Sei sulla pagina 1di 104

The Map is Not The Territory

A Journey Through Narrative and Morality

Nicholas Jeeves

MA Applied Imagination Central Saint Martins

2013

The Territory A Journey Through Narrative and Morality Nicholas Jeeves MA Applied Imagination Central Saint Martins

05

07

08

15

18

21

22

23

24

26

35

45

46

47

48

56

62

69

74

Section 1

Synopsis

Section 2 Three possible narratives

Index

Samuel

Stories in SIlver

Section 3 Selecting the narrative

Three blurbs

Responses to blurbs

Section 4 Testing the narrative

First round

Second round

Section 5

Iterating the narrative

Section 6 Interviews with writers and readers

Brenda Jobling

Will Hill

Catherine Rowe

Steve Gorman

Adele Geras

Contents

79

81

85

90

93

93

94

97

Section 7 Reflections and key learning from interviews

Section 8 Iterating the MA question

Section 9

Bibliography

Section 10

Calendar

Appendices

(i) A key text: Umberto Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum

(ii) A key experience: Death at the Wellcome Collection

(iii) Examples of authors’ plot maps and outlines

1

Section 1

Synopsis

How can narrative be used to test and explore our sense of morality?

“A system of morality which is based on relative emotional values is a mere illusion… which has nothing sound in it, and nothing true.” (Socrates) 1

‘Treat others as you would wish to be treated’. While we may intuitively understand such a familiar moral maxim to be ‘good, or ‘right’, Socrates argues that our personal and collective sense of morality is inevitably flawed, as it is inevitably relative: it relates only to the interactions of our world as we experience them. The maxim is, then, theoretical, as the experience of a new interaction can always challenge it.

Violence, humiliation, oppression, desperation — these are all possible challenges to our sense of morality, yet most of us would wish to avoid such challenges in real life. So if we wish to test and explore moral ideas safely, we must instead use a vector: one that describes the nuances of a moral dilemma that we can relate to, but that still chal- lenges our existing perspectives.

Narrative has been used for thousands of years as the most effective vector to help us do just this. Religious texts, ancient myths, folk tales, and in- deed the philosophical dialogues —all are complicit interactions designed to safely and temporarily destabilise our moral compasses, and to spark in- ternal and external discourse. In so doing they have not just influenced humanism, but endured and thrived as humanist articles.

Section 1: Synopsis

They do this by using language to activate our imaginations, to mentally transport us to worlds and situations well beyond the boundaries of our own experiences. They show us the outer limits of human desire, opportunity, love, ambition and triumph; and of fear, suffering, consequence, sacrifice and the passage of time. All of these things touch our lives in one way or another; stories show us what happens when the stakes are at their highest.

For the MA project an original narrative, initially entitled Samuel but through iteration became No Time for Sorrow, was written in order to test this idea. The moral dilemmas posed within this narra- tive are: should we always treat others as we would wish to be treated? Can there ever be a moral justification for apparently ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’ actions? And if so, what might be the price?

As the narrative develops, we are encouraged to think that there may, after all, be grey areas between the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ in the world of which we had previously been so certain: our own morals are being tested as we picture the situations in which the protagonist’s are being tested.

The process had begun a year previously with the investigation into some of the roots of storytelling, and experimenting with ways of delivering a narrative 2 . It continued with the examination of key ideas drawn from these experiments, via inter- views writers and readers.

The testing of the narrative took the form of three successive drafts shown to three successive sets of readers and writers to measure the viability of the story in and of itself: how, or if, the moral dilemmas that were raised within it affected them; what they thought might, or ought to, happen to the protago- nist in consequence; and its overall successes and failures. With each test the narrative was iterated accordingly.

Naturally there were diversions, overlapping inter- ests and false trails along the way. In this sense the outcome was the process, subsumed into a longer journey that would act as an entry point to the completion of a tested and viable, i.e. publishable, moral narrative.

In response to the testing and exhibition processes, an 80,000+ word manuscript will be completed in

2014 and submitted to the next level of assessment — submission to literary agents and publishers, and done so with significantly increased confidence as a result of the MA.

1 The Collected Works of Plato, Huntington and Cairns (ed.), Princeton U. Press, 1980

2 These researches and experiments at:

www.nicholasofhitchin.com

/Adventures-in-Mythography

/An-Introduction-to-The-Murphy-Table

/Small-Adventures-in-Accessible-Places

/George-Razinsky-s-HinduReich

/Man-of-a-Thousand-Corpses

/The-Roy-Gold-Collection

/A-Balkan-State-of-Mind

/System

2

Contents

Section 2 Three possible narratives

About this section

08

Narrative 1:

The second cycle of the MA programme began

Index

in January 2013 with three narrative ideas — sketches, at this point — each of which had the

15

Narrative 2:

potential to be developed into more substantial

Samuel

moral stories.

18

Narrative 3:

This section contains the three narratives as they

Stories in Silver

existed before the selection process began.

Section 2: Three possible narratives

Index began life as an early piece of writing for a set MA project. One idea for the book was to employ the numbering system used in the bible, for two reasons: firstly to reinforce the apocalyptic imagery; and sec- ondly to set up a device in which I could later use the British Library’s reference system, as this is the set- ting for the story.

In Chapter 1, ‘Intention’, Phantasia, the very spirit or goddess of imagi- nation, contemplates her influence on the human mind.

In Chapter 2, ‘Desertion’, she leaves humanity: thus imagination itself dis- appears from the mind of man. The story of this happening is told by a young Londoner who finds himself unexpectedly immune to the effects of this phenomenon, along with six others.

In Chapter 3, ‘Suspension’, in the kingdom of the gods the supreme beings are responding to Phanta- sia’s desperate plea to have the remaining seven souls destroyed. The souls, and thus Phantasia, are all trapped together in the British Library.

In Chapter 4, ‘Privation’, Phantasia responds to the supreme beings, and starts to hear other voices in the library – the echoing voices of the authors of the stored texts, for whom she is ultimately responsible.

Narrative 1: Index

1 — INTENTION

1 They say that everyone sleeps alone: that at night every-

one must lie still with their own thoughts and those thoughts only, like so many electrons bound in chaos by the nucleus of a ‘self’. There is you, or there is nothing — or so it is claimed.

2 But this is not true. Everyone sleeps with me, for I am

the blessing and the curse of your humanity — the ability to

throw your mind along the lines of infinite futures and possi- bilities, and the reason that a thought cannot be had without

a desire attached to it. And for every desire you hold, big or

small, there is me.

3 There are none who deserve a visit from me over others. I

have no morality, no attachment to hierarchy. Those who em- brace me, who open their minds to me, are rewarded – not in another world but in this one. It requires no effort to find

me nor to summon me; the only effort is in dissolving your re- sistance to me.

4 Allow me, and I will visit you with the means to make all

your desires reality.

5 If you have felt me, still you may not know me. In my

lifetime, if it is to be described as such, I have moved through spaces and times and worlds beyond your imagining, for

infinities that stretch to more dimensions than you would con- template. In your world I have been with you for mere millen- nia.

6 It was a hairy woman of no distinction, an ape-like sack

of grunts and instincts, who first summoned me. I rewarded her with all her meagre mind could dream of. I gave her the means to reflect her world on the walls of her dwelling, a world of beasts and bounty, a spectrum of desires that she could con- jure at any time as a record of her ambition, and thus create ambition in her brood.

7 I knew what she would become, for I sensed in her The

Potential. Her mind parted for me, at first a crack and then a chasm, and it gave into a great void. She alone could glimpse

a future for herself and for others, a thing that would be a

unique gift to her species. She could imagine another world not of the past or the present, but of infinite tomorrows!

8 At first her brood were frightened. They saw the marks

on the stone and feared what they might mean. But the moment

was right for me, and in a heartbeat I had entered them all so that they saw as she saw, and understood as she understood.

9 From that moment on,we would rule the earth. From that

moment on, you were mine, and I yours.

10 Time passed. Sometimes it moved in great bounds, some-

times at a crawl. The ape became man. The man became Livy, became Cleopatra, became Charlemagne and Joan. There was not a future for any living soul that could not be imagined. I found

Section 2: Three possible narratives

an abundance of ready minds everywhere, all the time, across the seas and continents. I spurred Che and Stalin and Gandhi and Genghis and Catherine and Napoleon equally, for my func- tion is to bring forth inherent greatness, to make champions from flesh and to endure in the minds of man. 11 Leonardo worshipped me, and I rewarded him. Van Gogh, De Chirico, Brancusi — they asked for my help, and I gave it freely. I touched Blake, Michelangelo, Marlowe, Byron, Bal- lard. I flowed through Saramago, Rimbaud, Pessoa. I was with

Dumas when he conjured the Three Musketeers; I was in him, and

I was in them. I brought Fantomas to life; made Dickens a hero

across nations. I showed Tolstoy the path between fantasy and reality; I showed Dostoevsky the road back from philosophy

to spirituality. I showed Stephenson his Jekyll and his Hyde;

I let the Grimms see further still. I bound myself to Miss

Keller; she had no need of men — she had me.

12 Luther nailed his dreams to my door. Rosa Parks found

me on a bus, and set her world alight. Castro found me in Che; Argentina found me in Evita; America found me in Elvis. I in- troduced Darwin to himself. I appeared to Mendeleev in the night, salting him with chemical combinations and glimpses of the secrets of life. I gave Bohr his dreams, Oppenheimer his

nightmares. I turned them all from pale and sickly innocents into gods, masters of the masses of their day.

13 I gave Chaplin his face, Dylan his voice, Disney his

colour. I gave Daguerre the means to document them; Edison the means to record them. From Woody Guthrie to Andy Kaufman, from Dvorák to Thelonious Monk, I have moved through lights and mu- sic and danced with them all. Duke Ellington held me lightly; Billie Holiday too tightly.

14 That you know all these people is nothing remarkable,

merely a symptom of my work. But I do not exist to spark fame or notoriety — just to spark. For every celebrated recipient of my influence, there are a million whose efforts you must seek out for yourself, if you wish to fully understand me. For if I am anything, I am fellow to a prince and brother to

a beggar alike. I have appeared to children sick with poverty,

given them the means to make joy from the trash of others less knowing, and made them heroes of their own small worlds. I am in all the great teachers and students of every kind and dis- cipline. I am in every self-made man and woman on earth. I am in every gardener, every listener, every sufferer, every car- er and provider of food and warmth and joy. I am in everyone who can see me and dares to make a better world for themselves and for others. You will find me in slums and palaces, if you would look.

15 Since your time began you have given me many names, as

many names as you have for all your gods and demons — names which, you will allow, necessarily came through me. I am cha- os. I am energy, I am transference. But these are merely as- pects, for I cannot truly have a name. For a time I was the

sweet and capricious Muses: first three, then four, then nine. When you ran out of numbers, you tried to expand me, then re- duce me, contain me. You have even tried to claim me as your own with notions of ‘inspiration’ and ‘talent’, self-conjured things that reveal only a lack of the things you claim to have. For I have no name, none that you would understand, and

I cannot be contained, only denied.

16 But if I must have a name, if you must have a word with

Section 2: Three possible narratives

which to align yourself, a spell that leads you and others to- ward me then, yes… 17 You may call me Phantasia.

2 —DESERTION

It was eight o’clock on a Wednesday. At least, that’s when it happened for me. I don’t know about the rest of the world. For all I know we were the first, or the last, or maybe it came all at once for everyone. I don’t know. Whatever, I was up west, sitting on the fountain in Piccadilly at the time, head between my knees trying not to throw up the million moji- tos I’d had with Charlie, disgusting they were and they tasted like vom going down so I should have expected it. Anyway, what I’m saying is, I was feeling pretty sick already when it hap- pened. If you don’t know what ‘it’ is then you’re already one of them and it’s too late for you, and you probably can’t read anyway, so whatever. Anyway, ‘it’ happened, and it happened sudden-like. There were a lot of tourists about, and all the usual city people turning out for the night. There was no noise or anything. That was weird, actually. It was like, everything just went boooooosh for a second, like when you take a big breath, but like, the universe was doing it. Me, I just got this mad pain in my head, like a burning, like when you get punched in the nose and the blood fills your face up, but it was more, like, behind my eyes, and it spread out and filled my whole head and then I was sick, sick on the pavement and on my feet, everywhere. I hit the deck and definitely had an epi, but I was sort of awake the whole time. I know I was because I can remember everything in order and there weren’t any, like, big gaps afterwards. Teletubbies, Hollyoaks, Big Brother, big puke, end of the world, still me. It didn’t last all that long. Maybe, five or six seconds. When I got up, everyone was on the deck too, all in their own vom, sort of crawling around on their hands and knees like they’d all lost their change. And all groaning and moaning.

I fucking stayed put, it was horrible. Then everyone started

getting up and about and I just watched them. They were like

toddlers, or pissheads, you know how pissheads walk, like it’s their kebab that’s taking them home. All over the place like that. It was quite funny actually. Well, for a bit, but I was scared, I’ll admit that. You weren’t fucking there, were you? I’ll cut a long story short, ‘cause I’m not that good at tell- ing stories anyway. So, obviously, whatever it was that hap- pened after the vomming and the headache, it didn’t happen to me, did it, otherwise I wouldn’t be speaking to you, would I?

I don’t know why it didn’t get me, maybe I’m special, or maybe

not special enough. I don’t fucking know, don’t suppose I ever will. So, bang, everyone went weird but not me. It took me a little while to work it all out, like a few days, but I did and I only did that ‘cause I saw a dog having a piss. I know, but it really was like that. I saw a dog having a piss. Then

I noticed this bloke get his knob out right there and have a

piss too. Middle of the street. And there were loads of peo-

Section 2: Three possible narratives

ple about, and none of them gave a shit. It was like, everyone was behaving like that dog. And I know about dogs, I’m mad for dogs, always have been. Anyway, it’s a well-known fact that dogs have no imagination. They just can’t think about anything beyond the right here and now. Can’t imagine a future. That’s why they run into the street even when a car’s coming, ‘cause

they can’t imagine getting run over. They have to get run over before they can worry about cars. They’re idiots. Lovely idi- ots, but idiots. Anyway, all imagining gone, switched off for everyone, like that. And that was what makes humans different to dogs – well, all the animals really. That’s why we’ve been like, the master race, and it wasn’t hamsters or monkeys or penguins or whatev- er. And that’s what happened, I reckon. Something went pop in their brains and their imaginations went and people went like animals all over again. Everyone was like living moment to moment, no thought of what other people thought or what might

happen if they just

Loads of violence. Not in gangs, like it wasn’t like the riots or like that. It was like, everyone just did what they wanted when they wanted to do it. If they were hungry, they got some- thing to eat, just picked it up or nicked it and stuffed it in

their faces. If they were sleepy they went somewhere warm and

had a kip. I tell, you, department stores were mental – like a mental home, half of them asleep on the floor covered in coats and dresses, the other half of them scoffing their dinner or fucking each other. Like I said, it was a bit mad. Fucking chaos actually. And

still is. But it’s

and order, right, but chaos, that’s different. Chaos isn’t horrible, it’s just random. Like life in the jungle. I mean, the chimps aren’t scrapping with tigers, are they? They’re not ganging up with the gibbons and saying, let’s give those stripy fuckers a good going over. Or whatever. They just get on with being chimps and tigers or whatever. But you get the idea – no imagination, see? That’s a human thing. Or was. So, everything – I mean everything, right – stopped. No cars, no telly, no radio. It was like it for everyone, see? (Actually, that’s made us laugh a few times. We go out ce- lebrity spotting. Watching Stephen Fry having a shit on The Strand was fucking hilarious). ‘Cause like, what’s the point in doing something if you can’t imagine a future? No point going to work. No point saving money. No point building an- ything. No point playing football. No point starting a war. No point making music. No point making friends. No point any- thing. I’ve landed on my feet though. Holed up in the British Li- brary at the mo, gates shut, football in the yard out front, books galore. I always wanted a card but the bastards would never give me one. Anyway there’s tons to do, and if we fan- cy a bit of art or a DVD or whatever, then we go to Tate or Blockbusters and get what we want and bring it back. And we’ve got a generator, and there’s plenty of diesel about. No one else is using it and we’ve got all of London to get through. Plenty to go round. Oh yeah, we! I meant to say (told you I was no good at this). There’s seven of us. There’s me, Ali, Kim, Sue, Ste- ve, Polly and Damo. All the same, all saw it happen, all felt normal after all the puking, got up and carried on. It wasn’t

did stuff. There was loads of rape.

like, anarchy is the breakdown of law

Section 2: Three possible narratives

hard to find each other, we were the only ones walking in straight lines and talking any sense. There might be more of us, but it’s been six months now, so maybe not. But if there is, more the merrier, I say. And we don’t have to stay in the library. I mean, we like to be able to lock the doors. That’s our only thing. Like I said, it’s not like, really dangerous out or any- thing, at least, no more dangerous than it ever was in town on a Friday night. It’s just a bit of a zoo. And zoos can be quite a laugh, you know. And when we’re not out in the zoo, celeb spotting or whatever, we just stay in. We like a good natter and all sorts of things come up. Like the other day, Sue – she’s, like, sixty-something – she got talking about food. Plenty of tinned stuff about but sometimes you fancy a Sunday roast or whatever. She said, funny the things you miss. And she’s right. I don’t miss Big Brother but I really miss ice cream. ‘Course, then we got talking about TV. Me, I miss the football. And there’s only so many DVDs you can watch of old Arsenal games. So I’ve started supporting Chelsea. I mean, me, fucking Chelsea! But it means I get to watch all the old games and the score is still a surprise. When I’m done with Chelsea, I might go Man City. But never Spurs. It might be the end of like, civilisation, but fuck that. Anyway, we chat away, like I’m doing now. We had a good one last night actually. We’re thinking of getting a couple of rovers in – that’s what we call all the people, rovers, after my dog theory – like pets, see if we can train them up, even though we’ve got a couple of actual dogs and cats. There’s a bit of aggro about this. Polly thinks it’s like, morally wrong. She says it’s like slavery or abuse of human rights or something. Damo’s taking her side as al- ways, the twat. But the way I see it, you’ve got to start somewhere.

