Interview by Carl Marsh - April 2014
can I start by asking, what inspired you to write your debut novel, and for it to be a war story, set during World War 2?
Well, I’ve got a history degree so, to be honest, I’ve always been a bit of a historian at heart. I don’t really know where the initial idea for The Dynamite Room came from but at some point I decided that I was going to write a novel set during the Second World War. It’s such a rich period for storytellers but I wanted to do something different. Then, by chance, I came across a story about a beach in Suffolk called Shingle Street where, apparently, German debris would sometimes wash up (clothing, food wrappers, dead bodies from torpedoed boats or shot-down planes) and the fear from locals that one day a German would wash up on the shore but he wouldn’t be dead. I then thought, well, if a German soldier did arrive on the Suffolk coast in 1940, what would be the first thing he would do? Probably take refuge in a house somewhere. And if he did, then who would be the most unlikely person for him to be holed up with? From that, 11-year old Lydia was born.
Once people get to read the book they will realise it is set primarily in three countries, Germany, the UK and Norway. The first two I can say most readers would connect the second World War with but with Norway, and I agree it is a great country with a lot of history from the second World War that people often outside of Scandinavia either forget or don't even know about; so was Norway always your first choice for this pivotal part of the storyline and why was that?
Yes, the idea of Norway for a setting was in my mind before even Suffolk, although I wasn’t sure whether I would get it into this story or not, or whether it would have to wait for another novel. I’d written a novel before that was never published that was set in contemporary Sweden but had a very minor backstory regarding Sweden’s involvement in the war. I made a two-line mention of Narvik in northern Norway and the battle for it in April 1940. In all honesty, it was a bit of a throw-away fact that I’d stumbled across but it intrigued me enough to read up on it more, and the more I read about what happened up there, the more I was convinced that I wanted to at least partially set a novel there during that time. When I realized that The Dynamite Room would need a second location I knew instantly that it would be Norway.
The book is written from the perspective of 2 people, one a German male and one an English female. Is it true that for both individuals, (and I read this in the back of the book proof) that you really did act out the characters parts as if you were practicing for a play or film in your own home. This may have been an oddity to your neighbours, if they had happened to be looking in! Did any of them actually confront you, asking if you were ok?
Ha! Ha! Actually, that’s a very good point. You would have thought one of them would have checked that I wasn’t really grappling with a German soldier in my living room! You get all sorts in Wimbledon! To be honest, I’ve been in the house for a few years and I think my neighbours are used to me making strange noises and thumping around. Acting out scenes does help me to write the characters though. It helps me to understand how they might stand or position themselves, any physical tics they might develop, the little things they might do, picking at a bit of floorboard, for example, or how my character Heiden drums his fingers.
Off on a tangent here, would you be happy to select only one book that you would label your favourite book ever read, and to then tell everyone why?
Crumbs, that’s almost impossible. One? Are you sure? My taste in modern fiction changes so I probably ought to pick a classic. And, if I’m going down that route, then I’d have to say Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights. I’ve always been a huge fan of nineteenth-century Gothic fiction and Wuthering Heights is savage, dramatic, ghostly, bleak and desperately romantic. That’s pretty much everything I want in a novel. Oh, and, of course, it’s beautifully told.
If you could describe your career title now, would it be novelist, playwright or actor or will you still continue to be all of them?
At the moment I call myself a novelist, playwright and actor, in that order as I’m spending most of my time writing novels and I haven’t acted for a year. I’d like to juggle them all but something always has to take priority and at the moment that is certainly novels. I’ve got a play going up to Edinburgh Fringe this year though, and I’d love to do a bit of acting nearer the end of the year if I can land a suitable role. Acting is the perfect antidote to all those lonely hours spent writing.
I can see this book making it to either the TV, Movies and/or Theatre. As you are a professional actor in your own right, will you consider playing the main character Heiden, or do you have somebody else you would prefer in that leading role?
I would bite my hand off to play Heiden in a screen or theatre adaptation of the book (not my writing hand, I hasten to add!). In all honesty though, I know my limits and I’m not a good enough actor for what would be a pretty demanding role. Plus, I don’t look anything like him. I’d need to be more toned and rather better looking for a start. If Michael Fassbender, Damien Lewis or even Tom Hiddleston are twiddling their thumbs though, they should drop me a line and I’ll send them a copy! I’ll waver the postage.
With my final question, I really want to through you off-centre Jason by asking if you could be an animal, what would it be and why?
Otter – because they’ve got long bodies (like me), are inquisitive (like me) and – given the opportunity – would spend all day lolling around on their back in pools of water or basking in the sun (like me).
Great answer, otter's are very intelligent creatures, so you could have said that also!
If I could end by saying thank you for writing such a future awards winning book and I could not think of any better author to start my Q&A with, thanks Jason.
Why, thank you, Carl. It’s been a pleasure!