Interview: Ed Evans on Jack Knife

Here’s a little interview my dear friend Laurie conducted over Custard Creams and builders tea. With me (Ed Evans).

L: Please explain what you’re writing at the moment.

EE: My latest novel tentatively named “Jack Knife” is set in a near-future London. London has expanded both outward and upward, reaching into the sky.

L: What’s the general premise?

EE: Selena is “saved” from drugs by an underground anti-establishment leader named Onkel. Beliveing a war is coming, he’s set up shop under London in a top secret shelter with all of the others he’s rescued from various bad life decisions. As repayment Selena collects intel covertly, using her old skills as a confidence fraudster. Onkel gives Selena the names of VIPs to find and steal information from, but the first person on her list is dead. A serial killer is running riot around the city and she soon finds herself embroiled in the search for this killer, eventually fracturing away from Onkel’s group with the mysterious Jack Knife.

L: What genre would you say Jack Knife fits under?

EE: Jack Knife is primarily an urban fantasy story with occasional horror elements and a touch of the supernatural.

L: What was the inspiration behind your main point-of-view character, Selena Frischmann?

EE: I wanted to write about someone I hadn’t written about before. I was reading quite a few books on addiction at the time and things just fell into place. I can’t really recall where Selena came from, she just sort of arrived one day. I think I originally named her after Naomie Harris’ character in 28 Days Later. A dear writer friend then informed me that Selena meant “Moon Goddess” in Greek, which I thought was awesome and seemed to fit the vibe of the story nicely.

L: You mentioned London has expanded into the sky. Can you explain a little more about the city and how it has changed?

EE: Most of the old landmarks remain but it’s now a tiered city. A train line called the Skyrail connects the ground to the city in the sky and zeppelin docking platforms. Many rich people live there. London now looks a bit like a cross between Gotham City, Coruscant and the dystopian London Depicted in V for Vendetta. Lord Horatio Redden is the long-running PM and obsessed with Victoriana. Due to his influence and charisma, some of London’s aesthetics, denizens and popular culture has its mind set firmly on the past.

L: Who is Jack Knife?

EE: Jack Knife is a man with no past who is discovered by Onkel below London on a long-forgotten train track. When they find him he’s half dead. He’s super-intelligent and obviously there’s a story to tell there.

L: What is your schedule like?

EE: Sporadic. I fit it around my day job but write whenever I can. I’ll sometimes write on the bus and in the morning with my first cup of tea of the day. I ike blocking out a couple of hours after work sometimes to jot down ideas or sections of writing in a local cafe.

L: Do you do deadlines?

EE: I find my writers group is a good way to set deadlines. I know each time we meet I need at least another chapter, but I like to be a few ahead of the game.

L: What do you do when you’re not writing?

EE: I currently work as a digital designer in Bristol 9-5. In my spare time I like to watch films, read books, take pictures, go out with the girlfriend and potter about the house looking for (but often not doing) odd jobs. I also like sketching, but don’t do it enough outside of work these days.

L: Will there be a Jack Knife sequel?

EE: I have already written a story set in the same world as Jack Knife called “Romanse Macabre”. Chronologically “Jack Knife” is set before this and I plan on writing further entries in the series, too.

L: What’s Romanse Macabre about?

EE: It follows a meek factory worker named Laurence, a sleeper agent named Amelia, and a reanimated fallen soldier named Ithaca. They’re forced to face their pasts and team up and escape the fictional sea-side city they call home as a plague breaks loose.

L: Are you writing anything else?

EE: I plan on writing something different for NaNoWriMo this year. It’ll be based in a single location, with multiple point-of-view characters. And booze.

L: Finally, what’s the best book you’ve read so far this year?

EE: Probably “Animals” by Emma Jane Unsworth. Dubbed “Withnail with Girls” by Caitlin Moran, it struck all the right chords for me. Beautiful, hilarious and heartfelt. Real quotable prose. A close second would be Girl on The Train; completely different but a masterclass in uncomfortable page-turning.

Our writers group

I’ve been planning to post again for ages, but life got in the way (that old chestnut). I’m happy to report though that my writers group is alive and even kicking. We’re a small but busy group who’ll snugly fit a table of 6 with one chair to spare, but that’s generally taken up by bags, coats or any stuff I may have purchased for the garden (which, thanks for asking, is coming along too). After a few false starts, I feel like I’m getting into the groove of the group and everyone is contributing, discussing and appears to be enjoying it so far – testament to what a lovely bunch they are. They next big step we’re making is to send our first chapters around (three of us are novelists) for constructive critique. This feels like definite progress, and I will likely post more about the group when the time is right.

