Thursday, February 13, 2020

AFTER VINCENT - An Interview With Author Paul Driscoll

The Chronosmith Chronicles is about to kick off with its first book, After Vincent! Altrix co-founder Paul Driscoll pens the first installment in the new series — bringing four Altrix characters into their own world.

We're sitting down with Paul for his gateway into the new adventures:

Who are the Chronosmiths?
Following on from the huge success of the Doctor Who charity spin-off Seasons of War, Kara Dennison and I were commissioned by Declan May to write a Seasons of War novel. The result was Gallifrey, published in 2017, a Time War novel set in the Doctor Who universe, but featuring our own characters. Tor Fasa, Mordicai, Kendo and Savalia were such fun to write that Kara and I decided to continue their adventures. Those who enjoyed Gallifrey will be able to make links between the new series and what has now effectively become a prequel, but we were keen to remove them entirely from the Doctor Who universe, making them accessible to non-fans and newcomers.

Is After Vincent a reboot?
Not exactly. Gallifrey ended with our four leads having to flee Gallifrey and go into hiding on a planet called Percusia. To protect their anonymity they have buried the truth about their origins and have made a pact to implant alternative backstories into their memories. The process is similar to the chameleon arch used in Doctor Who. They see themselves as Percusians by birth now.

Is The Chronosmith Chronicles a Doctor Who Spin-Off?
That is down to the reader to decide. We won’t be marketing it as such, but you will see a few nods to Doctor Who and indeed to other franchises. The Chronosmiths think they have fled from a war played out between the Percusians and a race of rhino-like warmongers called the Zechos. They have travelled across the Time Winds into a whole new universe. There they will encounter various races and species unique to the series, as well as an Earth that roughly corresponds to our own. There will be no mention of the Doctor, the TARDIS, Daleks, Cybermen and Time Lords etc., but that doesn’t mean they could never exist in the Chronosmiths’ universe.

Isn’t this just Doctor Who by another name?
The Chronosmiths travel across time and space in a semi-sentient ship called the Hexachron that can change its external appearance using perception filtering technology. Internally, it has the potential to house an infinite number of rooms. Sounds like Doctor Who, right? Inspired by the show and some of its core ideas, the ship and the mission of the Chronosmiths is, nonetheless, quite different. Unlike the TARDIS, the Hexachron has a fixed internal dimension, one that can be occupied simultaneously by all kinds of rooms. The Chronosmiths' mission is to correct and respond to false and misleading history. This could be anything from a lie passed down within a single family to a myth that has propped up a centuries-old intergalactic war.

So book one of the series is about Vincent Van Gogh, the man and the myth?
In the 83rd Century, there is a religious movement known as Goghianism which has elevated the artist to the status of a god. The Chronosmiths will travel back in time, meeting the real Vincent. They are on a specific mission from an employment agency called Aliens for Hire, but will also get the opportunity to challenge some of the tenets of the religion, propagated across the universe in the artist’s name. Some of those beliefs are not all that far removed from contemporary portraits of the artist, as seen for example in the Kirk Douglas movie, Lust for Life, and the many others that have followed it.

Why did you chose to write about Van Gogh?
There are so many links that can be made with the Chronosmiths and Vincent. Mordicai and Savalia are in a Romeo-and-Juliet type relationship, with Mordicai hailing from the city and Savalia from the village where never the twain shall meet. This reminded me of the 19th century artist, specifically his relationship with the prostitute Sien Hoornik. Many of Vincent’s struggles with mental health are rooted in the fact that his family was part of the bourgeoisie. There is a narrative of mutual disownment that chimes with what all four Chronosmiths have done with their own past. Savalia has an artistic spirit and I could see great potential in her meeting the painter, but there is also a dangerous side to both characters. This leads to Mordicai identifying with Paul Gauguin and others who tried to be friends with Vincent. Kendo, Savalia’s cousin, has anxiety issues and so there was a possible connection with Vincent for her too. And as for Tor Fasa, well, he like Vincent has gifts that sometimes feels like a curse to him.

Did the Doctor Who episode Vincent and the Doctor influence your thinking?
Not really. There may be a sly reference or two, but you’d have to read carefully to spot them. Unlike the Richard Curtis story, this one is on an epic scale as we flit between the past and the future and travel along various points in Vincent’s life.

What myths about the artist are you challenging?
Primarily the myth of the tortured genius and the way in which mental illness can be romanticised as a reason for an artist’s brilliance. But the book also looks at religious belief, and the protestant ethics that Vincent both lived by and fought against. Poverty, the treatment of asylum seekers, and the nature of charity with a big C are also under the microscope. I’ve tried to present the artist in all his brilliance, without overlooking his faults. I adore Don McLean’s song, Vincent, in particular the cover version by one of my favourite folk singers, Martyn Joseph, but it wouldn’t make it onto the soundtrack for the movie adaptation!

Which of Vincent’s paintings feature?
Oh, there are plenty that are name-checked, some we get to see him working on, and others take on a special role in the 83rd century. One in particular is important, Vincent’s early self-portrait which is of a skull smoking a cigarette. One of my hopes is that some readers will want to check out Van Gogh’s portfolio and look up some of the lesser known works. But don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten the sunflowers and the starry, starry night.

That cover suggests that the Chronosmiths are directly involved in Vincent’s death. Aren’t you simply inventing a new myth?
Spoilers! All I can say is that I have endeavoured to avoid sensationalising Vincent’s story, or making out that aliens had any substantial influence on either his work or his mental state. So if they are around in the fields of Auvers or thereabouts, we will find them experiencing Vincent’s story, not shoehorning him into theirs. That said, the circumstances surrounding Vincent’s death remain the subject of much debate.

How will the rest of the series play out?
Did I mention spoilers? One of the tasks of After Vincent was to do some world-building work, hence the novel being a fair bit longer than the other books.  I have also introduced a number of recurring supporting characters, from the multi-species Aliens for Hire to rival time travellers, the Time Riders, whose noses are severely put out of joint by the arrival of the Chronosmiths. But that world building will continue throughout series one with Kara, Jon and MH’s books as well as my own second offering. Watch out for other returning characters who will be introduced later in the run, beginning with a very significant figure who makes a dramatic entrance in Kara’s book, Eleanor’s Tears. It is all leading up to a dramatic finale in book six.

What are you working on next?
My next Chronosmith book is Sceptre of the Innocents, set right at the end of the Middle Ages in County Durham. It features a new alien species, plus the Zechos taking centre stage for the first time, an alien artefact that causes mayhem on the streets of Medieval England, rebellious nuns with a penchant for magic, and a leper turned boy bishop.

The Chronosmith Chronicles #1: After Vincent will be available soon!


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