Henry Lion Oldie

Interviews

Interview with H. L. Oldie by Irina Mashek

Host: The best fiction writers of Europe, Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky are, two Ukrainian authors and the laureates of numerous literary prizes. Writing under one pseudonym, they are better known to their readers as Henry Lion Oldie.

The International European convention of science fiction "Eurocon" attended by delegates of 22 countries named Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky the best fiction writers of Europe-2006.

Besides this honorable award, these two writers have won numerous prizes at the prestigious international festivals in Ukraine and abroad. Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky also play in theatre, teach karate in combat arts school and even compose music. In 1991 Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky organized a creative workshop dubbed "Second Pancake". Today among its members are writers, editors, translators, artists, programmers, specialists in computer modeling and publishing business. They helped prepare and publish over 400 books by young Ukrainian authors.

Recently I met with Dmitry Gromov. My first question to Dmitry was about the origin of their pseudonym. Dmitry Gromov says:

Our pseudonym – Henry Lion Oldie – has a long story. In the 1990-s the Ukrainian fiction was not very popular among the readers in this country. Ukrainian and Russian readers preferred to buy books by foreign authors. When our first story was going to be published in one collection of works by such popular authors as Henry Kuttner and Robert Howard, our editor adviced us to take a pseudonym. So, my colleague and I took the first letters of our names Oleg and Dmitry and put them together. So we got a foreign sounding surname Oldie. Our publisher told us to add the first name to our pseudonym. Finally we got Henry Lion Oldie. It is easy to remember and readers like it. – said Dmitry Gromov.

I asked Dmitry Gromov how the idea to write together came to him and his co-author Oleg Ladyzhensky. Dmitry Gromov says:

First time I met Oleg Ladyzhensky at the theatre studio. But we didn’t make friends at that time. Later we met again at the karate school where Oleg taught students. At the same time Oleg was a producer at the theatre studio “Pelikan”. I joined the studio and started to play there as an actor. We showed each other our stories. We criticized, argued and discussed a lot. Five years later we got an idea to write something together. Since then we have been writing together for over 16 years. – Dmitry Gromov.

It’s quite hard to imagine how two people can write a book together. I asked Dmitry Gromov how the process of writing together looks like. Dmitry Gromov says:

Usually someone of us gets an idea – philosophical, ethical or esthetical. Together we try to find the best form to express this idea. Usually it takes us up to six months to embody this idea into a story. After that we split work between us and then we write the text itself. – said Dmitry Gromov.

It’s hard to count all the literary prizes and awards of Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky. Since 1990-s their novels and stories have been on a list of the top ten bestsellers. The story titled “Fear” and the novel named “Waiting at Crossroads” by Gromov and Ladyzheskiy or, let’s say, Henry Lion Oldie, took prizes at the H. P. Lovecraft contest in 1994 in Ekaterinburg, Russia. In 1995 the story “The Master” by Gromov and Ladyzhensky was awarded the title of the best fiction story at the festival "FANCON". Two years later Dmitry Gromov and Oleg Ladyzhensky won three prizes at the fiction festival “FANCON” for their novels "The Hero Must Be Alone” and "Messiah Cleans the Disc”.

Henry Lion Oldie’s books were published in a total edition of over one million copies. This number includes reprints and translations. Among their literary awards there are a lot of prizes of the most prestigious international festivals and conventions, such as “The Star Bridge”, “Roscon”, “The World of a Book”, “Bastcon”, “The Portal” and numerous prizes of readers’ sympathy.

The popularity came to Gromov and Ladyzhensky after the publishing of their novel “The Way of the Sword”. Dmitry Gromov says:

“The Way of the Sword” made us famous. This is a story with a very original plot. It tells about the co-existence of two civilizations – the humans and the cold steel. The owners of swords do not suspect that they are intelligent and the swords don’t know that human beings can think. This novel is a combination of philosophy and interesting plot. – said Dmitry Gromov.
I asked Dmitry Gromov how long was their way to popularity. Dmitry says:

At the beginning publishing houses refused to publish our books. It lasted for over six years. My partner Oleg and I worked as technical editors, managers and translators. I think new books earn little money for their creator. It is true with all writers no matter where they live and create. Only when your books survive many editions and are translated into foreign languages, you can earn enough for living. Only if you are very popular, you can make good money. As far we are concerned our incomes are not so big to afford us to buy an expensive car or a luxurious villa, but well, it’s quite enough to live comfortably. – said Dmitry Gromov.

