Nix, Garth 1963-
NIX, Garth 1963-
PERSONAL: Born 1963, in Melbourne, Victoria, Australia; married, 2000; wife's name Anna; children: Thomas Henry. Education: University of Canberra, B.A., 1986. Hobbies and other interests: Traveling, fishing, bodysurfing, book collecting, reading, and films.
CAREER: Author, editor, publicist, public relations consultant, agent. Worked for the Australian government; worked in a Sydney, Australia, bookshop; senior editor for a multinational publisher; Gotley Nix Evans Pty. Ltd., Sydney, Australia, marketing communications consultant, 1996-98; part-time agent, Curtis Brown, Australia, 1999-2002. Military service: Served four years in the Australian Army Reserve.
AWARDS, HONORS: Best Fantasy Novel and Best YA Novel, Aurealis Awards, 1995, Notable Book and Best Book for Young Adults, American Library Association (ALA), Notable Book, CBCA, Recommended Fantasy Novel, Locus magazine, Books for the Teenage, New York Public Library, 1997, shortlisted for six state awards in the United States, all for Sabriel; "Books in the Middle: Outstanding Titles" selection, Voice of Youth Advocates, 1996, for Sabriel, and 1997, for Shade's Children; shortlisted, Aurealis Award, 1997, Best Book for Young Adults, ALA, Pick of the Lists, ABA, Notable Book, CBCA, shortlisted for the Heartland Prize, the Pacific Northwest Reader's Choice Awards, the South Carolina Reader's Choice Awards, the Evergreen YA Award, and the Garden State Young Reader's Awards, all for Shade's Children; Adelaide Festival Award for Children's Literature, 2002, Best Book for Young Adults, ALA, Recommended Reading Fantasy Novel, Locus magazine, shortlisted for Young Adult and Fantasy Novel categories, Aurealis Awards, 2002, shortlisted for the 2002 Australian Science Fiction Achievement Award, all for Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr.
FOR CHILDREN; EASY READERS
Bill the Inventor, illustrated by Nan Bodsworth, Koala Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.
Blackbread the Pirate, Koala Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1999.
Serena and the Sea Serpent, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, Puffin (New York, NY), 2001.
FOR CHILDREN; "THE SEVENTH TOWER" SERIES
The Fall, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
Castle, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2000.
Renir, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Above the Veil, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
Into Battle, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
The Violet Keystone, Scholastic (New York, NY), 2001.
FOR YOUNG ADULTS
The Ragwitch, Pan Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1990, Tor (New York, NY), 1995.
Shade's Children, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
The Calusari ("X Files" Series), HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1997.
"THE OLD KINGDOM" TRILOGY; YOUNG ADULT
Sabriel, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 1995.
Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2001.
Abhorsen, HarperCollins (New York, NY), 2003.
"VERY CLEVER BABY" SERIES
Very Clever Baby's First Reader: A Simple Reader for Your Child Featuring Freddy the Fish and Easy Words, Nix Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1988.
Very Clever Baby's Ben Hur: Starring Freddy the Fish As Charlton Heston, Nix Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1988.
Very Clever Baby's Guide to the Greenhouse Effect, Nix Books (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 1992.
Very Clever Baby's First Christmas, Text Publishing (Melbourne, New South Wales, Australia), 1998.
Mister Monday ("Keys to the Kingdom" series), Scholastic (New York, NY), 2004.
Also author of short stories and coauthor of shows for dinner theater. Nix's works have been translated into Dutch, Japanese, German, Portuguese, Finnish, Russian, Spanish, and several other languages.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Additional books in the "The Keys to the Kingdom," a seven-book fantasy series for children nine to thirteen, for Collins; A Confusion of Princes, a young adult science fiction novel.
SIDELIGHTS: The author of over twenty books for children and young adults, Australian Garth Nix is best known for his fantasy novels in the "Old Kingdom" trilogy, including Sabriel, Lirael, and Abhorsen. Writing for a slightly younger audience, he has also penned a six-novel cycle, "The Seventh Tower" series, and is at work on another fantasy series, "The Keys to the Kingdom." Known for his engaging and finely detailed fiction, Nix told Kelly Milner Halls of Teenreads about the need for fantasy and magic in his own life that helps to fuel his popular fiction: "Like most fantasy authors, I would love to have magic in this world. It would be great to be able to fly, or summon a complete restaurant meal on a white tablecloth to a deserted beach, or to take the shape of an animal. But I wouldn't want the downside of most fantasy books—the enemies, evil creatures, and threats to the whole world—and my sense of balance indicates that you can't have the good without the bad." Nix has also explained the genesis of his novels on his own Web site. "Most of my books seem to stem from a single image or thought that lodges in my brain and slowly grows into something that needs to be expressed. That thought may be a 'what if?' or perhaps just an image. . . . Typically I seem to think about a book for a year or so before I actually start writing."
