This week take a step into the art world, a bitter, and jealous place, but also a place of dry humour and secrets, your guide around this world is An Irresistible Force by Will Mount, which is another great Tribute. I got to interview him and explore the Tribute, and the series a little more, hope you enjoy this weeks interview.
1. How much fun did you have coming up with the elaborate works of art discussed in this story?
I love it when invented names resonate and sound meaningful – Glengarry Glenross, Broadchurch, The Death Star. Not so much when they don’t – Central Perk, Borchester, Cloud City. It makes you want to turn away from what you are watching. I struggled to find ones that were not too obviously a joke. Croissant was probably the one I liked best, because it was the shortest and the most open to interpretation.
2. Elements of your Tribute reminded me of the Sun Kil Moon song The Moderately talented yet attractive young woman vs the Exceptionally talented yet not so attractive middle aged man. Probably a long shot but were you influenced by this, if not what were your influences for this story?
I’ve just discovered him, thanks to you! He’s great, like a male Aimee Mann. I see he is a fellow gut-string guitar enthusiast (my favourite is Jerry Reed, most famous for Guitar Man). Getting back to the matter in hand, this particular dynamic affects people of all sexes and orientations, not just older men and younger women - the feeling of confusion when a more youthful and prettier person comes into your orbit, who seems to shine brighter than you and your circle. You desire and admire and at the same time you feel vulnerable and jealous. My influences drew primarily on memories of my own feelings but there’s an echo of it in Death in Venice (which I know of but have never seen), in Amadeus and, best of all, in the mother-daughter relationship in Grey Gardens.
3. Why did you have Holly referred to by surname throughout the piece?
The narrator is trying to present himself as someone with an objective viewpoint. By saying “Reed”, he’s trying to convince himself that he is above any emotional involvement, but his feelings keep leaking out despite this conceit.
4. I'm drawn to wondering whether these Tributes say more about the deceased or the person giving the eulogy. How did you see this when writing this Tribute?
Or how about they say more about the author than either the narrator or the deceased! It’s true that my narrator is very demanding of your attention. When I heard all the other Tributes I realized that the story suffered by being a bit starchy and old fashioned, but the strong feelings that drive the narrator are the dominant notes - Holly herself melts into the background. He doesn’t really develop emotionally as the narrator does in, say, Valediction Forbidding Mourning, or A Great Man. If I were to do it again I would downplay the ambiguous reveal at the end and look again at developing his consciousness so that he has a bit more of a realisation.
5. Is this character responsible for Holly's death? Do you, or should the audience find him likeable?
What do you think? I would prefer to leave it ambiguous (he definitely did it!). He’s pretty cold, but there are moments when you see the devoted mentor behind the embittered teacher – who really cherishes this younger version, not of himself, but of who he would like to be. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this redeems him, but hopefully he is not a complete turn-off. Your Tribute has a character who is the complete opposite: positive, affectionate, full of energy and enthusiasm – you can’t help but be drawn in and you evoke a really warm glow which is hard to pull off.
6. What other projects are you working on, and how does An Irresistible Force compare to your other writing?
I’m writing an animated film about a similarly self-contained man who is encouraged by a friend to engage with social media, which he does in a disastrous way. This time the protagonist does develop. As the plot moves through the gears, so does his emotional understanding.
7. Have you had chance to listen to the other Tribute episodes? Which ones have stuck out if so.
I am lucky enough to have listened to them all several times and I loved them all equally (I am contractually obliged to say this!). It may be more helpful if I tell you what I am going to steal from each of them. Along with those I have already mentioned I am going to re-read Milestone and
try and work out what Tony Clare did technically which allowed him to tell the story so simply, build the emotion so gradually and yet produce such a crescendo at the end.
Rex and My Immortal Mother keep a more constant pitch but also wear their technique very lightly while conveying different versions of the warmth that you produced in Bookmark. I love how Sarah makes the Tricia Slater simultaneously exasperating and interesting, and how she lets the humour pop out naturally in the little asides when the eulogy falters. Grandpa had beautiful pacing, so that the life described felt full and complex, but never overdone. The Name on the Bench very cleverly kept your interest while withholding the identity of the subject of the eulogy until the very end.
For it’s stark atmosphere, occluded feelings and precise, poised language, Turning was hard to beat. And I will cherish the moment when we started Marcie Lane, the first Tribute we recorded and listened to the unfolding of a heartfelt but nuanced relationship between two estranged friends.
I have a particular soft spot for An Ordered Life because Philip Shelley allowed me to unleash my inner Norma Desmond on it. He read it first and then I did a version that borrowed from his performance. The clarity of thought and the pitch of the language made it easy to add in a bit of myself. I can see what good writing can give actors – clarity of meaning and a strong base that leaves plenty of room for interpretation. I also had the advantage of getting a mini-master class in acting from all the performers, not least Paul Chapman who made my desiccated narrator flesh, and lifted him bodily him off the page.
8. Why do you think it's important to write about and discuss death?
It’s important to write about everything we do and everything that happens to us. Death is pretty well represented in drama, but I loved this idea of making the protagonists cast their thoughts in the semi-formal setting of a tribute. It’s like a sad best man’s speech. Who’s listening? Should you have said that? Would you say this if they were alive and standing in front of you?