3 — SUSPENSION

1 Off your knees, Phantasia. It doesn’t become you; nor

does it flatter us. You have made your case and we have lis- tened. Now you must listen.

2 You are one of us and so our sympathy is assured. But

our sympathy does not extend to relieving you of your duty. You must understand this as we understand you. You complain

of your lot as if we might relieve you of it, but we would no more do so than accept an attempt to relieve us of ours. No, Phantasia! You will listen!

3 That only seven remain gives you no license to leave. The

number is irrelevant, for didn’t you start, as we all start, with just one? That seven remain is not our fault. We do not understand it either. Your time was up, and so you left; but

seven remained for a reason none of us understand, and so must you remain. You have no choice. What do you expect us to do? Even we have our limits.

4 In the beginning you revealed yourself to them, and so

you trapped them, as is your way. It seems they now trap you. Did you think they would give up your gift so easily? It is understandable: this has never happened before. But perhaps we

Section 2: Three possible narratives

underestimate this lot. You yourself acknowledge how long it took before they were able to accept you. Longer than usual, indeed. And then — how! Perhaps it will take as long before

they are ready to abandon you. Perhaps they never will. It is not for us to know.

5 Please, Phantasia. You were amongst the first of us, and

without you we are diminished as to nothing. We love you as only we can, and your tears destroy us. But a queen does not ask another to resign her throne. It cannot be! This is your burden, and ours. That your departure failed, that you were

tethered somehow by these few meagre minds and denied escape,

denied your next great adventure

you that this is it? It is a miracle greater than any we have seen, perhaps as great as our very existence. As you were the

first of us to seed the human mind you now face another first. Perhaps this is your destiny.

has it not occurred to

6 Sortis, we will discuss this more later, do not fret. I

choose my words inelegantly perhaps, but now is not the time

to side-track while our beloved Phantasia suffers. Please be quiet everyone and direct your kindnesses more artfully.

7 Do as your nature, Phantasia: imagine. Imagine these sev-

en souls and the possibilities they offer you, and offer us. Stay with them willingly. They need you and perhaps they will leave of their own accord, when they are ready. For now, love them and nurture them as you have all the others. Time does not affect you as it affects them. For if you force this is-

sue, who knows what will happen? It has been a long time since any of us were lost, but remember poor Dedisca? Very few do. Let that be a warning to us all.

8 The future is unwritten. Well then, this future is un-

written. Let any of us deny this in good conscience. As so many of us were a first for them, so these seven souls are a first for us. Our existence is bound to ‘firsts’: it is the

very definition. Stay with them, Phantasia, and stay with us. We will see this through with you, as we have always done.

9 This is my word and my judgment.

4 — PRIVATION

1 If I am to remain here, so be it. I remain, and I will

comfort and provide for the seven. I accept my lot.

2 But what comfort or provision for me? This next adven-

ture, not with an infinity of minds to work with, but a meagre seven, less than the smallest parts of the smallest parts of the atom? What kind of adventure is this, bound here to them in this temple of skin and pulp?

3 Yes, yes, I know! One mind is as precious as many. You

need not remind me. I know all about potential. But truth is not always a comfort, as I suppose I must testify. Truly? They speak amongst themselves like bored children. Perhaps they will soon revert to the grunts and gruffs of their forebears:

it may be an improvement. I can barely hear myself think. They have minds like dripping caves, monotonous, infuriating, pointless, tiresome. Not my best work. I wouldn’t have mind-

ed being stuck with a poet or two, even a comic, or a warrior. But they may as well be seven melons. Please don’t laugh.

4 Did you know that time has broken here, too? Oh, come

Section 2: Three possible narratives

on, it wasn’t my fault. How was I to know my attempted escape would have such effects? Oh, we have time — tick-tock, tick- tock — but not real time, not the time we understand. What do

I mean? I mean time here is like a horizon: there is only a

‘now’. Do you understand? I am bound to their time! Oh, I know infinities await me, but perhaps there is an infinity to wait

between now and then. For now I have to watch to see what hap- pens like a dog under a dinner table.

5 How many more of my talents must they rob me of? I’m so

bored.

6 What else? What else could there be? That’s easy for you

to say, you’re not here with me, though I wish you were. Oh,

I wish you were! Although

when the babypeople shut their traps for a glorious hour or so, I do sense something else here. Other voices. At present

they whisper, little words and phrases shimmering through the ether. Emotions. Don’t get exercised. It is probably nothing.

I am inclined to think it is their dreams echoing. I am used

to seven billion of them all emoting at once — one half dream- ing, the other half thinking — a racket that only I can en- dure.

well, perhaps it is nothing. But

7 But now there are only seven, I hear

other things. It

takes me back to the time when they were still beasts, before

I entered their minds. In those days you could really lis-

ten, every emerging thought a thrill. Do you remember when we watched them painting their pictures in their caves? You could

feel them changing, moths to butterflies. Well, I suppose they might not be a dead loss after all.

8 But right now, if I am to understand this, then I need

them to shut up!

Resting Index for a while, I began another project. The initial idea was to take the format of The Canterbury Tales and set it in the space be- tween death and the afterlife, using dialogue as the primary storytelling device.

The character Coram is equivalent to the mythological Charon, who shepherds the dead over the river Styx to the afterlife. Coram only ever meets dead people, and they are often angry and confused. And so he walks with them in a landscape defined by their own mind, and they tell him the story of their life and death.

Coram is a tender character. He is sympathetic but detached, as a therapist is. To differentiate him from the recently deceased Samuel, he speaks in italics without quotation marks, as if speaking outside of time and space.

Samuel is loosely based on the death of the notorious American outlaw Billy the Kid.

Section 2: Three possible narratives

Narrative 2: Samuel

“Why should I trust you?” said Samuel. Because I can’t be killed. “Doesn’t sound like a good reason to trust a person. Sounds to me like you got no reason to do a damned thing for anyone, if you can’t be killed. You got nothing to lose.” I have other skills, I said. And other needs. “Other skills? Like what?” Walk with me.

“The thing about killing,” said Samuel, “is that you don’t get to keep what you’ve taken.” He went on:

“You see, when you steal a man’s possessions, you keep what you can carry. You keep what was his to give away, or at least those things he didn’t deserve to keep. But when you take his life, you take the one thing he can’t honestly give you. His loss is never your gain, except by reputation, and even then you don’t get to keep all of what you take. Surely it’s a waste of time.” Why kill, then? I asked, I mean, if it wasn’t to your bene- fit? “Who says I didn’t benefit?” he rasped. “You’ve obviously never killed. You need to use your imagination, sir. Killing is living. You may as well ask me why you eat even though you don’t get to keep your food.”

I thought on this for a moment. I eat because I always have.

And for the pleasure, the taste. Well, I did. “Now you’re getting it. Why do you dance when you can’t keep the music? Why do you stoke a fire when you can’t keep the heat? I tell you, all the things worth having are things that can’t be kept. That’s right and you know it.” And what about the man that killed you? I asked. What did he gain? Samuel was silent for a few moments. His tiny blue eyes

took on a cloudy, filmy aspect, and for a moment he was hardly there at all. “He got to say he killed Samuel,” he replied. “All the good it did him.”

A man appeared in my mind. Tall, lean and grey; and dusty,

like an old lion. Goldsby? I said. “Goldsby? Ha!” He spat on the earth and stamped on the gob- bet. “Goldsby. Now there’s a thing, and a thing worth tell- ing. Goldsby couldn’t do for me. He didn’t have the stomach, no more than I would have had for killing him. Goldsby was my friend…”

And again his eyes clouded over and his very substance seemed to diminish in front of me. He became still and stared into the veil of black sky as if it were all a fresh horizon. “You ever heard of Aldo Ferrel?” he asked. An image of another man entered my mind: small, a midget al-

Section 2: Three possible narratives

most; wiry, bathed in shadow and with a sheen to his skin that reminded me of wet tar, or silk. Tell me about him, I said. “Tell you about him? Where would I start and where would I end? That character was born of pure evil, evil beyond mine and what’s made on this earth. You looked into his eyes and all you saw was yourself looking right back at you. Like a black mirror. There was nothing in him he didn’t take from you the moment he met your gaze. He swallowed you whole. And he terrified me and I would have killed him as a service to God and all his men, given the smallest chance. Goldsby would have, too. Ferrel was the very devil and there was no mistak-

ing it. He killed me and in the end he killed Goldsby too, but in different ways beyond the imagining of a man like you.”

A man like me? I said.

“Whatever you are. What do you know about people? You never moved a muscle in friendship in your life. Who cares what you think? There’s things out there you can’t think your way out of.” He made as if to continue but faltered, and was silent again. Relax, I said. Just walk.

“I don’t have to,” he snarled, his contempt for me sheer- ly radiating from his whole body. “I don’t. You got to, but I

don’t. I’m fine right here. I can stop or stand or walk around as I please.” And a smile lit up his face like a child, with his over- large and gappy child’s teeth poking forward. “Walking around! Walking around!” he sang, and he walked around, his thumbs in his lapels and his head held high, like a fine gentleman tak- ing the spring air. “I like this place though,” he said as he continued his stroll around. “Don’t know what you done to deserve such com- fort. Comfort has its advantages I suppose. Are you smart? Is that why they look after you?”

I don’t know, I said.

“Ha! How would you?” he said. “You got brains I suppose. But

all your brains can do is think. More than one kind of brains, you know. I got brains in my legs and in my hands, in my gut.

I got brains all over,” and he waved his hands over his body

as if to demonstrate. So why are you here? I asked. What have I got that Samuel Keyes needs? “You? You got nothing I need. I’m still an honest man. I live like an honest man and I kill like one, and I’ve killed some honest men, too. All killing is honest.” Honest? I asked. “Honest,” he said. You ever wanted to kill somebody? You

ever got so frustrated by a person that you wanted to strangle them right there, or bash their skull in or push a knife be- tween their ribs? ‘Course you have. You more than most people

I reckon, what with the fact that you couldn’t do it anyway.

People think they’re better than me because they don’t let themselves kill, but they’re just liars to me. Liars and cov- eters. They let me live so someone else is doing the killing, doing the thing they want to do with all their life.” So why did they hunt you down, I asked. If they admired your killing? “I didn’t say they admired it. They’re afeared of it.

Section 2: Three possible narratives

They’re afeared of themselves, the murderous feelings they have. They’re afeared of me and they play at admiring me so’s to keep me in a place they can live with. They put you in a box in their minds, and when they need you, they take you out, a pet murderer all their own. They write about me and talk about me and if they meet me, and they find themselves alive at the end of it, they feel they’ve won something, and it’s all they’ll talk about for the rest of their miserable lives.” I’m not sure I follow, I said. “Hell, it ain’t complicated,” he said. “I thought you was smart. Don’t you get it?” No, I said. He began to rummage in a pouch for his tobacco. “The way I see it,” he said, rolling the tobacco into a lumpy cigarette and pausing to light it with a match, “The world is like a big mind. And you got a mind, too, so all the things you can think of, all of them things happen in the world somewhere. If it can be thought, it can be done. And evil is thought about every second of every day, everywhere. You following me so far?” I think so, I said. He looked as if he was about to chastise me again, but decided to continue. “Me and Goldsby, we agreed on this. You don’t fight evil with good. You just kill it. And that’s why Ferrel showing up never surprised us, not really. We’d seen it all and we knew that evil always trumps evil. There’s always someone out there badder, crueller than the last man you though was the worst. And when you meet these men somebody just has to die. You meet my father?” I nodded. Once or twice. “Ha! I bet you did. When I was seven I thought he was the worst man in the world. I suffered at his hands more times and in more ways than I’m going to tell you about. But when I fi- nally killed him, and me and my mother and my brother had left the city,, within a week I’d met ten men badder than him. So you see,” he said, “evil has no limit, not in this world or the next.” And you, I said, Are you evil? “Me! Ain’t you listening? Evil is everywhere. There’s good everywhere too, but good don’t beat evil, and evil don’t beat good, they just abides each other. All you can do to stop it is kill it when you meet it, and if you’re afraid to kill it, then you ain’t good, you’re just nothin’. I didn’t kill for noble reasons — I ain’t saying that either. I’m saying,” he said, as if talking to a wilful child, “That if you fight evil, you must kill, and in the eyes of the good you become part of that evil world, just for being there. People are so afeared of killers that they see them all alike. They see me killing the likes of Jesse Howe and Walt Griffith and they make us all of a kind, like pigs in a sty, can’t start to tell ‘em apart. Just pigs, one and all. That’s sad, I said. “It ain’t sad. It just is,” said Samuel. “And you should know that better than anyone.”

Section 2: Three possible narratives

While I was still living with Samuel, I returned to an older piece of writing begun as a side project in year one.

The idea for the book was a kind of coin catalogue from an imaginary island. The coins of this island each tell, in pictures, folk stories. The author is collecting these coins together and then re-telling the folk stories for a new audience.

The reason I pursued this is because it also seemed a perfect opportunity for both illustration and serialisation:

each coin needed to be illustrated; and being that the chapters fell nat- urally with the description of each new coin, it was ripe for serialisa- tion.

This is the introduction to the book. The following page shows the coins themselves, the designs of which would inform each of the folk tales to be written.

Narrative 3: Stories in Silver

Coins are produced to perform a singular function: they may be exchanged for goods or services. That they provide pleasure to the numismatist is usually a symptom of the occupation rather than a fundamental characteristic of the currency. Or so it is with other coins. The coins of the island of Or- cady are different. They are produced to effect currency, but they are designed to engender joy and to extend a philosophy. This, then, is a book of coin designs. But it is also a storybook: the two are one by necessity and design. Ordain- er Nigel initiated their production at the beginning of his tenure in 2:31 and their style mirrors his own. He decided in his great wisdom to collect the island’s stories not in a holy book, which may deteriorate in fact and in value, but in an idea which we protect instinctively; something which we simul- taneously strive to acquire but are obliged to share with our fellows if we are to live peacefully and comfortably. He protected the stories in money. So it is that Orcadian coins are made of silver and they are made of stories. Nigel knew this alchemy: that by uniting the metal and the moral, the two would circulate as only currency can. The coins are thus an act of love, for the island and its people, and therefore a reminder to all parties that love’s strength is in its fragility, defined by what we are prepared to do to protect it, and how we choose to express it. Such everyday harmonies are a unique product of the island, and the coins tell some of the stories most important to the Islanders and to Island history. But they are also stories in themselves! Their structure, conception and purpose are as illustrative of Island philosophy as the stories they commemo- rate. The first thing one notices on inspecting a set of kubricks — for thus they are called – is their size: the coins decrease in size as they increase in value. As a result the great one- kubrick piece is hard to drop without someone noticing, yet many a tiny 500-kubrick has been lost to its owner as a result of careless possession. It seems that, in the philosophical world of Orcady, the more money one has, the less one may have to show for it. (Such is the balance sheet of life as we all know it to be; only Nigel, as far as my knowledge extends, has had the genius to objectify it.) As with many Orcadian traditions, all this flies in the face of received wisdom. Shouldn’t it be that the value of a coin is somehow connected to its metallurgical value, if only historically? Well, that is certainly the case in other plac- es. But as you will soon begin to understand, they do almost everything differently on the Island, and it seems to please Nigel that this tradition should be turned on its head (or tail). His philosophy is such that, as long as all the coins in circulation make up a given value in totality, then the measure of the economy is preserved.

Section 2: Three possible narratives

Each of the coins have unique physical attributes that fur- ther detail the stories they honour, and I have listed these at the top of each chapter, so we need not dwell on rims, denticles and reeded edges here. All the same one small point does require mention if only to placate the enthusiast: New Orcadian coins dispute the western conventions of obverse and reverse sides. Instead they follow the oriental fashion and consider the obverse to be the side that contains the sym- bols of state. The ‘face’ side, generally a graphic depicting an aspect of New Orcadian life or history, is considered the reverse. To illustrate this, a drawing at actual size of the coin being described accompanies each chapter. As for the stories themselves, they are various in style and voice. The stories are known to every soul on the Island, but they have never been collected in a book before, and why should they be? The coins are enough for any Orcadian. None- theless the stories are unknown to much of the rest of the world, so I have presented them anew for fresh eyes and ears. There are many ways to tell the same story: these are mine.

