The International Writers Magazine: Author Interview
'Desperate kidnappers, crazy experiments, the evil Reverend Schneider, a genuine love story, what's not to like about 'The Heaviness.'' Sara Troy PLV Radio
'An exciting, affectionate, slightly off-the-wall way to end the series. Definitely recommended. Someone make a movie of this!' : Five Stars: Goodreads.com
Q & A THE HEAVINESS
Marcel D’Agneau interviews Sam Hawksmoor as the final volume of
The Repossession trilogy is published (print and kindle)
MdA: Sam in The Heaviness you have moved on from teleportation to anti-gravity – why? And how important is science to your YA novels?
SH: In ‘The Repossession’ we see the Fortress scientists experimenting with transferring matter, culminating in the first successful transmissions of human beings from one place to another. We also see the horrific consequences of failure. In the sequel ‘The Hunting’ I looked into the earlier research and experimentation with teleportation, which were all failures. It began with inanimate objects, then one further step to experimenting with stray dogs and finally runaways, that no one would miss. Is science amoral? Probably. If anything they were caught by surprise by the success of it once Genie Magee arrived on the scene. Marshall is the conscience of science – but he can never quite shake off his excitement of what could be possible. Part of his devotion to Genie is, I suspect, to assuage his guilt of being part of the earlier development programme.
The big reveal of the first two books is that it was never about teleportation, but cosmetic surgery. Quite often big science is transformed into the mundane. ie: the billions spent on the Space Race equals non-stick frying pans and easy flow biros. At the end of ‘The Hunting’, Cary (hiding with the others at Cobble Hill) possibly invents anti-gravity and it almost kills him. I had always intended to pick that theme up and run with it as a background to the third book. The title The Heaviness was set in stone when listening to a song 'Kissing Him Goodbye' on The Pierces CD, I quite suddenly had a very clear vision of just how the story should begin and that has remained. Science is the backbone of the novels, but the stories are intensely human and about Genie and Rian and the others dealing with their lives and relationships.
MdA: What was the first story you ever had published and what you think of it now?
SH: Well now this is a long story and an old one. I was studying at the London Film School in Covent Garden and disliked it. They put no emphasis on screenwriting at that time and seemed to be training cameramen rather than screenwriters, so I was definitely in the wrong place as I have no aptitude for numbers. Luckily an American student at Columbia University in New York suggested an exchange for two terms because he'd fallen in love with an English girl. I leapt at it. My lecturers in New York were Andrew Sarris and Pauline Kael (the critic from the New Yorker). I didn't connect with much of what they said, but hey, I went to their classes. Meanwhile I wrote a screenplay called Final Accounts - about two accountants and two undertakers who got together to despatch all their clients and collect the life insurance on all of them, which they had inflated to impossible amounts. By sheer chance I was visiting my cousin Bridget in LA who was then a movie critic and was introduced to Alec Guiness who was making Star Wars and doing over-dubbing and other stuff in LA after filming in the UK. He agreed to read the script. About a month later I got a very sweet letter from him (which I since lost in a fire) saying that he loved it, but it would never be made as there was no sex in it. Well he was right of course. I happened to be on my way back about six months later and sitting next to a radio drama producer and I pitched the screenplay to him. He bought it and that weekend I landed I had to frantically learn how to write a radio drama and adapt my screenplay. The great secret thing about radio is that it is intensely visual. Turning a book into a drama is a lot harder than turning a screenplay into a radio drama, because you already have all the scenes worked out. Let the sound take you there. It was recorded about a month later, sounded great and if you can imagine a cross between The Ladykillers and A Christmas Carol, you'll have it. I think about a year later it was shortlisted for a drama award. I still have the tape I made off the radio and it's fun. The crazy thing about radio in those days it got played only the once. That's it. No repeats. I have written and had broadcast, about 35 original plays, but have the tapes of only 15 as they reused the original tapes and wiped everything. Sigh.
MdA: How realistic are the ideas contained within The Repossession trilogy as a whole?
