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14 astounding and lesser-known facts about George R R Martin

We celebrate the author's 68th year with some little known gems about his life and works

14 astounding and lesser-known facts about George R R Martin
Danielle de Wolfe
22 September 2016

On 20 September 2016, George R R Martin turned 68 years old. 

That's pretty much a year for every character he's crafted in the world of A Song of Ice and Fire, before killing them in gratuitous fashion. 

So in honour of the great man's birthday we've dug through the great author's life to learn a little more about his career and works. Where did the idea for A Game of Thrones come from? What do the Rs stand for? Is there a reason he loves killing characters?

Happy birthday George. May you have many more. 

Only three people know how Game of Thrones/A Song of Ice and Fire will end

See these happy chaps? They're David Benioff and Dan Weiss, showrunners (overlords, basically) of HBO's monumentally successful Game of Thrones. They're the only guys who have been able to talk to George R R Martin about what will happen when winter arrives in Westeros, and what happens afterwards. Given the pace at which the show is going, recently overtaking the books, Benioff and Weiss met with Martin back in 2013 to discuss how the story line would pan out. 

"The show has diverged from the books quite dramatically by this point, but it's still George's world," said the pair in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "The characters he's dreamt up in the world he created. At this point, given the fact that we're outpacing the novels, we all see the upside in the divergence: book readers won't be spoiled by what's to come on the show, and the show audience won't have to worry about spoilers from the unpublished books. And we're very happy that the show has led so many people to discover George's amazing books."

So, even if George doesn't finish the books (he will, it'll all be fine), these guys are on hand to fill in the blanks should the unthinkable happen. 

(Images: Rex)

Martin made David Benioff and Dan Weiss figure out one key plot detail before allowing them to make Game of Thrones

David Benioff and Dan Weiss approached Martin back in 2006 to ask if they could write a screen adaptation of the Song of Ice and Fire series. Martin wasn't about to hand over his creation easily, sitting down with the writers for a five-hour discussion to grill Benioff and Weiss on the plot. 

""I did ask them a few pointed question to determine whether they had actually read the books, and they gave me the right answers," said Martin in a 2013 Q&A. One of those questions was more taxing than others, as Weiss recounted: 

"He asked us, 'Who is Jon Snow’s mother?' We had discussed it before, and we gave a shocking answer.  At that point, George didn’t actually say whether or not we were right or wrong, but his smile was his tell.  We knew we had passed the Wonka test, at that point."

He really loves chess

While attempting to make his mark as an author, Martin ran weekend chess tournaments to subsidise his fledgling career. When that failed to make enough money to support his writing, he took up a position as an English professor at Clarke College (now Clarke University) in Dubuque, Iowa. 

The first story to make him money was a short sci-fi

George R R Martin's first story to make money was science fiction novella, The Hero, selling it to sci-fi mag Galaxy - a title credited for publishing the works of science fiction legends Ray Bradbury (The Fireman, which later Fahrenheit 451), Robert A Heinlein (The Puppet Masters) and Alfred Bester (The Demolished Man).

You can read The Hero right bloody here.

His first award was for a sci-fi book

Want to read some prize-winning Martin fiction? His first award came with With Morning Comes Mistfall a short story published by Analog magazine in May 1973 that follows an expedition on a barely habitable planet with a strange mist, feared to hid wraiths that steal humans. 

No matter whether it's sci-fi or fantasy, he flipping loves killing people.

A Song of Ice and Fire was initially pitched as a trilogy

When Martin first struck upon the idea of A Song of Ice and Fire, he envisioned it as a trilogy: A Game of Thrones, A Dance with Dragons and The Winds of Winter

His publisher requested an outline of the novels, which Martin begrudgingly provided, writing: "As you know, I don’t outline my novels. I find that if I know exactly where a book is going, I lose all interest in writing it."

You can read that outline in full here.

As the novels grew in length, Martin grew the series to four then six instalments, before finally settling on seven. 

He bloody loves wolves

Martin's love for wolves extends beyond the vast dire-variety of his books; he's worked with the Wild Spirit Wolf Sanctuary on numerous occasions, raising over $200,000 for the charity through competitions. He and his wife have named a pack of 10 rescue wolves at the sanctuary after characters from Song of Ice and Fire series. You can read more about the wolves (including insights into their personalities - seriously) right here.

Despite the conflicts of his books, he's a conscientious objector

When the US went to war with Vietnam, Martin elected to become a conscientious objector, taking a two year alternative service with the Cook County Legal Assistance Foundation from 1973 to 1976.

"I’m fascinated by war," Martin has since said. "War brings out the best and the worst in people. Literature of the past used to celebrate the glory of war; then the hippie generation in the 1970s wrote about the ugliness of it. I think there’s truth in both."

It's precisely because of the "ugliness" of conflict, its grim realities, that Martin ensures his depictions of conflict are uncomfortably brutal.  

He's written for a bunch of TV shows you've probably never watched

Long before penning episodes for HBO's Game of Thrones, Martin penned episodes for shows like Deadly Nightmares (1984) and The Twilight Zone (1986). He also wrote a series of episodes for a 1989 contemporary adaptation of Beauty and the Beast, "The adventures and romance of a sensitive and cultured lion-man and a crusading assistant district attorney in Manhattan, New York City". Find it. Watch it. Love it. 

He writes his manuscripts on a really, really old computer

Forget Word and Apple Macs - Martin prefers using an ancient DOS computer, using word processor WordStar 4.0 to write his manuscripts. 

"I actually like it," he told Conan O'Brien in a TV interview in 2014. "It does everything I want a word processing program to do, and it doesn't do anything else. I don't want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lower case letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don't want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key."

Well, at least he's not at risk of getting hacked...

He's a big comic fan

George R R Martin loves comics. Like, really loves them. His first published writing (of sorts) is this above fan letter to Fantastic Four creators Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. It was published in issue 20 of Fantastic Four back in 1963. He attended his first Comic-Con the following year. 

He owns his own indie cinema

When you're worth $50 million, bringing in some $15 million every year, you get to do fun things like buying your own cinema. In 2010, Martin bought the struggling Jean Cocteau Cinema in his home town of Santa Fe, putting it through extensive renovations before it was reopened in 2013. It supports independent artists and writers, holds screenings of old classics and hosts book signings. We really want to go. 

(Image: The Callback Queen)

He has a library tower

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Seriously. Look at that thing. 

He appears in Sharknado 3

Yep. That's ol' George getting nibbled by a mutant shark. 

This cameo was actually filmed in his aforementioned cinema. Members of the Sharknado team ran into Martin at San Diego Comic-Con 2014, asking if he would cameo in their film. He agreed, asking in return that he could hold a special screening at his Jean Cocteau Cinema in Santa Fe. 

We need to hang out with this guy.