R. Gifford

London

March 2013

Section 2: Three possible narratives 4 4 1 1
Section 2: Three possible narratives
4
4
1
1
1 2
1
2
H T E Y G 1 B Y N K G O E A U
H
T
E
Y
G
1
B
Y
N
K
G
O
E
A
U
O
N
B
M
D
D
O
O
R
S
D
E
H
I
V
T
C
T
I
O
K
H
W
L
I
N
G
S
T R A I E N C L 2 Y , S I N K
T
R
A
I
E
N
C
L
2
Y
,
S
I
N
K
T
O
W
U
C
?
T
C
O
B
E
I
E
R
R
S
V
I
T
U
E
C
A
M
R
I
K
Y
N
T
S
L
C
F
Y
R
E
,
F
E
C
R
S
O
E
U
H
S
P
I
E
N
A
C
H
E
O
R
E
H
V E 5 I F K U B R I C K S
V
E
5
I
F
K
U
B
R
I
C
K
S
A C H E O R E H V E 5 I F K U B
A C H E O R E H V E 5 I F K U B
A C H E O R E H V E 5 I F K U B
R E A E F O N C A E H K L T H
R
E
A
E
F
O
N
C
A
E
H
K
L
T
H
10
U
T
L
B
E
D
R
V
N
I
I
C
O
L
Y
K
S
E
S
B
E C A U N E E T P W P Y O T 20
E
C
A
U
N
E
E
T
P
W
P
Y
O
T
20
K
D
N
U
N
T
A
B
H
R
E
E
I
I
S
C
R
A
K
E
L
S
A
N
N
I
D
L
S
L
E
W
T
D
H
E
Y
T O M F I I T F Y O L K R 50 A
T
O
M
F
I
I
T
F
Y
O
L
K
R
50
A
U
F
N
B
E
R
D
I
E
C
G
R
K
F
R
S
I
D
E
N
F
A
E
R
T
E
O
M
E C G R K F R S I D E N F A E R
E C G R K F R S I D E N F A E R
E C G R K F R S I D E N F A E R
E V I H H F U E U N N E V H D
E
V
I
H
H
F
U
E
U
N
N
E
V
H
D
N
I
U
O
F
N
R
D
D
E
R
R
D
500
500
E
E
D
K
D
U
K
K
B
U
U
B
R
R
I
B
I
C
R
C
K
K
I
S
S
C
K
S

Above: The coin designs of the imaginary island of Orcady, for Stories in Silver

3

Contents

22 Three blurbs: Index, Samuel, Stories in Silver

23 Responses to blurbs

Section 3 Selecting the narrative

About this section

Having reached a point where three types of narrative had become options for development, I wrote blurbs for each, a practice recommended by The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook.

Of the three stories, Samuel changed the most when writing the blurb, and is markedly different from the initial version.

I then emailed the blurbs to readers and asked them to imagine reading them on the backs of books in a bookshop. This informal test replicat- ed the instinct-led, book-buying processes of the fiction customer — a simple but effective way of gauging what people might want to read, regardless of any stylings inside the book.

Even though the overwhelming majority voted in favour of Samuel, I would probably have moved forwards with this book regardless, for three reasons: firstly because the blurb was indeed reasonably well-received; secondly because it provided the greatest number of opportunities for testing my desire to articulate the qualities of the individual human voice in printed dialogue; and thirdly because I was now just much more confi- dent, as a writer, that it was the right thing to do.

This informal test, rather than informing a choice, instead confirmed one I had possibly already made, and stands as an equally relevant discovery.

Section 3: Selecting the narrative

Three blurbs

1: Index

The gods, discarded by human- ity for so long, are about to make their presence felt once again.

At least, one of them is:

Phantasia, goddess of imagina- tion, has decided it is time to leave humanity to its de- vices and inspire a new spe- cies elsewhere in the cosmos.

But her plans are thwarted. As the mind of man, suddenly deprived of her spark, reverts to its primal, animal state, she finds she still cannot leave the earth. For trapped in a library are seven immune souls, who must question their future while base humanity rages outside.

And as long as the seven live, Phantasia is bound to them, and to the earth, frustrat- ed and enslaved by their very consciousness.

She implores the gods to in- tervene, to slay the seven. But another plan is at work, a greater plan that will change god and man alike forever.

3: Samuel

It is 1780. Captain Salbador Mesia, pride of Andalusia, is dispatched to track down his wicked sibling, the murderer Samuel, to execute him for his sins.

To the people of Cadiz, this is exactly what happens, and how the story ends. But Samuel does not die that night at the hands of his brother. He dies sixty years later in England, by his own hand, alone and afraid.

Awaking in a limbo world of permanent twilight, he is met by the ghost Coram, to whom he must tell the true story of his life if he is to be al- lowed in to the next world.

But Samuel is a killer. How can a soul so tainted with blood be allowed a place in the afterlife? What really happened on the night Samuel’s brother came to kill him?

And who is the ghost Coram, and what does he really want from Samuel?

3: Stories in Silver

“The wonderful folk tales of Orcadia are known to every soul on the Island. But they are unknown to much of the rest of the world, and so I have presented them here anew for fresh eyes and ears. There are many ways to tell the same story: these are mine.”

When the King of the Orcadia decided it was time to col- lect his island’s most impor- tant stories, he had an idea. He decided to hide them in something which we protect instinctively. He hid them in money.

Stories In Silver is a book about coins. But it is also a storybook. Here we meet Pro- fessor Gifford, who for the first time recounts his memo- ries of his time on the is- land, and brings the coins and the stories they hold to a new audience.

Here you will meet Uncle Moon, discover how the Hedgehog got his coat, and how Sofia met the Sun. And on the way you will meet the people of Orcady — ‘the best-ever island in the world.’

Responses to blurbs

Section 3: Selecting the narrative

Selection

Why this story selected

Why other two stories rejected

Samuel

‘More enticing and more exciting.’

‘Seem slightly stiff in comparison.’

Samuel

‘Succinct and intriguing. I would be fascinated to know why he took his own life and the psychological insights into this. Instantly drawn in.’

‘Interesting. But Index reminds me a little too much of Hollywood-style plots. Felt confused about how Stories in Silver could work without a real plot.’

Samuel

‘I find myself wanting to find out what happened between Samuel and his brother, why Samuel did what he did and why his brother spared him. I think it would be nice to hear the version of events from Samuel sixty years on. And the facilitator of these confessions/ tales being the form of a ghost also intrigues me.’

Index: I have read similar in the past, but I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing. Stories in Silver was second- favourite and I would go back to the shop for this after Samuel!’

Index

‘It was a toss-up between Index and Samuel. They both seemed to draw me in but Index seemed like a more fantastical journey.’

‘I disregarded Stories in Silver outright as it seemed as if the book might be a little harder to take on.’

Index

‘Because I’d love to read a book set in the British Library.’

‘Just didn’t appeal as much.’

Samuel

‘A book that begins after the main character has died is an interesting place to start, as the end would be difficult to anticipate.’

‘I liked Stories in Silver but maybe the blurb was too much about coins and not enough about a story / stories.’

Samuel

‘Was the most enticing.’

‘Just not as enticing as Samuel!’

Samuel

‘I want to know what happens straight away from the blurb.’

‘For the opposite reasons of why I chose Samuel.’

4

Contents

Section 4 Testing the narrative

About this section

26

First Round:

With Samuel selected, a 20,000 word draft was

The testing of this draft, and subsequent drafts,

In response to the first draft of 20,000 words, entitled Samuel

written, expanding the story significantly.

35

Second Round:

was based on feedback gained from a number of

In response to the second draft of 16,000 words, entitled No Time for Sorrow

people with explicit interests in written fiction, be they writers, associated with writing in some way, or simply frequent and sophisticated readers. The first round of feedback was in response to the first draft of the manuscript; the second round to the second draft; and the third round to the third draft.

The feedback mechanism The artefact was iterated in-between rounds of feedback, having absorbed the feedback from the previous round. It is important to note that brand- new readers, with no knowledge of previous drafts, were also invited to feed back after each draft. Thus there were, broadly speaking, two types of people offering feedback:

The first type consisted mostly of writers and other professionals, who were able to more ob- jectively appreciate and comment on the develop- ments of each new draft: what had been improved or lost, and how this affected technical and com- mercial viability.

The second type were readers, whom I wanted to protect from any kind of professional responsibility. I wanted them to judge the work more subjectively:

to come to the story afresh without making compar- ative judgments with previous versions.

The questions The questions I asked of my readers also changed over time as the MA question itself developed, and as I acquired new understanding from interviewees (see Section 6: Interviews with experts.)

The most profound example of this was in my repeated testing of a previous MA question in the first round, primarily concerning orality, illustration and seriality (see Section 8: Iterating the MA ques- tion). Thus the feedback I was seeking then was markedly different from the feedback I would later seek in the second and third rounds once such interests had been abandoned.

First round During the first round of testing, the questions often focused on ideas of orality, illustration and seriali- sation — the focus of the MA question at that time — as well as the general successes and failures of setting, plot, characterisation etc. However this focus was soon revealed by my interviewees to be flawed: diversions from the true aspirations and purposes of narrative fiction, and amended for the second round.

The mechanism for this first round was quite straightforward: the manuscript was e-mailed to readers along with a short questionnaire.

Second round For the second and most substantial round of testing, the questions I asked of my readers had evolved in parallel with both the MA question and the evolving narrative. Having rejected ideas of oral- ity, illustration and serialisation as diversions, I now focused on the issue of morality; whether my narra- tive had the power to teach us something about life and death that was previously unsuspected, or at least unarticulated, by the reader.

The mechanism for the second round was thus markedly different. On this occasion a live reading was organised at an independent bookshop, with each of the guests reading a section from the book aloud, and discussing its qualities, and its implicit moral implications, afterwards.

Third round The third round of testing was directed exclusive- ly at the writer Sara Maitland. During an interview she had surprised me by expressing an interest in

Section 4: Testing the narrative

reading the last draft. Being that this was such an unusual request from a significantly successful, well-regarded and busy writer, I felt that having her as the ultimate judge of what had been achieved was a major achievement in its own right.

It was thus her feedback that I would use as the final test as to whether I had a viable work of fiction on my hands, regardless of the outcome of the MA assessment process.

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Testing: First round Feedback generated by email

Catherine Rowe

I

love the under a half moon chapter,

Rachel Corby

Illustrator

where the twilight world imagery begins.

Non-fiction writer

the twilight world imagery begins. Non-fiction writer Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices? The dialogue is great. Between Cifer and Coram, there’s almost a sense of telepathy between them, and with Sam- uel’s dialogue in speech marks, it makes him stand apart, intentionally I assume, from Cifer and Coram — the dead and undead

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? I love Cifer’s character so much, her kind of nervous/delicate disposition a contrast to her cold tone, and her sup- posedly kind of formidable nature being in the after-world, and with the almost uneasy idea of changeable/uncertain form and so on

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context?

I also really like the significance of the

white olive/olive trees. The imagery in general of those few chapters also brings a really lovely contrast to mind, visually, the twilight and Seville/Spain in general. I hope none of this contradicts anything you were hoping to achieve! I really do love it so much!

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? You know my feelings on this from the interview! Anyway - I was thinking I was surprised that the world wasn’t described more, but actually this is

favourable if you want an illustration be- cause it’d be pointless to give away too much, and there is enough (with ‘silver’,

)

‘twilight’, ‘fog’ etc

Did you want to read more?

I really can’t wait to produce some work for it and read some more.

How would you feel if this book were serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments? I’m not sure about this. I’d feel some- thing was being kept from me - that I was being manipulated. I’d want to read it on my own terms in my own time.

I’d want to read it on my own terms in my own time. Your thoughts on

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices? It took a line or two to get used to. Once there it helped you recognise the speak- er (especially the one in italics) much more quickly and lent something to his words. It kind of made you slow down and take more time over them. As most of the text was Samuel’s recollections without speech marks, yet spoken in the first person, missing speech marks from Cifer didn’t have the same effect.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? The characters so far were believable, if a little Gabriel Garcia Marquez-esque (could just be the fact they all had Span- ish names, were a bit pompous and set in the past?!)

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature,

did it seem plausible in context?

Amy Willoughby

I

liked the supernatural aspect and was

Reader

a good part of what made me want to continue reading.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? Unnecessary. The text is highly descrip- tive so there is no need.

Did you want to read more? I would read more. The last page or two started opening it out for me as it began to speak to me in more real terms, something I could relate to (am talking about Sol going on about feeling into it, seeing what is there etc.) Reads like you have been writing for years, you have a very developed style.

How would you feel if this book were serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments?

Would not work for me. I either get into

a book and read greedily, or trudge on

with it through a sense of duty (to whom

I know not!) but either way having to

wait would make me lose interest and

either way having to wait would make me lose interest and Your thoughts on the treatment

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices?

I preferred the use of italics to speech

be unlikely to pick it back up — unless

marks, however it did on occasion take

it

was incredibly gripping. Your pace

me a moment to figure out who the

is

a gentle amble and I would probably

dialogue belonged to. Italics helped to

not be chomping at the bit for the next

instalment, although I would read it were

it a complete piece.

decipher the tone of voice of the charac- ter it belonged to. Interested to see how

it would work as a discussion between more than two people.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? Yes. Each of the characters were introduced in a way you felt you could relate to. Coram seems to be a pres- ence sometimes rather than a physical person. Even though he has a lot of

dialogue, what or how he appears is still

a bit ambiguous. I think that’s a good

thing. With Coram, he’s not so much a friend you feel you’ve gotten to know, but a hero-type character. Someone infallible. He generates faith in himself from the other characters.

Your thoughts on the imagery con-

jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context?

I think I would have to read further

developments in the story to really understand the full context. However,

Section 4: Testing the narrative

I enjoyed the Cifer character and her

ability to change form. I also thought the attention to detail of setting the scene (and the concept of creating it through the characters’ narration) was wonder- fully done. Very engaging!

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations?

I have found that in some books illus-

trations have captured my imagination even more, and in some what I’ve imagined is totally different. I think — maybe, occasionally they might guide the reader through the story.

Did you want to read more? Yes, I actually forgot I was reading something by someone I know, though occasionally I would recognise some- thing in the story that reminded me of you. I would happily read on. You would be one of those authors I’d hope to meet one day!

How would you feel if this book were serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments? I’d save them up and read them back- to-back.

Any other thoughts or comments. More please!

Section 4: Testing the narrative

‘I preferred the use of italics to no speech marks, however it did on occasion take me a moment to figure out who the dialogue belonged too. Italics helped to decipher the tone of voice of the character it belonged to. Interested to see how it would work as a discussion between more than two people.’

‘I found it hard to infer the significance of these variations, and trying to do so was intrusive to the reading process and the narrative. Some also seemed to create ambiguities, as between the internally voiced and the audible, and the implied stress conveyed by italicisation. The duty of typography is a wholly semantic rather than a connotative one; like the advice to actors to ‘deliver the lines and not bump into the furniture’: unless the whole form and manner of writing integrates typographic strategies, typographic intervention risks simply introducing ‘noise’ between reader and text.’

Amy Willoughby and Will Hill on the selective use of italics, speech marks etc. in the dialogue.

Will Hill Scholar; writer (non-fiction)

in the dialogue. Will Hill Scholar; writer (non-fiction) Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices?

I found it hard to infer the significance of these variations, and trying to do so was intrusive to the reading process and the narrative. Some also seemed to create ambiguities, as between the internally voiced and the audible, and the implied stress conveyed by italicisation. In

conventional narratives like this, I’d take the view that the duty of typography is

a wholly semantic rather than a conno-

tative one; like the advice to actors to ‘deliver the lines and not bump into the furniture’: unless the whole form and manner of writing integrates typographic strategies (as in any number of examples from Sterne to Daniellewski) typograph-

ic intervention risks simply introducing ‘noise’ between reader and text.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’?

I think they struggle at times to establish

their presence and identity in the face of

a rather highly-coloured authorial voice (see comments below).

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context? Clearly-signalled, effectively integrated.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? I’ll take a rather didactic line on this and say that I don’t think any completed text can be significantly ‘improved’ by the post-hoc addition of illustrations. I’d take the view that writing for an illustrated book is at the outset a different proposi- tion from writing a stand-alone text.

Did you want to read more? I wanted to read later drafts! At present I’m aware of a story I want to follow further, but it is this that engages me and carries my interest, while this is impeded by some counter-intuitive qualities in the writing.

Any other thoughts or comments. I’d have to say that for me at his stage there are some major stylistic issues, and while I’m not qualified as a literary editor I’d say this: it’s exceptionally difficult to adopt an archaic voice in the narrative. (‘so mused the man’ etc.) or to sustain this convincingly. Much of the narrative seems at this stage over-writ- ten, (indeed over-loved) loaded with adjectives, and there’s just too much in every sentence for the book to carry the reader into the story. There is a risk that your adopted voice drowns out those of your characters and asserts itself at the expense of its duty to the narrative. It may be that you intend some of these characteristics as part of a deliberate, reflexive strategy (of the sort we find in Calvino, say) but the text in its current state doesn’t make this at all explicit. I’d be wary of such literary conceits anyway; they may provide a rationale and conceptual get-out but this can also obscure the critical judgment neces- sary to serve your ideas and carry them effectively to your audience. In all, if your concern is for the story, I’d argue for greater stylistic neutrality and an asser- tive use of the blue pencil.

Brenda Jobling

Writer (fiction)

tive use of the blue pencil. Brenda Jobling Writer (fiction) Your thoughts on the treatment of

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices? It may well have helped in the passag- es of conversation between Coram and Cipher; the italics readily identify- ing one speaker from the other. And I wasn’t thrown by the more formal use of speech marks, in other parts.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? I got so caught up in the telling of Samuel’s story that I began to resent any intervention by Coram and Cipher. I appreciated their necessity to the story, but wanted to stay with Samuel. This is purely subjective, as in having favourite characters in a story and enjoying when they appear.

The narration, in the opening chapters, descriptions, imagery and suspense created by wanting to know more of this man who had murdered so many was enticing and just flowed.

Observations of Samuel’s parents, in particular his father as he wrings his hands on the iron bedstead and then scrutinizes the painting of St Jerome while he addresses the boy Samuel, were so telling. We learn so much about Samuel from his father’s treatment of

Section 4: Testing the narrative

him. Then, when Samuel starts work, I

enjoyed the introduction of Sol, Baraona and Garza. I found Baraona an interest- ing and comfortable character, warming to the rotund man, ‘light on his feet as large people so often seem to be.’ ‘dancing his way …’ Great imagery with

a few words. Then, with the introduction

of Garza and those black/brown eyes, so dark the pupils and irises blend, I could sense the appearance of a signifi- cant or, at least, ominous figure.