Most of books by Henry Lion Oldie are written in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. I asked Dmitry Gromov what, in his opinion, science fiction is, and what differs it from the rest of literature:

Well, what is science fiction? It has the same principles, rules and directions as the rest of the literary genres. However, there is only one difference. Science fiction allows for things that do not exist in real life. There is a literary term called “imaginative assumption” to describe this. Thus, science fiction and fantasy literature provide more opportunities for creative activity. One of my colleagues says that in a near future realistic prose will be totally substituted with science fiction. I think, he exaggerated a little, but only a little. If we analyze works by any contemporary writer, we will see that they have elements of science fiction, fantasy, surrealism, mystics, esoteric, alternative history or something like that. For instance, if we look closely at the books by such Ukrainian writers as Andrey Kurkov, Yuriy Andrukhovych or Oksana Zabuzhko, we will find there numerous elements of mystics and surrealism. That’s why we never call ourselves science fiction writers. First and foremost we are just writers. Besides science fiction we also write poetry, plays and compose music. – Dmitry Gromov.

The books written by Gromov and Ladyzhensky, or Henry Lion Oldie, are known not only in Russia and Ukraine but also abroad. Their works were translated into Polish, Lithuanian, Hungarian and Spanish. Today under a contract with a Canadian publishing house some of their works are going to be translated into French. Over 100 books were published under pseudonym Henry Lion Oldie, including re-prints and translations.

The works by Henry Lion Oldie attract readers with their deep philosophical ideas, the knowledge of mythology and folklore, original plot, brilliant irony and understanding of human psychology. I asked Dmitry Gromov about special features of Ukrainian science fiction and what Ukrainian science fiction writers he prefers to read himself:

First of all I would mention the names of such Ukrainian writers as Marina and Sergey Dyachenko, Andrey Valentinov, Andrey Dashkov, Alexey Bessonov, Vladimir Vasiliev, Alexander Zorich, Oleg Avramenko, Sergey Gerasimov, Vladimir Sverzhin, Alexey Pekhnik. One of the main features of Ukrainian science fiction & fantasy and the Ukrainian literature as a whole, is its figurative, expressive, and vivid, language. Ukrainian science fiction is also characterized by a combination of different genre trends, such as cosmic opera, heroic fantasy, cyber punk, psychological and philosophical science fiction and others. In their works Ukrainian authors combine different genres and directions. And I think, this is a very promising thing. Another characteristic feature is that Ukrainian science fiction writers are not afraid to make their works both deeply philosophical and interesting at the same time. Still there is an opinion that a good book can not contain deep philosophical thoughts and tend to catch the interest and attention of readers. It is usually considered to be to complex for understanding and boring. And there is an opposite opinion according to which a book with an interesting catchy plot is usually stupid. I’m sure these opinions are wrong. I can say that most of Ukrainian writers are not afraid to write interesting science fiction books with deep philosophical contents and an engrossing story. – said Dmitry Gromov.

My last question to Dmitry was how Ukrainian science fiction has evolved since 1991, when Ukraine got its independence from the Soviet Union and Ukrainian writers got a possibility to write without Soviet censorship. Dmitry Gromov answers:

The evolution was profound, indeed. In the beginning of the 1990-s it was really hard for young authors to publish their works. Publishing houses in Ukraine, as well as in Russia and many other post-Soviet countries published only translations of foreign authors. Figuratively speaking, for publishers and readers names like John Smith or Joe Blow looked more attractive than Petro Ivashchenko. But after some time Ukrainian publishers realized that publishing books by Ukrainian writers can be profitable too. They write very well and are popular with the readers. All those books that could not be published during the Soviet times, were finally presented to Ukrainian readers. Since 1991 the Ukrainian literature has experienced all illnesses of growth. Ukrainian authors experimented with genres, styles and methods, looking for new ways of expression in literature. Unfortunately in that time some promising authors left literature, but others continue to work productively until now. I think, authors should try to write interesting and wise books, disregarding contemporary fashion and popular tastes. Interesting and intelligent literature will always be in demand. This golden rule can be applied not only to science fiction, but to literature as a whole. –

That was Dmitry Gromov, Ukrainian fiction writer and publicist, “The Best science fiction writer of Europe in 2006”.