Sunday, 18 March 2012
I is for INTENT
And so we come to the thorny issue of authorial INTENT. Perhaps the most surprising aspect of getting published has been how readers have interpreted my book in ways I never intended or even foresaw. I’ve lost count, for example, of the number of readers who are insistent that the film Die Hard is referenced throughout. For the record, although I’ve seen the film (to date still McTiernan’s best) and think it a clever, pulse-pounding thriller it was never an influence on Afrika Reich*. As a follow-on, many of the intended references – everything from TS Eliot to Luciano Vincenzoni to Norse mythology – have gone unremarked.
At university I came across reader response theory. I won’t bore you with a detailed explanation (you can find out more here) but in essence it says that the reader is the primary force who gives a book its meaning by interpreting it. As an undergraduate, and as you know already a fledging writer, I was deeply suspicious of this. How could the reader have more of a stake than the author? How could my book not mean what I meant it to?
It’s only since being published and having hundreds of people review and talk to me about my book (often in totally unexpected ways) that I’ve begun to appreciate there might be more to reader response than I initially believed. I now see how my intent has become just one of a myriad of interpretations of the text... though I still believe mine – as the creator – is the definitive one.
So what was my intent?
Now that’s an even thornier question! And one I’m not sure I should answer. This is not coyness on my behalf but after everything I’ve written above perhaps it’s not right to privilege my interpretation over others and so determine people’s view.
What I will say is that I wanted to write something relentless and visceral; something with an epic, journey-across-the-continent quality that would leave the reader exhausted. On a more surprising note, it wasn’t necessarily my intention to write an alternate history thriller... though clearly the book can be read that way.
*However, since so many people found ‘footprints’ where none were intended, as a private joke I’ve now referred to the film in Book 2!