Tell us about your book Gibbous House. What inspired you to write a novel? And what is the main idea?
E.L. Gibbous House has been described as combining suspense and mystery with comic asides to Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Dickens – adding an engaging modern irony to the rich texture of the classic Gothic novel. I am pleased to read it described as such. Nevertheless, it remains a novel set in a part of the world that I knew well as a teenager, which has remained close to my heart ever since. Visit Northumberland; Alnwick, Bamburgh, Seahouses and Holy Island will stay in your mind as they have in mine.
In the main, Gibbous House deals with the question of identity. I'm not giving too much away if I say that Moffat is an impostor. The question remains: who are we? Am I who you see, or is there some other self which has nothing to do with assumed personae. As Moffat tells Edgar Allan (Poe) in Gibbous House:
'I believe you may be correct, Mr Allen. A man is known for what he is by his dress; from the beggar in his rags to the emperor in his purple and all other stations in between, we are known by our buttoned and sewn signifiers.'
Clearly Moffat believes the surface is all. Other characters in the novel are less sure.
Who are your favorite writers? How would you describe the role of a contemporary writer? Would you say that a modern-day writer is a part of an intellectual elite?
E.L. One of my favourite writers is of course Charles Dickens. He might well have been horrified himself to learn that his work is regarded as classic literature, remember this was a man whose novels appeared for the most part in episodic fashion in Master Humphrey's Clock and Household Words before being published as books in their own right. Some of Gibbous House is affectionate parody of a Dickensian style.
Many of your readers will be pleased (or surprised) that one of my favourite novels is Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita, which I read first in English and then in the original Russian (many years ago). The fantastical elements in a contemporary setting are something which resonates a great deal for me.
As far as any rôle for contemporary authors is concerned, I think we have a duty to entertain, provoke and educate, in as much as authors should encourage people to look at ideas, history or events in a different way.
Elite is a word with strong connotations in English. English people are unlike Americans regarding self-promotion and, yes, self-esteem. Litotes is the English way; a native of the British Isles is more likely to say, 'Oh, I do a bit of writing... you know... this and that', rather than 'I'm a Man Booker Prize-winning novelist.' Writers an intellectual elite? Hmm... nowadays when anyone and everyone is self-publishing their work, there is not much elitism in calling yourself a writer. So I would say no, to that question. That said, there are many modern writers whom I respect as intellectuals and writers. David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas and The Bone Clocks, for example.
How would you describe the elite mentality? I remember a story about your artist uncle, who married a shepherd's daughter, and her social attitude.
E.L. Well, I think – as my aunt and my uncle Paul Maze did, I believe – that nobility is as nobility does. Paul was noted for his ability to engage anyone from a teenager to Winston Churchill in lively conversation. He taught Churchill to paint, according to Winston, anyway. I remember debating the value of the armed forces with Paul when I was 15 or so. (I was against them, ironic since I served in the Royal Air Force for so long).
Manners, not clothes, money, social class or looks, maketh the man. That's what I believe.
You've spent 23 years in the Royal Air Force and Cold War Berlin as an interpreter. Would you say that language itself affects national mentality? What difference would you describe in this respect between all representative persons of each country you used to deal with?
E.L. I most definitely would say that language does affect national mentality. I agree that language is culture. For example, we believe that the Germans, for example, have a liking for order and reliability. German has grammar that is proscriptive, things can only be written in one way. English is far from that, perhaps that's why we are viewed as slippery. They say the British make the best diplomats, because we are the best liars. It's more to do with the flexibility of English syntax and the rich wealth of its vocabulary
What are your future wriing plans? Which subjects might you call inexhaustible?
E.L. At the moment I'm trying to finish a sequel to Gibbous House, which recounts Alasdair Moffat's adventures in the Americas. Naturally, he meets a few real-life figures and the usual grotesques. I'm quite excited about getting it finished.
Every subject holds as much or as little interest for a writer as the amount of work he is prepared to put into investigating it, writing about it before tackling a project or reading others' treatments of it.
I write about pretty much anything and everything, it's a fact. Newspapers (real ones, made of paper and not given away free) are a great source of information. I find the obituaries particularly inspiring!