Tim Clare & Colin MacIntyre – Moving Into the Fiction Factory – 16th August 2015.
The First Book Award is a big part of Edinburgh Book Festival, and two of 2015’s nominees joined forces for an event. Tim Clare wrote The Honours, following 13 year old Delphine in 1935, as she moves into a new home with people she doesn’t trust. Colin MacIntyre’s The Letters of Ivor Punch follows an old man living on an island, where readers gain a greater insight into him from letters he writes.
“Let’s imagine a fireplace,” begins Tim prior to his reading. It’s the 80s-kids-programme type set-up, where he acts surprised to find viewers there, then begins to read of Delphine. Colin picks up with his own reading, catching Ivor writing a letter to President Obama, as you do.
They both feature prominent characters, but notably neither is an old man or a teenage girl, so how do you find that voice? “Ivor is a representation of people I grew up around who had one word character assessments of people, and wouldn’t waste another,” explains Colin. “Older people often have a shorthand of speech, but they’ve got a lot more to say than we think.” Thus, the letters become a vessel for insights you wouldn’t otherwise see.
“I was interested in how the world could learn from an island community, and that it’s not that different from the global one,” he continues. “I also wanted to look at how home travels with us.”
“I think 13 year old me would look at my life and be very pleased,” muses Tim. “Delphine is not very like me. She’s obsessed with guns – she knows all the guns.” He was walking along some salt marshes, noting that it felt like a snapshot of the Jurassic period. “It was so bleak. I had the image of a girl firing a gun at these geese who had just flown into the sky.”
“I had to write a story to build a house for her to live in and to discover who she was,” he continues. One notion of interest was setting her in 1935; working in a school recently he realised in talking to 13-14 year olds that about 9/11, that this was history to them that everyone knew of but no one spoke of, so grand was its impact in recent years. In his book World War I is the same influence – recent enough for everyone to be aware and impacted, but also that no one talks about as it’s simply known. It’s an interesting tack to set something slightly off the big historic moments.
The blurb is where you really can hook in or lose the reader; donning his best Hollywood movie voice, Tim turns over his book and begins to read. “1935. Norfolk.” He starts to laugh.
Fantasy peppers both their books, but let’s avoid spoilers. “I grew up sometimes not knowing what was fact and what was fiction,” says Colin.
“Fantasy is a way of positioning vector points in directions, finding a new vantage point and getting the reader to look around,” adds Tim. “Fantasy and weirder things and stepping outside the world gestured to a deeper emotional truth.”
One prominent notion of fantasy is it being used as a metaphor – sometimes it can be used to represent something, but many forget it can simply be without reason. It can be a mystery, it can be intriguing, maybe it can just be because it’s – gasp – fun.
Tim notes “We haven’t mentioned fun because it seems shameful! If you accept the reality, it anchors the weirder things.” Sweeping metaphor or good ol’ fun, these two have tackled different stories in their debuts that draw from fantasy to varying degrees, but also have strong plots and characters in their midst. Both are nominated for the First Book Award, and you can vote here!