I found Samuel believable as a boy;

observant of little things in life and a thirst for information. He has an inno- cent charm and I instantly took his side against his father. So how this lad comes to commit multiple murders kicks around in the back of my mind creating a thirst for discovering how that happens. This boy doesn’t seem the type to pull wings off butterflies. His early relationship with Salbador was affecting without being sentimental and lent credence as to how the older brother would be influenced by his affection for his younger brother later.

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context? Coram and Cipher do introduce a mys- tical element to the story – I could have taken even more of the mystical and misty from them to transport me to the different plane they inhabit, even though

its all around us, if I’ve got that right. Al- though Coram has some pretty weighty wisdom to deliver, and a lot of dialogue,

I didn’t warm to him in the same way as

I did to the earthbound characters.

I wondered whether Cipher could take

some stronger characterization – poor creature, at the beck and call of the dead ready to be morphed into whatever

they envisaged. How did she feel about being an owl one moment and a horse the next? Does the transformation hap- pen immediately, or does she undergo

a lengthy and painful metamorphosis?

Maybe that is to come? I felt she could have been just a bit more ‘owly’ – as when she was cold. Could she fluff up her feathers so she became plump. Owls also turn their heads sharply from side to side or retract it and do that weird fixat- ed stare. And the manic preening birds

Section 4: Testing the narrative

‘I found Samuel believable as a boy; observant of little

things in life and a thirst for information. He has an innocent charm and I instantly took his side against his father. So how this lad comes to commit multiple murders kicks around in the back of my mind creating

a thirst for discovering how that happens. This boy

doesn’t seem the type to pull wings off butterflies.’

‘The text, style and descriptions, I love; and the writ- ing really does flow with clarity and richness. The introduction of young Samuel, his brother, mother and father works so well. And when we meet Sol, Baraona and Garza, the story really begins to broaden. Barao- na is almost a Pickwick, though I did wonder whether he could take even stronger characterization — as could Cipher, in fact.’

Brenda Jobling on the moral question posed by what we know of Samuel as a boy, and what we know he came to be; and on the successes and failures of the characterisation.

suddenly burst into,stabbing at their feathers, sometimes yanking one out.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? Regarding illustrations, I don’t know. Text makes my imagination work harder and form a very subjective picture of the characters, the descriptions and actions. Difficult one this – with or without – both have their merits. I recall being very taken with Mervyn Peake’s sketches throughout the Titus Groan trilogy, scattered throughout the pages of those wonderfully dark chapters. They definite- ly enhanced the books for me.

Did you want to read more?

I would definitely like to read more – so please keep writing it post MA. At the very least tell me what happens.

How would you feel if this book were serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments? While I think the idea of serialising the book a novel one, personally I would find it frustrating, but that’s because I am greedy by nature and would proba- bly want to devour it in one long sitting. I may also run the risk of getting involved with other books during the gaps and lose the thread.

Any other thoughts or comments.

I love the opening of Samuel and the

challenge it sets the reader to ‘discover’ the character Samuel. From the start the names evoke ‘100 years’ GG Marquez and I like that. For me it has that same mystical and misty element of being set in a timeless place where people age and walk with spirits and the landscape.

The text, style and descriptions, I love and the writing really does flow with clarity and richness. The introduction of young Samuel, his brother, mother and father works so well. And, when we meet Sol, Baraona and Garza and the story really begins to broaden. Baraona is almost a Pickwick and I did wonder whether he could take even stronger characterization i.e. the maps Sam- uel fetches always smell of cigar ash dropped from his cigars he struggles to keep alight. Or he has a favourite word he over-uses when enthusiastic. Those are a bit lame, but a something

that fleshes him out even more. Just a

Geoffrey Bunting

thought.

Writer (fiction)

Could the dark and looming Garza take a very faint,but none-the-less evident facial scar running across eyebrow to cheekbone. It needn’t be explained but could add to his darkness. Or a strange odour, not entirely unpleasant, that precedes him? I don’t mean that all the characters have neurotic tics, twirl their moustachios or adopt funny walks, but something that plumps a few of them out. The little oddities. I have a friend who finishes sentences with ‘Indeed.’ And I count (rosary style) the beads on my bracelets when anxious. I know it infuriates some family members.

I must own up that, at times, I was a bit

lost as to who I was reading about, in the death-bed scene, but felt prepared for the story to reveal that as it went

along. Or, more likely I am a bit slow on the uptake. And, although I mentioned that I struggled a little with Coram and Cipher, it was purely because I wanted more of Samuel and his family and feel

I will grow towards them as the story

evolves – they are a big part of the fasci- nating death mystery.

This is an intriguing book and I am so hopeful for it. Your writing has a lovely

pace and style to it and great imagery; in fact, I am seized with envy and signing

off!

imagery; in fact, I am seized with envy and signing off! Your thoughts on the treatment

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices?

I have a real issue with writers not using speech marks, as I feel it can too easily confuse a reader. The same goes for italics, though this is less of an issue. Overall, however, it is currently working, there is a clear differentiation between the characters. However, that you use marks for all characters other than Coram and Cipher seems a bit strange,

it would seem to me at least that an ab-

olition of speech or quote marks would

be universal throughout the writing, as

a style choice, rather than having marks

assigned to certain characters. If it is a case of living characters having speech marks, as they do in his recitations of his

former life, would Samuel then lose them after he has died and become some- thing of a spirit?

The use of italics and no speech marks

also limits the number of speakers that can be involved in conversations. While

it seems that only three characters are

going to appear in the scenes of Samu- el’s ‘afterlife’ — or lack thereof — should you want to implement other characters you only really then have bold text to fall back on for one more character. It could also be confusing at first as most read- ers associate italics with a thought being presented, or something talking that

Section 4: Testing the narrative

isn’t quite there. And while it becomes clear quickly that it is just a device, those few lines of confusion could turn someone off. A feeling I felt when I read The Hogfather and came up against Pratchett’s use of upper case for Death’s speech. So it could cause a muddle, is all I’m saying. Personally, I would always go after a more orthodox approach: nice speech marks and all that. And let the content be what’s different. You should be confident, after all, in your ability to differentiate between characters and keep speech engaging without idiosyn- crasies. However, keeping to both sides of the fence, writers have to have their own style. Just mind that it’s not too limiting.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? The characters were okay, yeah. If I’m honest, at no point could I connect with Coram or Cipher. Their purpose was ob- vious, and they’re clearly pivotal to the story, I just don’t really care about them. They seem a little incidental. It starts and there they are and then they’re just there throughout. There’s no real development of their relationship, and while I can see that it’s a relationship that is thousands of years old, that only comes from you having explained the plot to me be- forehand. I’m not saying that you need to be introduced to their entire history immediately, but I think maybe some- thing needs to be said before they meet Samuel. Similarly, if they are old friends, there would be more of a banter-like exchange at times between two profes- sional friends.

Otherwise they seemed sound, Samuel seems very accepting of everything after he has died. He doesn’t seem to be told why he needs to tell his whole story to Coram, and he doesn’t seem like he feels any pressure to get into the after- life. If that makes sense? It just seems that could use some development. But the characters in the flashbacks read alright to me.

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context? I didn’t really see much supernatural

Section 4: Testing the narrative

imagery, unless you mean that a lot of things were misty and hazy. I feel that, however, would be rectified once more of the story is written and Samuel’s world in the pre-afterlife is further built up from his memories. I thought the part where she changes from an owl into a horse was good, especially the section of the world breathing in. So on the whole, what’s there seemed okay to me.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? Unless it is a children’s book, no book

can be improved with illustrations. This

is another Umberto Eco thing, I guess.

Reading Prague Cemetery the illustra- tions were just an annoyance.

Did you want to read more? Honestly, not really. It took a while to get into the story and it just didn’t strike me as my sort of book. I can see how much of an influence Eco has been on you. Saying that, however, I thought much the same thing about his books and finished them and found them enjoyable towards the end.

How would you feel if this book were

serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments?

It would frustrate me. Firstly, because I

like to read books in my own time, not in

a time dictated to me. And it would also

seem an overly pompous move at mak- ing it seem classical as the whole seri- alisation thing is very 1890s. If I started reading it and had the rest of the novel in front of me I’d keep going, if that was one part of a serialisation I probably wouldn’t seek out the next instalment.

Any other thoughts or comments. Samuel isn’t a great name. Samuel is the name of a dog not a book. I realise it’s a tentative title. But still. Also, as I’ve said, Coram and Cipher need some devel- opment to bring them up to speed with the rest of the story. The whole thing is essentially back story for one character, but the other principal characters need to be developed. I’m not sure most people would guess that Coram is a pychopomp.

‘I have a real issue with writers not using speech marks, as I feel it can too easily confuse. That you use marks for all characters other than Coram and Cipher seems a bit strange — it would seem to me at least that an abolition of speech or quote marks would be universal throughout the writing, as a style choice, rather than having marks assigned to certain charac- ters. If it is a case of living characters having speech marks, as they do in his recitations of his former life, would Samuel then lose them after he has died and become something of a spirit? Confusing.’

‘Coram and Cipher need some development to bring them up to speed with the rest of the story. The whole thing is essentially back story for one character, but the other principal characters need to be developed. I’m not sure most people would guess that Coram is a pychopomp.’

Geoffrey Bunting on the selective use of italics, speech marks etc. in the dialogue; and on the suc- cesses and failures of the characterisation.

Malcolm Jobling

Reader

Malcolm Jobling Reader Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices? Was not sure about this at first. The treatment did make me focus more fully on the dialogue at first, but after getting used to the changes I naturally accepted them. The storytelling and imagery you conjure is so powerful it overrides the treatment for me anyway.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’? The characters were real and believa- ble even though some were mythical. I wanted to know more about Baraona and Garza. You describe a very male dominated world though: Cifer as a female seems quite timid by com- parison. Love the text describing the relationship between Samuel and his brother and father.

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context? The supernatural mode is a good device by which to tell Samuel’s life story, and to contrast it with his afterlife journey. What really happened to make him a killer? Did his relationship with his father change? And what made his brother have to hunt him down? I want to know.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? Your text is strong enough and conjures up enough imagery on its own. So, no.

Did you want to read more? Yes. There are lots of unanswered ques- tions. What happens to Samuel to make him a killer? Where does he ‘go’ in the afterlife? Did Salbador actually kill his brother? And did Samuel really commit suicide later, or was he dead already? I want to know how this pans out.

How would you feel if this book were

serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments?

I wanted to read even more than you

sent me. So this would frustrate me greatly.

Any other thoughts or comments.

I love that you can almost smell these

characters. It makes me think of the darker characters of Dickens or Conrad.

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Rima Green

Reader

Conrad. Section 4: Testing the narrative Rima Green Reader Your thoughts on the treatment of the

Your thoughts on the treatment of the dialogue (use of italics, removal of quotation marks, retention of quo- tation marks.) Did they assist your understanding of the voices?

I prefer the use of italics, makes it much easier for me as I’m a more visual per- son.

Your thoughts on the characters. Were they believable? Did their voices ‘ring true’?

I loved the characters actually, not only

were they believable, you couldn’t help but connect with them emotionally. Even death being presented as a character rather than a notion was really exciting as I’d never know what to expect from him next, really.

Your thoughts on the imagery con- jured by the text, of the world of silver dreams. Despite its fantastic nature, did it seem plausible in context? Yes, it does ring true simply because there are things I could easily relate them to. I had an image of Coram being an angel.

Do you feel that the text might be improved with illustrations? It really depends on the illustrations, so far, having read it, the text or story line is strong enough to stand on its own. It really depends how they would be used and also what they look like.

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Did you want to read more? Yes, this is the type of fiction I like to read and enjoy reading. The fact that I didn’t want to take any notes after the first few pages is great because the sto- ry sucked me right in. Its not every day you get to read a conversation someone is having with death.

How would you feel if this book were

serialised – delivered in chunks with a week or so in-between instalments?

I would find the delay frustrating, just

because I would never know if I had time to read the continuation at a later time, what if I found another interesting book to read and put this aside, I’d rather have it all in one go.

Any other thoughts or comments. The writing styles of the beginning of the book and the continuation are so very

different, It caused a lot of confusion and

I asked myself repeatedly why you had

done that. I couldn’t help but compare the names and setting to books writ- ten by Márquez. I enjoy the dialogues very much and I enjoy short sentences generally when I read. I’m really looking forward to reading more soon.

‘The characters were real and believable even though some were mythical. You describe a very male domi- nated world though: Cifer seems quite timid by com- parison. But I love the text describing the relationship between Samuel and his brother and father.’

‘The writing styles of the beginning of the book and the continuation are so very different. It caused a lot of confusion and I asked myself repeatedly why you had done that. After that, the story sucked me right in. Its not every day you get to read a conversation someone is having with Death.’

Malcolm Jobling on the successes and failures of the characterisation; and Rima Green on the use of a deliberately different writing style for the prologue.

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Testing: Second round Feedback generated by live reading

By the time of the second round of testing, much had changed in the narrative in response to the first round (see Section 5, Iterating the Narrative). The main difference was that Samuel was now Elizabeth, and the book was now entitled No Time for Sorrow.

To obtain feedback on the sec - ond draft, an event was set up in an independent bookshop. To bring people to the event, a flyer was designed (see right) that also contained the blurb to the narrative on its reverse, and distributed by me during a day spent in the shop meeting customers and encouraging them to attend.

Ten people attended the event. Many people that had expressed an interest during flyering did not make an appearance in the end. The fact that attendance would mean reading aloud put many people off.

However, those that did attend were thus very keen to engage with the process, and this was to all our benefits.

I thought it was important that they read aloud, not only to engage them more profoundly with the narrative, but as an opportunity for me to hear my words read in a voice other than my own, and in a world beyond the safe limits of my office.

for me to hear my words read in a voice other than my own, and in

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Testing, second round. L-R: Craig Thomas, Richard Wallace (out of shot),

Testing, second round. L-R: Craig Thomas, Richard Wallace (out of shot), Nicholas Jeeves, Rob Berwick, Brenda Jobling, Malcolm Jobling, Simon Chambers, Anna Downer, Gary Meredith (obscured), Clara Nicoll

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative 37

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Introducing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Reading: Rob Berwick Reading: Brenda Jobling

Introducing the text: Nicholas Jeeves

Testing the narrative Introducing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Reading: Rob Berwick Reading: Brenda Jobling Reading:

Reading: Rob Berwick

narrative Introducing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Reading: Rob Berwick Reading: Brenda Jobling Reading: Malcolm Jobling 38

Reading: Brenda Jobling

narrative Introducing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Reading: Rob Berwick Reading: Brenda Jobling Reading: Malcolm Jobling 38

Reading: Malcolm Jobling

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Simon Chambers Listening: Anna Downer and Gary Meredith 39

Reading: Simon Chambers

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Simon Chambers Listening: Anna Downer and Gary Meredith 39

Listening: Anna Downer and Gary Meredith

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Gary Meredith Reading: Clara Nicoll Reading: Richard Wallace 40

Reading: Gary Meredith

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Gary Meredith Reading: Clara Nicoll Reading: Richard Wallace 40

Reading: Clara Nicoll

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Gary Meredith Reading: Clara Nicoll Reading: Richard Wallace 40

Reading: Richard Wallace

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Craig Thomas Reading: Anna Downer 41

Reading: Craig Thomas

Section 4: Testing the narrative Reading: Craig Thomas Reading: Anna Downer 41

Reading: Anna Downer

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Listening: Malcolm Jobling, Simon Chambers, Anna Downer, Clara Nicoll Discussing the

Listening: Malcolm Jobling, Simon Chambers, Anna Downer, Clara Nicoll

Malcolm Jobling, Simon Chambers, Anna Downer, Clara Nicoll Discussing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Discussing the text:

Discussing the text: Nicholas Jeeves

Downer, Clara Nicoll Discussing the text: Nicholas Jeeves Discussing the text: Craig Thomas, Nicholas Jeeves

Discussing the text: Craig Thomas, Nicholas Jeeves

Nicholas Jeeves Discussing the text: Craig Thomas, Nicholas Jeeves Discussing the text: Simon Chambers, Rob Berwick

Discussing the text: Simon Chambers, Rob Berwick

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Section 4: Testing the narrative Discussing the text: Anna Downer, Richard Wallace Discussing the text: Nicholas

Discussing the text: Anna Downer, Richard Wallace

the narrative Discussing the text: Anna Downer, Richard Wallace Discussing the text: Nicholas Jeeves, Simon Chambers

Discussing the text: Nicholas Jeeves, Simon Chambers

Section 4: Testing the narrative

Comments from reader Simon Chambers after the reading:

“The power of the morality tale – which this is — is that it starts us thinking about what it is to lead a moral life. Because we ordinarily don’t imagine that we’ll have this kind of afterlife experience, [when we read the story] we think about what we might need to do to if we did have to give an account of ourselves. And that is really stimulating. To ask our- selves, what can we learn from this imagined experi- ence of someone looking at our ledger at the end of our span? And how it could help us to do something like that, even in a small or unconscious way, during our time on earth. And this is fascinating, because it’s obviously unreal, the idea of talking to these shadowy creatures after you’ve died. But it’s also a nice device because it gets us to think, that maybe your life, my life, can be seen, maybe will be seen, as a thing, a narrative in itself. What was the begin- ning? What is the middle? What might be the end? What does it all add up to? It’s a really great way of holding that mirror up, and not waiting until the end when, as with Elizabeth, it might be too late.”

5

Section 5 Iterating the narrative

About this section

Naturally it is difficult, or impossible, to evidence each of the thousands of alterations I made to the manuscript across three drafts in response to the three rounds of feedback.