Strange question. It’s science fiction, Marcel. I really hope scientists are not experimenting on children – but then again we are all being experimented upon with genetically modified food and you can see the obesity epidemic as a direct consequence – I am sure. (One of my favourite sci-fi author's, Paulo Bacigalupi, deals with the full horror of nutrition free food and famine in his amazing novel The Wind-Up Girl).
As for anti-gravity. CERN in Switzerland is spending billions looking for antimatter. There’s a European prize on offer of a million euros for anyone who can prove anti-gravity is possible. I’m rooting for Marshall to claim that prize.
As to the books – well the setting is real enough. B.C. lends itself to the scope and scale of what I want to achieve. I love the interior of British Columbia and the ambition of the west coast cities and those who inhabit them. But also I like the small towns and all the seething resentment, religious fervor and history. The main characters are all based on real people – kids I have known, adults too. Genie is tough, beautiful and incredibly generous in spirit. I also wanted to play with the idea of Denis, the boy who didn’t want to return to flesh and blood, who chose to stay in the ‘machine. I wonder if any of us could make that choice of living forever – but as an electronic entity.
Genie is afflicted with her ‘gift’, an ability to go to places we cannot. She knows she’s weird, she’s as anxious as any other teenage girl would be that the love of her life, Rian will tire of her weirdness and her tendency to drift off to another place. But she is fiercely loyal and loving. She has had a very tough unloving family background and is determined to have a completely different approach to life. Renée is the opposite of her. Optimistic, sassy, flip – the practical one. She too has had a terrible upbringing and a part-time father – but like Genie – refuses to let that compromise her future. With Rian they are already forming a new family – looking out for each other. That’s as real as it can be.
MdA: What books have most influenced your life most?
SH: I was influenced very early on by Philip K Dick and a lot of the Gollanz 'Yellow Jacket' sci-fi novels. They were all pretty down on the ‘future’. I never really thought about it, but they were all extremely pessimistic about the human condition, not to mention fearful of robots, computers, and tech wars. My feeling for bleakness was fed by Albert Camus, of course, and as a 12-year-old The Plague was my favourite novel ever – although I never understood it as an allegory for Nazi occupation at the time. Philip K Dick got it right the most I think, believing that we would all be living in a deeply schizophrenic paranoid society. Think Dick Cheney, Homeland security – SHIELD. Edward Snowden revealing that yes, in fact, just as Dick suspected back in 1955, the government spies on us all! Since I was a kid, I was always waiting for everything to be blown to smithereens by a nuclear bomb or two – especially as I was boarding at St Hughs in Woodhall Spa next to a rocket range, a number one Russian target. (Come to think of it - quite a few of the staff have made their way into my stories over the years).
I am always surprised that I was as keen on ‘the future’ as I was; given that I never thought I'd reach 21. I waded through Russian literature, read Mailer, Heller (Catch-22 about five times), Fitzgerald, but there is no one book that held me in it’s grip so to speak. As an adult I fell in love with Haruki Murakami’s work, from Norwegian Wood and on, I still love his work. I enjoy the magic realism element too.
Film was a big influence. The ‘The Third Man’ and the Raymond Chandler movies such as ‘The Big Sleep’ and ‘The Long Goodbye’ particularly. They gave me an abiding love of Film Noir and femme fatales. I also loved the silent greats such as Buster Keaton - his timing is amazing. I adore Wes Anderson movies, The Grand Budapest Hotel is such a relief from all the excesses of Marvel movies. 'Was that my cat you just threw out the window?'
I remember trying to get some students to listen to a BBC Radio 4 drama a few years ago. You would have thought I was trying to make them walk barefoot across hot coals. Most had never listened to the radio and certainly not Radio 4, so none knew where to put their eyes when listening! It was funny, but also reminded me just how big a fossil I am. Nevertheless I tell my students as a writer you have to be flexible in all the mediums to get by.
In The Heaviness, the scenes with Reverend Schneider are always fun to write. I am not entirely sure where he came from, but I was surprised the other day when someone mentioned him in an email. They described a tough, tall, menacing man, but I saw a kind of shambling Philip Seymour Hoffman conman type with a big false friendly smile to lure you in. ( I was saddened when Hoffman died suddenly). It’s a reminder that the reader really is the author - as Derrida would have us believe.
