Stephanie: I am honored to welcome, Paul Collis to my blog today. Hello, Paul! I am delighted to be chatting with you today and congrats on winning the B.R.A.G Medallion! Please tell me about your book, The Scottish Movie.
Paul: Before I start, I’d like to thank you and all the people involved with B.R.A.G. for their time and effort spent promoting independent authors. Acknowledgement encourages us, and I’m sure it helps readers choose their next book.
OK. The blurb on the novel’s back cover is more tease than description, so I thought your readers might prefer a synopsis. I’ll try to avoid spoilers.
Part One. London, 1606. Shakespeare is desperate for a new play to please the paranoid King James, and he’s short of ideas. By chance he comes across an ideal plot, written by Henry Greville, an unknown youngster, and steals it. A few months later, Henry hears that a play very much like his, now called ‘Macbeth’, is about to be performed at the Globe Theater. Distraught, and with no legal way to challenge the theater or its famous playwright, he decides to take matters into his own hands and sabotage the royal premiere.
Part Two opens in a diner in present day Los Angeles. Harry Greenville, a struggling actor and writer, has just posted his manuscript to a website that promises the attention of Hollywood agents and producers. We join him as he receives feedback about his novel ‘The Scottish Play’ from some of his pals.
They discuss his story about ‘Macbeth’ becoming the ‘unlucky’ or ‘Scottish’ play, about Shakespeare stealing the plot, and how its no-name author sabotages the production and gives birth to its calamitous reputation. (It is, of course, the story that the reader has begun to read in Part One.)
Part Three. Harry discovers that his novel is about to be turned into a major Hollywood movie. The irony!
The title, the names of his characters and their dialogue have all been changed, but he knows it’s basically his script. When he’s told that only an exact sequence of words can be copyrighted, and not an idea, he realizes that he’s no better protected than his hero was 400 years ago.
He decides to take a leaf out of his own book and sabotage the movie. Which is not so easy when it’s only him and a few of his reluctant pals against an unknown thief and the might of Galactic Studios.
The rest of this section is a mix of a whodunnit and a howhegonnadoit, in which Harry and his girlfriend, Liz, find themselves taking ever greater risks for a higher reward.
Part Four is the David v Goliath section, wherein a Shakespearean battle of wits is fought across the exotic hardwood of Galactic’s boardroom table. It ends in a way even Harry doesn’t anticipate.
Stephanie: How does the title of your book tie into the story?
Paul: Harry’s manuscript revolves around the reason for ‘Macbeth’s’ unofficial name, so he names his manuscript after it. Given the leap of time and place to the parallel story set in present day Hollywood, ‘The Scottish Movie’ seemed to be a perfect fit. I figured Shakespeare buffs might be intrigued.
Stephanie: I noticed the genre your story falls under is Historical Fiction. But wouldn’t this story be more of an Alternate History? Also, please tell me some of the historical aspects of your story and the fictional.
Paul: You’re right. The first part is Alternate History, written in the style of Historical Fiction. The rest is Contemporary, and written to suit. It’s difficult to pigeonhole, so suggestions are welcome. If I could compare it with another book (but only for its mix of styles, past and present; I’m not claiming anything close to its literary merits) I’d point to Ackroyd’s ‘Hawksmoor’. For structure I was influenced by Pinter’s movie adaptation of ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’, but I couldn’t find a way to match the then/now/then/now format.
Stephanie: What was some of the research involved for writing your story?
Paul: Researching Shakespeare’s life and times was really interesting. I read various biographies of him, and accounts of his fellow writers and political contemporaries. Social histories informed me of the daily lives of everyone from peasants to courtiers. A detailed account of the Gunpowder Plot gave me an idea of the paranoia prevalent at the time. A book about the Great Fire, although it occurred 60 years later than my story, provided an insight into London’s buildings and infrastructure.
Reading these 20-odd volumes, plus an untold number of articles on the internet, has given me a new appreciation for both scholars and editors. The Shakespearean part of my original manuscript was at least 50% longer than the published version, and I had to cut a lot of what I thought was interesting because it was not absolutely relevant. Even so, I know I’ve digressed here and there, but I figure that if I think something is interesting than others might, too. This is especially true of the ridiculous, unfilmable short story that Harry and his pal Alan come up with. For no particular reason I chose to combine Napoleon and the supernatural. When I started researching Bonaparte and his devastating wars it led to a completely separate 60-page tale, ‘The Army of the Night’. It’s nothing like my other stories, but aficionados of immortal hairy beasts seem to like it. (If you’d like to check it out, it’s free everywhere but Amazon.)
