The View From Here Interview: Andrew Davidson

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by Kerrie-Anne

My first interview for The View from Here and I have the pleasure of introducing you to Andrew Davidson author of the International Best Seller 'The Gargoyle'.

The Gargoyle is a fictitious tale involving two main Characters. The first a Pornographer, drug addict and alcoholic, whose identity we never learn and has become known as The Narrator. The second is that of Marianne Engel, a carver of gargoyles, who believes she is a 700 years old former Nun from the famous Engelthal Monastery. The story is gripping, fascinating and keeps you wondering right to the last page.

Andrew Davidson grew up in a small town in Canada. He managed a Degree in English Literature, soon after he began a Media course. As his 30th birthday approached, Andrew moved to Japan. Spending the next 5 years traveling Japan teaching and translating English. This is where he embarked on writing a story which has taken 7 years to complete and has been well worth waiting for.

I give you Andrew Davidson.

Growing up in the small town of Pinawa, Manitoba, has many advantages. What would be your fondest memory?

I’d have to say all the hours I spent playing ice hockey, either with my childhood teams or practicing alone on the outdoor rink. But there are many memories that could compete, as I had a wonderful childhood full of love and support.

Out of all the places you could have gone why Japan? Was it convenience or desire which lead you there?

As my thirtieth birthday was approaching, I was haunted by the thought that I was just about to enter my fourth decade without having lived outside of Canada. I just wanted to experience a new culture, and the location was not that important. A number of my acquaintances had taught in Japan and had told me about the great time they’d had there. It seemed relatively easy, as the English conversation schools regularly had recruiters looking for prospective teachers in Vancouver, where I was living at the time, and the only real requirement was a university degree. I had a few interviews and, almost before I knew it, was on a plane to Japan.
Once I was there, I discovered that I loved the country. I went with the thought that I’d stay for a year, but ended up staying five.

One point, which every interview I have read makes mention of, is the amount of time it has taken for this story to emerge. Did you have any idea when you began, the journey would be so incredibly complex and the length it took to achieve would cause such curiosity?

I had no idea how long it would take to write and no clue that the amount of time would be of interest to anyone. I thought this would be just like every other project I’d ever worked upon—something that would entertain me for a while, and then be tucked away in the drawer with the rest of the unpublished work.
I can understand the fascination with the idea that a person would work on a speculative project for seven years, but if I hadn’t been writing I would’ve been writing something else in any case—writing is what I do. But it was easy to return to the story night after night, because I was curious to see how it all turned out.

Although the humor throughout The Gargoyle is mingled within the seriousness of circumstance, Jack is a breath of fresh air. Her Nickname ‘Crispy’ for our Narrator showed her direct and uncomplicated nature. How important is a sense of humour to your writing and your well being?

I hope I always treat my work seriously, but I’m a goof at heart.

Your Research took you from Medieval Germany, to a Medieval Monastery, through Dante’s Inferno and The Divine Comedy and into Mental Health and all manner of issues surrounding victims of severe burns. Out of the vast array of subject matter which did you find the most interesting?

Each of these subjects held a different allure for me, but if I had to choose one I’d go with burn treatment, simply because it was the one about which I had the least knowledge in the beginning.
Every thing that I learned was new to me, and often so surprising that I could scarcely believe it was actual treatment and not science fiction.

I have read in other interviews you state ‘The lead female character, Marianne Engel, emerged from my consciousness without my having to coax her out. This was a weird and unexpected experience: she arrived with her full name and her appearance already set, and she began intruding upon my other writing until I consented to give her my full attention. She seemed to have a lot to say, and wouldn't shut up until I wrote it all down. Eventually, that resulted in the novel.’ Was the character of the Narrator initially as strong as that of Marianne Engel or did he evolve more from the telling?

The narrator evolved from my needs as a storyteller, more than anything.
I started the novel because Marianne Engel insisted she had stories to tell, but I knew immediately that I could not write these stories in her voice. The reason was her unreliable nature—already I was wondering whether she was a liar, a schizophrenic, or someone who had actually lived what she claimed. And yet, I also knew that I could not write in the third person omniscient: there could be no author, hovering above the action, who could explain everything. With Marianne Engel, explaining everything was never an option. So, I needed a narrator who was not her, but who could say: “This is what I saw, and this is what I think of it—but what do you think?”

