While forty-two years old physically, Aiden Truss maintains he’s never really grown up mentally. He makes a good show of being an adult when he needs to be, but always feels like a fraud. This is despite the fact that Aiden has two sons and has been married for almost 25 years. He’s done most jobs in his time, but in the last ten years or so has mainly been involved in marketing and copywriting. It’s something that Aiden stumbled into accidentally, but which has given him more opportunities to write. He’s been published in text books and journals, but all niche-market stuff and nothing that he keeps in pride of place on my bookshelf. Gape is the second novel Aiden has written, but the first to be published.
Sirens Call Publications: Welcome Aiden. Tell us, what made you decide to become a writer?
Aiden Truss: I suspect that I’m like most writers in that I never made a conscious decision to become one; I just always felt the need to write. It’s always been an escape from the quotidian and from the difficult times in my life. I have on occasion reached for a bottle, but I’m more likely to reach for a pen if something gets to me. Of course, sometimes I reach for both and the results are brilliantly and unintelligibly embarrassing. I’m no Hemmingway when it comes to combining both skills!
SCP: What is Gape about?
AT: Gape is about what happens when the drudgery of a young girl’s life is interrupted by the intervention of a demon. We don’t know what his motives are at first, we just know that he’s struggling with ennui despite his great powers and that he’s looking for a diversion. He’s fascinated with her desperation to cling on to life despite its poverty and he takes her under his (black) wing to spend time with her and to understand what being human really means. The trouble is that she is dragged into the politics of hell and the machinations of its ultra-competitive hierarchy. She also ends up with the power to revisit the wrongs in her life and her journey sees how she copes with these.
I hope that the interest of the story is its ‘fish out of water’ aspect, the humans in Hell, demons in London and all of them just doing what they need to do. There is no grand narrative about good and evil, there is just life in all of its strange forms.
SCP: What is the one thing you’d like readers to know about Gape before they read it?
AT: That I hope that people see the humour along with the horror. It was written for misfits like me, with a fascination for the darker side of life in mind.
SCP: What is your writing process? Do you consider yourself to be a planner or a pantser?
AT: I’m a card-carrying and t-shirt-wearing pantser. I’ve tried to be more structured and to plot things out but it just doesn’t work for me. My only concession to this is that I do tend to make notes on characters, on their appearance and attitudes just as an aide-memoir while I’m writing. Gape has a whole pantheon of exotic characters and I couldn’t have ploughed through to the end without referring to my hand-written bestiary to remind myself of what these characters were like.
My characters drive the story and at the beginning of a chapter I often have no idea where they are going. That Gape has a fairly consistent story arc is entirely down to happy accidents and to the decisions that the characters made for themselves.
SCP: If you could cast Gape, who would you choose to play your main characters of Rose and Priest?
AT: I had this ‘what if?’ conversation with a friend and she desperately wants Daniel Craig cast as Priest. I’ve told her to keep her fantasies to herself!
I think that someone like Ben Whishaw (Cloud Atlas, Perfume, Bright Star), might bring the right combination of the ethereality and detachment to the role. As for Rose, Mary Elizabeth Winstead (Scott Pilgrim, The Thing, Final Desination 3), would be good. In fact, she could keep that look as Ramona from Scott Pilgrim and fit the bill nicely.
SCP: How would you like readers to see Rose?
AT: Rose is a victim, but she’s not helpless. She’s a fighter and a heroine, but not in the traditional sense. She is put into the position where she can make great changes in her life and in the lives of others, but she’s no ‘goody-two-shoes’. She’s scarred and damaged by her past and this shapes her actions.
SCP: How would you like readers to see Priest?
AT: Paradoxically, I think Priest is the most human character in the book. He’s the one floating around wondering ‘what’s it all for?’ and unsure of where his life is going. He’s reassuringly lost in what’s going on around him. Much like we all are whether we admit to it or not.
SCP: What is the hardest challenge that you have faced as a writer?
AT: Forcing myself to write regularly and not just when the feeling takes me. I was given flexibility on the deadline for Gape and deliberately gave myself a date to work to that meant that I had to write to a schedule. When I was an undergraduate, my screenwriting tutor told me that the difference between writers and wannabe writers was stamina. Everyone has a book in them, but not everyone has the resolve to sit in front of the keyboard for hours every day. I’ve always kept that advice in mind.
SCP: In your opinion, what sets Gape apart from other books of the same genre?
AT: It doesn’t take itself seriously and it doesn’t take sides. Though the story takes place against the backdrop of heaven and hell and good and evil, it’s not really all about that. In fact, I tried to get some thinly disguised social commentary in there about the way people, particularly in a big city like London, react to the world around them.
SCP: Are you reading anything right now, or have you read anything recently that is worth mentioning?
AT: I always have two or three books on the go. I recently read Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind and was really impressed by that – it’s a book about books, what’s not to like? People have been recommending his stuff to me for a while and I’m anxious to read more. I’m currently enjoying Heroes Die by Matthew Stover and at bedtime I’ve been mostly reading the recent run of Marvel’s Thor and Uncanny X-men comic books. I was always a dyed-in-the-wool D.C. guy, but the owner of my local comic store has made a recent convert of me.
SCP: Who are some of your favorite authors? Favorite novels?
AT: I have the entire George Orwell oeuvre on my book shelves and most of Kurt Vonnegut’s novels too. On the science fiction front, I love Frank Herbert’s Dune novels and Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, both collections of which I’ve read several times. When it comes to horror and fantasy, for me the diabolical trinity is Stephen King, Clive Barker and Neil Gaiman. I’d recommend The Stand, The Books of Blood and American Gods by each respective author. If I want to read about politics and religion, then I reach for the late, great Christopher Hitchens.
SCP: How do you define success as a writer? Have you been successful?
AT: That’s a tough question. In terms of actually being published and having a book out there, I would count that as a success. I’ve been in so many conversations (usually in the pub), where everyone around the table claims to be either writing a book or thinking of writing a book. To be the one who can actually reach into his pocket and pull out a copy of Gape will be a success in itself.
Real success, I imagine, will be to hear that people have enjoyed reading my work enough to ask for a sequel.
SCP: Do you have words of wisdom about writing that you want to pass on to novelists and writers out there who are starting out?
AT: It won’t write itself, so stop procrastinating and get typing!
SCP: What should readers walk away from your books knowing? How should they feel?
AT: Hopefully, that insanity and inanity pervades all. There is no divine plan and that life is what you make it, whether you live in the suburbs or in the seventh circle of Hell. Don’t get too hung up on not knowing where your life is going, you’re in good (and bad), company!
Thank you Aiden for taking the time to answer our questions!
What she wasn’t prepared for, was a visit from a demon, an invitation back to his temporally insubstantial sanctuary, and forced to take sides in a battle involving most of the denizens of hell. Oh, and a boat trip down the river Thames.
After a disappointing start to the day, things were about to get a bit more interesting…