As the title implies, it was my great pleasure to be interviewed recently for SF Site by the lovely and charming Sandy Auden for her column: News Spotlight. The full text of the interview is here, but since then I’ve had more time to reflect on my answers and, consequently, wanted to share a small extract and expand a little on what I meant.
Sandy asked me the question, “Would you change anything if you could go back?” My answer looked back at Sixty-One Nails and forward to Road to Bedlam and other work.
…Somewhere, then, I will have shot myself in the foot. I don’t know where yet, but I’m going to have written something that means that the story cannot go where I want it to go. That’s the thing I would go back and change, when I find out what it is.
It was a good question, and I hope not too glib an answer. I was reminded of an interview with Ian Rankin who writes the extremely successful Inspector Rebus novels. When asked what he thought he might have done differently, he said he would have made Rebus younger and a less senior policemen at the beginning, giving him more scope to develop as he grew older. I wondered at the time whether his stories of a more optimistic, healthier, less cynical Rebus would have been anywhere near as successful. Rankin’s readers love Inspector Rebus for who he is, not who he was.
I was also asked in the interview why I chose to show so little of Niall’s background before the adventure started. If we knew him better at that point, wouldn’t we be more aware of the changes in him as they happened? My answer talks about how Niall’s life has become a cycle of work, eat and sleep, how he is disconnected from life and how dying really doesn’t make that much difference to him. His story starts when he dies.
It’s interesting for me to look back and see that Blackbird does not give him a choice. She doesn’t ask him whether he wants to be revived. If she had, I wonder what he might have said? His life had lost all meaning, all hope. Maybe he doesn’t want to go on? But then something truly extraordinary happened, something he couldn’t possibly have predicted.
He is shown another life.
To some extent, I think this is the same as with Rebus – where he was before isn’t as interesting. If we saw Niall when he was at work, when he was watching TV in his flat, when he dried his dishes and turned the lights out to go to bed on his own, would that help us to understand who he could become? Niall’s choice isn’t whether he dies from a heart attack or not, Blackbird doesn’t give him that option. She pulls him back into life and shows him, however briefly, a very different sort of existence to the one he’s used to.
For me, the real story begins when he decides he wants to keep it.