George RR Martin has spent a lifetime telling stories, so it’s strange to see him lost for words. We’re in the back room of Beastly Books, surrounded by the colourful volumes of his work that line the shelves of the charming little shop he opened three years ago in his adopted home of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sunk in a high-backed brown leather chair in front of a wall-sized mural of John Singer Sargent’s Edwardian-era oil painting Nonchaloir (Repose), the author has been playing raconteur for the last hour. Eyes twinkling behind silver-framed glasses, he’s been telling the fantastical tale of the son of a longshoreman from New Jersey who grew up reading Shakespeare, Tolkien, and Marvel comic books, and went on to write his own bestselling epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, which in turn became the record-breaking, award-hoarding, television-conquering HBO series Game of Thrones.
The runaway success of the show made Martin rich beyond even the wildest fever dreams of a lifelong science-fiction writer, but it’s his first-hand experience of the viciousness of a particular type of hyper-online fan that’s left him uncharacteristically stumped. “I don’t understand how people can come to hate so much something that they once loved,” he says. “If you don’t like a show, don’t watch it! How has everything become so toxic?”