Q: Where did the idea that the War was a film come from?
A: I had a dream that I was hired as a prop man on a film. Hitler was the director. He wanted me to kill someone, put the body in a coffin and drive it to France. He got very angry when I suggested we load the coffin with sandbags, rather than a real body. The idea stuck in my head for a few years, before it turned into this story. The war as a film is not too much of a stretch, though. General MacArthur staged a landing on Luzon for the benefit of the camera. A friend told me he had filmed President Reagan at The White House answering questions from schoolchildren - except there were no schoolchildren. The camera has a way of refracting reality. It might be considered analogous to Quantum mechanics. What is reality anyway?
Q: Would you say then, that the character 'Franz' is based on your own experiences?
A: No. Not beyond dreaming of getting hired on the film and driving a hearse to France. After that he was on his own.
Q: There's a scene in the story, where you describe a dream which Franz has. Was that a dream of yours?
A: The ruined buildings being worked on by scenic artists were part of the Hitler/film dream. The meeting at a fence which separated two identical places, was another dream. The rest was a conscious construction. I'm beginning to feel I'm at the analyst's office.
Q: Do you consider 'Warfilm' in keeping with the genre of Magical Realism?
A: No. I don't like that term. I see it as more in line with Surrealism, of the sewing-machine and umbrella variety. Most people think of the Surrealists as painters, and in this story it is a painting that is the fulcrum between different realities - De Chirico's 'Piazza d'Italia. Though the founder of the movement was André Breton, a poet and a novelist. There is a smattering of pseudo-intellectualism there too, which I think is a very noble art. That is, as long as one does not fool oneself into believing it's the real thing. That's where humour comes in.
Q: The British officers don't seem surreal at all. Where do they fit in?
A: The story has three layers, which fold over and intertwine with each other, like snakes making love. Number one is a dream-field. Number two, the war, with all its purpose and obscure acronyms, and the last, number three, is a mythological zone, which is only hinted at. Franz belongs in one, two, and three. The British officers in two. Ariadne moves in two, and three. Strange in three, Alexis in two, and Two Point Seven in one, and two. That's twenty one. So the answer to your question is twenty one, and therefore the reality quotient for each principal character is three. They must all be operating in the mythological zone.
Q: What myths are you referring to?
A: I'll leave that for the reader to decide.
Q: Many books have been written about The Second World War. Why did you want to write another ?
A: It's an infinite subject. The war was a shadow over childhood for people my age. We had not existed when it happened but it was still ever present. It was there in the gaps between buildings on London streets, in the meagre and bland food. It was present in the pride of victory juxtaposed with the imploded empire and dire economic situation. It had a strong gravitational pull, which can still be felt.
I also wondered about the adults going about their lives, and what terrible deeds they might have committed. It seems only natural to be fascinated by something like that. You should remember though, that the story isn't so much about the war as about the nature of reality.
Q: Where did you get your British officer characters from?
A: Purvis was an invention, slightly inspired by a couple of Spitfire pilots I once met. One was an avid womaniser, and the other was more thrilled by hitting his target than worrying about the human cost. There was also the tank commander who lived up the road, who kept tank shells in his dressing-room chest of drawers. He thoroughly enjoyed the war. That was Purvis. I made him an interrogator, rather than a fighter pilot, which is what he would have preferred. It provided him with a little tension. Noyes was a deeper character because he was based on my father.
Q: Why did you base him on your father?
A: By putting my father in the story and imagining things beyond the facts I knew, I was trying to find the man who had existed before my birth. I had seen how deeply he had been affected by the war. It gave him frequent nightmares for the rest of his life. He didn't speak much about it - more when he got older, but never how he felt. By fictionalising him, I am trying to pay him respect and make his experiences reach further afield.
Q: What led you to include Esperanto in the story?
A: I'm fascinated by Esperanto. I've been trying to learn it. It's not that difficult - which is its point of course. The interest was another gift from my father. When I was young, he showed me a book called 'The Loom of Language'. It had lots of comparative charts of ancient alphabets and different writing systems. That book made me get interested in languages, mostly in a visual way, because at that time it was beyond me intellectually, and probably still is. That's why I can't really remember what it was about. He also introduced me to the artificial languages Volapük and Esperanto. Just the idea of someone creating a language seemed incredible to me. Years later, on late night television, I saw the film 'Incubus', starring a youngish William Shatner, with dialogue in Esperanto. The film wasn't very good but the Esperanto intrigued me. More years passed and I was holding an iPhone in my hands, messing around with the translator app. I saw that it contained Esperanto, and all the interest came flooding back. After that I bought some books about it and a dictionary. I started to make a film in Esperanto, which I had to unfortunately abandon and that is why it found its way into this story.
Q: Ariadne is the only principal female character in your story. Tell me about her.
A: I see Ariadne as someone who has turned adversity into strength. She was orphaned as a baby and grew up without familial love and support but seems to be relatively unscathed. Her failing, perhaps ironically, lies in her strength. Her capacity for survival precludes other possibilities. Her name has implications of course.
Q: Strange and Two Point Seven seem to be less tangible than the other characters. What role do they play in the story?
A: Strange started out being inspired by Sir Francis Walsingham, Principal Secretary to Queen Elizabeth I. He was to be involved in all manner of plots and intrigues. As the story progressed he turned into a purely mythological being. In this capacity he fulfills a function in Layer Three. I have since imagined him to be the illegitimate son of an aristocrat, hence his misanthropy. He also has wisps of those famous archaeologists, Schliemann and Evans.
Two Point Seven is really more of a concept than a character and is therefore less constrained by reality than the other people in the story. He wears the mantle of dissident artist and intellectual but could equally be an alter-ego, a guide in the place where realities converge. If there is such a place.
Q: What do you mean by the place where realities converge?
A: André Breton had his Hegelian point where opposites unite. In that point a super-reality is created, another Big Bang. It doesn't seem to have happened, so obviously the opposites haven't united yet. The place of convergence is a similar idea.
It is also a short description of Warfilm. Each word has a meaning, their combination as a phrase has a meaning. Apart from that it has no meaning at all. It makes me think of Don Van Vliet's statement 'The stars are matter, we're matter but it doesn't matter.'
Q: So you don't believe in meaning?
A: Only as a relative measurement. Not as a fundamental truth. It's just an idea after all.
Q: Are you saying that meaning is illusory?
A: To say something is an illusion, is an illusion itself.
Q: Do you consider yourself a nihilist?
A: No. But I wonder sometimes about the future of nihilism.