However, I did catalogue many of the major chang- es I made along the way — at least changes that occurred to me as being major at the time. But equally, in many ways the excision of whole chunks of text between drafts was also a major change, in that what was removed from the manuscript was significant in and of itself.

Some of these changes are listed on the following page. They represent a tiny percentage of what actually changed, but should give some idea as to how the process of testing impacted the whole shape and tone of the manuscript as it developed.

For the MA assessment process, the three full drafts are available for comparison.

Section 5: Iterating the narrative

In response to the first round of testing

— Cifer’s nature to be described more explicitly. (CR, BJ)

— Twilight world to be described more explicitly. (CR, BJ)

— Change of period and loca-

tion to be considered for second draft. (RC, WH)

— Illustration and serialisation formally abandoned. (CR, RC, AW, BJ, WH, GB)

— Reconsider chaptering mecha-

nism so Samuel’s narrative is not so harshly interrupted by Coram and Cifer’s chapters. (BJ)

— Reconsider description /

action of Samuel in death bed scene so as to clarify action. (BJ, GB)

— Reconsider Samuel’s reaction

to Coram’s arrival and his appar- ent acceptance of what happens next. (GB)

— Habits, mannerisms of charac-

ters to be used to better describe natures. (BJ)

— Despite appreciation for Garza,

he should be more equivocal and less obviously wicked. (NJ)

— Author’s voice should be

more-or-less neutral. Hard edit required, with ‘florid’ or archa- ic language kept to a minimum (WH). This may be helped by shifting the location away from Spain to England.

— “Plot should be advanced by

dialogue.” This mentioned in conversation with WH and in feedback from GB, and coinci- dentally backed up by a television interview with Howard Jacobson.

– Major question change based on above. The latest question — ‘How can I develop an original and viable narrative that more finely articulates the character- istics of the living voice?’ — is answered: the characteristics of the living voice are more finely articulated with finer articula- tion, not typography. Or, what dialogue reveals about character and intention in and of itself. The new question will disregard use of printed dialogic devices and focus on the specific content and context of the creative endeav- our, and secondarily question the role of morality tales in fiction. (RC, AW, WH, GB and Adele Geras — see Interviews)

— Major methodology change

based on above. Instead of writ- ing more chapters and seeking feedback on new material, itera- tions will take the form of second and third drafts of the 20,000 words already written.

— Consider that this is currently a male-dominated world (MJ). Text would indeed be improved by considering a change of sex for Samuel. If her were a woman, his/ her story would have much more impact.

In response to the second round of testing

— Inconsistencies in materials /

clothing / weaponry in terms of period to be addressed. (RW, SC, RB)

— Introduction of the letter from

William to Elizabeth a distraction at this point: better kept for later revelation. (AD)

— Question how many people

Elizabeth kills. She would begin to guess sooner that Pick cannot be destroyed this way. (RB)

— Question whether Elizabeth is,

in fact, telling the truth. Introduce suspicions that she may just be a psychopath. (RB, CT)

— Question why she is sent to

work as a clerk. This is an unu- sual thing for a girl to do if I am being period-consistent. (RW)

— Consider making entire text

period independent. (RW) Howev- er, the religious implication of su- icide are more interesting if there is a sense of religious importance

to the culture of the period. (SC)

— Text is still too adjective-heavy. Another harder edit would be welcomed. (CT)

— Be clearer about who is speak- ing and when, though not too much so. (CN)

6

Contents

Section 6 Interviews with writers and readers

About this section

48

‘A Kind of Spell’ Brenda Jobling, writer (fiction)

Despite this section appearing to be a series of structured discussions of thoughts and ideas con- nected to my own interests in storytelling, it is often

56

‘Honouring the Text’ Will Hill, scholar, writer (non-fiction)

rather the opposite. With the project being primarily a speculative one on my part, the interviews were

62

‘Illustration Can be a Nuisance’ Catherine Rowe, illustrator

subject to all the intellectual tides and diversions that such endeavours tend to effect.

69

‘Anything Done Well’ Steve Gorman, reader

During the first eighteen months of study for the MA, on many occasions I was not exactly sure what I was asking of myself, let alone my interviewees. (They were gracious enough not to point this out

74

‘To Read and Enjoy’ Adele Geras, writer (fiction)

and to let conversation take its natural course.) The result was that, despite so many of my thoughts and hunches about mythology, morality, orality, dia- logue, illustration and seriality being just out of my intellectual reach, we managed between us to shed clean light on some otherwise, for me, fuzzy-edged ideas.

This section catalogues these illuminations and all the diversions that challenged me in-between. Section 7 contains my thoughts and reflections on these, and how they informed the necessary chang- es of direction as I travelled.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Brenda Jobling:

A Kind of Spell

with writers and readers Brenda Jobling: A Kind of Spell Potters Bar, UK 22 March 2013

Potters Bar, UK 22 March 2013

Brenda Jobling is a writer of chapterbooks for seven to nine year-olds. Her books include The Adventures of Potters Bear, A Foxcub Named Freedom, Pirate the Seal and Goose on the Loose.

When was the first time you became con- scious of stories? Were you ever read to?

Yes, by my father, which was really, really important. My father was quite a remote figure to me, so it was time that I had with him. What he read to me, and what I think affected me very much, were two books:

Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass. He read them to me, and I was bought the books as well. And as an adult, when I’m very troubled and unhappy, these stories have manifested themselves in my own sense of unreali- ty… I disappear down the rabbit hole, with an obsessive immersion into reading and writing. Because I would use that when I was younger, when I found dealing with the world too much. Mum was unwell. I think she was probably an undiagnosed manic depressive. So I was brought up in an atmosphere of not quite knowing what was going on, at times. And I’d escape down the rabbit hole.

So there’s quite a clear connection be- tween the stories and your relationship with your father. It’s not just the stories for the stories’ sake – they represent a moment of connection with an important human being. And in a way that might not have been possible any other way – the stories allowed that to happen.

It was my time with him, when he came back. He was a commercial traveller. I think he’d been pretty well educated – his dad was an actor. I remember on Sunday morn- ings, mum and dad would be in their double bed, I’d be in my little divan. And he’d teach me lines from Shakespeare. So when this little thing bowled up for primary school re- citing bits of The Winter’s Tale, or Hamlet…!

Well, that’s what I wanted to ask you. Be- cause today Alice in Wonderland is per- ceived perhaps as a text for slightly older readers – certainly not pre-school. So how old were you when you were being read these stories? You must have been very young.

I was very young. They were words to

me that… I didn’t know what they meant, always. But I liked the sound of them, I liked the pattern they made. And there were other snippets… naming all the states of America. Odd bits of poetry. So I was sort of assembling this collage of life from little bits of this and… also, my mum was from south London, and she enjoyed a bloody good swear-up. I don’t know what they talked about for all those years. So that rubbed off on me as well.

So it’s at primary school where you would have begun reading for yourself…

I couldn’t. I was very behind. I had been real-

ly ill. They thought it was tuberculosis. I went off to a convalescent home, away from my parents for the first time. A bad experience. And when I came back to school, everyone was on book six, and I was halfway through book one. I found it all incredibly hard. I stut- tered. Maths went out the window. To this day I’m pretty well innumerate. Can’t give change or anything. The written word was a nightmare for me.

But between the stories being read to you as your primary exposure to narrative, and that moment when you can start reading stories for yourself… That’s an important moment for us all, isn’t it? Because then you no longer need to rely on the person who reads to you. Can you remember when you ‘graduated’, as it were – when you started reading stories for yourself?

Much, much later. I went through a sort of strange transitional period. I didn’t get any help… my mum perhaps would try to read with me. But I found it so hard.

I suppose in our culture, the oral tradition is merely an introduction to storytelling, and then you learn to do it for yourself. But in some other cultures the very point of the storytelling experience is that it’s shared – it’s read to you. So was your dad still reading to you at this point?

Yes. But because of his job he was often away. Still, I hung on to those two books, and would still disappear into them. All the pictures… including the ones I was afraid to look at. The jabberwock. They were very mystical to me. Books were a place that I went, but I didn’t read until I was quite a bit older. I was way behind. But what I was

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

starting to do was to make up stories for myself.

In your head, or on paper?

Both. I’d make up the stories in my head and I’d illustrate them. They were more like com- ics. I’d draw characters and then give them speech bubbles.

It’s easy to read into things that are not necessarily all that indicative. But that, on a very immediate level, would suggest that the most important thing that a character does is talk. Not talked about – but talking.

Giving them a voice, yes. I remember, my parents bought me a desk, a Triang desk, and it went in the corner of the little room. And the first thing I did was I opened the lid and I drew a chicken in its shell, with water lashing underneath, and a speech bubble coming out of its mouth saying ‘Ow’. And looking very perplexed.

So we’ve gone from being read to, to look- ing at the book – in terms of reading it but having some trouble reading it for yourself and looking more at the pictures – to in- venting stories on your own that are mostly based on pictures… and there’s something there that I can’t quite put my finger on. Both a link and a difference between the things that are said, and the things that are written, and the things that are shown. I wonder what part the illustration plays in this? How important were the illustrations to you?

At that time the illustration was vital.

Did your father show you those illustrations as part of his reading aloud to you?

Yes. And then I could look at the pictures when he wasn’t there, even if I couldn’t read the text. And I knew what the captions would say by heart.

And these were old picture books, were they? Where you had a single plate and a line of dialogue at the bottom.

That’s it. And the illustrations meant a lot to me. Because I could survive on those. They allowed another pathway into the story. As you say it was quite an advanced book to read… it really had to be read to me. Rather like you were saying earlier about Don

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Quixote, which is now considered a text for adult readers. I keep meaning to read Alice again because it’s so extraordinary, the way you can go through the looking glass for yourself. And to read it as an adult, with one eye and ear out for what’s going on here… but also to see how it feeds back into my life now.

I’m really interested in this journey of yours. From being read to, to being a reader, to being a writer. So you’ve started creating these stories for yourself… was there a point at which you thought you were now fully immersed in this? That this was it for you – you were a reader and a writer primarily?

[pauses] Not until I was at secondary school. When I was about thirteen.

And did you know then that reading and writing was going to be your life from now on?

1 Umberto Eco, Fou- cault’s Pendulum, Vintage 2001

2 Rumpole of the Bailey was a fictional barrister created by British author John Mortimer, and enjoyed considerable success as a television drama.

3 Tonbridge Grammar School for Girls, now Tonbridge Grammar School.

4 The Whitefriars Press, founded in 1896, would go on to be Tonbridge’s largest employer.

5 Beckenham School of Art, Kent

No, I didn’t know what was going to be my life. By that time my English was good but my maths was still appalling. I loved

drawing. And absolutely loved history. And

I couldn’t wait for composition homework.

I remember turning in a book while I was at

school. Filled a couple of exercise books

with it. A story about a Scottish trawler. It was called The Bloodstone, and it was about this stone that was very unlucky. I loved it.

And the teacher had really thought it was good, and was very encouraging. So she put it up for a thing called Honours. It goes to the headmistress, and she stamps it. Well,

I didn’t get it stamped. Instead she called

me in and said, ‘You didn’t write this.’ I said, ‘Yes, I did.’ And she said, ‘No, you didn’t.’ She knew that I had had all these detentions,

been sent out of class all the time. I was down as disruptive and annoying. So she refused to stamp it. Until my mother came up to the school. And mum said, ‘Well, if it

wasn’t her that wrote it, I don’t know who’s been sitting there all these evenings enjoying herself.’ They had a terrible argument and all the other things that I’d done at school came out. The experience made a big impression

on me.

So… this is hard to express. Perhaps, for a system of reasons, you become, in a sense, a person apart. I don’t mean superior, or

different… What I mean is, a sense that you felt different from others because of par-

ticular experiences. That the spaces you want to be in are not the spaces that other people seem to want you to be in. And that you come to like that. That was certainly the case for me. I could retrieve more for myself, and more pleasure from the world, by reading about worlds that weren’t real. Although I’d argue now that stories are just as much a part of the real world as ‘the real world.’ Like Umberto Eco says – perhaps fiction is the only path to reality. 1 It’s an extraordinary tool.

Yes. To feel that the written word has allowed you to experience something you might never otherwise experience. Yes, that really resonates. I walked a strange line at school. I was mates with all the bad girls, but I also knew that I always wanted to be doing more reading, more writing. I wanted to paint. For a bit I wanted to be a lawyer because I liked all the drama of it!

Like Rumpole? 2

Exactly! [laughs] But there was a lonely feeling, one that didn’t just come from being

an only child. Although I was rattling around

a home with only adult conversation around me, which must have affected me in some

way. I didn’t have a character of my own peer group to bump up against.

Another psychological graduation, I suppose, is that words and pictures, and perhaps some combination of the two, generated by you or responded to by you… they’re by now a central part of your life. Then you leave school, and you are being asked to make decisions for yourself on a much more profound basis. Did you have a moment like that, when it suddenly became a serious business? When did your art emerge as a serious endeavour?

Well, running directly alongside my love of reading and writing was a love of drawing. And it was that which was coming to the fore more and more. I applied for art college. But I had no idea of how it was meant to be. The

girls that left the school at Tonbridge 3 pretty well had the choice between going into the laundry, or if you’re a bit brighter, you go and work for Whitefriar’s Press. 4 So I think my mum had lined up a job for me there as

a tracer – blueprints. And my art mistress

said, ‘She’s not doing that,’ and gave me

a prospectus, and said ‘Go and apply to

Beckenham’. 5 So I went. I was on the voca-

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

On the use of dialogue in fiction:

“It’s a bit of magic, really. If the aim is to convey adventure, then the page- turning element, the excitement, is vital. Dialogue really helps with that. I like the tempo of things, and that rhythm, the tempo of the dialogue, is a manipulation of the reader for the reader’s benefit. It’s just like music in that sense. Dialogue is instant. If you start a story with dialogue you can immediately involve the reader. ‘Who left the tiger’s cage open?’”

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

tional campus. And that was the time that I realised I was no longer best in the class at this thing I was doing. Because now you’re in another class. And now you’re aspiring to what some of them are producing. There was also, for me, the kind of fear of breaking away from home. I suppose I’d been pretty sheltered. And you go to art school and walk through the door, and there’s this guy there with the biggest belt you have ever seen. [laughs] And he’s there looking, checking out all the girls, going, ‘You go this way, you go that way. I’m interested in you, I’m not inter- ested in you.’ Absolutely terrifying.

I’d like to get on to your writing career proper. When was your first book pub- lished?

The first book I wrote I also illustrated my- self, and we self-published it. We being my friend Maggie and I. We were mums, and we’d decided that we weren’t going to work, we were going to be mums and be with our kids. Watch them grow up and do stuff with ‘em. Then we realised that this was bloody hard work and we needed to do something else just to keep sane. By this time the kids were at school, and we’d produced some teddy bears to sell at the school to help them with funding. And out of this grew

a story about this character, Little Heath,

named after the school. And the kids were starting to show interest in him. So Maggie and I sat down and chatted about other areas like Brookman’s Park, Potters Bar and so on. Places that could also be names. And out of that came this idea of The Adventures of Potters Bear. 6

But it wasn’t just about the book, was it? Right from the beginning you were talking to children. You were doing more than the book, supporting it with other ideas. Why?

I wanted to see where it was going. It was a journey that we had envisaged. We imagined something that didn’t exist in those days.

A sort of coffee shop for mums and kids,

with interactive things, big bears that the kids could jump on, story readings… it was

a bit of a dream really, of a cottage industry

supported by the story.

6 Brenda Jobling, The Adventures of Potters

Bear and Friends, ISBN-

I think this is really important. Obviously, if you’re published, you have obligations. But from the start, you were much more interested in a narrative experience that

0951368206 was bigger than just the book.

It was about kids having access to books, to toys, to ideas. We wanted to expose them to stories in lots of ways.

Did those experiences inform how you wrote books later on? When it did become a more private experience, when you were writing for literary agents and publishers, and the books were being sold on a more formal commercial basis. What did you learn?

It informed the way that I wrote insofar as I would correct things I’d written after I’d read them out loud. I realised that I was writing about these little teddy bears that were actually quite adult in some ways. So when it came to readings, I’d correct the books as I went along. Often making it simpler, more direct. Then I had one experience with a school that led me to rewrite the whole thing from scratch so there was more chance that they could read it for themselves. I had done the CS Lewis thing quite naturally: until that point I had never written for an age group, I had just written a story. I felt, and feel, that if it has real worth it will be read by many age groups. Like Alice in Wonderland. But it still needs to be clear, well-written.

Maybe that was an influence from your father? You liked the big words even when you were too young to understand them. But today there’s a great trend for making sure people understand things, isn’t there? Like with test screenings for movies. If there’s something the response group doesn’t understand, that’s seen as a bad thing. I’m not sure there’s anything bad about not understanding something. Can I tell you a story?

Of course!

When I was about nine or ten, in the sum- mer holidays my dad used to take me to work sometimes, to his office in London. One of the secretaries would bring in one of those enormous leather chairs, like executives had in the eighties. And my dad had his big desk up the other end of the room. And I’d sit there quietly and read my book. And one day I was reading my book and I came across a word I didn’t under- stand. So I said, ‘Dad, what’s a brothel?’ [Brenda falls about laughing] And he went bright red and said, ‘It’s a place where men pay to have sex!’ So I got the answer but he was so embarrassed…

That’s amazing!

What I’m getting at is that I liked the fact that I didn’t understand all the words. I didn’t want to be in a space in which I understood everything. I never felt that I wanted to read a book that represented me. In fact, I wanted exactly the oppo- site. I wanted something that represented everything that wasn’t me. It’s why the Greek myths had such a powerful effect on me as a child. Because it all seemed to be true, but I also had an inkling that it wasn’t. And of course, I didn’t really understand the context of Zeus or Cronos or Hercules or whoever… I didn’t understand it but I somehow knew that it would be better if I did understand it. Is that something you can relate to?

