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A Conversation with Stephen Pryde-Jarman author of Rubble Girl

Stephen Pryde-Jarman is a scriptwriter and author who released his new novel, Rubble Girl last week. It’s a story about Anna, whose life is stable and predictable… and a little dull. When she finally finds out the truth about what her secretive husband does for a living, things fall spectacularly apart. Anna finds herself in an epic journey across Europe, where death, violence and bloodshed define everything. Rubble Girl is a compelling, entertaining and exquisite page turner, with amazing parallels to the current refugee crisis.

Cult Faction is thrilled to bring you an interview with this breakout novelist!

 How did you first think of writing this story?

  I spent some time with a friend from ‘way back when’ – the ‘when’ being when we were both adolescents. We were best friends then and have kept in touch over the years. We spent a couple of hours together, and I was astonished at how divergent our worlds are, especially considering that we live on the same planet. Somehow the conversation came up about an aeroplane that had gone missing. I mentioned that it had been shot down, which is terrifying really. But then two seconds later they were talking about Kim Kardashian. Talking with my friend, I realized that their world is a very different from mine.  It was a weird feeling, like talking to an alien wearing a friend’s skin – not a bad or hostile alien, just someone from another world. And they have must have felt the same.

Our worlds are both states of consciousness, in a sense they are both illusions, but at the same time they are both real. We have a choice about which one we want to spend our time in. The choice we make strongly affects everything in our lives, acting through our perceptions of reality. Mostly we perceive the world as being the way we expect it to be, and this in turn heavily influences the way we respond to it .The more we live in our own worlds, defined by our families and friends, the harder and sharper its edges and boundaries become.

I try to watch the news but there seems to be only so much you can watch without feeling like you can’t take it anymore. So you try not to get angry about things you can’t change and try to distract yourself with other things. I saw a black and white photograph of a teenage couple walking down the street hand in hand, like they were going to the Cinema. Two lovers entwined in their own little world, they could have been from any time or in any country. It just so happened that there was a building behind them in flames and it just so happened that they were in Berlin in 1945.

I wanted to write about people like them, how their normal lives carried on largely oblivious to the terrible things that were happening around them in the real world. How much did they know about what was going on around them? Or where they busy distracting themselves with other things?

What made you decide to write about the migrant crisis?

The fact that I have written about what is happening in the world with migrants and refuges was not deliberate. I think growing up in England the effect of World War 2 is still everywhere, people are still finding unexploded bombs from the blitz in every city. There are houses in my road that are about 50 years younger than the others because the original houses were blown up. The reach of it is ingrained in the British psyche. But there is still so much about it that we don’t really understand in this country. As a child I was fascinated by The Silver Sword by Ian Serrailler, which is based upon an account of the Red Army on the march. In this country we were understandably divorced from what was happening in central and Eastern Europe after the war. But there are so many parallels with today’s movement of people and of course how European countries have reacted to it.

Throughout Europe, leaders are succumbing to the keep-them-out syndrome. Hungary is building a fence along its border with Serbia. Spain has done the same Bulgaria followed suit (on the border with Turkey). In Macedonia, they are deploying armoured vehicles against migrants Will this work? It’s unlikely. When you flee atrocities and war, the desperation to reach a haven will always be stronger than security fences and dogs.

 Was the book difficult to write?

Yes. I had nightmares while I was writing. I also had a problem, in about the middle of the writing; with feeling the book wasn’t going anywhere – that it wasn’t doing justice. So I had a bit of a crisis, which was extremely stressful for me. I had days when things were not going so well, but I always kept going. It’s better to get the words down, even if you find you have nothing to say or the story isn’t moving so well, than let the blank page/screen bully you and stop you from trying. You can always rip your words up (metaphorically) the following day. But at the end of the day I’d collected so much research I thought I might as well keep going anyway. There’s a line from The Simpsons that sums it up the best. Either crap or get off the pot. There are many aspects of the work that are amazingly rewarding. The actual doing of it. The writing, when it goes well, there’s no better creative high.

Your protagonists are Anna and Joe, is any of your personality reflected in them or any of the other characters?

