Some more people who influenced the easy town story and me
Over the years of mapping out the easy town story, making notes, calculations, maps and writing the first books, several people have influenced me and the easy town story.
Reading the Guardian has kept me going in many situations, and occasionally an article reassured me that I was on the right track, that I am not the only one who thinks about this or that, and sometimes I got a booyah moment when an journalist wrote about something I had only speculated about.
And they taught me a lot about racism, and kept my eyes on the whole world, not least thanks to the excellent photos of the day. And occasionally events reported by the Guardian spilled into the story, like the story of South Africans rising to end violence against women, a protest which inspired the story friends in the South Africa chapter of book 2, travelling.
In short: I owe The Guardian a lot.
In book 1, beginning, Alice and Tom meet with US senators. It’s not a happy scene. But when I saw Kamala Harris in action, I felt that for her sake I should include a positive twist. It didn’t get into the scene but into the following dialogue between Tom and Alice.
John Oliver left several traces in book 2, thanks to his excellent show Last Week Tonight. Two examples: A detail from his report on Bias in Medicine, which he did with the wonderful Wanda Sykes, seeped into the movie Breaking the Cycle which is recounted in the South Africa chapter of book 2.
My favourite contribution is the report Warehouse, where Jeff Bezos delivers irresistible wisdom when he says: There is only one thing you can do with a fortune like this: space exploration. This remarkable statement got into the Russia chapter, right into a wonderful sex talk scene.
When Bernardine Evaristo was slighted by a journalist after receiving the Booker Prize, being mentioned only as the other winner, I decided to use something corresponding in the story to draw attention to this kind of lack of respect.
Lucky for me, Alice is pretty blind with regard to her team in the first chapters of book 2, and that gave me a chance to let Adeola have an ‘other’ moment in the Rio chapter, and to make sure that the reader doesn’t see Adeola before other team members do.
There is another small, remarkable moment at the end of the Argentina chapter. Alice stands alone at the bar of the airliner and surveys her partying team.
Someone else wasn’t mingling. Someone who sat on the nearest semicircular sofa, alone.
Alice guessed that this was Adeola. But from the bar, Alice could only see the back of her head.
Adeola was the big unknown. All Alice remembered about her was that Tom trusted her, that she was in her early thirties and from Nigeria.
book 2/1, travelling, Buenos Aires
Adeola was such a revelation to me, unplanned, unsought for, but the character who challenged me and taught me a lot about racism while growing from a name on a team list to a formidable character.
And I think, it was Bernardine Evaristo’s story that allowed me to shape the first part of Adeola’s story the way it is now.
Years ago, I watched ‘Even Dwarfs Started Small’ by Werner Herzog, from 1970. What I remember most about this movie was that Herzog seemed to ridicule dwarfs. I don’t know whether I would see it the same way today, but back then, I was just angry about the apparent mockery.
It was not before I saw Peter Dinklage as Tyrion Lannister in The Game of Thrones that dwarfs came back on my radar. This time as human beings. And that’s why and how Navarro in book 2/1 and Sammy in book 2/2 came into the story.
Both characters are also a thank you nod to Peter Dinklage for his work.
I nearly gave up on the US on the day of the T-inauguration. But the same day I discovered Trevor Noah, Seth Meyers and Stephen Colbert, and they restored some trust and curiosity. And during all those weird T-years years, they were like soothing medicine. For this alone I am very grateful to all three of them. And they are likely to get a nod in book 4/1, building. For Trevor Noah I already added a little thank you reference in the South Africa chapter, book 2/1.
The South Africa chapter and the local language
I had written at some point: and he talked in an African language. When I came across this again, I thought to myself, don’t be so lazy, find out which language the South Africans speak.
Wiki was my source of information and when I found what I sought, I gaped, and then I laughed, and then I looked puzzled.
South Africa has eleven official languages. How on earth can any country handle eleven — ELEVEN — official languages?
Anyway, I picked three for Alice. Her policy was to know at least a few words in every language spoken in the countries the travelling team visited.
And then I watched a Trevor Noah show where he talks about the Xhosa click. And I rolled my eyes, then I tried the click, and then I grimaced.
Of course, Xhosa was among the three languages I had picked for Alice.
But I managed to put Alice’s click-inability to good use /:-)
I was scrolling down the front page of The Guardian when I saw a photo of Greta Thunberg, standing in front of a train, having returned from a visit to the Pope. And suddenly something clicked. I had known for some years that flying causes damage, but I hadn’t applied that knowledge to my personal life. And more, in book 2 the travelling team use an awesome double-deck airliner for their journey.
I don’t remember whether I swallowed, but that would have been fitting.
The draft for book 2 was too far advanced to change from plane to train. Besides the journey around the world would have taken a lot longer. But I didn’t want to let myself off the hook that easily, and I decided to let someone challenge Alice on that questions: Why do you fly?
There wasn’t much room left, but I found a space in the Romania chapter, and by the time of the Berlin chapter, some team members have already swapped flying for travelling by train.
This new commitment to reduce flying to a minimum and to make alternatives work will have quite an impact on the upcoming books.
I am grateful for the eye-opener, for the challenge, and for Greta Thunberg’s dedication to fight for an inclusive, sustainable, healthy, just and dignified future on our planet.
I started reading Normal People late at night, and I finished it the next afternoon. Shattered from a sleepless night, aroused from the story, and in a weird, inspired mood, I felt ready to tackle some of the steamier parts of the Romania and the Russia chapter.
Later I realised that it had never occurred to me that you can read yourself into the right mood to write or edit a scene.
I definitely owe Sally Rooney for her (unintentional) help.
It was an article about Dorian Electra in The Guardian which finally made me look up what exactly is meant by gender fluid and by non-binary. And suddenly a world opened which was much closer to who I am than any other world I had seen so far.
As a little thank you for this essential nudge, I included a little scene in the Romania chapter with a character inspired by Dorian Electra.
In 2004 I brought the theatre company Familie Flöz to the Fringe in Edinburgh. On a rare afternoon off, I went for a stroll in Stockbridge and came across a bookshop. I was looking for something light to read, and the assistant asked whether I knew Ian Rankin, a local author whose detective Rebus is based in Edinburgh. I didn’t. And the assistant said, I should start with Black & Blue. I opened the book, read the first lines and knew that this was exactly what I needed.
Ian Rankin hasn’t influenced the easy town story in any obvious way, but his writing has to some extent moulded and affirmed my own writing style. Since the easy town story will turn to Scotland at some point, I will say my official thanks then.
JRR Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings
Despite some flaws (from today’s perspective), The Lord of the Rings will always have a special place in my mind. While the story hasn’t influenced the easy town story, it has a tendency to pop up. Not often. Just sometimes, like in the first meeting when Alice is asked about the architectural aspects of the town, and she says, she doesn’t envision a Hobbiton but she loves round windows. Or when Devery and Alice tease Andy about being ten years younger, and Andy points out that with thirty-four years he is an adult even by Hobbit standards.
Albert Camus, The Plague
There is a longer story here, but I will keep it short for now.
What makes Albert Camus an outstanding writer in mind is that he writes so well, you forget you are reading.
This kind of flow that puts the story first is something I always try to achieve.
More on Albert Camus can be found in the Berlin chapter of book 2/2, travelling.
Others have influenced the stories, or are mentioned in it. A complete list can be found in the reference pages at the back of each book.