MdA: If you had to choose, which writer would you consider a mentor?
Raymond Chandler, although I’d also like William (‘no one knows anything’) Goldman. Both are masters of dialogue and plotting and let’s face it – if there is a better kid’s movie than ‘The Princess Bride’ it’s inconceivable.
MdA: Do you see writing as a career?
Always – never quite managed to make it pay consistently though – hence having to throw up my hands in surrender and go into teaching for 23 years. But I never gave up hope; and yes, I do have a stash of ‘to be published’ manuscripts on file. Some may well find their way into the public domain in the next two years.
MdA: Do you recall how your interest in writing originated?
SH: The Reverend Emlyn Williams at my school. He encouraged me to write and read. I think he and his dog were only at my school for a couple of years, but he could see how bored I was and made me read short stories by Somerset Maugham, classic Dickens and he read my stuff. (Sternly underlining grammatical issues). But it was pretty much all the encouragement I needed.
MdA: Is there anything you find particularly challenging in your writing?
SH: Making people aware of your books. I just don’t have enthusiasm for social media. Resistance is futile, I know. When I was teaching I could talk ideas over with keener students who loved YA fiction and I had a mentor in the wonderful girl who is Genie Magee in real life. She’d read and comment and keep me straight. I think that is rather rare though. I guess I’d rather discuss my characters and fiction in general face to face with someone in a pub or coffee shop than in a chat situation. Yep I am old fashioned. I should probably write about Dinosaurs.
MdA: Did you learn anything from writing your book and what was it?
SH: I learned something last year when I went out to talk about The Repossession with kids who had read it. They were pretty defensive about Genie and I know that Rian’s behaviour towards the end of The Hunting upset a lot of girls. I understood their concerns and the need for things to be made right between them. What the kids didn’t know was that the last part of The Hunting set at Cobble Hill, was originally the beginning of The Heaviness. To be honest I was very attached to the Cobble Hill section as it was setting the scene for a different story set-up and took the development of Genie as an individual much further. However, it didn’t allow time for Genie and Rian to make up. I wanted her lost, then to be found.
On reflection I should never have attached that new beginning onto the end of The Hunting and held it back for the third book. As it turns out – with a new editor at my publishers they weren’t keen to continue. But I knew from the day I was at The Wirral hustings and then at the Leeds Book Awards last year, talking to the kids who were so passionate about Genie and had issues with Rian, that I had to finish book three for them. Of course it had to involve a bit of punishment for Ri…
Others wrote to me to make sure I wasn’t mistreating Moucher, the dog. Some even wrote in about the pig! (I recall an early editorial comment (Kill the pig and get rid of the boy) Crazy. I kept the pig and the boy is a hero damnit. You don’t kill your heroes – at least not in the first two books….
But now it is up to readers to find The Heaviness. I hope they do and I that they will be satisfied as to how it all turns out and spread the word.
||MdA: Oh yes. The cover. Who designed it? It is quite striking and different in style to the previous two Genie Magee books.
SH: Dominic Robson designed it over in Germany. We located the image of Genie Magee and the moment I saw it I knew that this would be the right look. She is exactly as I imagined her to be. Mysterious, beautiful, anxious ... and I wanted a different look because the story is a year on from the other two covering a different theme. Things have moved on and the situation is grave. I hope readers like the cover as much as I do.
More about The Heaviness here
Kindle ebook for just £1.99
Moving Hay (extract from The Heaviness)
The time of the great experiment had arrived. Genie really didn’t think that Marshall was going to get Chris’ theories to work. He’d been trying for months now with no success, but it at least it made him happy. Happiness was a new experience for her; it seemed to vanish like mist when you least expected it.
*Marcel D'Agneau is a retired thriller writer (Eeeny Meeny Miny Mole) living in Cornwall
Order your copy of The Heaviness here
Marcel D'Agneau's first Q & A about The Repossession - 1st in the series here