shakes. But in Grim and Grimmer nothing and no one is what they seem, and in reality Achernix is a whining bully, as this exchange shows –

‘My reputation’s not what it used to be, Ike. Can’t do the hard yards any more – torture, maiming, gizzard grinding – you know the sort of thing.’
‘Of course,’ said Ike, playing along. ‘Do it all the time.’
‘Back’s been playing up lately. Can hardly get off my bed of red-hot nails some days. And the sciatica – it’s killing me.’ Achernix laughed mirthlessly. ‘Not literally, you understand. Immortal, and all that.’

 Poor old Achernix is rather put upon at the moment, for the beautiful though simple-minded sprite, Mothooliel, has robbed him of what he holds most dear. And now she’s after Ike –

‘You have the loveliest eyes,’ said Mothooliel, coming closer.
‘Th-thank you,’ said Ike. He reminded himself that a sprite was a lowly kind of demon, and therefore untrustworthy, but she was still enchanting.
‘Can I have them?’ said Mothooliel.

And Grogire the intellectually gifted firewyrm, who nurses a bitter enmity against Ike for beating her in a contest a month ago. Grogire’s chief pleasure in life is eating baby trolls, though they give her ferocious indigestion and eye-watering flatulence, and now she’s trapped Ike in a cave, planning to gas him to death in revenge. And there’s no way out.

One of my favourites is the headless highwayman, Lord Montmorency Bartilope, known to his friends as Monty and to his enemies as Stumpneck. Monty is noble and decent and brave and kind, though he does go on about his teaspoon collection more than is strictly necessary. But Monty has one major handicap – lacking a head, he has no option but to talk through his bottom, which makes him an object of derision everywhere. And especially to the vicious little guard-imp, Nuckl, who takes more pleasure in bum jokes than even the author, and mocks Monty at every opportunity.

Monty has been forlornly searching for his lost head for the past ten years. Now, thanks to Ike and Mellie, he has it back, though the head turned itself around at the instant Monty cast the spell to reattach it, resulting in it now being on backwards.

The bigger problem is that the head is the opposite of Monty in every way, and it loathes him. Indeed, rumour says that the head cut itself off ten years ago to get away from Monty … though there’s something about that story that doesn’t add up.

Monty’s noble steed is the carnivorous horse, Naggerly, who has a fondness for three things: debating the unanswerable questions of life, chewing his philosophy books to pulp after he’s read them and spitting them in your eye, and a deep-seated yearning to run off and find adventure, as indeed he does with the princess after Ike and Mellie rescue her. Oh, and never forget Naggerly’s inordinate love for onions, which poor Monty (despite his own, er, breath problems), finds rather a trial.

A number of books on writing advise that most characters fail not from too much exaggeration, but from too little. In other words, the characters are too ordinary. In a more serious book I find it hard to create characters as exaggerated as they should be, but since the Grim and Grimmers were humorous books for younger readers I felt free to let rip. And what fun it was.

For instance in the creation of Gorm, the mad hermit who’s life’s work is the search for the key to all magics. Gorm traps Ike and Mellie and forces them to search for frozen lightning, even knowing that it will kill anyone who touches it. Gorm isn’t just a dirty old hermit, he’s the filthiest and most disgusting brute who has ever drawn breath. He hasn’t bathed in 50 years and whole ecosystems are visibly evolving under his putrid toenails. Yuk!

Small Heroes and Great Deeds
The Grim and Grimmers set forth a tale of small heroes fighting terrible foes with little hope of succeeding. The smallest yet most courageous of all is the boy, Pook, who, as one of the Collected children, has been held prisoner by the Fey Queen all his life, and tormented by her terrible night-gaunt, Nocty. Perhaps as an escape from this grim existence, Pook is a prodigious liar and teller of fantastical tales, though, as Mellie notes, he never lies about important things. Pook’s dream is to rescue the Collected children, as shown in this small moment –

‘Out of the way, brat,’ hissed the night-gaunt.
Nocty lifted into the air on leather wings and Ike saw Pook. The small boy was standing in front of the children, his thin arms spread as if to protect them from the gigantic night-gaunt.
Pook’s eyes were open, his whole body was shaking, but he would not step aside. He had known what the night-gaunt would do to him, but he had run to protect the children anyway, and Ike felt tears flooding down his own face. Compared to such selfless courage, Ike supposed he was a coward.

Ian doing cutting edge science, 1976.

Writing Fast
These books were a dream to write, partly because I did a lot of planning for what are relatively small books, and for once I got things right at the beginning. The story world isn’t terrifically original and I should have done a bit more work on it, but I think the characters are, and the characters really drove the story (as they should).

The books were all written quickly, in long, intensive bursts of writing, which is the way I like to write when I can. It’s definitely the method by which I produce my best books. I have to do far less rewriting of those books that flood out of me in 80-hour weeks than for the stories I grind out an hour here and two hours there.

My Publisher
These books are published by Scholastic but all the editing and associated work is done through their Omnibus imprint in Adelaide, and all the people at Omnibus are lovely and a pleasure to deal with.

