Friday, October 24, 2008

Interview: Alison Goodman

Earlier this month, I got to meet up for my first-ever face to face interview with an author and her publicist, from one of the largest publishers in the UK. Needless to say, I was nervous beyond description, but the author, Alison Goodman (my review of Two Pearls of Wisdom) and her publicist, Madeline Toy of Transworld Publishers, were incredibly sweet and immediately had me at ease.

The interview started over breakfast and my first act as interviewer was: to get my copy of Two Pearls of Wisdom signed. Yes, I am ever the professional.

I had prepared a set of questions which Alison read through and quite liked – which is a relief. What follows is not a verbatim set of answers she had given me, but more an informal retelling of the conversation.

I asked Alison if she had ever done hands-on research for the background for The Empire of the Celestial Dragons. The setting is very oriental and although it is a wholly created world, it has strong influences and echoes of Japan and China. Alison’s reply brimmed with enthusiasm. She had travelled in Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong and had also done a lot of research on the Chinese Imperial court and their traditions. She also worked hard to relay the consciousness of the East into The Two Pearls of Wisdom. Alison confessed to being an explorative writer: eating the food, handling artefacts in various museums. (She stressed that there had been no “breaking and entering” whilst visiting the museums, everything was above board.) She carried her notebook with her and made drawings as she went along. A further “freshening up” visit has been planned to Hong Kong on her way home in November.

When I asked Alison if Eon (the main character in Two Pearls of Wisdom) had been the first character to show up and her reply left me dazzled. She was reading up on feng shui, its history and applications, when a story about a ruthless emperor made her spidey senses tingle. Roughly, the story related how an emperor had a palace built for his son by masters of feng shui. Once the palace stood completed he had all the feng shui masters killed – his reasoning: no one else would have a palace as magnificent and perfect as the one he had commissioned. Alison’s eyes sparkled as she continued, sotto voice: within ten minutes she had sketched out a pretty good workable storyline and character synopsis. She explained that it had been one of those serendipitous moments when the universe clearly slotted everything together in a neat package. (What a lady!)

When I asked Alison if she had ever done any kind of martial arts she was enthusiastic in her reply, flinging her arms about to demonstrate how she had a training session in using a Chinese sword and how she had taken up tai chi to harness the positive flow of chi through the body.

I queried what her day to day life was like and Alison explained that her working day was quite fluid. She tried to spend her mornings doing admin, emails, returning calls and doing bits of correspondence as required. She uses this time to formulate ideas and then writes steadily in the afternoon. Her work tends to be one draft, one which she constantly revises as her writing progresses. She works till evening, when her hubby cooks them dinner. She also sang the praises of her workshop buddies with whom she could unwind, relax and talk shop.

Personally I assumed that she wrote to music and when I put the question to her, she emphatically said “No.” I sat back to listen and she explained, looking a bit self-conscious. She reads her work out loud as she writes, re-enacting the actions (again she gestures elegantly with slender wrists) in certain scenes. Music interfered with the flow of the rhythm of her writing. Which is one of the reasons, she admitted, that she did not inflict herself on others in coffee shops. Madeline and I took a moment to picture this and burst out laughing.

When I asked Alison about her whirlwind tour of the States she laughed in delight, confessing that she had a fabulous time. It was a booksellers tour, so got to have dinners all around the USA, including Seattle, Pasadena, Chicago and whilst in NY, for Eon’s Champagne brunch, Two Pearls received a star review in Publishers Weekly. An American site has been set up at: for the release of the book in December.

Alison grew quite serious when I asked her how she managed to control the political machinations and intrigue in Two Pearls, in order to keep it interesting, but not to have it become too heavy. Her explanation was sensible – she has a built in “bullshit” meter and relied on it to tell her how much she could get away with in the novel. She preferred keeping the storyline tight.

As many of the regular readers of MFB would know, I am a fan of kung fu movies in all its shapes and forms. I asked Alison if she had an interest in them. She said she owned a couple but mostly watched them for style, tone and the elegance of the fight scenes.

Which lead me to my next question – did she have a current actress / model or character type in mind to visualise Eon? I suggested someone like Michele Yeoh or Lucy Liu, but Alison explained that she preferred doing her own character sketches, having created Eona/Eon from a very personal and emotional point of view. She knew Eona had to physically appear to be quite androgynous in order to pull off masquerading as a boy. The only true things Eona had, which was truly her own, was her senses, which does come across very strongly in the novel. You spend a lot of time experiencing what Eon/Eona experiences, be it touch, smell, hear, taste. Alison led me further down her path of reasoning: Eona was malnourished, mentally abused and physically maltreated by a tutor who saw her only as his meal ticket and ride to power. She had to remain true to herself and by relying on her instincts and senses, she did just that.

Alison went on to explain, as I asked about the creation of the other characters in Two Pearls, that all of them somehow reflect Eon’s very complex character. This is all in keeping with Eon being chosen by her Dragon. Each character not only reflected parts of Eon which she perhaps tried denying herself, her femininity, her poverty, her eagerness to learn and help, but each one somehow managed to move the story along, by that fraction more, to bring it to its thrilling cliffhanger climax.

I had a geek moment here and asked Alison if she could hint at the happenings in the Two Pearls sequel. She smiled mysteriously, leaned back in her chair and explained that the sequel would be faster paced, a road book, with Eon and her comrades fleeing the conquering army, in search of certain items, looking for help from the main antagonist who did a surprising about-face towards the end of the novel. Here Alison and I had a complete geek moment and gushed about Lord Ido who is, for all intents and purposes, a very bad man but boy, does he sound a very tasty bad man! What a relief to know that authors also form crushes on their bad-boy characters.

We ended breakfast much later than expected and after much hugging, I pootled off, leaving Alison and Madeline to the rest of their busy day.

Since this interview and my review, The Two Pearls of Wisdom’s been reviewed by SFX magazine, the incomparable Lisa Tuttle over at The Times liked it(!) and Sci Fi London has got some lovely things to say. This article also links to Alison chatting about her work.

So, don’t just take my word for it, go and buy a copy of The Two Pearls of Wisdom and read it for yourself.

Product information:

The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman
Published by Bantam Press, £11.99


Dark Wolf said...

I began to love more and more signed copies, although I don't have many :)

ediFanoB said...

Excellent peace of work. I liked to read the interview in a story like writing. I gives a variety to a normal Q & A interview.