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>> A story of myths and magic

A story of myths and magic

A story of myths and magic

In TWELVE NIGHTS,author ANDREW ZURCHER takes the reader on an enthralling journey through the world of plotters, weavers and storytellers in a sweeping allegory about families and love.

When Kay, Ell and their mother go to their father's office to bring him home from work, they discover that he has disappeared and any trace of his presence is gone. Later that night, Kay is woken by the voices of the 'removers' who have come back to get a tooth belonging to her father - but Kay shouldn't be able to see them...

Who are the removers, and what is their connection to Kay and Ell's father? So begins a dangerous journey by Kay and Ell to find their father, and to bring him home.

Author ANDREW ZURCHER spoke to ReadingZone about TWELVE NIGHTS and answered our questions about his debut novel.

Q: Your day job is director of studies in English at Queen's College, Cambridge, so what took you into writing your first novel?

A: I have always written, I have had my poetry published before and I write a book every year for my children for Christmas. Twelve Nights was my first book and it's gone through a lot of changes since I wrote the first draft for my daughter, who was eight at the time (she's now 19).

Q: Why have you given your book the title, Twelve Nights?

A: This is partly because I wrote the book for my children for Christmas so the Twelve Nights of Christmas help to set the scene. It's traditionally a period of revelry and it's a span of time in which the world can be viewed in a different way. In Shakespeare's time, they can dress differently; in this story, Kay looks at the world in a different way so it's a time of altered vision and holiday humour. In the alternate ritual in this story, the twelfth night is a psychological and emotional moment of epiphany.

Q: The book is focused on a family that is torn apart and their struggle to be reunited but it is also an allegory about creating stories. What was the starting point for Twelve Nights?

A: For me, the idea developed around families, where I think people can often feel very distant from each other. Life can pull them in different directions or there are emotional obstacles that they can't overcome. So the motive for getting involved in stories about storytelling was less about the practice of storytelling than about having an emotional connection with other people.

I wanted to explore that sense of fragmentation and disintegration as one of the biggest problems a family can face. I remember sitting at the table, trying to write the story, with the children around me, talking to each other, while I was thinking about plotting. So often we are in our own stories even when we're together. Story and narration together can, though, lead to a bond, to a connection.

Q: At the beginning of Twelve Nights, the father disappears and the children, Kay and Ell, leave home to find him in a parallel world. How did you go about creating this world?

A: I was reading a study of TS Elliot that included a photography of him standing at a blackboard and describing plot and his play, Murder in the Cathedral. It seemed to me like a kind of algebra as he described how the plot worked. So much of what storytelling is - the architecture of how a story works - is allegorical. So that's how I started thinking about this book and the ideas around plotting.

What started me thinking about the imagining side of storytelling, that initial spark of inspiration, was Sidney's An Apology for Poetry, where he explores how poets must see things visually in their mind and must always stick by the face of their imagining and that enthusiasm or epiphany that existed before the poet starts to write or to work out the poem in a more geometrical way.

Plotting and imagining are two ways of seeing the truth or organising how you see the world and your ideas as the subject for a story.

Q: The villain in the story is Ghast, how does he fit in to this world?

A: Ghast is, in a way, just ghastly and is an allegorically obvious villain; he is physically, emotionally and intellectually stunted and incapable of the narrative precision and creativity that the 'author wraiths' in the story embody. I enjoyed creating him.

Ghast is so determined to have authority and power that he takes no risks; he protects himself and becomes increasingly isolated and detached and has an antipathy to stories.

Q: Why do you also bring such a range of mythology into Twelve Nights?

A: The book engages very obviously with mythology and one of the things that was important to me with this book was to think about the place of girls and women in mythic tradition. The first myth I draw on is Odysseus and Penelope; it's one of the reasons I give weaving such an important place in the storytelling allegory.

With Odysseus away for so long on his travels, Penelope, his wife, is under pressure to choose another husband so she decides to weave a shroud to mourn her father-in-law but each night she unpicks what she has sewn; while she is weaving and in mourning, she can't marry anyone else. You also have Arachne the weaver in Ovid's Metamorphoses. These are women who are weaving a tale and trying to create power, agency and freedom in the face of danger and patriarchal demands.

I use the Orpheus myth, too, because the girls Kay and Ell, together with their mother, go out and try to find the father and it's in that reaching out and trying to bring them back that you show your love for them.

Orpheus is problematic, though, in that he is a male poet trying to create his own glory in rescuing his bride, Eurydice - does he turn to see her too quickly because of his love for her or because he is acquisitive?

I wanted to use these stories as a groundwork for empathy and to put love between men and women on a much more equal footing. Another important stimulus was Spenser's Faerie Queene as his figures are so symbolic and often multi-symbolic. So the way I think about myths and storytelling is tied to how Spenser handles myth.

Q: While Kay and Ell complete their journey, there are still many questions left unanswered at the end of Twelve Nights; are you planning to write more books about their world?

A: I have written a second book about what happens before all the events in Twelve Nights begins and it gives an account of how the girls' parents have such different attitudes to children and why the mother is opposed to the work their father is doing.

I've written the second book first because epics always begin in the middle of the story and things in the past define what is to come. We learn that the father is trying to put something right for his wife, Claire, that has happened in the past. I am hoping that there will be a third book, too.

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