Henry Kenneth Bulmer

An Interview with Ken Bulmer as Alan Burt Akers: 1998 - Part One

Tunbridge Wells, Kent, England

Some Preamble Notes

I left Toronto, International the evening on Tuesday, September 22nd. I had arranged to stay with Larry, but things became very difficult with another family crisis [no, not Ken!] just before leaving.

The plane was badly late. The auxiliary power unit had failed on the way over from England on the previous leg, so the plane had no air-conditioning. They also could not find a ground unit big enough to fire up the Jumbo's turbo-fans. So we sweated, and sweated. [Started to think about TWA 800...]

We finally got underway, and it was a relatively uneventful flight. Interesting to see the sun come up at 02:00 EDT, so I figured my first exposure to jet lag would be interesting! I was not sure what would be waiting for me in England.

Upon arrival at London Heathrow, there was no one waiting for me. The purser on the Jumbo passed me a cryptic note, to wait for a Compass Car. An hour and a half later, a driver turned up. As it turns out, Compass Cars is a new company being run by Ken's ex-wife Pamela, to provide special cars for trips to and from the Airport. [Sort of the English equivalent to our Airport Limo services.] So off we went to Kent, and the small winding lanes of Tunbridge Wells.

The driver dropped me off at Ken's residence. A pile of bags, and a big Canuck in the middle of the rolling downs of Kent.

Ken was very, very pleased to see me, and hugged me warmly. The next few days proved to be magical. Ken wanted to know why I fussed over him so much, and I should get out and see the rest of England. [More on the rest of my English adventure, later on.]

The first interview was not taped live, I transcribed it from my later notes. I tried to stay as true to Ken's words as I could. Jet-lag was starting to take its evil hold already!

Michael Sutton

Evening 99/09/23 Interview

SP: Where did Kregish originate?

HKB: Most of the Kregish words popped out of my subconscious. There was no formal language research, to speak of. If I forced a word, it just did not work. Sometimes it was serendipity. Krozair was a play on Corsair, and it worked out wonderfully with the God, Zair.

SP: How Long is the Story of Prescot and Kregen?

HKB: There is enough to the story of Prescot and Kregen to take two or three lifetimes to create. Of course, that is not possible.

SP: Any thoughts to the fans continuing the Saga?

HKB: Of course, like any young author, you are proud and jealous of your creation in the beginning. Later on in life, you think about, and I actually would be flattered by it. There is room on Kregen for many stories, obviously not all Prescot.

SP: Any thoughts for your Fans?

HKB: Do not smoke. It lead to all my current problems. I cannot stress how important it is not to do this, especially to my younger fans.

Postscript to 99/09/23 Interview

SP: Out of a desire of the family not to go into detail, I can say we are lucky to still have Ken with us. He was working on DP #53, and he really wants to finish it. This will be, alas, the last Prescot.

Ken showed me his research files for Prescot, which are huge. He has been working on Prescot for more than 26 years, which is amazing. He has two working files, one for the Series on threads he has created, and hopes to expand. The other is off-the-wall ideas, he clips from newspapers, magazines and whatever source material he can lay his hands on. [It may be a picture, logo, image or even a colour or texture.] This is inspirational material for a lot of background things on Kregen, and with the Series.

Most of Prescot is unfortunately in his head, some of that has been lost, obviously long-term recollection is better than short-term. He agreed that putting in on 3X5 cards was a good idea, he probably should have done that! There are many characters he cannot recall, but he will do his best to answer those fan questions on those characters. He had big plans for Kregen. What remains can be left to the mystery of Kregen, missing cassettes, and whatever possibilities arise with the fans. The Friends of Darkover come to mind. He feels that Kregen is a wonderful place, and real to him. Planetary Adventure is a forgotten genre, and needs to continue.

Ken autographed original copies of Transit to Scorpio, and Krozair of Kregen. This was something I always wanted to do, and I brought my copies especially for this ceremony. [With the correct pappatu, and bokkertu, of course! I also observed the fantamyrrh on the way in...]

