Thursday, July 07, 2011

Interview with Andy Briggs, author of Tarzan: The Legacy of Greystoke

After reading Tarzan: The Legacy of Greystoke I was burning to chat to Andy about bringing one of my childhood heroes up to date and am so grateful to him for agreeing to this fantastic Q&A with MFB.  I cannot recommend reading the T:TLoG enough - it's well written, superbly pacey and packed full action and adventure.  It will suit boys and girls who are looking for more meaty reads and it might entice reluctant readers too, especially as the action is very cinematic and it will definitely make them feel like they have experienced the book, rather than just read it.

But, I'll calm down now and let Andy chat to us instead:

1. How did it come about that you got the opportunity to reboot the Tarzan franchise and bring it up to date for contemporary readers?

I was a huge Tarzan fan and simply noticed that he didn’t appear to be around any more. I approached the ERB (the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate) who own the rights and explained my idea of bringing the classic character back to life for a whole new generation of readers. They liked it and the whole project was suddenly a go!

2. What was it like going back and looking at these books now that you were an adult? Did you feel nostalgia at all and were you concerned that your vision for Tarzan would somehow change your own memories of the books?

I had a very firm memory of the old books so I wasn’t too concerned that my own version of Tarzan would have altered my opinion. My biggest memories of Tarzan are the TV shows and movies which were always on TV when I was off school - so it was a great chance to regress back to those times when it was a bank holiday or summer holiday and Tarzan allowed me to escape into the wilds of Africa...

3. How many books will there be in the series?

There is TARZAN: THE LEGACY OF GREYSTOKE which is out now and next January there will be TARZAN: JUNGLE WARRIOR. We are looking to get at least one more out next year and after that, who knows?

4. When I devoured your new reboot of Tarzan, (which was on an awful dull and dreary day) I was struck by the setting of the jungles of Africa and I wondered if this was somewhere you’ve been yourself as I honestly felt as if I was there, experiencing the heat and the rain with the characters?

That’s great to hear! I took the opportunity to travel to Africa to experience as much as the wild as I could. Some areas of Africa are real no-go areas, so I also travelled to the jungles of South America to soak in that experience. Regarding the gorillas, I was lucky enough to work closely with the keepers at Bristol Zoo who helped me with the finest details of living with the wild apes.

5. Tarzan remains such a strong central character, only slightly civilised, with this very focussed perception of what is right and what is wrong in his world. Did you find it difficult to portray at times?

I found Tarzan surprisingly easy to write. His morals and beliefs are black and white. He leads a simple life without the complicated baggage we all carry. Robbie and Jane, being modern teenagers, have such a more complex perception of right and wrong, which inevitably leads them into trouble of their own creating. They were more difficult to write as they had to come across as modern teenagers living in a remarkable environment.

6. Jane Porter, the “Jane” character is a thoroughly modern young teen, addicted to her iPod and hating her dad for dragging them into the jungles of Africa. I understood where Jane’s prickliness came from but I struggled to identify with her at first. Was she a difficult character to write / to get into her mindset?

I think she is a difficult (and prickly) character as she starts out as a very resentful person who dislikes here current situation. She is clinging on to the ideas of civilized life and that’s what she misses... until she starts to embrace and accept the new world around her. She also has to be an equal to Tarzan, while that’s impossible physically, Jane is his moral compass and allows him to see reason on a different level. I think she would be equally difficult to write if she was boy. Jane was always a character who slowly draws you in, rather than somebody you immediately identify with from the outset - hopefully Robbie will do that for the reader.

7. Did you have to do a lot of research, not just into animal and gorilla behaviour but also political research into the area and various factions that are currently vying for control in the region you’ve set Tarzan?

I was lucky enough to travel to Africa to get some firsthand experience of life there. The areas of jungle I wanted to explore are in politically volatile regions, so I also travelled to the jungles in South America to get a feel for the seething humid landscape. It was terrific fun. Researching the history and politics of the DRC and the surrounding countries was fascinating. There is so much to use, yet Tarzan would only be able to scrape the surface of it all. However, it makes the Congo a more thrilling canvass to have adventures on that I would have thought possible.

Christopher Lambert in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes
 8. Did you ever watch any of the Tarzan movies, as part of your research? And what did you think about the differences between the original source material and the movies?

I read as many Tarzan books as I could and watched every film and TV show I could lay my hands on. The books and the films are very different and there have been no real faithful adaptations (the Christopher Lambert Greystoke movie was the closest, and even the latter half of that movie meandered).

The public’s image of Tarzan comes from the movies more than the books and I wanted to capture the best parts of each and distill it into a “super Tarzan” that would appeal to older fans as well as new readers.

9. What was it like, sitting down to update the Tarzan books and his adventures to be more contemporary? What did you find were your biggest stumbling blocks?

Times have changed since Tarzan’s first appearance, and so have social and racial attitudes - however, Africa is still a huge adventure playground for any writer and I don’t think we have lost much of the magic that was inherent in the old stories.

The only real stumbling blocks were fans that complained that Tarzan couldn’t be updated - despite the fact they would happily watch contemporary Tarzan movies and forget that when Tarzan was written in 1912, it was a contemporary story.

10. Were you ever concerned that showing the savagery of Tarzan’s life in the jungle might concern new readers who might not have read the earlier works and thought it would be quite a “sanitised” look at the King of the Jungle’s adventures?

Not at all! I think most people who delve into the world of Tarzan expect some level of “tooth and claw” violence. There’s even some dark savagery in the Disney cartoon. I probably could have gone further with the level of “violence” in my book, but I am quite happy to leave it to the reader’s imagination - in my book most of that happens “off the page”, or I quickly gloss over the details, and you are left filling in the gory blanks yourself. I think a sanitized version of Tarzan would have been an injustice to the character.

11. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers out there?

We need writers! I look forward to being entertained in the future by other people, so you all better get writing! The key piece of advise I can give is “don’t give up”. Another piece of advice comes from the wonderful move, “Throw Momma from the Train” - it’s simply: “A writer writes, always.”

1 comment:

Clover said...

Fascinating interview! I'm really jealous of reserch time in Africa and South America, that sounds incredible.