Born in 1963, in Melbourne, Australia, Nix grew up in Canberra with an older and a younger brother. His father worked in science, while his mother was an artist, working with papermaking. Both parents also wrote and read widely, so Nix had a firm foundation for his own future work. Nix has noted that his mother was reading J. R. R. Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings when she was pregnant with him, "so I absorbed this master work of fantasy in utero, as it were," he once commented. "I went all through school in Canberra," Nix remarked in an autobiographical sketch on his Web site, "but as with many authors, much of my education came from books. . . . My apprenticeship as an author began with reading." Nix grew up, as he once commented, in "a culture of reading," with books all over his home and with frequent trips to the local library. Early on he encountered the works of Ursula Le Guin, Robert Heinlein, Robert Louis Stevenson, John Masefield, Mary Stewart, Isaac Asimov, Madeleine L'Engle, and a variety of other fantasy and science fiction authors. He would much rather read a book than do his homework, but did well in school. "I was a smart and smart-mouthed kid," he remarked on his Web site, "but I got on pretty well with everyone, probably because my best friend was always the school captain in every school and he was friends with everybody."
At seventeen, Nix thought he might want to become an army officer, so he joined the Australian Army Reserve, serving for one weekend a month and one month per year in training. However, he discovered that he did not want to make the military his career, but enjoyed the part-time soldiering enough to stick with it, learning how to build bridges and then blow them up. He was also going to the University of Canberra during these years, and worked a paper-shuffling job with the government for a year. He saved enough money to go traveling for six months, hitting the roads in England. It was during this time away from Australia that he began writing, composing the short story "Sam, Cars and the Cuckoo" while on the road, but not learning of its sale until he was back in Australia and was contacted for reprint rights.
With this success, Nix decided he could become a professional writer. To that end, he earned a bachelor's degree in professional writing from the University of Canberra, and immediately took a job at Dalton's Bookshop in Canberra (not connected to the American chain of the same name). "I now believe that anyone who works in publishing should spend at least three months in a bookshop, where the final product ends up," he once commented. Nix spent six months at the job, and then went into publishing, working as a sales representative, publicist, and editor to gain knowledge of all ends of the publishing and writing industry. During the six years he spent in publishing, he also became a published novelist.
His earliest publications were far from fantasy, though they do include elements of the fantastical. His self-published "Very Clever Baby" books are parodies of an easy reader, exploring the wonders of Christmas or the movie Ben Hur featuring Freddy the Fish, but are not yet available outside his homeland. "They're little books that I first made back in 1988 as presents for some friends expecting babies, on the basis that all parents think their babies are geniuses," Nix explained to Claire E. White on Writers Write. Greeting-card sized, the little books are intended for adults rather than children.
If the "Very Clever Baby Books" were intended as a joke, there was nothing joke-like about his first published novel, The Ragwitch, which he had worked on as part of his degree requirement. Published in Australia in 1990, the novel tells the story of Paul and his sister Julia who are exploring a prehistoric garbage dump. There they find a nest that contains a rag doll that has the power to enslave others; and Julia becomes its first victim. Paul must then go into a bizarre fantasy world in order to save his sister. Reviewing this first novel, Ann Tolman, writing in Australian Bookseller and Publisher, felt that Nix "skillfully relates a magical tale which begins in a nice and easy way, but soon develops into a compelling and involving story of a journey through evil times." Tolman further noted that the book provides "good adult mystic escapism with considerable imaginative experiences for the reader." Similarly, Laurie Copping, writing in the Canberra Times, found The Ragwitch an "engrossing novel which should be enjoyed by true lovers of high fantasy."
