Exclusive Author Interview #9
#9 Declare and the Beyond
JB: Let's talk about the new book finally and what else is in the pipeline for your readers.
TP: By "new" book do you mean Declare?
JB: I do indeed. There's an even newer book?
JB: Ah! That's another story!! But yes, let's talk about Declare. It's finished. It's in the hands of the editor now?
JB: When is it due to appear?
TP: Apparently September of 2000. I wish it was sooner, but that's because I have to wait now a year in order to show off! I'd rather be able to show off now! But I had, apparently been thinking idly that it would be fun to write an espionage type book, just because those things are so much fun to play with. You know they way there's something intrinsically fun about pirates – cutlass battles on the beach, sea battles with rigging falling and cannons and all that – it's intrinsically fun. And the same thing is true of spy stuff. You know, you think "Checkpoint Charlie", "The Berlin Wall", brush passes in Prague or Budapest, you know. Secret armies of Bedouins – there's just all this fun stuff. The Tradecraft, the passwords – all the John Le Carre stuff.
One day I was reading the introduction to a book about Kim Philby – and the introduction was by John Le Carre – and Le Carre said "It's odd the bits of this story we'll never know. We'll never know who Philby's recruiter was. Was it his father? His father was such an odd guy. Who were the other agents that never came to light? Look at Philby as a representative type of empire England – 19th century England – and look how he wound up. Was that part of him essential to what he became?" And I just thought keep talking, Le Carre, you're giving me my book! These are all valuable points.
And then I read six or eight biographies of Philby, in my usual squint, looking for unexplained bits. Always asking myself "…well, no doubt! But why did he really do that?" and also telling myself "Nothing is a coincidence." He was wearing a fox fur garment that his father had given him when he was the only survivor of a car full of journalists that was hit by a Russian artillery round and later, in Beirut, it was upon the death of his pet fox that he totally broke and went to bits and fled to Moscow. This is not a coincidence, this fox business.
And so anyway, I finally did find, sure enough, evidence of a secret motivation behind Philby's life which involved the supernatural. He had – through his father – such extensive connections with Arabia, even specifically The Thousand and One Nights. His father, for example, treasured a first edition copy of the Burton translation and his father found thousands of thamudic inscriptions, old Hebrew lore. I mean there were something like six hundred before his father got busy and something like three thousand after his father had done his work. And so it became very clear to me that it was no stretch to explain the irrational behaviours of Philby and Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean by one specific supernatural hypothesis. Very Occam's Razor! To the point where, as usual, there came some late nights where I thought, "Oh my God!! You aren't making this up! This is all true!" and, of course, I always imagine when I think that that assassins are about to kill me, but especially when I'm talking about KGB and MI6.
JB: Is that always a moment of revelation for you when you're plotting a book? You suddenly see the joins you're looking for, you see the linkages?
TP: Yes. Yes. And you do. Your first reflexive thought is "Oh, well this is real. This isn't something you're imposing, this is something you've discovered in it." Ha!
But it was lots of fun. I had a fine old time with that book. I mean I had scenes in Paris in '45, Berlin in '45, Beirut in '63, Moscow in '64, The Empty Quarter, Arabian desert… loads of fun.
JB: Good to get back to a little bit of past history?
JB: A new period for you?
TP: Yes. It was a lot of fun, and it was a lot of fun messing with a lot of action in Kuwait. Bedouins – good deal of action involving Bedouins – which are properly pronounced something more like "Bedu", but nobody would know what I meant if I said that! And I do think I did get to use a lot of those fun bits of espionage fiction that I had hoped to be able to use. You know, driving very slowly across the Soviet sector cross-point, Ha! And all that kind of thing. I hope the readers find it fun!!
JB: So, in closing I supposed the obvious question is to ask when we can expect from you now after Declare.
TP: It's very very vague.
JB: You can be as general as you want!
TP: The new one is going to take place in Los Angeles in the thirties and I suspect it will involve movie people from the thirties…
JB: …well, I won't press you any more than that!
TP: Right now in fact it would be premature, because what I'm doing is I'm just hauling down, almost at random, books that might apply. I happened to notice I owned three books by, or about Gurdjieff. I'm gonna read them.
JB: I suppose the point I'm making is that you've constantly got stuff fermenting away…
TP: I've already got three of four of those twenty page booklets full of notes where I'm just talking to myself. Where I'm saying "OK Powers. Could this work? Well, not if you want this too. Well, which do you want more? Well I want both of them. Are you sure there's no way they'll both work?"
JB: So this is something that in the very earliest of stages, before you're even going into reading mode…
TP: We'll all be a good deal older before we…
JB: Is it nice to get back to that though? Is that the fun part of writing?
TP: Sure. Well every bit of it is fun when you finally get back to it. Correcting galleys is fun when you finally get to that point.
JB: But which is the part of the process that you love the most? I've also read that you spend a lot of time researching, you write your plot points on the cards, you shuffle them around, you get the pattern you want, you write the calendar of events, you're looking at your wall chart… and then I read that you've said that it's the easiest thing of all, having done all that, to simply sit down and write the book! Because you know what's happening – even sections of dialogue.
TP: That's an exaggeration, but it's almost true. By the time I actually start writing the first sentence of the book as such, I have already figured out the outline, yes, to such a detailed extent that bits of dialogue, jokes, particularly good descriptions are already laid out and indicated. I always have this forlorn hope that I might one day be able to work on an outline so thoroughly that parts of it will begin spontaneously to become text! Ha! Like polishing some rusty metal until all at once, here and there, it begins to be bright metal. Ha!
JB: Well, that's a great point to end on I think Tim. Thank you very much indeed both of you. It's been very enlightening and it will appear on the web site at some point soon.
TP: Cool. I can't wait!
My sincere thanks to Tim Powers for granting this interview and for allowing it to appear on this web site. Additionally thank you Roger Silverstein for his eagle-eyed proof reading.