Monday, April 13, 2009

Interview - Jasper Kent

Jasper Kent made his debut this year with an impressive novel, “Twelve” (reviewed here), a captivating blend between historical and supernatural fiction. I had the honor and pleasure to make an interview with Jasper Kent.

Dark Wolf: Jasper, thank you very much for the opportunity of this interview.
Someone reading your biography after having seen that you are specialized in physics and that you worked as a software engineer will wonder where from comes the passion for writing fiction? How about the passion for writing music?
Jasper Kent: I think the music side of it is easier to answer. Music, both in terms of rhythm and harmony, can be very mathematical. Moreover, anyone interested in computers and electronics can have huge amounts of fun with all the gadgets around these days – although if pushed I’d still opt to stick with a good, old-fashioned piano.
As for the writing, there’s less connection. I’m just fighting the misconception that because a person is good at doing one thing, then they should stop trying to be good at anything else.

Dark Wolf: “Twelve” is a captivating blend between historical and supernatural fiction, but the initial idea behind the novel came from the historical side or from the supernatural one?
Jasper Kent: Ultimately I suppose it has to be said that the supernatural side came first, in that I was vaguely thinking of writing a horror novel. But beyond that, both sides of the idea came along pretty much as one. Napoleonic vampires came into my head as a single concept, and after that it was only a matter of a few hours for me to focus in on Russia.

Dark Wolf: Why did you chose to set the action of the novel in Russia and your main characters to be Russian and not other Napoleon’s campaign and characters from your country, which had a greater conflict with France?
Jasper Kent: It’s best to avoid getting into a long debate as to whether Russia or Britain played the greater role in the Napoleonic Wars, but having been brought up with history told from an essentially British (specifically English) point of view, I’m very much aware of the bias that can exist therein. Thus there is much more that is challenging for me discover as new – and for my target reader to discover – if I write from a viewport which is different from that with which I’ve been brought up.

DW: I really liked the details of historical events depicted in “Twelve” and also the details of novel’s location, Russia. How much time took the researches for the novel? I’ve seen that you had also traveled to Russia. Was the trip made before or after you had the idea for the novel?
JK: I certainly put a lot of research into the history and the locations, and perhaps less into the mythology, which I feel is more mine to invent. Thankfully there are plenty of sources, French and Russian, contemporary and modern, and all things in between, that provide more information than anyone could ever need.
I didn’t travel to Russia until after I had finished the main drafts of Twelve, so the trip was very much to check up on the details of what I’d already written and to do some research for the sequel. Had I been writing a contemporary novel set in Russia, I think I would have been more keen to do the research up front, but with something set two centuries ago, the modern location risks being somewhat deceiving.

DW: Aleksei is a very powerful and character and I grew quite fond of him through my reading. How much of Aleksei’s personality reflects your own personality? Did you find yourself in other characters of your novel?
JK: Apart from his lengthy, internal intellectualizing, I don’t think that Aleksei and I have very much in common. He may to some extent encapsulate a number of things that I might have hoped to be in another life. His ability with languages is certainly something that I genuinely envy, though his enthusiasm and success as both a soldier and a lover are things which, though they might appeal to me superficially, have never actually found their way very high up my list of goals in life.
Of all the characters in Twelve, I’m probably closest to Maks, though not all that close.

DW: My favorite Romanian historical figure is Vlad Ţepeş and one of the smaller characters of “Twelve”, Zmyeevich, resembles a lot with the legend behind Vlad. Is there a connection between these two? Will Zmyeevich play another role in the upcoming novels of the series?
JK: I don’t think the resemblances between Zmyeevich and Dracula really need to be commented on by me. Zmyeevich certainly reappears in Thirteen Years Later, and the fourth novel in the quintet, set in the late 1870s is provisional titled Zmyeevich.

DW: Considering that you are writing music as well, do you see “Twelve” turned into a musical? How about an ecranization? Who would you like, if possible, to play in or direct such projects?
JK: I wouldn’t want to discourage anyone else, but if it were suggested to me as a composer to turn Twelve into a musical, I think I would find it difficult to give a polite answer. With regards to anyone else doing it, I’d be quite happy to take the money and run. A film would have better prospects, but it would still take a lot of cutting down. If there were a film, it would be great to have Johnny Depp as Aleksei, although if I could pick any actor throughout history, I think a young Oliver Reed might best fit the role. In the unlikely event that I did have to cast a musical version, it would be great to get Philip Quast in there somewhere, with both his historical musical connections (Les Misérables) and his vampiric ones (Ultraviolet). I don’t think he’s right for Aleksei, but maybe as a singing Vadim.

