Life is an adventure
As a child I used to go off by myself imagining I was Ben the explorer or Ben the adventurer, leaving the path and getting lost in the trees (when I lived in the country), backstreets and alleyways (when I lived in the city). Life was a story and I was the main character. Even as an adult I love getting lost and when I came to live in France I was overwhelmed by the details that make it different fromeverything I already knew. I saw stories wherever I looked.
Researching a book is a kind of treasure hunt
When I decided to write Three Lives of Tomomi Ishikawa I started to catalogue places and anecdotes trying to find connections and beating a pathway through a jungle of ideas. Some of the most exciting moments though were simple, like discovering a view or stories told late at night in late night in bars by friends or strangers. And as I molded the plot I learned new things about it - easily as gratifying as any plot line in a book or film. This is what I wanted to capture in Three Lives and the story became as much about creating the adventure as the adventure itself.
Getting to know the world through Maps
I was employed for a time writing texts about America for an advertising company. At the time I had never been to America. I used to sit for hours, reading, watching films and looking at maps trying to build an understanding of the whole country. I have several friends who live in the US and especially in New York City, so I felt I knew it intimately before I ever went there. I went for real to research the book and spent days wandering around and getting lost. Later in the writing process I changed a lot of the places and ended up using Google Street View to fill in details I hadn’t had the opportunity to note.
I didn’t want the book to be too nice
Despite these sweet intentions I wanted some spikes. Life is richer for the contrasts it presents and the fact that we can’t control everything. I was curious and confused by the death of people I know and I wanted the book to oblige the characters to look death in the face and reflect the sadness and anger of losing people. In this book the powerless becomes the powerful with terrible consequences. As well as mystery, I wanted some stress and a bit of revulsion as well. I wanted to play with the reader and provoke memories and a little discomfort.
All the characters are me and I am a thief
The author Graham Greene wrote about his unfortunate habit of borrowing elements from people around him but he also had great difficulty with readers confusing the fictional characters with the author. All my characters have traits and mannerisms inspired by people I know but they are all equally my alter egos. Tomomi Ishikawa is incredibly fragile and tries to make herself immune from the pain of death. Her strategy is to kill people but she never achieves the peace she’s looking for. Ben is fairly one dimensional. He is a pawn moved from place to place as the reader explores and he’s the medium through which the adventure unfolds. Beatrice is a font of knowledge and a provider of clues she broadens the narritive and gives Ben somebody to talk to. Cat is Ben’s courage and I suppose represents a more instinctive part of me that I dream of developing but haven’t yet got round to doing.