Nix traveled in Turkey, Syria, Jordan, Iran, and Pakistan in 1993. During the trip, be began his next novel, Sabriel, finishing it upon his return to Australia. Also on his return, he left publishing for the public relations firm he helped to establish. Sabriel, a young adult novel, was the first of what ultimately became a trilogy. "A vividly imagined fantasy," in the words of School Library Journal contributor John Peters, it is the first of Nix's works to receive acclaim in the United States. Sabriel is a young woman who has been trained by her father, Abhorsen, a necromancer who, unlike others of his trade, is skilled at putting uneasy souls to rest instead of calling them to life. Sabriel is in her last year of boarding school when she receives Abhorsen's necromancing tools and sword and realizes that her father's life is in danger—he has left the Land of the Living. Sabriel leaves the safety of her school to return to the Old Kingdom, which her father was supposed to protect, in order to rescue him. As she travels to the world beyond the Land of the Living to the Gates of Death, Sabriel is joined by Mogget, a powerful being in the form of a cat who has acted as her father's servant, and a young prince named Touchstone, whom she has brought back from the dead. With their help, Sabriel battles her way past monsters, beasts, and evil spirits until she finally reaches her father, "only to lose him permanently in the opening rounds of a vicious, wild climax," as Peters explained. However, Sabriel—whom critics acknowledged as an especially sympathetic heroine—realizes that she is her father's successor and that the future of the Old Kingdom depends on her. Peters concluded, "This book is guaranteed to keep readers up way past their bedtime." Other reviewers also reacted favorably. "Rich, complex, involving, hard to put down," claimed a critic in Publishers Weekly, who added that the novel "is excellent high fantasy." Booklist reviewer Sally Estes, who compared Sabriel favorably to English writer Philip Pullman's fantasy The Golden Compass, stated, "The action charges along at a gallop, imbued with an encompassing sense of looming disaster. . . . A page-turner for sure." Writing in the Horn Book magazine, Ann A. Flowers commented: "The story is remarkable for the level of originality of the fantastic elements . . . and for the subtle presentation, which leaves readers to explore for themselves the complex structure and significance of the magic elements." According to a critic for Voice of Youth Advocates, Sabriel is "one of the best fantasies of this or any other year."
After publication of Sabriel, Nix's publishers wanted him to capitalize on its popularity and continue the saga. Nix, however, had another darker book that he needed to write. Shade's Children is a science fiction novel for young adults that, according to a Publishers Weekly critic, "tells essentially the same story" as Sabriel, with its "desperate quest by a talented few." In this book, however, a psychic young boy, Gold-Eye, runs to escape the evil Overlords who use the body parts of children for their own insidious purposes. The novel is set in a future time when the earth has been taken over by the terrible aliens, who have destroyed everyone over fourteen; the only adult presence is Shade, a computer-generated hologram. Gold-Eye joins a group of teenagers who, working from Shade's submarine base, fight the Overlords. In addition to battling the aliens, the young people must deal with betrayal and with losing half their group; however, they learn about their special talents and achieve victory through their sacrifices.
Critical reception for this third novel was again positive. A Publishers Weekly reviewer concluded that while Shade's Children "lacks some of the emotional depth of Nix's first work, it will draw (and keep) fans of the genre." According to a critic in Kirkus Reviews, the book "combines plenty of comic-book action in a sci-fi setting to produce an exciting read. . . . [An] action-adventure with uncommon appeal outside the genre." Ann A. Flowers of Horn Book praised Nix's characterization of his young protagonists, adding: "The author leaves the reader to draw many conclusions from scattered evidence, hence capturing and holding the audience's attention all the way to the bittersweet ending. Grim, unusual, and fascinating." Donna L. Scanlon, writing in Voice of Youth Advocates, had further praise for the title, noting that through "a fast-paced combination of narrative, transcripts, chilling statistical reports, and shifting points of view, Nix depicts a chilling future." For Scanlon, however, Nix's grim futuristic view is also "laced with hope." Reading Time contributor Kevin Steinberger similarly enthused: "Exciting action, cracking pace and absorbing intrigue, all in a vividly imagined world, marks Shade's Children as one of the best adolescent reads of the year."
Following publication of Shade's Children, Nix left his PR firm to devote his time to writing, and also met the woman who would become his wife. He quickly wrote the young adult The Calusari, a novelization of an episode from the television series The X-Files. The work "really did not suit me," Nix told White. As he set to work to complete the next novel in the "Old Kingdom" cycle, Lirael: Daughter of the Clayr, he also turned out several easy readers for young children, including Bill the Inventor, Blackbread the Pirate, and Serena and the Sea Serpent. Russ Merrin, reviewing Blackbread the Pirate in Magpies, felt it was "utterly delightful nonsense." Serena and the Sea Serpent, about a little girl who saves a town from a misunderstood vegetarian sea serpent, is a "great story," according to another Magpies contributor.
