1. How did you research the Devil’s Garden? Do you feel that visiting a place you are writing about is crucial for an author?
Personally, I find that there is no substitute for going to a place if you want to write about it. The word ‘author’ is quite close to the word ‘authenticity’ – and the more you know a place, the more time you can spend there, the more authentic your writing will become. Or at least that’s my experience. Other writers write well from maps and the imagination and so on. But I found that going to Russia for my second novel and going to the Amazon for this last one, really helped. And, well, it seems to me fairly obvious that more things will occur to you if you go: the story will flourish when it is more familiar with its setting. Plus … what’s not to like about traveling to write?!
2. You must have learned calligraphy in order to write about it. are you a calligrapher now too?
No, I was lucky – I travelled up to Yorkshire to see someone who was a professional calligrapher – he ran the Society of Scribes and Illuminators – and he taught me everything I needed to know. Afterwards, I was able to call him and ask him further details. Then I went back to check everything with him – when that novel was in final draft. It was a fascinating experience. I later found out that the SSi had fallen out with some other society of calligraphers and that there were schisms and tensions and splits. It reminded me of the python scene where John Clease shouts ‘splitters’. But, of course, in finding out about all this, I did start to have a different relationship with letters – a bit like Jasper in the novel does…
How has your life changed now that you’re full-time writer?
Yes, these days, I go to the artist’s enclave at the Hay Festival and do these Q and A’s whereas before I would tended not to get in and there would be security and fighting and tears and I’d often get thrown out and then when I used to tunnel back in they’d get mad and I’d be arrested and have to wrest control of the steering wheel in the police van and knock out the police officers and steal their uniforms and come back in by pretending to be security – it was exhausting and pretty dangerous at times.