Ken has about 60 years of writing in his flat, this has been moved into storage, as his new residence is too small for his collection. He wrote many, many series, including Prescot, Adam Hardy. There are also six more original manuscripts for Hook the Boosted Man. He would like to see all this digitized on the Internet.

Morning 99/09/24 Interview

SP: We are here today with Ken Bulmer, British SF writer. Ken has had a 68 year career in writing. We are here today to ask him some questions.

SP: Who thought up Prescot of Antares?

HKB: I did. Don wrote and said can you write me a fantasy series something after the style of ERB. I wrote back and said, yes. He did some alteration. His idea was to split it into Cycle. Each Cycle had to have one central theme. I agreed. But, no, no, I did it.

SP: Ken indicated that subsequent to this question that he has a file of all his correspondence with Don Wollheim on the Series. This has a lot of material on the shaping of the Saga between them, and he would like to see this on the Internet. Ken also told me about a visit Don and Elsie paid him in England, so they had a right old time in a Hotel room, talking about the Series. It was very, very close to Don.

SP: When you wrote Prescot, did you intend it to be as long as it turned out to be?

HKB: No, no. I wrote it hoping it would go on, but I had no idea it would. The first Cycle, the Delian Cyle, was developed as a fantasy adventure, and was finished. But Don said carry on, so I carried on, one set at a time. After one year or two, yes this is what I did, three a year. And so, there was no sense I was getting longer, longer and longer. Because there were so many things I could put in, that I always wanted to do, as you know, now and to the end of it. There was so many things in my head.

I had a lot of trouble with sub-editors. They did not understand the way in which Prescot was going, and they kept on altering things. All the mistakes, of the many, many mistakes there are, all the fault of sub-editors. [Big grin and laugh from Ken here!] Most of them are. Sub-editors are a pain in the neck!

SP: As a side note here, what the fans see on the Internet is basically Ken, we do a very light edit for typographical errors. We stay true to Prescot. [Ken gave us a carte blanche to fix the odd clanker, with his blessing...]

HKB: One of the things I never found that I was told about, was changing were to was. I thought it was in Suns, but I couldn't find it. I looked for Tele Karkis, and I was looking for him.

SP: Ken has indicated that it is very difficult with some of the characters, we realize that a lot of people come in and out of the story. Often he just cannot remember what happened to those people, it is a long time ago. The one I asked about was Tele Karkis, who showed up in DP #3, Warrior of Scorpio. Ken indicated he had a wonderful career, he just can't remember where the career was! [He also commented later, that if Tele Karkis walked into a tavern that Prescot was sitting in while he was typing, his whole career would come to him in an instant!]

HKB: That may very well be, if I can hack it, he can come back in. After all, don't forget, in this life people meet people and never see them again do they. People there live a longer time, and therefore more chance of seeing people. Who are those two? He sees them occasionally, and they are friends. [Ken paused and thought here for some time. Could be Nath and Zolta, or even Rees and Chido, but we get the drift.]

SP: Here is a question: does Prescot go back in time? In Prescot #11, he meets up with a comrade called Zando, who recognizes him, but Prescot has never meet Zando before. Apparently Zando is very upset. And Zando had said he needs money for a Krozair brother. It is obvious the Krozair brother is him, but it looked like he was back in the past or something. Is there an explanation there? [Note: I cut a special tape called the Secrets of Kregen, where Ken I have a detailed discussion on Time Travel in the Series.]

HKB: Yes. He name is Zando. The series was Krozair. One day he was slung back to the past, he goes somewhere the problem was, and he has to get the things he asked himself for. I can't remember it, but it was definitely put in for future use in the story.

SP: Was this the Star Lords sending him back for a mission?

HKB: Oh yes, yes.

SP: Was he helping himself? In the Vallian Cycle, there was a lot of things to be done. Was it possible Prescot was helping himself back in the past?

