Monday, 27 June 2011

Interview | Matthew Hughes

Matthew Hughes, author of The Damned Busters, has kindly agreed to an interview for the blog - you can read my review of his book here:
Welcome to the blog! 
Readers (myself included) very much enjoyed your literary take on theology in The Damned Busters. Can we expect to see more of this in future installments?
Oh, yes.  I'll be working through the point Hardacre raised in the first volume.  Reduced to its simplest form, which is about all you can do in a light entertainment, it's asking:  why doesn't the Bible make sense?  Well, I'm saying it's because God keeps rewriting reality, draft after draft, trying to get to the heart of a story that's about what's good and what's evil.  And what happens to those discarded drafts?  Does he throw them away, or does he, like most writers, keep them on the hard drive because there might be things in there he can still us?  I'm going for the keeper scenario, which means that the Garden of Eden is "there" somewhere.  So is the world in which the hero was the historical Jesus, a wandering Galilean faith-healer, before he was transmuted into a persona of the Allmighty.  All of which comes up in Costume Not Included.

The other thing the overall story is about, as with most of what I've written over the past twenty years, is this question:  how do people like Chesney, who is one of the far outliers on the spectrum of human variability, find a way to be happy in a world that's mostly made for people who fit comfortably within the middle of the bell curve?

I'm looking forward to seeing it! I notice that you moved into the language of statistics in describing Chesney's character for your last sentence there: did you have a particular purpose in mind for picking Chesney's profession as an actuary (or was the Actionary pun just too irresistible)?

Yes, I did.  I wanted Chesney to be a mix of absolute certainty and pure confusion.  Numbers are his secure place.  He is a high-functioning autistic, with a genius for math.  About human relations, he knows next to nothing.  He has had to be taught how to differentiate between human facial expressions, the kind of ability the normal brain is wired from birth to do.  So an actuary was a logical profession for him to enter.

The pun came later.  Originally, he was going to be called the Regulator.

It's definitely refreshing to see inclusion of protagonists outside the normal fantasy archetypes. How do you feel about this in mainstream fantasy? Do you think we should be seeing more of these types of characters, like authors such as yourself and Mark Charan Newton are doing?
I can't comment, as I don't read fantasy anymore, and haven't for decades.  But, in general, I think authors should write about the kinds of characters and situations that are meaningful to them, rather than try to "meet a market" by grinding out formulaic retreads.  In saying that, however, I have to admit that when I was raising a family, with children who liked to eat every day, I wrote lots and lots of speeches that advanced worldviews with which I did not agree.  You gotta do what you gotta do.

So is there a character in The Damned Busters which most expresses your own worldview?

In the sense that one of them's a facsimile of me?  No.  The one who comes closest is probably Melda McCann, in that she takes a pragmatic approach to life and just wants to get along and hopes others will do the same.

The story as a whole expresses key elements of my worldview:  that human situations are usually more complex than they appear on first appraisal, and that the determined pursuit of a narrow agenda is probably going to do at least as much harm as good.

The Damned Busters plays on several well-known tropes associated with the superhero: do you see Chesney's comic role as a deconstruction of the genre, or something else?
I don't know how to do deconstruction.  I'm an intuitive writer.  I start with a character and a situation and see what develops from them.  Right now I'm a couple of months from starting on the third book, and I have only the vaguest idea what's going to happen in it.

It's a humorous book, but I don't see Chesney as a comic character  He is a guy who's struggling to make sense of his life, given that he's been dealt a peculiar hand.  Being a high-functioning autistic, he has a view of the world that's slightly off the vertical, but he's trying to make it work, and he's deadly serious about it.  The world of The Driver is one that makes sense to him.  He's trying to do it in what, to him, is the real world.

Of course, it's not the real world because he's a character in a book, and in the context of this particular book, we're all just characters in a book.  And that's about as far as I want to take the concept, because the farther out you go the thinner the ice.

Writers frequently talk about being able to work only in specific places or times: is there anywhere you prefer to write, or are chair and pen sufficient?
I started out seriously writing for money at a big-city daily newspaper, in a huge room filled with desks.  On top of each desk was a manual typewriter, and when it got close to deadline, the combined clatter of all those keys was like continuous rifle fire in a battle.  But if you didn't get your copy written and in to the desk men (they were all men in those days) God help you.  So I learned to ignore the environment and concentrate on the work.

When I started out freelancing speeches, and working on IBM Selectric typewriters, I wrote on a beat-up old stenographer's desk that I bought in 1972 for $15, but eventually I had to get a computer-friendly desk to accommodate a monitor and keyboard.  Because I was run into almost forty years ago by a drunk driver who left me with a back strung together with scar tissue, I prefer to write in a recliner with a detachable keyboard on my lap.  Otherwise, I knot up.

But, for almost the past four years, I've been an itinerant housesitter, and in that time I've written six novels, two novellas, and maybe ten short stories, while sitting on couches, folding chairs, beds, and only occasionally, a comfortable recliner.  The villa where I'm housesitting in Italy these days has nothing suitable, and I'm going to be here for another nine months, so I'll probably drive down to the Ikea store in Bari and get something that approximates a recliner before I start the next Chesney novel.

Well, thank you very much for letting me interview you! I've certainly enjoyed it - and I look forward to reading the sequel when it comes out.

You can find The Damned Busters on Amazon here: 
UK: Damned Busters (Angry Robot)
US: Damned Busters: To Hell and Back, Book 1 (Hell to Pay)


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