James’s answers make clear how he takes a different approach to storytelling, with less planning and thus more surprises. Or is that just British modesty? In any case, the conversation continues…
Advent draws on three enduring legends of western civilization: ancient Troy, King Arthur’s court, and Dr. Faust. (Plus mermaids.) Marlowe already linked numbers 1 and 3, but you take that combination in a different direction. How did you decide to braid those threads together?
You know what I’m going to say about the word “decide,” don’t you?
In all honesty, though, this is a difficult question to answer. (I’m sure that makes it a particularly good question.) Advent grew out of a few seeds — scenes, moments, glimpses of a character or two, an idea. The idea, very roughly speaking, was: magic. I think the notion of magic occurred to me in two ways. Firstly: what would it be like if something impossible happened? (This was very much tied up with my initial impressions of the character of Gavin.)
Secondly — and in one form or another this has informed a lot of fantasy writing, Susannah Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell or Neil Gaiman’s American Gods or the John Crowley sequence that begins with Aegypt — what’s the difference between a world with magic and a world from which it’s absent, and how do you get from one to another?
So I began to think about a time when there was magic. And once I was doing that, I was probably always going to end up in the territory of legends. It’s murky in there, though, and I didn’t have a map. I didn’t know — for example — that the character associated with the Faust legend was who he is until after he’d made his first appearance.
Who and what have been your biggest storytelling influences?
I don’t think anyone can say who their influences are. I used to be an academic literary critic, and academic literary critics will tell you that influence is something writers suffer unwillingly and/or unwitttingly. (The critic Harold Bloom puns on “influenza,” which seems about right.)
Observant readers may gather some hints from the answers above, though...
SATURDAY: Wrestling with points of view.