The Covers
Covers are difficult. I recall with my huge Three Worlds fantasy novels, the books for which I’m best known– http://www.ian-irvine.com/threeworlds.html, that we had a major crisis with five or six of the 11 book covers. But there were no dramas with Grim and Grimmer. The covers were done by World Fantasy Award-winning UK artist, Martin McKenna and I love them; they’re just perfect for these books. Particularly the cover for book 3, The Desperate Dwarf, where Martin has captured the smirking, gold-toothed huckster Con Glomryt to perfection.

Writing Funny
I’ve never attempted to write humorous books before, and had more than a few moments of self-doubt over these ones. It’s not easy to write funny, and what if I couldn’t do it? But judging by the reviews and the fans, my first essay in the craft has been a modest success.

There’s no more fulfilling moment than when hearing how much readers have enjoyed your books, and I’ve had mail from readers as young as seven and people well into their fifties for these children’s books. I hadn’t expected the Grim and Grimmers would be read much by adults.

Ian Irvine

Small Books

I mainly write huge books. The Three Worlds’ novels are 200,000+ words each and there are eleven of them, with some more promised. They take a long time to write and rewrite, and much concentration – with such a vast series it’s a real struggle to iron out all the inconsistencies. I started working on the first of these books in 1987 and by the time I finish the last, it could well be 2017. I love writing them, but it’s also a treat to write small books that can be done quickly. And to be able to say that the series is finished.

I’m afraid I’m going to disappoint people here, for which I apologise in advance. But there wasn’t anything about these books that nearly drove me nuts. They were a pleasure to work on, definitely the most fun I’ve ever had writing.

Don’t get me wrong. There were moments. For instance, I always hate my first drafts, and have moments of quiet desperation that they’ll never turn out, though with these books they were fleeting. That’s the other thing about small books. If there’s a structural problem, it’s easy to find, and easier to fix.

I should like to mention, however, in case people think I find writing a breeze, that I have had many hair-tearing problems with certain of my other books. I’ve agonised over some of my big fantasy novels, rewritten them a dozen times and more, done twice as many pages of analysis as I have for the books themselves, and still ended up unhappy with the way they turned out.

That’s writing. You can never predict it. You just have to enjoy it when it works (and grit your teeth when it doesn’t).

The Calamitous Queen is published by ScholasticAustralia http://www.scholastic.com.au/
and http://onyabus.blogspot.com/
You and you can read the first chapters here, calamitousqueen_ch1.html.

Follow the rest of Ian’s blog tour:



About sherylgwyther4kids

I'm an Australian author writing for young people.
This entry was posted in On writing. Bookmark the permalink.

12 Responses to Ian Irvine – 10 Best Things about writing the ‘Grim and Grimmer’ series…

  1. Ian Irvine says:

    Thanks very much for all your hard work on this, Sheryl. I love your blog. Cheers, Ian.

  2. Lynne Green says:

    I’ve always thought that Ian was a great writer, but I never realised he was a bit of a hunk too! 🙂 This was a great post, not just because I learnt something of Ian’s writing process, but because it upholds my theory that all the best writers are very giving of their time and knowledge. I *am* surprised that Ian doesn’t realise how many adults are huge fans of anything he writes.

    • Ian Irvine says:

      Ha! Lynne, those photos of me are a bit old (the first was taken in 76, the 2nd in 2004). I’ve really gone to the pack since then, positively falling apart in my decrepitude as you can see in my Facebook photo taken last year. But thank you very much for the compliment, it’s very much appreciated.

  3. And Ian is a scientist as well (some of my favourite people are scientists so I’m a bit biased!!) Glad you enjoyed the post, Lynne. Yes, Ian is very giving of his time and knowledge – something I’ve found very common in the world of children’s writing (then, again, I might be a bit biased here) 🙂

    • Ian Irvine says:

      Well, Sheryl, scientists are great. Just ask us, ha! Actually I’m off next week to wade through some mosquito infested mangrove swamps collecting pollution samples. What fun. Is it any wonder I send my characters to such grim places and torment them so cruelly.

  4. Loved this post, Sheryl and Ian,

    Monty is one of my favourites too:)


  5. Ian Irvine says:

    Good old Monty. He’s so earnest and decent (and embarrassing, speech and breath-wise). Will he ever find happiness and togetherness with the severed head of his dreams? Not for a minute!

  6. My grandson is a huge fan of your books, Ian. I must buy the new one for him for his birthday.
    I love your writing style. From reading the first couple of chapters, I think that you have nailed the humor that kids love beautifully. Thanks Sheryl for giving us this insight into his writing style.

  7. Ian Irvine says:

    Thanks very much, Elaine, that’s greatifying to hear. And I hope your grandson enjoys The Calamitous Queen. In many ways, I think it’s the best.

    Sorry for the slow reply, btw. I’ve been away for a week, wading through mangroves collecting pollution samples. My writing desk looks so much more appealing now.

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