As for researching the ins and outs of a Hollywood studio, I’ve been lucky enough to have worked on quite a few backlots and sound stages during my career as an advertising art director and copywriter, in London and in Los Angeles. And I can personally vouch for the meals that come out of those location trucks; they’re astounding.
Stephanie: Did you discover anything new that you didn’t know before about Shakespeare?
Paul: One of the best books I consulted was little more than a brochure; a guide to a walk in Shakespeare’s footsteps. I set out from the site of the original Globe Theater, over London Bridge and on to the site of his house on Mugle Street. The whole area has changed beyond recognition, of course. What wasn’t burned in 1666 was bombed in the Blitz and covered by office blocks in the 60s and 70s. I was brought up just a short train ride from London’s South Bank, and worked for a while near Fleet Street, so I was familiar with the area, but tracing Shakespeare’s daily commute took me to streets and lanes I’d been unaware of. I saw traces of cobbled roadways, ancient churches, and the even older Roman city wall. It gave me a more tangible idea of his journey between home and workplace.
Stephanie: What was the inspiration for your book?
Paul: A dozen years ago I wrote a screenplay––’The Wrinkly’. A guy, 39, fed up with youth culture and the big city rat race, decides to con his way into a 60-plus retirement community, with results both predictable and unforeseen. (It’s now available as a novella.) I sent it out to do the rounds in Hollywood. Months later I discovered that a project with exactly the same synopsis was in pre-production at a major studio. I made calls, I sent letters, but I never got an answer other than ‘coincidence’. I’m sure that’s the truth of the matter, but at the time I had my doubts. (The movie currently seems to be in limbo.)
That experience gave rise to the idea of writing some sort of ‘getting even’ scenario. A few years later I was in London, visiting the Globe Theater. It struck me that this was the Universal Studios of its day. But when they first came out with ‘Macbeth’, why was it a flop? What if Shakespeare had stolen the idea, and the original author got mad? What would the guy do? And I took it from there.
Stephanie: What are Harry Greenville’s strengths and what are his weaknesses?
Paul: He starts out as a generally happy guy, even though he’s in his mid-twenties and still struggling to establish himself. He knows he’s not a great actor, and he believes he knows why. He’s confident about his writing skills, but lack of recognition doesn’t depress him. So he’s self-aware, and able to laugh at the small obstacles life throws his way.
But the theft of his script makes him angry and obsessive––which I think is understandable. We’ve all had something stolen from us at one time in our lives, and anger is a natural reaction. But because its his ‘best idea ever’ that’s been taken, he becomes obsessive. And loses some perspective because of it.
His initial plans for revenge leave are pretty basic; when Liz points out that his scheme involves more risks than rewards, Harry is humble enough to agree with her. But when she suggests that he raise the stakes for a potentially much greater benefit, his resolve waivers––until he realizes that her challenge to sink or swim means that he might lose her respect if he sinks. So he swims. And by the end of the book he’s a better man for it.
Stephanie: How long did it take to write your story?
Paul: Don’t ask. Oh, alright. Several years.
Stephanie: Did you use an outline or did you just write?
Paul: I outlined it first. I knew where I wanted to start, and where I wanted to end up. It was the bit in the middle that was tough. But that sorted itself out in the writing. And the rewriting. And the rewriting…
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Paul: I was skipping through an online forum somewhere (probably Goodreads) that discussed various ways to help readers find a worthwhile Indie among the legions of unedited vampiricals, first draft fantasies and hapless self-helps. One of the posts mentioned indieBRAG and I immediately looked it up and made contact. Lucky me.
Stephanie: Where can readers buy your book?
Paul: Online, the usual suspects stock the ebook or paperback. In the real world, any local bookstore can order the paperback. And readers can always obtain either version for free by asking their local library to order it. (The ISBN-13 is 9781475080100. So far it’s on the shelves in San Francisco CA, Westlake OH, Surrey UK… )
A Brit, but I use American spellcheck. Art school in the ’70s. A career in advertising as an art director and writer for some well-regarded agencies in London, New York and San Francisco. I’ve been lucky enough to produce ads and TV commercials that won numerous awards, including some Lions at Cannes. Some fishing here, some photography there. Have a screenplay about a thirty-something loser who inherits a decrepit house bordering a jinxed lake. It was a finalist in the Acclaim TV Awards – arguably one of the most obscure competitions in the US.
I’m currently working on a short piece set in the Himalayan foothills of 1934.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Paul Collis, who is the author of, The Scottish Movie, one of our medallion honorees at www.bragmedallion.com . To be awarded a B.R.A.G. Medallion TM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, The Scottish Movie, merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.