No. Writing about yourself is very difficult and dangerous, as you inevitably end up looking either narcissistic or depressed; I was very careful not to base any of the characters on anyone I knew, either, because whether or not I wanted to I would end up offending a lot of people. Part of the fun of writing is that you get to make up imaginary people, and why deny yourself that?

 Which character was the biggest challenge to create or develop?

It wasn’t so much a matter of being a challenge to develop some of them- more that no character, in my limited experience, is ever the same on the page as they are in your head, and occasionally the way they develop when you’re writing them comes into conflict with how you need them to behave in order for the plot to work.

What made you want to become a writer?

I was a bookworm – I still am- and to me being an author seemed like the pinnacle of human achievement. To be an author meant to be the closest person to the stories I loved, to be a part of it, almost. I started writing scripts and plays, short stories written out in notebooks. It’s so satisfying a thing to work at – a story, characters, to create a place and tone – and pull a story into life. Putting the pieces together, little by little, working at it, cutting, pasting, rewriting, this is all part of the sense of achievement you feel when you type that last full stop! I write novels because there is something I don’t understand in reality. What I do is locate that special problem in a character and then try to understand it. That’s the genesis of all my work. Because of my unconscious defences, I am incapable of facing the problem directly. There are obstacles that impede me from doing so. Yet I can do it through a literary character. It’s easier!

What inspires you?

In terms of novel writers it has to be Mary Shelly. She wrote Frankenstein when she was twenty! The imagery just drips out of every page. ‘By the glimmer of the half-extinguished light, I saw the dull yellow eye of the creature open; it breathed hard, and a convulsive motion agitated its limbs.’ Amazing!  It’s got that beautiful darkness to it.  I like it when stories move in and out of dreams. ‘There is this woozy feeling of darkness, like your drunk, which is something I’ve always loved in David Lynch’s work too. It feels like the moments before you fall asleep.

I’m a good old fashioned generation X’er, so there’s a lot of inspiration from music as well as literature. I always like to listen to music when I’m thinking about a story. Not when I’m actually writing but the times when I’m on a bus daydreaming against the window or walking around thinking about a story. Every story has its own soundtrack. It could be anything from Kurt Cobain to Gustav Holst to Boris Pickett depending on the story. For Rubble Girl it was ‘Nature Boy’ by Nat King Cole and ‘Sycamore Trees’ by Jimmy Scott.

 What other writers do you admire?

The classics and old-style adventure novelists, such as Charles Dickens, Lewis Carroll or Edgar Allen Poe. Contemporary writers, too many to mention even more than a handful, would include Spike Milligan, Stephen King, Roald Dahl and Stephen Moffett for his sense of character. I am strangely obsessed by The Golden Calf a satirical novel by Soviet authors Ilf and Petrov, released in 1931. I must have read it twice a year for the last 16 years.

What’s your advice to an aspiring novelist?

Five minutes of writing a day is better than no minutes. Too many new writers think that unless they have plenty of time, it’s not worth booting up the computer or sharpening that pencil. But think of it, instead, like practising scales on the piano before tackling that Beethoven Concerto or like warming-up in the gym – the more you prepare for writing, the better shape you’ll be in once you have time to really concentrate. Use the notes app on your phone or send yourself an email. Don’t wait for an idea to come down out of the blue. Believe me; you’ll be waiting for a long time: take an idea that has promise, even if it doesn’t come to you in a sudden stroke of genius. And don’t think about the odds of you completing this.  The only logical consequence of your thinking about it would be that you might give up, and then your odds shrink to zero.

 What role does the reader play in your work? Are you aware of a future reader when you write a novel? Has the reader’s taste ever influenced the way you constructed a story?

Whenever I write, I’m always thinking of the reader. I write for somebody who has my own limitations. My reader has a certain difficulty with concentrating, which in my case comes from being a film and TV viewer. That’s why I try to keep things moving quickly. I like it when each chapter feels like an episode.  A good novel is like a good box set sometimes you want to just dip in for a chapter and sometimes you want to binge on it.

 How do you feel about being a published author?

It’s weird. I mean, good weird. It’s pretty much everything I’ve dreamed of since I was old enough to read. I wouldn’t change anything about this in a lifetime. I love this.

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