I recently read ‘Escape to Perdition’, the debut novel by James Silvester, and was so impressed by the quality of writing I was cheeky enough to ask James if he would be interviewed for my blog. He kindly agreed.
Hello James, and welcome to Linda’s Book Bag.
Hello! Thanks for having me!
‘Escape to Perdition’ is your first novel. Please can you tell us what inspired you to write it?
The inspiration came from being in love with these countries and finding their history absolutely fascinating! It does annoy me that Prague these days is more known as that place Stags go to throw up in and Slovakia is so often confused with Slovenia. The history of the region is so important and I wanted people to know about it. People forget, but the Velvet Revolution was the catalyst for the collapse of the Soviet Union and I wanted people to see that, in the right circumstances, the region could be a catalyst again.
How much time did you have to spend researching the background to ‘Escape to Perdition’ and how did you go about it?
Quite a bit, but it’s time I enjoyed spending. I actually first learned about the Prague Spring in school. There’s a bit in the book when Peter tells Herbert of his old school classes, learning about the Spring and the Velvet Revolution and those are actually my own memories of my history classes. I’ve also taken full advantage of being married to someone from the region; being able to talk to real people who lived through some of these events has been invaluable. To fill in some gaps I’d spend time scouring the internet for official records and the like. I’m a bit of a history geek so I loved doing that.
I found reading ‘Escape to Perdition’ quite disturbing as it reveals the murky underworld of officialdom. Was that your intention, or were you more interested in showing the character of the protagonist Peter Lowe?
Both (if that’s not too much of a cop out answer). I very much wanted it to be character driven; I get a bit bored of spy films where protagonists can walk through explosions, sleep with a multitude of partners, kill two dozen bad guys and saunter nonchalantly home without so much as a second glance. I wanted something where the enormity of what is typically portrayed as a simple act, like killing someone, actually had an impact on the killer. I mean, it must be a hellish experience, to commit murder and live with it. Sooner or later a job like that must take its toll on the perpetrator, however strong they think themselves to be and however noble they feel their intentions are. But I also wanted to see Peter’s other layers; his job and his reaction to it dominates his life, but he’s trying, in his way, to have a normal life too, even if just with his music and his few friends. Ultimately those attempts to cling onto normality are futile of course.
As for the unpleasantness of officialdom, I think that’s my reaction to the hypocrisy of real life politics. As a child, things are pretty black and white, there are goodies and baddies, but as you get older you realise the lines are blurred and there’s not much our beloved leaders, from all Parties, won’t do to protect their interests.
Peter Lowe is a flawed character with a love of drink and jazz. I notice your biography says you were once a DJ. How much of you is there in Peter’s character?
I haven’t killed anyone yet. There are bits and pieces in there, I think. We share a love of the same music and, like him, I first really got into it during a difficult personal time. We all have our dark moments in life (and our bright ones, thankfully), and I think that the ‘moody, blues loving loner’, is probably me at my worst. I’d like to think I’m generally more agreeable than Peter, for the most part.
(He certainly looks it!)
What do you think might happen in Czechoslovakia in the future?
Interesting. Again the cop out answer is ‘I don’t know’, but I have a gut feeling that one day the boundaries will change again. For as long as I’ve been travelling there I haven’t come across any great burning desire to reunify, however almost as soon as I finished writing the book I found out about a new movement with that precise aim. I believe they are trying to seek cross party support for a referendum on reunification in 2018, which would be absolutely fascinating to observe!
What are your writing routines and what do you find easiest and most difficult about the writing process?
I wish they were a lot more routine than they are! I have a day job and a young family so actually getting the time to write can be a miracle. I started writing Escape to Perdition in my lunch breaks at work and as it developed I’d write in the evenings and late at night. The most annoying parts of the process, for me, would be when I’d actually managed to plan out some civilised writing time, sit down, open my laptop and nothing would come. Or else, I’d be at some kid’s birthday party trying to stop my three year old from hurling herself from the top of the ‘big kids’ slide and be hit with a sudden moment of inspiration I couldn’t write down. Writing is like a drug; once you start you can’t stop, but it’s probably not very good for one’s health…
You chose to publish with an independent publisher, Urbane Publications, why did you choose them and what was the process like?
I went with them because of Matthew and his truly unique approach. I was aware of writers for mainstream publishers often being treated like cattle on an abattoir conveyor, but Matthew’s genuine interest in and care for my project was palpable. The process has been a joy and has felt, at least to me, like a genuine partnership. We discussed retitling the book to better position it from an SEO perspective (stuff I wouldn’t have even thought of) and his comments on the script were always intelligent and considered. I really can’t speak highly enough of Urbane and would encourage any writer to make Matthew their first port of call.
(Urbane Publications can be found at https://urbanepublications.com/)
As a wannabe Doctor to replace Peter Capaldi, a Manchester City fan and an emerging writer, if you could only choose one of those for future success, which would it be and why?
Matthew Smith is a Gillingham fan and has never forgiven Man City for beating them in the 1999 play off final, so it’s probably better for my writing career if I don’t choose that one! I would dearly, dearly love to be the Doctor, but hand on heart I want to make it as a writer. At the risk of sounding pretentious it just feels ‘right’, and holding your own book makes you hungry for more. Plus, if I can’t be the Doctor, who’s to say I can’t write for the show one day!
What are you currently writing and will there be a sequel to ‘Escape to Perdition’?
I have a few things sketched out to keep me busy for the next few centuries, one way or another. I have outlines for a dystopian thriller and a contemporary horror story which I’d like to get down on paper in the next couple of years. There’s also a political comedy I’d love to have a bash at, tentatively titled, ‘The Forward Halt of Michael Disraeli’.
As for a sequel, I suspect whether or not it sees the light of day will depend on how ‘Escape to Perdition’ is received, but I’m hugely focussed on writing it now. I’ve had a couple of conflicting thoughts, but essentially, ‘Escape’ is the middle part of a trilogy and the sequel will raise the stakes considerably. We’ll find out more about The Child and his motivations and see how Mirushka is driving the country. We’re coming up to the 50th anniversary of the Prague Spring and the sequel will have a storyline to match that momentous event. I very much hope there’ll be an appetite for it and it will see print one day. Watch this space…
Other than ‘Escape to Perdition’, which other book do you wish you had written?
‘1984’ and ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. ‘1984’ still unsettles me to this day and remains as frighteningly relevant as ever it was. It amazes me that we, as a people, still seem intent on sleep walking into that nightmare, oblivious to the daily erosion of liberties that has haunted us for decades. And I’d love to be responsible for the adventures of Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect, what an absolute masterpiece.
What do you like to read when you’re not writing or trying to educate your children about music?
Will you shout at me if I give another cop out answer? I have a genuinely eclectic taste, but I’m a particular fan of the ‘Sharpe’ series by Bernard Cornwell, as well as Ian Fleming and Arthur Conan Doyle. Mary Shelley wrote my favourite novel of all time, in ‘Frankenstein’ and I adore ‘King Rat’ by James Clavell, a very moving book I’d urge you to read. Recently I’ve been catching up with my Urbane colleagues. I read ‘Close of Play’ recently (loved it) and A Barrowboy’s ‘Cadenza’ is next.
James, thank you so much for your time in answering my questions.
If readers would like to see what I thought to ‘Escape to Perdition’, you can read my review here:
James’ novel is available from Urbane Publications or Amazon