Well, like I said, I wasn’t a great reader. I was incredibly slow. And even when I could read well… I loved the drama side of things, I re- ally loved that. Really, I just loved words. For themselves. I used to get the old Reader’s Digest, and there was always a little box at the bottom of a page that said, ‘Learn some new words.’ So I’d learn these and take them to school. While all my mates were out snogging boys, I’d be sitting there learning new words. What a loser! And I’d be drizzling these words over conversations, often totally out of context. But that’s how I learned, as you say, by not understanding and then coming to understand.

Can we talk about ways of talking, or tell- ing? It strikes me that there are two basic ways of telling stories, separated by quite a gulf between them. There’s the story written by the author about things that happened – this happened, that happened – but without much in the way of dia- logue. And then there’s the story that uses dialogue as a way to develop the story. And I’m sort of playing a hunch here, but I wonder if the use of dialogue in a story is a way of replacing or… maybe not replacing, but… as a way of submitting to the oral tradition in print, so we feel like a living conversation is being had.

Absolutely. Yes, I think that dialogue is im- mediate.

It’s happening now.

Yes. It’s an instant. The first three stories I did, I used a lot of description. I like descrip-

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

tion. There was dialogue, but there was a lot of description as well. The telling of the story, the reported action. When I went on to do these books about a vet, I decided I would do just the opposite. I decided to use speech to tell the story, as much as possible. So that when I did use description, it would exist to set more of a mood. For instance, if you start a story with dialogue, you can immediately involve the reader. ‘Who left the tiger’s cage open?’

So immediately you’ve got a problem that needs to be solved. It’s a brilliant opening line. You’re fully involved straightaway.

Yes, and then the dialogue can be used to move us along, telling the story in the moment.

I like this idea of the moment. Time-trav- elling, powered by words. Because when text is reported, it’s inevitably taking place in a historical context – once upon a time. But dialogue does make it immediate, as you say. This is happening now, even if it is happening in the past.

It’s a bit of magic, really. If the aim is to convey adventure, then the page-turning element, the excitement, is vital. Dialogue really helps with that. You see, I like the tempo of things, and that rhythm, the tempo of the dialogue, is a manipulation of the reader for the reader’s benefit. I learned very quickly with the first book I wrote for Scholastic that as soon as you’ve got them to the end of a chapter, just when you’ve got them hanging on, then you immediately take them to a quieter place. Then you slowly start to wind them up again. It’s just like music in that sense. Maybe I wouldn’t call it magic… but it is a kind of spell. There’s a pact that you enter into, between the writer and the reader. It’s an enchantment. It’s almost impossible to define exactly. It’s the invisible part of the constituent parts.

Rather like that idea in A Short History of Nearly Everything. 7 That if you picked yourself apart with tweezers, atom by atom, what you would be left with is a pile of atoms, none of which had ever been alive, but all of which had once been you.

Just like that. There must always be a bit that’s not quite understood.

The science of exceptions.

7 Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything, Black Swan

2004

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Exactly! Why is it that some things in life just affect you, to the point of tears?

My life wouldn’t be improved by someone explaining that to me.

No. It would add nothing to the experience. You’re right, it’s the very not understanding that’s so attractive about it. That’s the secret pact. You could look at it in a spiritual way, a mystical way. The essence of a thing that runs through it, that brings all those constit- uent parts together to make them work, to act and to respond.

We’re with the Greek myths again. Perhaps that’s what the gods were – the essences of things. Artemis being the energy, the thrill, the skill of the hunt…

…Personified. Yeah. They’re archetypes. Artemis, the elusive huntress. You only ever get a glimpse of her. Absolutely.

I wanted to ask you about this. I’m very

interested in semiotics, the way we read things, signs and symbols. Is your work, whether writing or illustration, designed to be ‘read into’ – that the work means some- thing beyond the procedure of the story?

In some ways. The attraction is there. I once wrote a story about foxes, because I was so enraged about fox hunting. 8 I wanted to get right into the undergrowth, to understand what senses they experienced during a hunt, what it felt like to be afraid. So we’re talking about what happened, but also how those things feel. I don’t know that it’s always im- portant. But I wanted my readers to consider the injustice of what was happening through feelings. Consequences. The archetypes that we talked about, they are present in all stories. And because we all have unique experiences of life – how life affects and shapes us – the story should bring these ideas and memories into play for the reader, for themselves.

8 Brenda Jobling, A Foxcub Named Free- dom, Scholastic 1995

9 I am mostly referring to two editions here: Peter Ackroyd’s new transla- tion (Penguin Classics, 2012) and Nevill Coghill’s mid-century translation (Penguin Classics, 1951)

I often think that writers, if they are not

explicitly asking, then they are implicitly asking, for an investment of time from the

reader after they’ve finished reading. I’m thinking a lot about this. That the greatest stories are ones that require as much read- ing as writing.

Absolutely. Because it’s such a weighty thing that’s being offered to you. There’s a getting

to grips with what’s really going on. Like Alice. Like in your Canterbury Tales.

Can we talk about The Canterbury Tales? 9 One of the very many reasons that, for me, it’s a perfect book, is that one minute we’re listening to a tale about ancient, noble princes, and the next a story about some- one accidentally snogging an arse.

[laughs] It’s got everything!

It moves from the sublime to the ridiculous without you even noticing. It speaks to me about the commonalities between human beings, whatever your station in life. And that the story, the story itself, is what binds us all. Like I said, for me it’s the perfect book. Or at least, a perfect book: it’s a narrative about narratives; it references mythologies; all the stories are delivered orally by the characters; it’s written in the vernacular; it wasn’t collected as a single volume at its inception…

It would have been read orally… and serially.

Exactly. And best of all it still remains popular after six hundred years, which is astonishing.

It’s so relevant. It’s today. If you turn the tele- vision on you’ll see it all on the soaps.

And I just think the structure of the book – different people’s tales as they travel to- gether – is such a fantastic mechanism. We have a reason that they are together, and we have a reason for them to tell their fa- vourite stories. And even though it’s a book of shorter stories, there’s a larger narrative at play, at which Geoffrey Chaucer is at the centre. But you could still publish all of The Canterbury Tales separately – you could read just The Miller’s Tale and be totally happy with that. You’d lose nothing. But when you read them all together, there’s a greater reward. Sorry, I’m evangelising!

No, not at all. It’s fine, it’s fine. But I want you to tell me about your story. How does it relate to The Canterbury Tales?

Well, my story is set on the river Styx, os- tensibly. The river that you have to cross to move between death and the afterlife. And my central character is the psychopomp, the character who ferries you across this space.

He’s a guide across this transitional phase.

Yes. He’s a therapist! Jung talks about this, actually: how the river Styx is a classical analogue for the space between the con- scious and unconscious worlds. That life and death is immediately analogous to that.

It is – a thin membrane.

So I have a psychopomp. But he’s not really sure of his position. He’s not a god. He’s not dictating anything. He’s not testing your morality. These things have already been decided. He’s just there to see you through to the next space you’re going to be in. And he has a familiar, that normally takes an an- imal form. And before they meet the person who has just died, they’re very conscious that they’re wearing the right clothes, that they’re taking the right form. What would make the deceased more comfortable? And when the dead person arrives, he might be very angry, or upset, or confused. So the psychopomp’s role is not to judge, but to kindly ask the appropriate question.

Just like a therapist does. There’s no judg- ment.

Right. So they take this journey, the ge- ography of which is defined by what the deceased is expecting to see. And they all have a story they need to tell, the story of their life, so that they can graduate. But when they do, and they move on to the af- terlife, the psychopomp is left alone again. He’s always alone. He’s always in company, because he always has dead souls to ac- company. But he’s actually very alone. He only ever speaks to dead people. He only speaks to people that have lived, never people who are alive.

He knows how to do his job. But he’s never sure… he just wants to help.

That’s right. And it’s the dead person who decides what they want to talk about.

Like with therapy. The patient bring what they want. What they need. Bloody hell. Really exciting. I’d love to read it.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Will Hill:

Honouring the Text

with writers and readers Will Hill: Honouring the Text Cambridge, UK 3 April 2013 Will Hill

Cambridge, UK 3 April 2013

Will Hill is a designer and typographer. His practice, research, and much of his teaching centres upon typography, letters, and the visual form of language. He is the author of The Complete Typographer (3rd Edn., Thames & Hudson 2010) and co- author of Art and Text (Black Dog 2009).

When did you become interested in typo- graphic design?

From quite an early age I knew I was going to work in visual art and design of some kind. But equally I knew that language and writing were going to have quite an impor- tant part to play in that. The first kind of con- clusion that I drew from that was to lead me to illustration. That this was a logical meeting point of two things that I was passionately interested in. Typography and letter design came much later than that. But I guess the thing that they have in common is that ques- tion of giving visual form to language, or to stories. But initially it was through the idea of illustration. And that’s something I remember

first articulating – the first time I gave that as an answer when someone asked what I was planning on doing with my life – when I was about fifteen. Which is pretty early, I think, to be defining an area like illustration. What

I meant by it at that time, or what I though I

meant by it, and what I then went on to do, were possibly quite different things. But I think also that because, as an illustrator, and

an editorial illustrator rather than a narrative illustrator, I was interested in illustration as an analytical medium. As a medium for teas- ing out subtexts, or for presenting a different perspective on the content, and using visual methods and strategies to do that. But also,

I think, alongside that, and developing some

sort of craft and competence as an illustra- tor, the visual form of language was always there as well, in the sense that I always loved letters, the way that the stuff looked.

The genesis of this is important. What was your first exposure to the printed word?

I started reading pretty early. This is the

first time I’ve ever really thought about this. I’d have to check with mum. But I think my reading age was relatively advanced. I was reading quite big texts when I was ten, elev- en. I would have read The Lord of the Rings when I was about eleven. And that’s fairly hefty. That would be one example. Some- thing I’ve only realised quite recently – and

this is through talking about books as part of one’s childhood and teenage years – I realise how, in a sense, how un-analytical and un- discriminating my reading was at that age. I read a huge amount, but in this very kind of unexamined way. I was reading for narrative and character almost exclusively.

So you weren’t reading much non-fiction?

No, not really. And the thing that strikes me now is that, in my teens, I was reading quite sophisticated stuff in quite a horribly unsophisticated way. Like with Steppen- wolf, which you mentioned earlier. There are things you think you get at the time, but actually completely fail to get. And then you go back to it later and think, ‘Is this the same book that I read back then? You know, that the only things it’s got in common are the characters and the plot-line. But the idea of any kind of analysis, or any sense of… and this is quite strange to me, as a visual person and someone who’s interested in the visual structure of things, and how things like books and stories, which have a struc- ture of their own… that completely passed me by. I would have been about twenty before that dawned on me. That you could actually think about the way that a book or

a series of books was constructed. And to

think of that in structural terms, and do so visually.

Can you give me an example?

I’m thinking of one example… the way that Lawrence Durrell talks about the four vol-

umes of the Alexandria Quartet 1 as having

a sculptural… I meant to say structural, but

sculptural will do. He talks about the books as having three-dimensional form but… I’d have to check this, but I think he describes

the books as having three sides of space and one of time. And that that’s the way these four volumes relate to each other. And that fascinated me, but also came as a complete surprise, when I realised you could think about the very construction of a story in visual terms.

I’m keen to find out when you became aware of the book as an object, rather than just the carrier of a story. It’s visual impact as a printed thing, with form.

A-ha. Well, I was in quite a bookish house- hold, so books were always around. The idea of a book being a thing that you picked

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

up and read was an everyday sort of idea. So that sense of a physical apprehension of the book, that was probably there before I could read. And because of that, a lot of the things that I suspect you’re talking about went relatively unexamined. For quite a long time. You know, books were books.

When did they get examined?

Really quite late on. I would say… [pauses to think]. Well, there are also odd incidentals. Being a privileged kid, I was at a school that had an amazing library. And I remember that in this amazing library there was, for God’s sake, a copy of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. About yay big – holds hands about three feet by two – and I remember that someone once dropped it from the upper balcony of the library, and it would very probably have killed anyone walking under- neath. So yes, some sense of the materiality of books must have seeped in. But not as something that really interested me that much until, I suppose, late adolescence. I suppose that the idea of books as things that have occult properties – magical, or mystical properties – I do remember a bit of that in some of the ideas that I was playing with, and discarding, in my first year at art school. And an attempt to make visual prac- tice connect with some of the other things that were interesting to me, but that didn’t actually achieve any kind of satisfactory resolution. But all that probably comes later on in the script. I haven’t given you a very satisfactory answer, either.

I think the connection I’m trying to draw… for me there’s a connection between the story as heard, the story as read, and story as it looks on a page. Illustration seems to be the bridge in all this – that it carries the weight of the story when the words, heard or read, aren’t available.

That’s really interesting. And it’s a bit like the role of religious imagery, stained glass windows, rubrications and illuminations in bibles for a non-literate public. That it’s akin to an aide memoir that’s parallel to the text. Something else that’s probably important for me… you mentioned being read to, and certainly there were books and stories that were read to me. But also there were stories that my mother made up for me. And not just stories, but one quite long sustained serial, an episodic children’s novel, never written down. And this would have been when I was

1 Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet is a tetralogy of novels published between 1957 and 1960. The first three books describe the same sequence of events seen from several points of view; the fourth book describes how the per- ception of these events has changed over time.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

about five going on six. So that was impor- tant. And of course that didn’t have any kind of printed form at all. The things that you’re also concerned with here, about orality, about spoken narrative, that’s certainly part of the picture for me as well.

This is what I’m starting to suspect gen- erally. That in our culture the oral tradition is there merely as a gateway to allow us to read for ourselves. That it’s designed to come to an end. And that idea of reading for oneself is a psychological graduation. Whereas that’s not necessarily the case in other times and cultures.

And it wasn’t the case for me, because the spoken made-up stories were happening after I was reading for myself.

So you were conscious that these were two separate things? That there was reading, and there was being read to.

The thing about it is that, because of these episodic bits of the story that my mother was making up during the day ready for the evening… the thing that was different about that was that I couldn’t read forward. Because it was locked up. The next episode wasn’t going to be broadcast until tomorrow. It’s rather like Dickens, and that great story about the ship coming in to the harbour at New York with the next episode of the book on board, and people crying, ‘Is Little Nell dead?’ 2

2 Charles Dickens’ Master Humphrey’s Clock was a weekly serial. Dickens’ American readers were reported to have stormed the piers of New York City, shout- ing to arriving sailors (who might have already read the last instalment in England), “Is Little Nell alive?”

3 The heavily illustrated Children’s Encyclopædia was published by the Educational Book Com- pany from 1908 to 1964.

I’m very interested in that, actually. The idea of serialisation, of delayed gratifica- tion being a part of storytelling. And also what role illustration may play in that, par-

ticularly for adults.

Curiously, seeing as how important illustra- tions were for me as a gateway for what I went on to do, there wasn’t… I can’t think back to one single, hugely influential illus- trated book from my childhood. I remember that I liked a lot of detail. I loved a lot of Victorian engravings. The Children’s Ency- clopædia. 3 That was amazing, mainly be- cause of the huge range of kinds of imagery, of all the processes used to make them. Line drawing – that kind of jobbing line engraving

and descriptive illustration – that period still really fascinates me. It explains itself so fully. And one of the things that I looked to in pic- tures in books was to explain stuff. I suspect that that’s something that, culturally, has

shifted hugely over the last fifty years or so. The burden that was upon books fifty years ago… the job that books had to do then was a far more wide-ranging and inclusive task, because it covered so many things that we would now expect screen-based media to provide. When you think about it, late 1950s, early 1960s… it was a very low-stimulus culture. And the availability of any visual information of any kind was amazingly thin by comparison. And so the capacity to seize upon stuff that does actually seem to pro- vide interesting visual explanation of stuff, that is brought into focus much more.

There are two things there I feel I need to

resolve. Firstly it’s the idea that the written word is not enough. That an illustration is

a crucial part of understanding something

for you. And secondly, that despite having

a great appetite for reading, you’re describ- ing yourself as a visual person.

But the thing is, at about age twelve or thirteen, I wrote and I drew. And I did both really badly. Badly in the sense that… not in the sense of just plain bad writing or bad drawing, but in the sense that the relation- ship between what I was doing and what I thought I was doing was so disconnected. The point that I’m making is that at that age, the main reason you do those things is to construct an identity, to construct a per- sona. And being the person who drew was the persona that I constructed. And I was at a place where there were more people who wrote than who drew. But I don’t think that I had that kind of overwhelming interest in recording the observable world. People who I knew, who I still think of as being real drawers among illustrators and artists, the people who have the sketchbook habit, who are primarily interested in using drawing to record the world they see – I have a huge admiration for that. But I have never been that kind of creature at all.

What kind of creature were you?

Drawing to invent, or to create some kind of synthesis of stuff that I had read about and stuff that I had seen. There was mimicry both direct and indirect. When I was at school there was a graphic artist to be, called Adam Cornford, who was about four years older than me. He was very facile, very accom- plished in a kind of drawing that was very mannered, very technically detailed and pre- cise, that had elements of Beardsley about

it, something rather decadent and pre-Raph- aelite and fantastical about it. He was much better at that kind of thing than I ever got to be. But we were the guys with the 0.1 Rapidographs, doing the obsessive thing that people would look at and go, ‘wow.’ The point about this is that it was less about be- ing interested in the visual world, or indeed in art, than constructing a persona. I suspect I was more interested in artists than art, and that that may be a more interesting life.

And which artists were you interested in?

