Book Angel Booktopia welcomes Marcus Sedgwick today discussing Spirals, Cultures, Big Books, Big Offers and Writing Styles.
The Ghosts of Heaven isn’t one novel, it’s actually four. Technically, at around 20,000 words for each quarter, it would be more accurate to call them novellas. But, nevertheless, you’re already getting four books for the price of one. Then, on top of that, I have designed the stories in such a way that you don’t have to read them in the order in which they are printed in the physical book. You can read the four stories in any order, and if you recall that Maths lesson on combination theory, that will tell you that here are therefore twenty-four different ways in which you can read the book. Twenty-four books for the price of one. That should make even Amazon’s most cutthroat offer look like a limp radish…
Why did I do this? The answer is simple but it conceals a more complicated truth. The simple answer is this: I wanted to write a big book. I mean physically big, but I also mean ‘big’ in a more metaphorical sense. I wanted to write a book with a big theme, and that desire stems from the linking image that appears throughout the book, the image of the spiral.
What’s the big deal about the spiral? Well, it’s an image that has fascinated me since I was a teenager. Spirals are, I think, inherently beautiful; they are also inherently mysterious. They occur in the natural world, from the smallest possible scale (as spiral traces in a cloud chamber, as the double helix of DNA) through shells, and flower heads, and tendrils, to the form of hurricanes and whirlpools, to the largest possible dimensions; our own galaxy is spiral-armed. One of the reasons that I think we find them mysterious is that they represent infinity. Other shapes, the square, the circle, the triangle, you can depict in their entirety. Not so the spiral, you can only ever show part of its form; the rest is implied.
A quick history lesson; cultures from across the world have drawn various basic shapes on cave walls, and carved them into rocks. These shapes fall into six categories; such as dots or circles, parallel lines and so on, and the sixth category is spirals. Cultures from the birth of artistic endeavour have drawn the spiral, and seemingly ascribed some meaning to it, and The Ghosts of Heaven is an attempt to discuss that meaning.
There were two ways I could have written a ‘big’ book. I could have written one very long story, in one place perhaps, perhaps set over a vast period of time, but which nevertheless used one set of characters. What I chose to do instead is give a sense of the vastness of the subject by writing four stories from four different times and set in four different places, each one with the spiral as an underlying image. So here, we have a story set in prehistory, the Stone Age, in fact; there’s a story set in the 18th century featuring a witch-hunt. There’s a story set on Long Island in an insane asylum of the 1920s, and there’s a story set in our distant future, on the first spaceship travelling to colonise a new planet.
This gave me the chance to experiment with styles in each section; the prehistoric section is written in free verse, for example. The story in the hospital is a diary. I got to write science fiction in the space story, something I had been wanting to do for a long time. Again, I hope that the breadth of subjects, places and styles of the four quarters give the book a ‘bigger’ feel than it would have otherwise have had. And each of the twenty-four different possible readings gives a slightly different twist to the outcome of the book; it’s the reader’s choice to decide on that path, and though some people hate it, I like to leave room for the reader to complete the understanding of any book. In my opinion, it’s ultimately worth more that way.
SYNOPSIS FROM GOODREADS
The spiral has existed as long as time has existed.
It’s there when a girl walks through the forest, the moist green air clinging to her skin. There centuries later in a pleasant greendale, hiding the treacherous waters of Golden Beck that take Anna, who they call a witch. There on the other side of the world as a mad poet watches the waves and knows the horrors the hide, and far into the future as Keir Bowman realises his destiny.
Each takes their next step in life. None will ever go back to the same place. And so, their journeys begin..