Today I give you a treat in the shape of R. John Bambrey, author of Atlantis Eternal - talking about his... process(?)... Incidentally, this author is my dad... Enjoy...
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'Process?' I repeated, somewhat stupidly.
'Yes. What is your process?' My friend has just read the first draft of Atlantis Eternal.
I don't understand the question. I feel a fraud. How can I possibly have written a novel and not understand what she means by process. It confirms my sneaking suspicion that I have cheated my way to the 105,000 words. Maybe I was just lucky. My friend is still looking at me expectantly, I'm not going to get away with it. I clearly have to admit that I have no idea what my process is and furthermore express my doubt that I ever had or ever will have one. I say so.
'But how do you conceive your characters? How do you develop them?'
'Oh that, that's easy. They do it, not me. I just sort of meet them one day. They come along and introduce themselves. “Hi, I'm Owen.” That's it to begin with, like meeting anyone for the first time, what you see is what you get. A silhouette, nothing more, nothing with any substance, an outline to fill in. Maybe I look and see a guy wearing a white robe and holding a staff and think looks like a Druid to me. But I could be wrong, he could be going to an Astrix theme party.
'So your process is one of painting by numbers?'
'No! It's not like that, they do the painting if you want to follow that analogy, I just watch.'
'They colour themselves in?'
'Yes. And tell me their stories whilst they are doing it. Or maybe its the other way round.'
'And you write their stories down.'
'Not all of them, some are too personal, I wouldn't betray their trust like that.'
'So why do they tell you these things, the really personal things?'
'I guess I'm just a good listener.'
'Ah, I see. You sit quietly and create your characters, imagining what they might have done and what they will do next.'
'You really haven’t been listening have you. I imagine nothing,I create nothing, that sounds like I'm some kind of solipsistic biographer. These are people, they spend time with me and I spend time with them. True I may look at them and think, there will be fireworks if these two ever meet, but we think such things about many of our friends.'
'They are your friends?'
'Um, yes, some are. Others not so much...'
'Your imaginary friends?'
'Hey, you're doing it again, trying to bring it back to my imagination, that makes it sound like an act of will. I do not will these characters into existence, I do not decide who will be like what and who will do what to whom, nor even how they will react. It does not work like that. They have free will, and delight in exercising it, whether I like it or not!'
'OK, fine,' her hands are raised in placation. 'So you had no idea where the story would end?'
'When did you discover how the story would end?'
'When I wrote the second version of the ending.'
'So you decided that the first ending was wrong?'
'You really don't give up do you. No, one of the characters (Danny) nagged me for a week or more because he had changed his mind. He realised that what he had done was pretty shitty and knew that he wasn't that kind of person any more, that he had changed. All I did was agree to do what he asked. He was right by the way, Danny has changed.
'So if you didn't know the end, what did you know?'
'Did you have half the story? All the story, but no detail?'
Each day, as I sat down to write, I had no idea what we were going to do. It was completely self organising and certainly was not written top down. There were recursive elements in its development which are reflected in the narrative and vice versa. Originally it was written as a collection of cameos which coalesced as they multiplied and were finally edited into the form of a novel.'
'That sounds like a load of hard work, wouldn't it have been easier to have made a plan and just worked through it, scene by scene, chapter by chapter.'
'Maybe that process would work for you. If I'd tried it, Atlantis Eternal would never have happened (it was not called that until after it was finished BTW.) The process, in this case chaotic, is what makes the work. Atlantis Eternal has chaos and Möbioid time at its very core, it could only have been born of a chaotic and recursive process.'
'So you did have a process.'
'I guess that I did, it's just that the way you phrased the question made it sound like something deterministic and I, like Danny, am reluctant to admit the possibility of determinism.
'So you identify with your main character then?'
I sigh and raise my eyes to the sky. It is that very pale, washed out, shade of blue which Owen likes so much.
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See you soon