Chronscast Season 1 Episode 7 - Mythago Wood with John Jarrold

Dan Jones

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Hi everyone! Today @Phyrebrat and I are joined by one of the kings of UK science-fiction and fantasy, the literary agent John Jarrold, to talk about Rob Holdstock's majestic 1984 novel Mythago Wood, winner of the World Fantasy Award.

Over a career spanning almost fifty years John has become one of the leading lights and champions for British genre fiction, and a household name within that community. In the publishing industry he has run three SFF imprints: Legend at Random House; Earthlight at Simon & Schuster, and Orbit books, where one of his authors was none other than Rob Holdstock. These days he runs the John Jarrold Literary Agency, with and continues to be a hugely influential and popular figure in the industry and SFF community.

We talk about the peculiar Englishness of Mythago Wood, with respect to its post-war setting, which informs the damaged male characters at the heart of the book and how this in turn has an impact on the representation of the female characters present. We also touch upon the cycle of myth and history, the myth of the hostile brothers, and Holdstock's wonderful writing style.

John brings his enormous experience to bear as we talk at length about the publishing industry and how it has changed over the last fifty years. He is armed with great anecdotes, and the list of people he's worked with over the years read like a Who's Who of international SFF, including Iain Banks, Rob Holdstock, Roger Zelazny, Brian Aldiss, David Gemmell, George RR Martin, Anne McCaffrey, our very own @Toby Frost, and many many more.

Elsewhere @The Judge dishes up some salacious details on how to handle the issue of privacy, and how to approach using real-life people in your stories (spoiler alert: very, very carefully). @Christine Wheelwright reads Weeping Willows, her winning 75-word entry from June's writing challenge, and the trees in Slish Wood are not - I repeat not - of interest to the CIA.

Next Month
Next month our guest will be the novelist, poet and essayist Naomi Foyle, who'll be talking with us about Jo Zebedee's alien invasion-cum-prison break thriller Inish Carraig.

Further Reading
There'll Always Be An England in Mythago Wood

Index
[0:00:00 - 49:15] John Jarrold Interview Part 1
[49:16 - 50:24] Voicemail 1
[50:25 - 1:05:10] The Judge's Corner
[1:05:16 - 1:06:14] Voicemail 2
[1:06:15 - 1:07:20] Writing Challenge Winner
[1:07:21 - 1:08:36] Voicemail 3
[1:08:37 - 2:02:12] John Jarrold Interview Part 2
[2:02:13 - 2:04:18] Credits and Close

How To Listen
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Finally, find us on social media - @Chronscast - on Twitter and Instagram.
 

The Judge

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I wish I'd had time last month to get hold of and re-read Mythago Wood, as it seems I may have missed certain aspects when I read it around 8 years ago, when I really didn't get on with it. I've forgotten most of the plot now, but I made a note at the time that "with one exception I found the characters distant and unengaging and I wasn't interested in their fate, not helped by the fact the main female character is quite literally male wish-fulfilment, and, naturally, an object of jealous rivalry and therefore the cause of widespread, though largely off-screen, death and destruction. For me, the plot was too slow, not to say plodding, and the quest not worth the journey." (But it could be that Holdstock isn't one for me, as I struggled to finish Celtika when I tried that 3 years ago.)

The second half of the podcast was immensely interesting, and wonderful listening not least for the sheer enthusiasm and joy John exhibited in talking about writing and publishing! (As a by-the-by it was also lovely to hear more from Chris this episode.)


As to my bit, those looking for salacious details will be disappointed as I pruned the talk down and had to leave out the stuff about Max Mosley's bottom. I'll be putting up a bullet-point list about how to avoid breaching people's privacy etc in The Toolbox later in the week, but I might add a couple of links here, too, in case anyone wants to read more about the ins and outs detail of the Mosley action legal proceedings.
 

Christine Wheelwright

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I wish I'd had time last month to get hold of and re-read Mythago Wood, as it seems I may have missed certain aspects when I read it around 8 years ago, when I really didn't get on with it. I've forgotten most of the plot now, but I made a note at the time that "with one exception I found the characters distant and unengaging and I wasn't interested in their fate, not helped by the fact the main female character is quite literally male wish-fulfilment, and, naturally, an object of jealous rivalry and therefore the cause of widespread, though largely off-screen, death and destruction. For me, the plot was too slow, not to say plodding, and the quest not worth the journey." (But it could be that Holdstock isn't one for me, as I struggled to finish Celtika when I tried that 3 years ago.)