Nix also busied himself working part-time as a literary agent (a position he gave up for full-time writing in 2002), and with a six-part fantasy series for Scholastic and Lucas Films, "The Seventh Tower," a children's fantasy featuring young Tal, a Chosen one of Orange Order from the Castle of the Seven Towers and his adventures in search of the Sunstones which he needs to save not only his family but his future. Tal's world is in the dark, literally; the sun only shines above the mysterious Veil, high above in the atmosphere over the Seven Towers. Tal's father disappears in the first book of the series, The Fall, on the very day that Tal is ascending to the throne. And his father has taken the Sunstone, which Tal needs for the ascension. Without the Sunstone, Tal cannot bind himself to a Shadowspirit, and failing that, he will lose not only his Chosen status, but also will not be able to find a cure for his mother's illness. Joining Tal in much of his search is the young woman Milla.
"I had to write these books fairly quickly, faster than I normally would," Nix told White. Basically, he turned out each novel in the series in two months. The books became popular with readers in the targeted age range of middle graders, reaching an older audience as well. The fourth book in the series, Above the Veil, even made a short appearance on the New York Times bestseller list and the series as a whole was on the Publishers Weekly children's bestseller lists, both in 2001. Reviewing Above the Veil, a contributor for Publishers Weekly praised Nix's creation of a "very complex world," and noted that fans of the series would enjoy "plenty of narrow squeaks, exciting chase scenes, and stunning revelations."
Nix published Lirael, the long-awaited sequel to Sabriel, in 2001. This book takes place fourteen years later, but the Old Kingdom is still facing dangers, this time from an evil necromancer who wants to free a terribly evil being. The book focuses on a group of clairvoyant women, the Clayr, who are gifted with what is called the "Sight." One of these, however, Lirael, does not have such powers, partly due to the mystery of her birth. Turning fourteen, she fears that she will never gain the Sight and become an adult. Yet she does have magic powers, and in the company of the Disreputable Dog, she is able to complete a quest that wins her the trust of her fellow Clayr. They thus entrust her with an even more dangerous and seemingly impossible mission. At the same time, similar doubts have infected Prince Sameth, son of King Touchstone and Sabriel, who feels he is not fit to perform the duties of office after battling with the evil necromancer, Hedge. Sameth and Lirael ultimately team up to battle the evil force attacking the Old Kingdom in a book "outstanding" for its "imaginative magical descriptions, plot intrigues, and adventure sequences," according to Horn Book's Anita L. Burkam. Similarly, Beth Wright, reviewing the novel in School Library Journal, praised the "fast-paced plot" as well as the intricacy of the "haunting and unusual, exhaustively and flawlessly conceived connections among . . . rulers and guardians, and the magic that infuses them all." Booklist's Sally Estes also lauded the book, noting that "the characterizations are appealing," and that Nix "not only maintains the intricate world he created for the earlier book but also continues the frenetic pace of the action and the level of violence." Janice M. Del Negro, writing in Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, commended Nix for a book "filled with hair-raising escapes, desperate flights, relentless pursuits, and magical duels, described in sensual language that makes the scenes live." And a reviewer for Publishers Weekly likewise found Nix's creation of the Old Kingdom "entrancing and complicated." The same reviewer noted that Lirael ends in a "cliffhanger," to be resolved in the third novel of the series.
That novel, Abhorsen, appeared in 2003. In this final installment, Sameth and Lirael continue to do battle with the forces of the dead, brought together by the evil Hedge. Again Disreputable Dog and Mogget are on hand to help out their respective companions. Lirael is now Abhorsen-in-Waiting and must travel into death to foil plans to release the Destroyer from an age-old prison. Secrets are revealed and ends tied up in this concluding novel of the trilogy, a book at once "breathtaking, bittersweet, and utterly unforgettable," as a critic for Kirkus Reviews described it. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly was also impressed by Nix's achievement, calling Abhorsen a "riveting continuation" of the saga, and further remarking that the novel was both an "allegory regarding war and peace and a testament to friendship." Estes, writing in Booklist, similarly held that the "tension throughout the story is palatable" and the conclusion was "satisfying." One and all, reviewers hoped, as did Sharon Rawlins in her School Library Journal review, that "this may not be the last story about the Old Kingdom."