HKB: [Ken thinks awhile.] That was the one where he was in the past, and he was putting various things, money or a map, and so forth in certain locations. In the present day, he can then go to those locations and pick up those artifacts, and what he needs. [This may explain why the Star Lords put him in odd spots occasionally, to pick up something from a future self.]

SP: From the readers viewpoint, we often don't know what he is doing. Apparently the Star Lords are happy with his work, but often he does not know what he is doing, or has done right. Is there a reason for that? Do the Star Lords hint to him? Do they impress upon him what has to be done--or does he just do it subconciously? Can they foresee the outcome?

HKB: [We turned the tape off for a space, to allow Ken to recollect himself.] That is a very difficult one. Essentially, I suppose, whatever situation he gets into, he knows he has to help the underdog, the person in trouble. And he is not always completely sure, usually it is ABC, ocassionally it is not. One of the things I was toying with is the Star Lords, they are super-human and marvelous, every now and then there is a glitch, mistake they make. One time, they were trying to put him where he was going, and they kept putting him here, putting him there and after several tries got him back to where he was going. They are not absolutely infallible. Wonderful, but not 100% percent. In view of that, Prescot has to think of himself, before he gets into any situation he simply says I am going to get this thing sorted out as soon as possible, and get back to Esser Rarioch. That is his reservation, back to Delia.

SP: What is your writing style? [Ken and I had talked about organic writers earlier, like a few British writers in other genres.]

HKB: I might seem a hap-hazard, casual, not very organized bloke writing this all this. Of course in a sense that is true. But the best thing I was doing, was that I needed to put this down, which was something I was thinking of for many years. So it seems so silly, the way it was done. I went down to Don, yes do you want to do this fantasy series, yes I did. When I was writing I had three children, that needed looking after. Now they look after me! [Big smile from Ken.]

SP: You have said you are an organic writer, so things just evolved?

HKB: Yes. Obviously, you have a skeleton there, you know where you want to go. And if you start off the wrong way, you have to be severe and cut it and go off like that. [Points.]

SP: When you were in your prime, how may books? Several books at once? How fast could you put a book together?

HKB: One book at a time. It depends, take the three ones in the Krozair Cycle. I started that one in the middle of January, and finished the whole Cycle by the middle of February. [Wow!!] It went well. But in the case, of another one later on, it started in June, but didn't finish until December. I used to mess about, and do things. [Ken showed me his collection of material from his role-playing characters, space battles, and other gaming activity. A man after my own heart.] Logically speaking, about a month for one of these books. Might take longer, might take shorter. There was a period in my prime I was doing 14-16 books a year. [Double Wow!!] In 1991 I didn't do any books at all, I messed about all day, played games, and did a bit of role-playing, it was ridiculous! At the end of the year, I said, goodness me I better start. I wrote the first page in December. I got slowed down tremendously mainly due to wargames, and role-playing.

SP: You play a lot of Tunnels & Trolls? I'm a D&D player myself. [I told Ken I have a half-elf named Adam Hardy...]

HKB: Too clever, for me. T&T was played by all my mates, they were all good at it. The original game was very different.

SP: Here is a couple of questions for you: people have suggested that you maybe write short-stories if you did not feel up to writing a full long novel? Would you every consider writing short stories for some of lesser characters, to fill in the blanks? That has been asked many times on the Internet.

HKB: The point is, I don't know if I can write anymore. If I can write at all, I would like to finish a novel, DP #53. There are some short stories, I have already done some, as you know. There is another one somewhere, amongst all the papers Larry has. Can't remember what is called. [We talked about the previous short stories in the Saga.]

HKB: I wrote a story with Dray Prescot as the central character, and it was about 3,000 words. It was wrong, it wouldn't work like that. So I looked at it, and said that is no good. I still have it somewhere.

SP: Another Treasure?

HKB: So I then did it again, and I think this one is 15,000. It may have been 15,000, but instead of Prescot as the essential character, I wrote it with another character from Kregen. I'm not sure where it was...