DW: “Twelve” is the first novel in a series of five entitled “The Danilov Quintet” and will be followed by “Thirteen Years Later”. One of my favorite historical fiction series is the “King’s Musketeers” of Alexandre Dumas and the second novel of that series is named “Twenty Years After”. Is there a link between these two titles? Did you have an inspiration in Alexandre Dumas’ works?
JK: I never consciously made any reference to Dumas when writing Twelve, but looking back there are a number of similarities that I think come down to common intent rather than subconscious imitation. For a start there is the fact that Twelve is centred around a band of four military comrades; and then of course, as you can see from the previous answer, that my casting decisions coincide with Dick Lester’s when he was choosing who to play Athos. I came up with the title Thirteen Years Later before seeing the connection to Dumas sequel. (In fact, although Twenty Years After is the usual English translation, I think that Twenty Years Later is equally correct and might convey the sentiment a little better.) I’ll have to go back to Dumas and see what else I’ve picked up off him.

DW: How much of the next three novels in the series have the structure already established? Do you have a general idea about the action of each of these three novels?
JK: So far I know the rough dates and locations of the remaining three novels (dictated by the historical events which they concern) and also the births, deaths and undeaths of the major characters. Twelve was originally written without any specific plans for sequels, while Thirteen Years Later sets up a number of plot lines of which I have no idea of the resolution.
Before writing any of the remaining three, I do plan to put together some slightly more solid plotlines, but I don’t want to trammel myself too much. I see it as much more of a challenge to have to outdo myself in each new book, rather than having an end in sight which I’m simply not trying to arrive at too quickly.

DW: Will the next novels in the series have supernatural elements as well? Will other genres have an influence in these novels?
JK: It’s an interesting question. There is certainly no reason why Aleksei should ever meet another voordalak in his whole life, and there would be plenty of scope for him to have exciting adventures set in historical Russia. However, I just don’t see a readership being happy with that (to say nothing of my editor). Similarly, introducing other genres would equally break the pact between the author and the reader, as well as over-egging the pudding. Because of the nature of the period I’m covering, science and military technology are going to play an increasing role, but it’s certainly not going to be science fiction – it will be historically correct science and so will hopefully act as a useful further bridge between the two genres I’ve chosen.
The tricky thing is that it’s practically impossible for any sequel to strike exactly the same balance between history and fantasy, and it would be dull if it did. Currently Thirteen Years Later swings a little more towards horror (though other readers might see it differently) and I suspect later novels will swing back the other way.

DW: You also have written two other novels, “Sifr” and “Yours Etc., Mr. Sunday”. Can you describe them a little, please? When will these novels be published?
JK: Sifr is a contemporary thriller set mostly in Oxford and concerns the mathematics of cryptography, as well as a fair bit about the medieval scientist Roger Bacon. Because of the mathematics and computing associated with cryptography, it’s an area about which I have some degree of specialist knowledge. To some extent I was a little relieved to have Twelve published before Sifr, in that anyone who knows me might think that Sifr was just an example of me being typically nerdy and mathematical. I certainly think that there is some prospect of Sifr being published, but the problem at the moment is (I am told, and I think I agree) that it’s wiser for now to stick with the genre that readers are expecting.
Yours Etc., Mr. Sunday is another modern thriller, set in Brighton, where I live, and concerning the discovery of the diary supposedly written by a serial killer from the 1930s. Thus it looks at many of the issues related to the Jack the Ripper diary, along with the Hitler and Howard Hughes diaries. Of the novels I’ve written so far, I have to say it’s the one I’m least happy with, and so I’d like to do a major rewrite of it before it gets published.

DW: Beside continuing “The Danilov Quintet” series what other projects has Jasper Kent in mind?
JK: That would be telling.

Thank you for your time and answers. It has been a pleasure.


ediFanoB said...

Even I didn't read TWELVE so far - will get my copy in July - I read the well done interview with great interest.

Liviu said...

Excellent interview - I loved Twelve a lot as mentioned and the next book is a get asap

Mihai A. said...

Michael, thank you very much. I highly recommend this book :)

Liviu, thank you very much. I'm eagerly waiting for the next novel too :)

ediFanoB said...

I made a mistake in my comment. Of course I read TWELVE. And in the meantime I finished THIRTEEN YEARS LATER.

Absolutely brilliant.

Mihai A. said...

"Twelve" is a favourite of mine too. I am looking forward to read "Thirteen Years Later" :)