In the course of his twenty books for young readers, Nix has created amazing and intricate worlds, a cast of characters that stick in the imagination, and lessons of friendship and loyalty that resonate. However, Nix does not see himself as a didactic writer, or that he is writing for a particular audience. "To be honest," he told White, in Writers Write, "most of the time I don't think about the fact that I am writing for children or young adults. I simply enjoy telling the story and the way I naturally write seems to work well for both young and older audiences. . . . Because my natural writing voice seems to inhabit the Young Adult realm, . . . I haven't had to change it." As for theme or message in his work, Nix told White, "I subscribe to the belief that 'if you want to send a message, use Western Union.' In other words, if the values or moral messages are too overt, the story will suffer and no one will read it. Children don't like to be preached to any more than adults do. On the other hand, while I always try and tell a good story, I can't help but infuse my moral and ethical views into any book."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Children's Literature Review, Volume 68, Gale (Detroit, MI), 2001, pp. 100-111.
St. James Guide to Young Adult Writers, 2nd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 632-633.
Australian Book Review, September, 1996, p. 63.
Australian Bookseller and Publisher, November, 1990, Ann Tolman, review of The Ragwitch.
Booklist, October 1, 1996, Sally Estes, review of Sabriel, p. 350; April 15, 2001, Sally Estes, review of Lirael, p. 1557; July, 2001, Jennifer Hubert, review of Shade's Children, p. 1999; January 1, 2003, Sally Estes, review of Abhorsen, p. 871.
Bookseller, February 21, 2003, "Latest Deals in Children's Publishing," p. 34.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books, December, 1996, p. 146; November, 1997, p. 95; May, 2001, Janice M. Del Negro, review of Lirael, pp. 348-349.
Canberra Times (Canberra, Australia), June 2, 1991, Laurie Copping, review of The Ragwitch.
Horn Book, January-February, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of Sabriel, pp. 64-65; September-October, 1997, Ann A. Flowers, review of Shade's Children, pp. 576-77; July-August, 2001, Anita L. Burkam, review of Lirael, p. 459; November-December, 2002, Kristi Beavin, review of Sabriel and Lirael (audiobooks), p. 790.
Kirkus Reviews, August 15, 1997, review of Shade's Children, pp. 1309-1310; December 15, 2002, review of Abhorsen, pp. 1854-1855.
Kliatt, January, 1998, Lesley S. J. Farmer, review of Sabriel, p. 17.
Magpies, September, 1998, Annette Dale Meiklejohn, review of Bill the Inventor, p. 33; September, 1999, Russ Merrin, review of Blackbread the Pirate, p. 28; March, 2001, review of Serena and the Sea Serpent, p. 29.
Publishers Weekly, October 21, 1996, review of Sabriel, p. 84; June 16, 1997, review of Shade's Children, p. 60; March 19, 2001, review of Lirael, p. 101; March 18, 2002, John F. Baker, "Garth Nix," p. 16; May 27, 2002, review of Lirael, p. 62; November 25, 2002, review of Abhorsen, p. 70.
Reading Time, November, 1997, Kevin Steinberger, review of Shade's Children, p. 35.
School Library Journal, September, 1996, John Peters, review of Sabriel, p. 228; May, 1998, review of Shade's Children, p. 52; May, 2001, Beth Wright, review of Lirael, p. 157; September, 2001, John Peters, review of Above the Veil, p. 231; February, 2003, Sharon Rawlins, review of Abhorsen, p. 146.
Voice of Youth Advocates, June, 1997, review of Sabriel; February, 1998, Suzann Manczuk and Ray Barber, review of Shade's Children, p. 366; June, 1998, Donna M. Scanlon, review of Shade's Children, p. 132.
Australian SF Online,http://www.eidolon.net/ (August 5, 2003).
Garth Nix Web Site,http://www.garthnix.co.uk/ (August 5, 2003).
Offical Garth Nix Site,http://www.members.ozemail.com.au/ (April 21, 2003), Garth Nix, "How I Write: The Process of Creating a Book," and "A Biographical Whimsy."
Teenreads,http://www.teenreads.com/ (February 18, 2003), Kelly Milner Halls, "Garth Nix Interview."
Writers Write,http://www.writerswrite.com/ (July-August, 2000), Claire E. White, "A Conversation with Garth Nix."*