SP: A close comrade? Someone he meets later?

HKB: Can't remember! [Took a tape pause at this point, while we did a spin around, looking for envelopes and material in his room...]

HKB: Ah, Green Shadows, 3,000. [Rummaging through a notebook, or diary.] Moist Bones. 15,000 words. Wrote it in 1986.

SP: We will ask his son Larry if we can locate this story in Ken's flat so we can get it out on the Internet to the fans.

Ken has a record book of the books he has written, in the series, Prescot year-by-year.

HKB: [Ken lists off writing dates for Prescot, and other books.] That's my bible, isn't it? [Impish smile.]

This serves as my wonderful computerized records.

SP: Ken is saying his wonderful computerized record is actually a red notebook. Does that have your entire writing history in it?

HKB: Not quite. I only started this in... [we look through together...]

SP: 1954? He has a record starting in 1955 of everything he wrote. What he did was start the notebook in 1955, but put in his publishing history before that he could remember. This red notebook has his entire writing history. Pretty amazing, 50 years. Do know how many books you have written all told?

HKB: A bloke called Roger Robinson, who has done. Larry knows. He produced a bibliography, which a copy is floating around somewhere. That only goes up to 10 years ago!

SP: Any awards?

HKB: Never, never. The only award I ever received was from the British Fantasy Society, and I was their President. They gave me a little... Larry might have it...a hooded skeleton.

SP: Were you aware that the SFWA wanted to honour you in Chicago? Lifetime achievement award?

HKB: I belonged to that when it started. It never did anything for me, I didn't have a lot of money. So I didn't join it again. I have written things for them, for their magazine. What are they going to do then? Shove me in between lunch and dinner? [Ken was a little perplexed, but humorous about it all...]

SP: A lot of fans would like to see you honoured, you had a tremendous career. They would like to see you receive something. You've got the respect and admiration of all the fans on the Internet.

HKB: That is what you keep saying. We need more of them!

SP: Ken has indicated we need more fans. Everbody on the Internet now has to go out and get ten fans. We are going to grow it like a pyramid scheme.

HKB: I personally think that all the blokes you have told me about, and yourself in particular, are really marvelous and wonderful. I admire you all. I don't know--they say a prophet never gets honour in his own country. I don't get any honour for myself, because I don't think that--one or two things I like, but it could have been better. Something is wrong there...

SP: I think especially with the organic writing people don't realize the tremendous ability to grow a book like that. I read all your stuff, figuring you had this incredible plotting ability. Here I was imaging you were plotting 30, 40 books ahead, and you had everything worked out. I guess for you to tell me about your organic writing is a real eye-opener. I think the creative force is tremendous.

HKB: Once you have your skeleton in your head, and where you want to go, then your right. You allow things to come out, like character development. Sometimes I was late, originally as you realize, I used to say each book was arranged as a separate book. I was very insistent on that. Because I thought that was important. I used to ask Don was it necessary to put a number on the book. People would look at it, they can't start reading with number 20. Don said no, you keep it as a series. When I came to do the German ones, as you were publishing, they are marvelous. When I ended the book, I ended on a cliff-hanger. The reason I did that, if I was going to have a good long run, I may as well make the most of it. And give myself a bit of room. The Germans never said one way or another. I did it one or two times with Don, not a lot. With these ones, that was the way it was done.

SP: What Ken is saying here, is with the later German editions, he put a lot of cliff-hangers in. This seemed to be the German way of doing things. [Ken said DP #52 has a huge cliff-hanger, that still needs resolution...]

We finished the interview at this point, as Ken was beginning to tire. We talked about different methods for encouraging, or helping Ken to write again. The major stumbling block with Ken is he is an organic writer, so he is always the First Reader. He does not apologize for this style, it has enabled him to be one of the most prolific authors ever seen by the human race. He has to see what he is creating, in order to work with it, so some of the other methods other than sitting at a type-writer might be difficult.

Part Two of the 1998 Interview

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