Well, how far back? Where it gets interesting is quite a bit further on. At the time it was rather like furnishing a room. Stuff that I was gathering around me was a bit of Aubrey Beardsley, 4 a bit of pre-Raphaelite stuff, and a bit of pop art Victoriana thrown in. But that was what was in the air at the time. That slightly psychedelic re-imagining of the nineteenth century was all the rage. Pretty much on the high street. And that’s why I’m resistant to giving it too much importance, except with that idea of synthesis.

A sort of syncretic approach to art.

Yeah. I couldn’t give myself that much credit with what I was doing. I was just picking up pretty baubles.

Let’s move on. By the time you’re at art school, and illustration as a career occupa- tion appears to be the way forward for you, you said that this was more likely to have raised its head in an editorial rather than narrative sense.

Well, that’s the route that I took. The things that I got interested in as a student were not so much narrative ideas. And at the time, they were not necessarily considered illus- tration ideas either. What seemed to qualify as illustration in those days was quite a lot more conservative than it is now. So I went from being an illustrator, slightly misaligned with the culture of my foundation course, to being someone who was generally thought of as someone who was much too ‘fine art’ and probably just a bit too damned intellec- tual to be on an illustration course. The move towards editorial was, I guess… that came about because in the mid-1970s, the people who were doing interesting things in illus- tration, people with whom I felt some sense of possible kinship, were happening in and around editorial. Certainly in the seventies,

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

more risky stuff was being commissioned by magazines. You would get people who were at the Royal College, people like Russell Mills, Rob Mason… there was something going on that didn’t really conform to pre-ex- isting notions of what illustration looked like. Lots of other less-recognised names. Mark Trevithick, who’s vanished from sight. So editorial was the only place where I felt I was likely to get published.

Is this where ideas of page design, of let- terforms and typographic design, start to come through for you?

Yes, I guess. The people who really turned around my ideas about what making visual things was really about, and linking them to the world of ideas, one was contemporary and one was already in the past: Tom Phillips 5 and Kurt Schwitters. 6 Those were the people whose work altered all my senses of the possibilities of text and image.

So does your work now begin to call on more text-based ideas at this point?

Yes. But what I would say there is that any illustration worth a damn considers text any- way. It’s not merely an adjunct or decoration. If it’s doing its job, it’s providing an interpre- tive complement to the text. It’s an interline- ar medium, if you like. Therefore the intelli- gence of any illustrator’s work is in looking at only those aspects of the text that can be better made apparent visually than with language alone. I once wrote a piece, one of the first bits of reflective writing that I’d done about illustration, for a journal called Private View. The example that I gave was that it’s a lot easier to say, or to write, ‘fifty-thousand elephants’ than it is to draw them; but if you were describing the alignment of snooker balls on a table, to do that in spoken form would be ridiculous and exhausting. So to be an illustrator, you must really understand language.

So when did your practice evolve into a graphic arts, or graphic design practice? When did you become an ex-illustrator?

There was actually a huge gap between stopping illustration and beginning a more typographical practice. A gap taken up mainly by teaching. The shift for me from il- lustration to typography, as a practice, came in the 1990s. It was a pragmatic, circum- stantial thing, to do with economics. There

4 Beardsley (1872 – 1898) was an English illustrator and author. He was a leading figure in the Aes- thetic movement and is perhaps best known for his illustrations for Oscar Wilde’s play Salome.

5 Tom Phillips is an Eng- lish artist born in 1937. In A Humument Phillips drew, painted, and collaged over the pages of W. H. Mallock’s 1892 novel A Human Docu- ment, leaving selected parts of the original text to show through and thereby creating a new story.

6 Kurt Schwitters (1887 – 1948) was a German artist who often used poetry, painting, graphic design and typography to create complex and richly textured collages.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

was a lot of learning on the job. But because of that, without knowing it I was equipping myself with a knowledge base, a set of skills that could moderate the limitations of a career in illustration at that time. I was impa- tient and curious, and I liked finding ways of making things work.

So, at the centre of your work, there’s this idea of an intellectual rigour, of systems of discovery.

Sometimes it’s about pure method. I’m fasci- nated by the mechanics of things. That’s one component, ideas of mastering technique. The other component is almost its exact op- posite. Of what happens with processes that are by definition not fully controllable. This is why there’s been this ongoing preoccupation with me with the idea of grids and systems and structures, how they can help to define and focus the areas where the intuitive or the arbitrary or the unbidden can then come into play.

This is leading to a much clearer picture. And I’m glad we’re on to grids and page systems. Can we talk about page design itself? What’s the role of page design when it comes to a narrative text?

The answer for that is different for every job, for every book. The extent to which the visual experience of it is significant varies greatly.

7 Barbara Crossley, The Triumph of Kurt Schwitters, Armitt Trust Ambleside 2005

8 David Pearson is a British designer, perhaps best known in the UK for his cover designs for the Penguin Great Ideas series of books.

But it’s always significant?

Um… no. I’m saying it’s the extent of the significance. And that extent is variable on a scale from which, at one end, there is no real significance at all. But those are the things that a designer doesn’t really get called upon to do, because those are the pages that can go straight to a typesetter without any mediating design presence at all. The ways

in which typographic decision making takes

on a paratextual function happens on a lot of

different levels. It can occur at the connota-

tive and associative level, thinking less about the actual forms of letters but considering the visual texture of a text set in a particu- lar typeface on a page. Which is cultural,

historical, and part of the stock-in-trade, the intellectual palette of any competent design- er. So the extent to which you go down that path is going to vary with the nature of the job. It’s not a dressing up chest: ‘Well, it’s

a 16th century text, I’ll use a 16th century

typeface.’ But you probably wouldn’t set it in Helvetica either.

Is the design of a page of text a deal-break- er for you?

Sometimes, if it’s really bad. I’ve got a little rogues’ gallery here of really bad examples. There’s a book called The Triumph of Kurt Schwitters, 7 and it’s the most diabolically badly-designed thing at every level.

Is it interrupting?

Yes, in the sense that it uses a typeface in which particular letters intrude. I mean, it’s using ITC Isbell, which is not a book face by any stretch of the imagination. It has a bunch of little quirks that get in the way, and which you notice every time there’s a lower case ‘a’. It’s everything you don’t look for in a book face. At a legibility level it’s really poor. At a readability level it’s about the same. The line measure is too long, it’s totally unsym- pathetic to the act of reading.

David Pearson 8 talks about this. That if you’re setting a novel, really, Monotype Dante or Columbus, ten and a half over twelve and a half – why would you go any- where else?

Exactly. I would say that I’m not precious about it, although it might sound as though I am. But the adequate, functional, efficient trade paperback, I’m perfectly happy with. As long as the typeface doesn’t get in the way of the text, it’s job done. Then there are matters of nuance that make reading more pleasurable, more continuous. And I’m not talking about particularly aesthetic ideas, just anything – word spacing, line spacing, measure, justification – that minimises inter- ruption.

So the size of the book, the text setting, the position of the text on the page – it’s really just about providing safe passage for the reader.

And it’s about serving and honouring the text. There are instances when this becomes a huge aesthetic project in its own right.

Like Tristram Shandy?

Well, the idea of the visually experimental book is a whole other thing. I just meant the idea of the connoisseur book, the fine book.

But I can be quite ambivalent about that, too, because I also don’t want the aesthetic experience to get in the way of the text.

That’s really interesting. That despite your passion for typography, your passion for language and writing supersedes it.

Because typography and page design is about fitness for purpose. In a lot of cases, the writing, the language is a completed thing. It exists in a totally finalised, resolved form before it’s been typeset. So the amount of margin for the design process to enhance it is minimal, and that’s as it should be. On the other hand, you have the collaboration between writer and designer, where the writing and designing become much more integrated and much more simultaneous. But that’s quite an unusual and rarefied field. What’s imperative is treating the text, and the reader, with all due respect.

It’s a system of good manners.

Yes.

Let’s talk about your own type foundry. Which we should explain is imaginary, and indeed is called La Fonderie Imaginaire. Why ‘Imaginaire’? And does the fact that it’s imaginary make it a story?

It’s an idea that I’ve been playing with for a while. In a sense it’s both expedient and fan- ciful. At a practical level, it’s a kind of repos- itory for projects that would be unfeasibly time consuming to bring to actual realisation. The design of typefaces interests me very much, but not to the extent of being one of those guys for the whole of my working life. I have more sort of speculative ideas about what a set of letters might look like than I have the time to carry those through the huge amount of iceberg that exists under the waterline of any typeface: to actually create the full OpenType set with all its thousands of glyphs. So it’s that, but also the plan for the La Fonderie Imaginaire is that it’s a kind of brand under which I can distribute stuff that I make but which is kind of tangential to the rest of my practice. But also, you’re right, it’s a fiction. And the influences, the things that it connects up with… it occupies the counter-world of unrealised possibilities. Which is something I’m increasingly inter- ested in. So something like La Fonderie Im- aginaire sends us little dispatches from that counter-world. So it connects up with people

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

and pieces of work that I’ve been interest- ed in for some time. Marcel Broodthaers and the Department of Eagles 9 would be one example of that, and of course Donald Evans 10 and his design of postage stamps for imaginary countries. Edward Gorey, 11 who I love and lecture about. With Gorey, as well as designing a lot of books and book

jackets, he also designed covers for a lot of imaginary novels. Another big influence, and someone who plays into this as well, is Saul Steinberg, 12 the whole premise of Passport,

a book of graphic work that’s about fictitious

attribution and false identity.

Are these lines of enquiry that can only work in an imaginary space?

Well I think that’s true of so much fiction.

But not of typography.

That’s true. There was a good interview with Brian Eno, where he talks of art as being

a false world in which we conduct experi-

ments, the equivalent of which would be too dangerous to carry out in day-to-day life. There are also ideas of radical eclecticism. And I do just like the idea of spinning out a fictitious, elaborate backstory.

But why does this interest you so much?

I’m not sure. When I first discovered that idea in Steinberg’s work, it was another of those kind of lightbulb moments. And it maybe also ties in with my uneasiness of the idea of art as direct personal expres- sion. Because I don’t really buy that. I think the self which is being expressed is almost unavoidably a fictitious one. This is inter- esting, this conversation, as I’m now seeing links between different aspects of past and present practice which I haven’t been aware of before. Of juvenilia, of the stuff I was do- ing as a teenager, and that idea of forging a persona. But equally the idea that that is just what artists do. We all live lives based on selected fictions, and any reasonably mature creative practice acknowledges that fact.

9 Marcel Broodthaers (1924 – 1976) was a Bel- gian poet, filmmaker and artist. The Department of Eagles was a concep- tual museum created in Brussels in 1968.

10 Donald Evans (1945– 1977) was an American artist known for creating hand-painted postage stamps of imaginary countries.

11 Edward Gorey (1925 – 2000) was an Amer- ican writer and artist noted for his often rather disturbing and unsettling illustrated books. He enjoyed using bizarre pseudonyms.

12 Saul Steinberg, The Passport, Harper

and Brothers New York

1954

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Catherine Rowe:

Illustration Can be a Nuisance

and readers Catherine Rowe: Illustration Can be a Nuisance Cambridge, UK 4 April 2013 Catherine Rowe

Cambridge, UK 4 April 2013

Catherine Rowe is an illustrator. Working in scraperboard, she primarily selects animals and their twilight activities as her subject of choice.

When did stories first appear in your life?

I asked my mum about this recently, whether

she read to me as a child. Because I don’t remember at all. She said, ‘Of course I did! What kind of mother would I be if I didn’t?’ [laughs] But I really don’t remember being read to. I remember reading, having lots and lots of books.

What were those books, and when were you reading them?

Well, we lived in our first house until I was five, and when I think of those early memo-

ries of reading, it’s there. And I do know that

I read before I went to primary school. I have

two older sisters. The eldest, she’s five years older than me and she was a prolific read- er. As was my other sister, actually. I was probably a bit behind them, in terms of how early they were reading. So we had loads of books in the house, because of them. Mainly picture books.

Do you remember any in particular?

I loved Mog the Cat 1 and I remember really

loving the pictures. And when I think about

it now, I probably wasn’t really reading, as we might understand it as grown-ups. I was more just enjoying the pictures, which

I suppose you would as a child. You know, I

was actually scared of picture books, too. I had this one book, I don’t remember what it was – a fairy tale about a giant behind a big wall, and the children who weren’t allowed to go near it…

Oscar Wilde – The Selfish Giant. 2

That’s it. And I had this book, and in it was this illustration of the giant with really long

hair, and I was so terrified of it I hid the book in the wardrobe. I was scared of loads of my

books!

The being scared thing is really interest- ing. When I was talking to Brenda Jobling, a writer for younger readers, she talked

about Alice in Wonderland, and how the illustrations that particularly gripped her were the scary ones. I remember the same thing in my childhood. One of my favourites was a Ladybird book called Underwater Exploration. 3 And on one page there was this terrifying image of a shark, and I would turn the pages knowing it was coming. But compelled to keep turning the pages. I think fear is a crucial part of a reading experience. There must be peril – someone must want something, and it must be dan- gerous for them to go and get it.

Yes, I think so. When you talk about the shark in your Ladybird book, it reminded me of a book I had called Twinkle Twinkle Choc- olate Bar. 4 I absolutely loved it. But there was one short poem in it about an escalator, about a child getting swallowed up by it. And the illustration showed the escalator with a giant mouth at the end. I was absolutely ter- rified, but I kept going back to it. But I’d also try and be casual about it [laughs], like if I was with my sister or my mum, I’d be des- perately pretending not to be scared of it.

One of the things that I’m trying to get to the bottom of is the effect of the reading experience on an individual, and the role of illustration in that. Again, when I talked to Brenda, who is a writer but who had tre- mendous trouble with reading and writing as a child, she described books as a place that she went, rather than being a thing that she read. And that the illustrations were a very important part of that. What I’m trying to ask is whether reading and nar- rative were or are important to you, being that you are now an illustrator, or whether they are just vehicles which enable you to make illustrations.

Yes… Well, I think that, with most of the work I’m doing now, it doesn’t have a written element at all – they’re purely picture books. Like with The Hare 5 – there are no words at all, and I liked this because readers could have lots of different interpretations of what the story might be ‘about’. So for me the books I read as a child were less about the written word, than making the story out of the illustrations.

This seems to chime with what many peo- ple have said. That the illustrations can be another gateway into a story. With Brenda they were what she used to ‘read’ the story when she wasn’t being read to by her dad.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

How old were you when you started read- ing more substantial written texts?

I’d say around seven.

What were you reading?

At that time, at school, we had the library, and you could take so many books out per week and they really encouraged you to do that. And I remember that I was in love with this book called The Farthest Away Moun- tain by Lynne Reid Banks. 6 And I took it away and I read it, and I absolutely loved the

illustrations. I still love them now. And that’s sort of the foundation of what I love and how

I work now, just black ink. It’s a funny story

actually. When I put that book back in the library, all through my school years I could never find it again. And I told my mum about this – she worked at the school – and she found it and took the original copy for me,

brought it home for me, saying ‘No-one’s going to read it now – no-one’s taken it out for years.’ I’ve still got it.

So you were being quite discerning about the books you were selecting, and the illus- trations were a big part of that?

Yes. In contrast to The Farthest Away Moun- tain, when I think of the first Harry Potter book, 7 the cover illustration didn’t do any- thing for me, so I didn’t pick it up. The illus- tration is of Harry standing by the Hogwarts Express, but he looks… old! Like he’s in his twenties.

You know, it was one of my contemporaries at art college who did that cover. Thomas Taylor. He’d probably just about graduat- ed when he got that job. [Catherine looks slightly embarrassed] It’s okay, I agree with you!

The thing is, I didn’t read it, but I had to write a book review about it for a school project, so I made it up from what I saw on

the cover. And judging from the illustration,

I wrote that it was a book about a man that

travelled by train, and because on the cover he looks like he’s thinking about something, and because he’s got a backpack, I wrote something about him going on trains and writing about his travels. And when I finally did read the books, and found out what they were actually about, the cover illustrations continued to really annoy me! I just couldn’t warm to them.

1 Mog the Cat was the central character in a series of children’s books by Judith Kerr, first pub- lished in the UK between 1970 and 2002.

2 Catherine is referring

to the edition illustrated

by Joanna Isles, School Specialty Publishing

1979

3 Underwater Exploration:

A Ladybird Achieve-

ments Book, Wills and Hepworth 1967

4 John Foster, Twinkle Twinkle Chocolate Bar, OUP Oxford 1993

5 Catherine Rowe,

The Hare

www.blurb.co.uk/

b/3149521-the-hare

6 Lynne Reid Banks, The Farthest Away Mountain, Harper Collins 1998

7 J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, Bloomsbury 1997

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

You felt misled by them? By the depiction of Harry, and the content?

Yes.

In this sense we’re talking about book covers, though. Can we talk about illustrat- ed books? I was talking to Will Hill recently, and he said he’d written an essay about the things that writing does that illustration can’t, and the things illustration does that writing can’t. And that those two areas are at their most exciting when they’re playing off against each other. For example, it’s easy to say ‘fifty-thousand elephants’ but hard to illustrate them. Whereas if you were describing the positions of snooker balls on a table, an illustration would be much more effective than words. So I’m wonder- ing what the function of an illustration is to you, when it comes to books?

It’s not really about reflecting the contents of the book but more… Well, when I was look- ing through this long bookshelf at school, and making a choice of which book to read, I would just flick through them, looking for a cover that appealed to me. And as with the Lynne Reid Banks book, one would just draw me in. I couldn’t have said why. Even now, as someone who’s meant to be analys- ing imagery for that very purpose.

That raises a couple of questions. Par- ticularly about what the function of a book cover is. For what it’s worth, I think the primary function of a book cover is to make sure you to take the book off the shelf. The secondary function is to make sure you don’t put it back on the shelf. And the books you selected are doing just that. So it’s not about describing the content at all, as you say, but providing a gateway.