Popular grotesques

You watch her from afar, on the other side of the island. If she went any further there would be drool hanging from her open maw. She cackles -a laugh that could shatter glass- her head bobbing like a bouyant turd. You grimace. Further banality ensues. How to react? What can you say? You can’t force it, you can’t…
You are unable to adjust accordingly as your face rejects her, you feel your mouth forming a scowl. Traitor, you think to your mouth. Her beady badger-eyes clock you like a hungry pack animal and then stray. Your heart races and gently slows. You are not useful if you cannot comply and that is why you are on this side, in your corner as if -your mouth opening and closing like a fish desperate for air- this single pocket of normality can save you from her and the popular grotesques, chewing on horrendous dietary greens like bloated aphids, discussing their runs and cycles and normal everyday things. One day you will be free of this. One day you will be a popular grotesque like all the other popular grotesques and then you will be free.

 

The Revenant

The Revenant is both a treat for the senses and a visceral ordeal, representing revenge storytelling at its most bleak and compelling. Directed by Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, 21 Grams, Amores Perros), The Revenant revolves around the solid, spittle-and-blood flecked performances of Leonardo DiCaprio, playing Hugh Glass -a haunted frontiersman- and the venerable acting chameleon Tom Hardy as Fitzgerald -hunter and massive wanker.

 

You’ll get the heft of the plot from the trailer below, so I would tend to avoid it and take a punt if you haven’t watched it already (plus the rest of this paragraph). It’s a simple story – Glass has a son who is Native American, Fitzgerald has beef with them for various reasons, including race. Glass gets attacked, Fitzgerald does some bad bad things and leaves Glass for dead. Glass then, almost utterly broken, battles the elements (nature and man) to hunt Fitzgerald down. There’s a little more too it, but not a lot. I found myself in suspension of disbelief mode a little given all of the blows that nature and man deal Glass throughout the film, but; due largely to the acting and in no small part due to how the excellent camerawork makes you feel you are there, nothing quite seems beyond the realms of possibility.

The Revenant feels at times like a brutal and unforgiving, yet beautifully-shot nature film with two scene-stealing actors at the helm. The lead performances are unsurprisingly terrific, with some great support from the Native American and (un-?) Native American contingents to boot. As far as inhabiting a character goes, Tom Hardy, as ever, delivers in spades. He’s a twitchy, half-scalped irritation with nervous eyes, who escalates to become another beast entirely at the first mention of money. He’s about as far away from (mostly) mild-mannered John Locke or (fairly nuts) Bronson as you can get. He’s also the instigator of the film’s few laughs. Very possibly he steals the show, but then nobody can deny the physicality DiCaprio brings to his performance. You suffer along with him through every bump, scrape and mauling. Thanks in part to injury, he’s less vocal than his coin’s flip-side and arguably more psychologically damaged. In all his soily, bloody, spitty, death-stuppory glory DiCaprio delivers, even if it’s still, at times, simply Leo (let’s face it, Tom Hardy’s way more Lon Chaney in his character transformations, you’d be forgiven for not recognising him).

 

While this film deviates from the true story of Hugh Glass (though he was indeed mauled by a bear and had beef with a chap named Fitzgerald), tonally the film feels spot-on. Obviously I wasn’t around during the bleak times the film depicts, but accounts steer towards them being dark, bloody and wholly unforgiving. Great costumes aid authenticity and breathtaking scenery makes it feel like you are there back when, inhabiting that land at that time. I don’t have all the words for camerawork, but having seen a lot of movies, there’s a lot here I haven’t seen before. Artistic while still entirely watchable, The Revenant is allowed to feel, breathe and generally world-build thanks to expert, sweeping cinematography. I could watch an hour of the opening shots with the trees growing from the river (or is it a flood?) or the high peaks dwarfing the speck that’s Leo out in the distance, or the horse’s glass-like eyes, or the tops of the trees creaking as their branches rub together. You inhabit this land for the duration and it’s glorious. Mercifully there are few noticeable special effects besides the bear, which looks pretty good and convincingly menacing. Anything else effect-wise has passed me by because everything looks the part and feels palpably real.

 

For quite a lot of the film (especially the last 20 minutes) I realised I had a less than flattening grimace I couldn’t quite alter (my face is a bit like that anyway). It’s not for the squirmish, or indeed the weak-bladdered, clocking in at 157 minutes. The themes, as you’ll have come to realise, are pretty heavy. Revenge, intolerance, respect, loss and brutality are all explored to great effect as Glass struggles for a foothold in an unforgiving world, driven only by rage. For me, this film conjures images of The Grey (2011), a (proper) Liam Neeson-led film, but -perhaps minus scale- comparative to any adeptly handled, and elegantly polished revenge-based flick.

 

Trudging back from the cinema to the car on a none-too-exotic Bath Spa evening felt like a sinch after what we’d endured. ‘Its’ on the list’ my girlfriend replied, when asked for her verdict. And by God, not a lot makes it onto the list. See it, now, but if you’re after a laugh-a-minute, or something heavy on plot, don’t. Then wrap up warm with a cup of tea and then seek a little quiet by the fire. You’ll need it.