Thursday, 16 June 2016

Y is for YAUDIN

Sometimes I have ideas that I just can’t get to work. In the early drafts of The Madagaskar Plan I introduced the character of YAUDIN.

The idea for him had been inspired while travelled to Prora. As I reached the Baltic coast I glanced out of my train window and happened to see fishermen on sea-slits. These are literally as they sound: stilts for walking in deep water to fish from). [Spoiler alert.] After Burton crashes the hovercraft in Chapter 33, I had an image of a character approaching him by walking on water; only as he neared the shore did it become apparent he was on stilts. This was Yaudin, a Jew born on Führertag (or in different versions of the text, 30 January 1933) and thus hated by his fellows. He would accompany Burton on his quest and later join Salois travelling to Diego. He was a mix of Caliban and Kaspar Hausar, a kind of jester character whose role in the narrative was constantly to undermine Burton and the Jews of the rebellion, showing the futility of the acts.

He was very much part of the fantastic realism I’m so drawn to in the Afrika books.

I was also incapable of writing him. For a start he spoke in a unique patois which I could never quite nail. I also think – on reflection – there was something too fantastical to him, as though he was a character who had wandered in from a different book.

Kaspar Hauser (top) and Caliban

For months I struggled with him, going through hundreds of subtly different permutations of the character. Every time I failed with his scenes, so I would move on... until there came a moment when I had nothing else to write. I had to deal with him once and for all. Several days of misery followed; he was central to the ending of the plot, so simply exorcising him wasn’t an option. Finally I had a flash of inspiration: an alternative path through the narrative which meant I could cut the character. This flash came about mid-morning and I started working through the possibilities for the rest of the day. The next morning, having slept on it, I woke with a sense of utter relief and knew removing Yaudin was the right decision.

So out went one of my more unusual and original ideas. Perhaps if I hadn’t felt the pressure of the deadline so much I could eventually have found a version of the character that I liked, but reading the book now I think his presence is not missed. In fact, it’s probably beneficial as it means the fantasy/realism elements of the book are better balanced.

Never one to waste a name, however, I gave it to another character... so a Yaudin still appears in the book, albeit in a minor role. [Spoiler alert.] Despite all of the above, you might like to know that the role of both Yaudins is effectively the same in the Diego scenes.

Thursday, 2 June 2016

Q is for QUORP

One of the questions I’m regularly asked is whether I base my characters on real people. I always find this rather strange. I’m a novelist, not a biographer. So the answer is no: the majority of my characters are the product of my imagination. I do, however, make the occasional exception – and QUORP, Governor of the Western Sector was one such example.

He’s actually based on a writer of some fame. For libel reasons I won’t name him, or even hint who he is. I confess I’ve never actually met this man but as I was writing the Quorp scenes I read an interview with this writer, complete with an odious photograph – and found him so insufferably smug and unreflective I just had to base Quorp around him.

Quorp's Red Setters

You might also like to know that Burton’s aunt was also modelled on a novelist – this one much more agreeable, though once again I will spare everyone’s blushes and not name her.

I can see how I might be accused of being terribly coy in this entry, but I have dropped a few tiny hints in the text as to who the people are. I’m sure the more astute of you might be able to decipher who I’m referring to... though obviously I will deny everything!

Quorp is also the embodiment of a theme that runs through the book (and links all the characters I despise the most). Excess. If I were drawing up a new list of deadly sins, excess would be at the top. Without wanting to sound too preachy, so long as mankind’s excesses remain unchecked the future will always be bleak. Excess is also a theme in the new novel I’m currently working on (not an Afrika book).

[Spoiler alert.] Hochburg’s threat to Quorp – ‘nice family’ is a quote from The Good, Bad Ugly, a line Christopher Frayling once described as the most menacing in the film.

Q is also for Quince

Many people have commented on the use of quinces in The Afrika Reich, in fact I’ve been asked why Q wasn’t for Quince in the previous A to Z.

Quinces return as a motif in The Madagaskar Plan. Burton owns a quince orchard. Partly this was to give him an unusual job but the symbolism of the fruit was not lost on me either. Through the centuries the significance of quinces has varied from culture to culture. In Ancient Greece they were a symbol of love. In early readings of the Bible, the devil tempts Eve to pick a quince from the Tree of Knowledge (it morphed into an apple during the Middle Ages). Quinces are an amazing, perfumed fruit that turn the most extraordinary pinkish-orange when cooked. Delicious! I have a quince tree in my own garden.