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By Patrick (2007-03-28)
Q: Without giving anything away, what can you tell potential readers about The Book of All Hours? To be frank, I can't even think of a way to put it all in a nutshell.
The core idea of it is the Book of All Hours, an ancient tome containing every story ever written and every story never written, sort of a cross between Lovecraft's Necronomicon and Borges's Book of Sand, and the blueprint of reality itself -- which is a sort of Moorcockian multiverse, the "Vellum", with three temporal dimensions. Think of it as like an ancient myth. A story about Prometheus, say, has a beginning and an end, past and future, the dimension of time we know. But then there may be variants of this story where the Corinthians tell it one way and the Athenians quite another, like parallel worlds, a second side-to-side dimension. And finally you have the layers of revisions and retellings, where the story of Prometheus may be an Nth Generation retelling of a primitive "thief of fire" story; so in the Vellum, time has a sort of up-and-down dimension, with older worlds, worlds of angels and demons buried in the dust beneath our feet, so to speak. Which version is the "real" story of Prometheus? The Athenians' or the Corinthians'. The one in Aeschylus's play or the one told round the Palaeolithic campfire?
Maybe the "real" story is the "story of the story" you get when you put all those versions together, look at them as a single tale in three temporal dimensions, the similarities across variants, the changes in retellings, the inconsistencies and congruities. OK, so, in the books, this is how I treat the gods and demons of mythology, and us mere mortals too; a character's story doesn't just take place in one fold of the Vellum; it takes place in all of them, across them. It's what you get when you put those different versions together. What I tend to do is take one or two versions as the base narratives and weave them together, but with fragments of other variants to give you a sense of the bigger "3D" story.
It gets even more complex because all the gods and demons of our myths are seen as "unkin". They're actually humans; all that makes them different to us is they know the language of the Book, the programming language of reality, and they use it to travel between folds, exist as 3D entities, rewrite their own stories, hack reality, so to speak. Thing is, when you have characters rewriting their own past that makes for a pretty unconventional type of plot, deeply non-linear. Because largely Vellum and Ink are about how they completely screw things up.
In terms of the Big Picture, what you have is one set of angels, the Covenant, who have this Grand Plan for humanity, which unfortunately involves wiping out any unkin who won't sign up to it. When one rogue unkin, Thomas, tries to escape his fate you get a thread being pulled out that leads to the whole of reality falling apart. So the big story of the two books is about him and various other rogues and renegades in different incarnations across different folds -- from ancient Sumer to the Somme, from a post-apocalypse America to a fascist steampunk Glasgow -- trying to survive and maybe even, hopefully, sort things out.
Q: What do you feel is your strength as a writer/storyteller?
Audacity and sheer bloody-mindedness maybe. In terms of craft, well, I think I can put a good sentence together, craft characters to care about, and hold a metafictional mindbender of a plot-structure in my head, but talking about those as "strengths" would be complacent and conceited, and I'm sure many would disagree with my self-assessment. So what I tend to identify as the thing I'm most focused on, the quality I consider most important and would like to think is my real strength is that utter disregard for preconceived notions of what can and can't be done in writing. If I set out to do something I won't do it by halves, even if it seems like the dumbest, craziest thing in the world to do... like writing a 400,000 word monster of what could probably be described as Cubist Fantasy.
Maybe "insanity" is a better word.