The second half of the podcast was immensely interesting, and wonderful listening not least for the sheer enthusiasm and joy John exhibited in talking about writing and publishing! (As a by-the-by it was also lovely to hear more from Chris this episode.)


As to my bit, those looking for salacious details will be disappointed as I pruned the talk down and had to leave out the stuff about Max Mosley's bottom. I'll be putting up a bullet-point list about how to avoid breaching people's privacy etc in The Toolbox later in the week, but I might add a couple of links here, too, in case anyone wants to read more about the ins and outs detail of the Mosley action legal proceedings.
I remember the Mosley case well. Prior to that, I was only vaguely aware of him as a wealthy motor racing enthusiast and son of a notorious fascist. Hardly endearing (although we don't get to choose our parents, of course). But I have enormous respect for his guts and tenacity in going after the disgusting British tabloid press. Few in his position would have had the courage.
 

Dan Jones

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As to my bit, those looking for salacious details will be disappointed as I pruned the talk down and had to leave out the stuff about Max Mosley's bottom. I'll be putting up a bullet-point list about how to avoid breaching people's privacy etc in The Toolbox later in the week, but I might add a couple of links here, too, in case anyone wants to read more about the ins and outs detail of the Mosley action legal proceedings.

Such naughtiness! And from a lady of the bench!
 

Toby Frost

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I felt much the same about the Moseley case: the guy certainly had balls (insert gag joke here).

My own feeling is that the idea of Mythago Wood is excellent, but the execution isn't quite up there. The dialogue in particular strikes me as very wooden. However, it deserves credit for being a 1980s fantasy novel that isn't an imitation of or reaction against Tolkien (and Holdstock is a much better writer than most Tolkien-imitators). I think Holdstock writes well about the English countryside, without being twee or inserting that kind of Lord-of-the-manor politics that often spoils such writing.

As to Guinneth, the book is about three obsessed men, and that seems to me to be Holdstock's choice. Maybe Holdstock could be more on the nose about this being a foolish objective, but to my mind that's the story he chose to tell and it wouldn't be the same story if there were more female characters. It is a very masculine book (more in terms of leaving women out than hating them, which is a more important distinction than might seem) and maybe that narrowness gives it a sort of obsessive and unwholesome strength.

I did read one of the sequels and it did very little for me. It seemed very short on plot.
 

HareBrain

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As to Guinneth, the book is about three obsessed men, and that seems to me to be Holdstock's choice.
I can't remember the exact quote, but in Lavondyss one of the characters who knew the situation in Mythago Wood makes quite a scathing remark about the men's relationship with/to Guinneth, which suggests Holdstock did make a deliberate choice.
 

Toby Frost

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I'm sure he did. He seems too smart a writer not to have realised what he was doing, although I suppose there's always a possibility that he just got it wrong. I guess it comes down to writers being entitled to write what they like, and readers being entitled to decide that it would have been better done in a different way.

This thread takes me back to my university dissertation on discrepancies in sentencing in cases of consensual assault, which by lawyer terms was wild and racy stuff.
 

The Judge

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Further to my post above, I've now put up the bullet list of points about privacy etc The Toolbox -- The Important Bits

If someone really does want to read the Mosley case, which is astounding for the sheer gall of the legal arguments on behalf of the newspaper, it's here Mosley v News Group Newspapers Ltd. [2008] EWHC 1777 (QB) (24 July 2008) (Had the paper been able to prove that the role playing scenario was in fact related to the Nazi death camps, then, in view of Mosley's own activities as a young man and of course his father's, the public interest argument may well have succeeded, but the points raised by way of evidence for the Nazi elements are so weak as to be risible, most particularly the issue of Mosley being shaved. Mr Justice Eady LJ deals with the point very drily at para 53.)

With regard to the US right to publicity I've mentioned in my talk, I got some info from a US blog called Sidebar Saturdays, so that also might be of interest Using Real People, Places, And Corporations In Your Fiction – How Real Can You Get And Not Be Sued? - Sidebar Saturdays
 

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