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Memories Of Memories - A Conversation With Michael Bywater (page
us talk about the Guardians then. What's the story behind creating
That was, as I recall, a satire on the magical ultrahuman
sort of thing you'd expect a Guardian to be. It was in a sense
inspired by a cartoon Raymond Lowry did for us at Punch which
showed a reclining Venus looking up at a bunch of putti flying
around but instead of being cherubic little children the putti
were middle-aged men in moustaches and thick spectacles and
Venus is saying to her friend "Ooh, they do grow up so
fast, don't they?"
to do with fantasy always seemed to me to be annoyingly fucking
noble and grandiose, and that's before you get to the silly
names so superbly satirised by my old and now dead friend Douglas
Adams. So I thought, let's have them like rather seedy Graham
Greene private detectives in herringbone overcoats with really
ordinary names, and Len was the name of the caretaker at my
school so that was it.
some point I decided they'd all be called Len because that was
funnier, and there it was. It was around the same time that
I wrote a thing in Punch about ... do you know, I can't actually
remember what it was about in the sense of what the hell kicked
it off, but it was a couple of government officials turning
up to have a word with God. I think it was after the Archbishop
of York was misquoted as saying that the resurrection was "just
a conjuring trick with bones" and God responded by striking
Durham Cathedral with lightning, thus proving the swiftness
of divine retribution and its tendency to miss its target (as
Kingsley Amis wrote in Lucky Jim). And I wondered what sort
of God this would be and in the end I wrote this piece in a
very high 17th-century rhetorical register but God turned out
to be this faintly incompetent, rather discommoded but affable
old chap in corduroy trousers tinkering around behind the Throne
of Thrones and asking people to call him Keith. And I suppose
that's the sort of God who'd give rise to supernatural beings
called Len with moustaches and herringbone overcoats. And they'd
also of course eat cheese sandwiches.
was just the words guy. The others did the hard
me the world of "Jinxter" always seemed to be a version
of post-World-War-2-Britain with a dash of fantasy thrown in
the mix. Kind of like "Ladykillers" meets Mervyn Peake
meets "Terry Gilliam's Brazil"
am I making
a total fool out of myself with a complete and utter misinterpretation?
I wouldn't have though so, no. You're probably pretty close.
The general air of threadbare dampness, sensual deprivation,
lousy food, drizzle, bureaucracy -- yes. Later on I got to know
Terry Gilliam who is of course a genius; Peake was at the time
one of my favourites though I find the Gormenghast trilogy doesn't
really stand re-reading now (except for the schoolmasters in
Gormenghast) and The Ladykillers is one of my favourite films
ever. That sort of dodgy incompetence is a classically self-deprecating
myth the British -- the English, at least -- like to tell about
next book, which is set in a sort of south-eastern Germany which
never really existed, at a time which could be anything from
two hundred years hence to 1565, is a similar sort of milieu
though I hope in >20 years I've come on a bit. We'll see.
interesting - you wouldn't want to elaborate a bit on that?
The south-east Germany book is a weird one and I am only
about 40% of the way into it. It's set in a theoretical Freiburg
but not the F'burg you or anyone else knows of. Partly Heidelberg,
partly Fès, partly Bruges, partly completely-made-up.
I suppose it's an odd cross of urban-fantasy-meets-detective-fiction;
imagine an unholy cross between Umberto Eco and China Miéville
and you'll be about halfway there. The story involves a brothel,
a missing girl, a Jesuit from Hamburg, a man who believes he's
a dwarf, the illegality of professional musicians, the sexual
habits of Sebastian "Fat Patsy" Bach, and much else
besides, as they say.
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