The Author talks about The Escalator
Transcript of the author’s discussion of The Escalator
It is not for a writer to say what a piece is about.
The writer can outline the story, which is usually the least interesting part of a work. Certain techniques and obsessions can be mentioned but meanings are outside the writer’s scope.
The Escalator concerns a whole life.
It is mostly set in Birmingham and it focusses on two weekends some years apart. In the first weekend, the main character is in the thick of family life. In the second weekend, he is living on the streets and an increasingly unreliable voice. William’s delusions coincide with proceedings that span the two weekends; the papacy of John Paul ll, the flights of Concorde and the script for Brookside (the soap) are among other imagined involvements. It is also the period during which The Internet, and wheels on suitcases came in. He searches for meanings within his delusional state, and possibly finds elements of truth there. His reflections in the first weekend are set against his irrational thought processes in the second weekend, with ideas and imagery echoing between the two, creating narrative opportunities for tension, irony and humour.
At the heart of the novel is a love story between William and Cas, and an account of their relationship. In William, the philosophical and comic implications of a period of transition find expression.
William’s life is framed by those around him. Each chapter is preceded, after his death, first by the routines of his daughter, Lois, and then by those of his wife, Cas. After these introductions to each chapter, the account is in the hands of William,
either unreliably or reliably.
In conjunction with this story, there are certain ways of approaching the narrative.
One is humour. Some readers may feel that a serious work should not also make them smile. Comic elements can arrive unexpectedly and often at the most serious moments.
A more deliberate method is a close third person narration from the point of view of each character. The effect of this may be to balance each character’s thoughts with a measure of objectivity.
Beyond the story and how it is told, there are certain recurrences.
One of these is the nature of place. The family are from one place, Birmingham. After William’s death, Cas moves to another place by the sea. There is no sea in Birmingham any longer. To what extent, with The Internet, can a person be in more than one place at a time? There is a sense in which we can now be in another place without even putting our coat on? At one time, there was no radio, TV, telephone or web. Other places were only known about through other people, through books or newspapers, or by travelling. Now places are closer in some respects.
Another interest is madness. In the second weekend, William is mad. But it is not as simple as that. There is a sense in which he is less mad than before. Of course, this idea is not new. The fool often speaks truth; now and then at least. There is also the thought that divergence from what is normal may have evolutionary advantages.
The book is tied up with life and death, as we all are. The pandemic is present. It is compared with the sea where we came from and will return to. The virus and the sea and the stars are indiscriminating, indifferent, apathetic even. The virus can be seen as akin to the sea and the sky; not caring about the state of the world or the individual.
The novel covers a period of change and concerns everyday themes – parenthood, how to earn a living, the accumulation of things, and how both ideas and practicality intertwine.
What is true and what is fake? Who, if anyone, is to be trusted? The intelligence associated with everyday practicality is set against that associated with books.
Essentially, the interests and obsessions concern contrasts.
The tent is pitched wherever there are boundaries, perhaps in the same way as Neolithic people were attracted to the edge between land and water. There are the smokers outside the hospital, the casino that was once a children’s hospital, the church that is now a restaurant. Such boundaries can be seen everywhere – sea and sky, land and sky, city and countryside, reality and imagination, thought and practice, madness and sanity, love and hate, family and isolation, life and death, atheism and belief, youth and old age, health and sickness, virus and no virus, good governance and bad governance, the difference between what is felt and what is observed, the boundary and overflow between words even.
In summary, there’s a story, a way of presenting it, and there are some concerns. Beyond these outlines, or shapes, the reader takes over and the writer in silent.
A shorter video clip from the author on how the novel was written.