Video Interview 2 – influences, ideas and names

Here's the second of my four video interviews with Evelyn. In this one, we talk about influences, ideas and the characters' names. This time I've put subtitles on the video as well as making the transcript below.

(I haven't transcribed or subtitled one embarrassing mistake in which, despite the fact that the character Bardolph is in three Shakespeare plays so I had three chances to get it right, I assign him to a fourth one.)

Q: Mike, can you tell us about the literary influences both for you personally, and that have bearing on City of Masks?

A: I realized actually after I'd finished it that my main influence was probably G.K. Chesterton, who, when you think about it, looked remarkably like I imagine Gregorius Bass - perhaps a little heavier. But his The Napoleon of Notting Hill, his novel, which is set 80 years in the then future, but he explicitly says at the beginning, "And nothing has changed technologically." The only change is social and political. And he goes from there. And the whole thing is an exploration of: if our society was just like it is now, except with this one difference, what would that look like? And also explores a very eccentric character, the Napoleon of Notting Hill, and explores some ideas through that.

But Shakespeare, obviously, is an influence...

Q: And you say "obviously" because of the language?

A: Not so much the language, it's more the setting, is kind of... I was picturing Shakespeare's Italy. And it has twins, it has swordfights, it has... I mean, even the name Bardo is partly based on Bardolph.

He's an influence, and Alexandre Dumas, with particularly the wicked noblewoman and the swordfight, they're coming pretty much straight out of the Three Musketeers. So a few different and disparate influences, but the strongest one I think is from G.K. Chesterton.

Q: And what about for you personally, who would you say your greatest influences are?

A: Well, the books that I enjoy most, which are probably the same thing, are Terry Pratchett, with his humour that also manages to explore questions of morality, I suppose, and ethics. Neil Gaiman, who's just a crazy man with a wild imagination. Those are two of my main favourites. Jim Butcher, I've been reading lately, who's kind of urban fantasy, and again his main character is someone with a very strong moral centre, although he sometimes has difficulty sticking with that because of the things that he ends up having to do. But he's definitely - he's not an innocent man, but he is an honest man, and he won't compromise his own moral code. It bends sometimes but he never breaks it.

Q: Can you tell us how you received the idea of the masks? Where did that come from? A city full of masks?

A: I'm not sure, actually. I remember early on coming across a Byron quotation, I think it was after I'd had the idea, though, talking about how the mask reveals rather than conceals, that the mask shows who a person is, and thinking yes, that's where I'm going with it. But what actually led to the idea of the city of masks I don't know. It was one of those ideas that just turn up in your head.

Q: In the middle of the night?

A: Possibly. Possibly in the middle of the night.

Q: Did it come in one hit? Or it gradually...

A: It gradually came clear. It's kind of like the mist gradually clearing. You've probably heard the story of how C.S. Lewis for years had these images in his head of the great lion and a faun walking through the snow with an umbrella, and he didn't know how it connected up. And it was a little bit like that. I had the idea of the sword fight high above the rooftops and just odd scenes here and there, and eventually I found out what lay under the mist, as it were. It was kind of like the tops of the houses seen through the mist and gradually the mist sank down and I could see the ground that connected them.

Q: Can you tell us about the characters' names? Do they have meanings in other languages?

A: Some of them do, yes. Gregorius Bass - Gregorius of course means "watchful" or "alert", so that's kind of an ironic name in a way, because he's the opposite of alert, he's the Innocent Man, he doesn't know what's going on. And Bass, Bass seemed like a solid sort of a ponderous name. Corius, I think, probably is based on "heart", he's got a very strong heart, and Mende - Mende is mendacious, meaning she lies, she conceals things, under pressure from the Countess.

Tamas is a doubter - he doubts the teachings of the Temple. The other names, they were just names, just sequences of sounds that I thought of.

Q: Sallia.

A: Sallia. Sally the maid.

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