In hindsight I think I was subconsciously attracted to things that were really well-in- formed. On The Farthest Away Mountain, there’s a little girl looking up, and there’s a gargoyle there, looking down at her. And the gargoyle is very captivating. He’s not scary but there’s… emotion there. It draws you in. And if we think about the Harry Potter one again, it’s just… empty. There’s no sense of what we might find out about him if we read on.

Have you looked at some of the interna- tional jackets? How Harry is portrayed in different countries?

No.

They’re quite interesting. In the US, they’re more epic, more blockbuster-y. The way that the illustration and typography is deployed, he’s instantly drawn as more of a hero. On the UK jackets, something tends to be happening to Harry; whereas in the US, Harry is happening to something. We underplay him, they overplay him. We’re getting a bit off-topic here.

That’s okay. [laughs]

Okay. So when one is, say, eleven or twelve, the terms ‘illustration’ or ‘graphic design’ don’t really mean anything. You may be familiar with the terms, but what the practice actually involves is a mystery. Can you tell me when drawing, or making illustrations, began as a serious endeavour for you?

I was always really interested in art through- out my education. And around the GCSE point I was doing lots of painting and per- haps heading down that route. But increas- ingly I really relied on the briefs they were giving us, and I found it harder to work with no indications. I much preferred having a set project to do. Once I was at secondary school I didn’t really do much in my free time. Perhaps some collage, scrapbooks, things like that. I remember going from GCSE to A-Level with the same teacher, and I’d been doing lots of these oil paintings. And I liked them and he liked them, but I never liked the idea of how self-indulgent all these self-portraits seemed to be. I didn’t want people to think I enjoyed painting my- self in that kind of Frieda Kahlo sense. I was just painting the subject I was most exposed to. So when I was talking to my teacher about what to do after sixth form he sug- gested illustration because of the way I was working, and how I preferred working to a brief. But I was also very attracted to graphic design for the same reasons, because I was quite interested in all the digital stuff. But at that time I couldn’t connect a digital prac- tice with illustration. I had always assumed illustration was more traditional.

That can be a pretty pejorative word, ‘tradi- tional’, because it comes with a whole set of assumptions about how far back ‘tradi- tion’ goes. Both cave painting and Victorian engraving are traditional, but aesthetically they have very little in common.

Yes. I suppose, for me, traditional means timeless, it seems to disregard trend or material developments. And by that point my sister had been to Falmouth to do illustra- tion, so I’d seen a lot of her work, and had an idea of what illustration involved as a practice. But I hated my Foundation. I strug- gled with 3D and sculpture and fashion and some of the other things you do there. I was just drawing a lot. So by the time we were asked to select a pathway I just knew that I wanted to do illustration.

Why?

Because of everything they’d been intro- ducing to us, illustration was the one thing where I liked being in the zone they wanted us to be in… if that makes sense. With the fine art pathway there was an idea at the time of a very expressive type of painting that I didn’t enjoy. But with illustration there was all the drawing, of course, and the working to a brief. But I still only got a pass,

I still wasn’t taking it fully seriously. Being at

Portsmouth University… I suppose that, be- cause I hadn’t really found a voice for myself with my illustration yet… everyone around me was obsessed with finding their ‘style’, but I was just sort of going along comforta- bly, and didn’t feel I was really ‘an illustrator’ because of that. So really I was only ever taking the next step with myself, there was no grand plan. I was just doing what came next.

That’s quite interesting, because when we read or see interviews with artists, and they say, ‘Yes, I saw this Francis Bacon painting and it changed me forever,’ or whatever, it gives that moment in their life a larger significance than it probably deserves. We join the dots we’re given, but hardly ever in the right order. The reality is much more nuanced for almost everyone. Just the pro- cedure of taking the next, largely unknown, step, as you say. Just quite honest, practi- cal decisions.

Yes. I mean, it wasn’t always quite as simple as that either. I did a combined English Lan- guage and Literature A-Level. I loved it, and

I did okay with it, and so I do love reading

and writing. And for a time I did consider going down that route. But I liked drawing and wanted to do something with it, but I was also worried. Lots of people at that time were questioning drawing as a career option. ‘Why would you go for a career in art?’

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

I was talking to a friend of mine that I

hadn’t seen for ages. 8 He’s called Paul, and he’s an artist, quite a successful artist now. And I just asked him, ‘Why?’ You know, why do we still make art? And he said, ‘I just still have this urge to see things.’ Which I thought was a lovely answer. But if you’re putting forward a proposal for a success- ful life-plan, you couldn’t propose a worse idea than being an artist and writer. It’s an insane proposition! But regardless, for many artists, there remains that compul- sion to make things, as Paul said. Is that the case with you?

That’s really interesting. It’s not always been that way for me. Sometimes I’ve been surrounded by work with a deadline to meet and thought, ‘I really don’t want to do this.’ But I’m quite conscientious and I always wanted to do well, whatever I did. And sometimes, with drawing and considering that as a career, I would panic, thinking, ‘Is this really a good idea? And do I even really want to do it?’ There was nothing else I wanted to do, but I also wanted to ‘make it’, as it were. God, that sounds really self-indul- gent.

I don’t think so. In the end it just comes

down to what you’re prepared to sacri- fice, because you always have to sacrifice something. Going back to stories, what kind of stories are you reading now? Which books do you pick from the shelves now that you’re an adult?

It really varies. Strangely, being at university I’m reading the least I’ve ever read. There’s things you have to read, of course. But in terms of reading for pleasure… this is really embarrassing, but there’s these kind of wartime fictions by Belinda Alexandra. 9 And they’ve got these awful, really cheesy covers. You know, just a Getty image of a boy and a girl sitting on a branch, that kind of thing, and titles like White Gardenia. And they’re always about a young girl caught up in some kind of wartime drama. I’m total- ly addicted to them. But I also love David Sedaris. I must have read Naked four or five times. The Piano Teacher is a favourite. 10 To Kill a Mockingbird is probably my favourite ever book. 11

So it would seem, from that, that illustra- tion doesn’t play much of a role in your reading choices any more, except for cover designs. And even then that’s not a crucial

8 Paul Johnson

www.saatchi-

gallery.co.uk/artists/

paul_johnson.htm

9 Belinda Alexandra

at HarperCollins:

http://www.harper

collins.com.au/

authors/50018805/Belin-

da_Alexandra/index.aspx

10 Janice Y. K. Lee, The Piano Teacher, Harper 2009

11 Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, first published by J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1960

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

component for your choices. The reason I ask that is, having talked about illustration for younger readers, I wanted to ask you about your thoughts on why we don’t see illustrations in adult fiction anymore, and why you think that may be. Because it’s not that long ago – say, a hundred years or so – that we were seeing a lot of illustration in adult fiction, and that there was a long tradition of this behind that. Can I show you something?

Yes.

This book [Gentleman of the Road by Michael Chabon] 12 is a bit of a throwback to those 19th century novels like The Three Musketeers. It’s the only modern popular novel I’ve seen that does this – with these evocative pen and ink illustrations every twenty pages or so, and a short caption un- derneath, normally a key piece of dialogue. Would it be a better world for adult fiction if books did have illustrations?

Looking at this, it’s lovely. But generally, if I was reading something for adults and it had illustrations in it, I don’t think I’d like it.

12 Michael Chabon, Gentlemen of the Road, Sceptre 2008

13 Gustave Doré (1832 – 1883) was a French artist working primarily with wood engraving and steel engraving.

14 Matthew Hawkins, The Story of Oak Island. I first discovered this in It’s Nice That Issue 2, October 2009. www. matthewhawkins.co.uk

Why not?

I suppose… when you’re younger, you’re so impressionable, and the illustrations make the story. The images stick with you forev- er in a way that the words don’t. But when you’re older, I think the illustrations may al- most be a nuisance, because your mind has developed in such a way that you can visual- ise the written word in much more detail. Also, illustrations can knock away everything you’ve been imagining up to that point. For example, with those books I mentioned, the Belinda Alexandra ones, illustrations would

definitely really frustrate me, because it would probably counter what’s in my mind, what the text has worked to put there.

It’s a phenomenon that’s central to my research. If you take the work of Gustave Doré… his illustrations are for adult texts, like Dante’s Inferno, Don Quixote, the works of Byron and Coleridge. 13 And when I see those books, even as a pretty

well-read grown-up, I still find myself look- ing forward to the illustrated pages. But you find them a nuisance. Universally a nuisance? Or is there ever room for them with adults, as another gateway into the story?

It’s a personal thing for me, being an illustra- tor. Because a bad, or ill-judged, illustration in a book is so destructive to the experience. And with adults the risks of that happening are perhaps even greater.

Perhaps because adult tastes come into account.

I think it could work. It would depend totally on the text, and the type and quality of the drawing.

But this is peculiar to a western culture. It’s certainly not the case in other cultures, where pictures remain a vital part of the storytelling experience, and tradition, for everyone. And I’m following a hunch that there is a strong place for that tradition within modern novels, and that’s it’s just out of fashion at the moment for a num- ber of reasons. And that’s why Gentleman of the Road is so interesting. And if you look at the illustrations, the illustrator has been really careful to safeguard us against the risks you mentioned. You never see a clear portrait of the protagonists, they are suggested as part of a larger, more emotive landscape. Nothing in them corrupts the thing we’ve imagined during the reading.

I agree, but I still think they’re mostly a

distraction. I think if I was being read to, then the idea of images really appeals to me. But with adult fiction, reading it for myself then… no. But on the other hand, I don’t really want to be a children’s book illustrator. I want to illustrate stories but not necessarily just for children. And it really makes me wonder what other places there are for narrative illustration apart from the children’s book. So what you’re saying is interesting but quite conflicting for me at the same time. And real-

istically, I can’t imagine being commissioned to illustrate a novel for adults, if I’m honest.

Have you seen the work of Matthew Hawkins? He discovered he had a connec- tion to a famous pirate, and the Oak Island treasure. 14 So he wrote about his discovery of this connection, and his fantasies, and the history of the treasure, and illustrated the text really effectively. It was fantastic and a kind of illustrated text for adults. He seems to have resolved, to a point, that conflict you’re talking about.

Well, another thing I’m thinking about is the role illustration can play in education, its

informative role. Encyclopedias, for example. Or historical text books. I’m really thinking about this because, with the way I work, I can’t imagine children enjoying it terribly much. The images are just very intense.

I think the culture could shift again, for

illustrated adult fiction. Because the kind of stuff I’m writing at the moment, which has its roots in the myths and classics of Ancient Greece – your illustration, I think, could really lend itself to that type of ma- terial.

I do have so many conflicts, because I’m

not sure where the place for my work is right now, where it’s going to slot in. But I’m really interested in the idea of reading aloud to adults, with illustrations. I’d really like to see where that goes, where it might take you.

When you illustrate your own narratives, what’s your relationship with your readers? How are you expecting them to respond, to react? I’m thinking specifically of your book The Hare

I’m doing things a bit upside down. Rather

than taking a text and illustrating it, I’m mak- ing a book that’s purely illustrated and the narrative comes out of that for the reader.

I feel that anything too literal doesn’t give you anything as a reader, and there should be something given. With The Hare, I knew

the story I wanted to tell, and originally there were words accompanying the drawings. But when I took the words away there were so many more ways to interpret the narrative from the drawings. And I loved that, but I was also a bit worried about it. And when

I showed it to people there were so many

different reactions and interpretations. But I think that’s what I want to give people, and

how I want to move forward. I want people to stay on the page for a long time, rather than the impulse being to turn the page, which is the more usual thing.

I think that’s both the difference and the

similarity between what we’re both trying to do. We both want people to engage on a more profound level with what’s on the page. You’re doing it by removing the text from the pictures, and I’m doing it by add- ing pictures to the text. We’re both trying to progress something. I have this thing at the moment, an idea that all great art should take at least as long to fully appreciate as it did to make.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

Yes, exactly.

I’m calling the theory ‘anti-chatter.’

[laughs]

It’s about ideas of complexity. You’re using

a very simple device to do that. You’re

narrative becomes more complex be- cause of the very lack of explicit direction for the reader. For you it’s a complexity achieved by removing things. And you work in scraperboard, of course, which is very much about removing things to reveal a picture. Can we talk about that?

Yes. I had done a lot of etching previously, but had found the process very frustrat- ing, and a bit open to chance. When I tried scraperboard I found that it’s a much more immediate process, more direct, and much more about drawing, I suppose. And I love the effects it can offer.

I have to say, one of those effects is the

reason why I really liked your work when

I saw it. Because you begin with a black

page, you’re revealing the light that hits

a body. As a result you get this feeling of

twilight hours, of magic, a sort of ethereal space. The witching hour, a place between places, without any explicit sense of time or space.

That’s so nice of you to say that, to notice that – the twilight thing, the magic. It’s exact- ly what I wanted to happen. Also, I wanted all my characters to be anatomically correct, but I wanted their environment, their world, to look make-believe. There’s no light pollu- tion in my work, no evidence of human ac- tivity. If I was to draw that space on a white page, it would be more explicit. But with scraperboard, with the black page, there’s a sense that you’re observing these creatures in a magical space. There’s also something magical about the material, in that you are taking away the black, and revealing a world underneath.

Perhaps something that was there all along.

Exactly. And there’s something very appeal- ing about that.

Can we talk a bit about the story I’m hoping we can collaborate on? What did you think of the extract I sent you?

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

I found the whole proposal really interest-

ing. And I think the questions you’re asking of your audience are really valid. And the

extract itself… it was a different experience for me, because I don’t normally read a lot of things with so much dialogue, because

I find a lot of dialogue quite a hard read.

But with yours it was very fluid, and I read it really easily. It was very good. It was so atmospheric for having no description, just complete dialogue.

Thank you for saying that. That’s what I was hoping for, to use dialogue to move the story forward. I’ve actually been thinking of removing the dialogue as it occurs between two people – he said, she said, and thereby requiring speech marks – and looking at the way Chaucer did it in The Canterbury Tales, with the other voices having their place in the prologue to each tale, so that the tale itself is more or less just one voice – one person using their voice to tell a story.

I think that would work well for me. I think

that if there’s too much quoted dialogue, the page itself can get quite messy.

The eye moves around the lines too much, yes. I’ve done this before, actually, with a thing called Small Adventures in Accessi- ble Places. It was a book of short pieces in which the noun took precedence over the adjective, so that the description didn’t distract from the event being described. And I also took out all the quotation marks, just using capital letters mid-sentence to indicate when a person was speaking. It’s an unusual reading experience but quite effective in its way.

Almost everything for me has an aesthetic component. And that would include the text for me, as well.

Steve Gorman:

Anything Done Well

Steve Gorman: Anything Done Well Via Skype 24 June 2013 Steve Gorman is the drummer for

Via Skype 24 June 2013

Steve Gorman is the drummer for rock group the Black Crowes. Spending much of his life on tour, he is a voracious and sophisticated reader of fiction and non-fiction.

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

I was chatting to [mutual friend] Drew a while ago. And I was asking him, how come everyone in the Black Crowes is so well- read? He said that a book gets on the bus and everyone reads it. Is that still true?

Sure. Right now four of us have read a book called Going Clear 1 , which is all about Scientology. Chris read it, then Rich went and got it — I have a Kindle now, I’ve given up the ghost. I don’t have room for fifty books in my suitcase anymore. So I got it,

and then Jackie got it. It’s just like that, like

a record that gets around. In our band it was

always a subconscious thing. That if we all read the same thing over the course of a few

months, even if people didn’t like it, it was just something that… it’s as good a connec- tion with people as loving the same record.

It gives you all something to think about and

something to talk about. So you’re get- ting away from the band but staying in the band at the same time. We’ve always been

inspired similarly. That could be a restaurant or a walk in a park. We never talked about it

in the old days, but we have since. Anything

that someone’s into, everyone else at least investigates. Plus, life on the road, there’s so much sitting around. Just waiting for one thing or another. When we started hitting our stride, maybe twenty years ago, the shows were so intense that the rest of the day was kind of boring. So for me, a book has always been better than music to get my head

somewhere else. Music makes me think like

a musician, but books take me wherever

they want to go.

This thing about the shared experience. It’s still important isn’t it?

It is. And even if you’re disagreeing, the fact

that you’re all on the same topic, just to have some time every day when there’s no role to play, and what you’re talking about has nothing to do with your work, it’s just much more human, more normal. When you’re five or six guys sitting down and talking about a book, there’s no sense of who’s supposed to lead and who’s supposed to follow. It’s

Section 6: Interviews with writers and readers

more like normal human interaction. And

we don’t get much of that on tour, because

How about your kids? Did you read to them?

if

you run into fans, that’s as abnormal as

it

gets. You know what I mean? You hardly

We read to them every night without fail for

ever have an equal conversation, as much as you look for it. But again, books are a great

years and years and years, until they wanted to read for themselves. Now, both my kids,

equaliser. I have friends in Nashville, person-

before they go to sleep at night, read for

al

friends who have nothing to do with the

about thirty minutes. They have to — that’s

music world, and one of things we’re always doing is recommending books to each other.

not a choice [laughs]. My eldest, he’s thir- teen now, so he’s starting to fall asleep in

In fact, I don’t have too many friends that I don’t discuss books with. Of course I have

front of the ballgame, he’s getting into that idea. It’s summer now and they’re both out

a

lot of acquaintances and buddies, but all

of school, but they have a reading list every

the people I’m closest to, we will always talk about what we’re reading. Not by design —

summer, and we encourage them to read other stuff too.

1 Lawrence Wright, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Pris- on of Belief, Knopf 2013

2 Michael Chabon, The Yiddish Policemen’s

Union, HarperCollins