Marcus Sedgwick is here today as part of the blog tour for his latest novel The Ghosts of Heaven. It’s early days but I’m confident enough to say that this is already one of my favorite (and most-anticipated) books from 2015. It should definitely be on your radar ASAP. Read on for my interview with Marcus and be sure to check out my giveaway (US/Canada only) for a hardcover copy to call your own!
Miss Print (MP): What was the inspiration for The Ghosts of Heaven? Why spirals?
Marcus Sedgwick (MS): For years I’d had a growing fascination with the spiral form, and alongside that the desire to wrote a novel about them. But how can you write a novel about spirals? That’s clearly absurd, and so I had to wait a long time to work out what I was going to do – the result being the four quarters, four different stories that make up the book. Why do I like spirals? They are such a beautiful shape – most people seem to find them so, but they are also mysterious I think. They seem to often be used as a symbol for spiritual things and I think that’s because they imply infinity.
MP: The Ghosts of Heaven is broken into four stories, or quarters, that can be read in any order. When you started writing, did you know that the book would be organized in this way?
MS: I knew there were going to be four quarters for a long time, but I didn’t know the exact order for a long time. I didn’t want to specify the order in which they should be read but of course in a physical book you have to. Of the 24 possible ways of reading the sequence of four stories, there are two sequences that are significant for me; one is the order in the book, and the other is one that alters the overall meaning of the book. But I’m not saying what that order is :)
MP: What was your writing process like for The Ghosts of Heaven? Were there unique challenges given the structure? Where did you start?
MS: It was a wonderful book to write – I enjoyed the writing of each stage, how different each part is, and the way those different voices would play against each other was fascinating to consider. Having decided to have four stories, it became great fun to work out what would be in each part and how each part would work. When I actually came to start writing though, I wrote the stories in the order that they appear in the printed book.
MP: This book spans history with your stories set in four very specific time periods. How did you choose which points in time to use as settings for each quarter?
MS: I knew I wanted a story set in the far future and one in the distant past, because I wanted to see how the spiral has been with us always and will always be with us, and how it affected and will affect my characters’ thinking in different times. The spiral is always the same, of course, but what we think it means may well change over time. I chose a story in prehistoric times for the reason that I wanted to talk about the birth of writing, and I chose the far future because I wanted to talk about our future as a species. The stories in the 18th and 20th centuries are therefore much closer together, and they are closer to our own time. I chose those dates because in the 18th century story, we see a young woman accused of witchcraft, and her brother has ‘fits’ which are held to be magically induced. In the story set in the early 20th century, we see a patient in an insane asylum, in an era when we are trying to understand such matters through science. I wanted to show that only a couple of hundred years is enough to have altered entirely the way in which the things are viewed; firstly through the lens of magic, then through the lens of science. And I did that because I wanted to suggest that we can never know for sure whether we’re thinking the ‘right way’ about things; that truth is very hard to be sure of, and that our attitudes might change again as the years progress.
MP: In addition to spanning a variety of time periods, the stories within this book also cover a variety of genres (historical and science fiction for instance) and formats (with parts written in verse or in diary format to name two). How did you decide how to tell and write each quarter of the book?
MS: With four parts it seemed to make sense to write them in different ways, partly for the fun of it, partly for the challenge, and partly to help distinguish them from each other. The prehistoric part was the most important decision though; I knew that I did not want to write some horribly inauthentic dialogue for these Neolithic people. I really cringe when you see a film or read a book set in such times – they always seem so corny, usually the male characters all have names with at lest one K in them – it’s all hard and guttural. For all we know, early language was sibilant and lyrical. So I decided to tell this part in verse, to avoid dialogue for the most part and to give the whole sequence a slightly detached, mystical air, as if we are watching things that we cannot ever really understand entirely, since these people are quite different from us. Having made that choice, the other choices followed easily.
MP: Is there any character that you are particularly excited for readers to meet?
MS: Oh gosh, well, I guess all of them. I wouldn’t like to specify – there are a lot of characters in the book and I always find everyone has different taste, so I think it’s best to let people choose for themselves.
MP: Working off the last question, which scene are you most excited for readers to discover in The Ghosts of Heaven?
MS: Well, I think my answer would be the same, but that’s a boring thing to say – so, maybe the sequence when the spaceship The Song of Destiny breaks through the ‘ripped region of space’ and things get a wee bit weird…
MP: Can you tell us anything more about the numbers found on the last page of The Ghosts of Heaven?
MS: I can tell you that you are the first person to ask me about them. Maybe other people have seen them, and just thought they are a printing error or something! But no, they’re meant to be there – it’s a coded message with some more thoughts about, well, important and relevant things. I’ll leave it at that.
MP: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring authors?
MS: You must connect. You must connect to what it is that is moving you to write, and bathe yourself in that thing, whatever it is. You must feel it inside and out and even if you don’t consciously understand all the whys and whats, you need to connect your mind to the thing that started you writing, so you say what you want to say with power and honesty.
MP: Can you tell us anything about your next project?
MS: I’ve just started writing a new adult novel, so that’s going to be a while away yet… Before then I have a comic in the pipeline from First Second Books – it’s called Scarlett Hart and my great friend Thomas Taylor is working away on the illustrations right now.
Thank you to Marcus for taking the time to answer my questions and thank you for Ksenia Winnicki at Macmillan for organizing this tour and giving me the opportunity to take part.
For more information about Marcus and his books you can visit his website.
Don’t forget to enter my giveaway to win a copy of The Ghosts of Heaven to call your own.
Here is the rest of the blog tour schedule:
Monday January 5: The Midnight Garden
Tuesday January 6: ExLibris
Wednesday January 7: Teen Lit Rocks
Thursday January 8: Fat Girl Reading
Friday January 9: Step Into Fiction
Monday January 12: The Book Wars
Tuesday January 13: Miss Print
Thursday January 15: Ticket to Anywhere
Friday January 16: Alice Marvels