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Setting Aside the Rest of the Story: An Interview with James Bovill

Setting Aside the Rest of the Story: An Interview with James Bovill

 |  Author Interviews


In the 21st century, with our mobile phones, internet connections and fast-paced lives, many feel lost – despite the fact that twenty years ago, at the turn of the century, things felt on the way up with more accessibility and interconnectedness than ever before. James Bovill’s The Tale of Franklin Gaddarini is a contemporary fiction which analyses our place in the world, through the eyes of a complex protagonist.


We spoke with James about crafting his lead character, the compelling draw of interpretating and exploring the modern world, and the inspirations that have directly impacted his writing.



Your book's protagonist is a 49-year-old Glaswegian and you are a Glasgow local. They say that all art is autobiographical to an extent, so how much of yourself do you feel is in your work?


The cliches in this question make a sharp and insightful answer difficult. The Tale … is a work of fiction. The characters inside it do not step over any boundary into the “real” world. And the creator of the characters has to be alert not to try to climb in amongst them. Unless the writer stays outside of what he writes, the writing will never achieve what it might. Several aspects of the protagonist Franklin are very familiar to me. And many of the characters in the tale have affinities with people from my own past life. But they are characters in a fiction. I have heard of authors who get immersed and even “lost” in their books”. That would not work for me.



The last line of your bio (under 'About the Author') reads: "He describes his fifth novel, The Tale of Franklin Gaddarini, as a meditation." I wanted to ask if you could expand upon this description and why you think "meditation" is an ideal interpretation of your latest release?


A meditation is a spiritual activity in which a person tries to clear the mind of clutter, find a position of calm and silence, and focus on some particular idea, subject or issue. This is broadly true of all meditation, but I have read that there is no universally agreed definition – since time immemorial the practice has been part of many different human cultures , especially in religious practices, carried out in different ways. During the writing of The Tale, I would often find myself pausing, focussing on one incident or remark, and reflecting on it and its implications, setting aside the rest of the story for the moment. These (usually fairly short) meditations, continued throughout my writing of the narrative, and would frequently connect to the religious themes, references and symbols which pervade the story. I therefore felt it quite appropriate to describe The Tale as a meditation.



The Tale of Franklin Gaddarini is set in the present day - something the blurb describes as "the fog of the 21st century". Why did you decide to write a story set in this time period and why is "the fog of the 21st century" so compelling?


I suggest three ways of understanding the character of Franklin Gaddarini: mental illness; demonic possession; or being lost in the fog of the 21st century. There may well be others, but I confined my spectrum to these three. The first two might be taken to stand for the scientific and the religious approach to such behaviour. The third may be more difficult to place, but I noticed more and more as I was writing the book that Franklin had trouble in seeing (understanding) those he came in touch with. By the end of the story he has been in communication of one kind or another with at least 45 other characters, and yet time after time he fails to see them, to recognise what they are saying, to pay any attention to advice offered. It is as if he is in a massive fog. He does not see people properly. He loses his way. And much of this might be attributed to the fog that modern living creates. Modern life for many is just too full of junk, of distractions, of complexities, to a degree of density that can easily be compared to a thick fog. It stops people seeing; it leads to people making calamitous mistakes; it can be very dangerous; unlike rain, sunshine, even snow, it has no recognisable benefits whatever. And it is the weather we largely live in.



Are there any similar titles or authors you can relate this work to? Are there identifiable and clear inspirations for your writing?


The title format “The Tale of …” has been widely in use for centuries, from Beatrix’s Potters Tale of Peter Rabbit to Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. So there was probably nothing particularly original in my mind when I chose that title. Actually at first I was calling it "The Ballad of …” because I saw Franklin very much as a kind of hero of the old ballad form of narrative poetry. But of course this is prose, not verse, so “Ballad” had to make way, and “Tale” took over.


During the years just before I wrote The Tale of Franklin Gaddarini, I had been enjoying the works of two writers in particular – both American : Raymond Carver’s short stories, and Joyce Carol Oates’ very long stories. I believe I did learn a few tricks from them. They helped me develop a narrative style that I enjoyed. As for dialogue, I have no doubt I am subliminally influenced by those masters of the spoken word, Harold Pinter and Samuel Becket when I am constructing the conversations in the story.



And finally, this is your fifth novel, your first with us at Pegasus Publishers. Are there any more ideas awaiting publication?


Yes, there are two works in progress.


The first is about a man who is made redundant from his factory job, and who then buys a sweet shop with his redundancy payment, to the chagrin/shock/astonishment/anger of his family.


The second concerns an over-worked teacher walking one evening near his home, who comes across a gold bullion bar worth £50,000 lying on the pavement.


I cannot give away any more details on either of these.



The Tale of Franklin Gaddarini  is available in paperback now.



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