For many years you lived overseas in Japan moving from town to town as work permitted, I noticed throughout The Gargoyle many Japanese aspects, not the least being Sei’s story and again with Sayuri. Were these characters a result of your time in Japan, an amalgam of people you met and stories you had heard or a need to reference your time spent traveling throughout the country?

Certainly my time in Japan had an impact on my storytelling, because it had such a great impact on my life. Although Canadian, I consider Japan to be a “second” home country. Sayuri was mostly a challenge to myself: I wanted to write a character who was a Japanese woman, and I needed a physical therapist, so.... Of course much of her experience was cobbled together from what I learned in Japan—but she’s not one person I know, although she might be a hundred.

Marianne Engel’s obsessive passion for cooking feasts to set before our Narrator is one of her endearing qualities, if she were to cook for you, which would be your most appealing meal?

Whatever she made, I’d be thankful.

Out of all the Characters in The Gargoyle who was your favourite and why?

I'm of the opinion that if I were to let slip a "favorite," it would be like a parent choosing a favorite child. I don't want to cause trouble in the ranks.
I don't have a favorite character, to tell the truth, as they all spoke to me in different ways.

One thing I find Curious is throughout the story. Marianne is constantly referred to as Marianne Engel, never Marianne but always with both names Why?

Many reasons, but most of all because it never felt correct to refer to Marianne Engel by anything other than her full name. It always felt like shortchanging her by half.
Besides, the narrator never reveals his name, so if you add their names together and divide by two, you've got one name each.

There are several stories with in The Gargoyle. That of the narrator and his battle with the snake of his addiction, his past and his growing emotional attachment. Then there is Marianne Engel’s own journey, her confidence in what and who she believes she is, her own obsession in her carving, her devotion to God and to tell him their story. Then there is their story linking the whole together. Was this a process of evolution, design or simply the way the story came out that allowed such a seamless flow through out the story?

If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in the many years that I’ve been writing, it’s that for me plot outlines result in dead stories. I try to push my characters around, and they hate it, and they refuse to cooperate.
I spend much of my time getting to know my characters. I will do anything to understand them, from writing their childhood diary entries to sketching out their clothing. After a few years, once we’ve gotten to know each other quite well, they trust me enough to let me follow them around. Then they do things that confuse me, and I write it all down. At the end I look inside all the writing in an attempt to find the “plot.” Then I hopefully remove everything else—the things that I needed to know, but the readers don’t.

It seems many of the characters in Marianne Engel’s story telling are either tragic lonely souls such as Siguror or tragic lovers Francesco and Graziana. The thought of an emotion being so strong as to transcend time and death, is one which is seldom tackled and rarely in the context of Dantes Inferno. Was it your intention to show Love as an everlasting quality or as a tool to doom lovers from the moment they enter?

The last person in the world who should suggest what a book “means” is the person who wrote it.

From the very first page through to the very last, the underlying truth or delusion is left to reader, you give no conclusive validity to either persons thoughts, either to Marianne Engel’s claims or to the Narrators theories, you leave the final verdict to that of the reader, giving clues and evidence as to either theories. How hard was it not to place your own verdict at the end?

This was not difficult at all, to tell the truth. Essentially there are two voices in this novel – the narrator and Marianne Engel—and neither one of these voices is Andrew Davidson. (I hope.) To illustrate, the narrator is an atheist and Marianne Engel is absolutely certain of the existence of God. Clearly, I cannot agree with both of these points, but that doesn’t matter, because my job is to portray these characters as honestly as I can. The very worst thing I could do is judge my characters, and without judgment any “verdict” is impossible.

The success of The Gargoyle has no doubt given you some wonderful surprises. What is the best and the worst thing about now being the author of an International Best seller?

The best thing: I no longer require a day job to support myself while I’m writing.
The worst thing: now that writing is my job, I have far less time to write.

Many of those reading this are themselves budding authors. What advice would you give them as they embark on their own journey of discovery?

If you’re writing because you love writing, keep doing it.
If you’re writing because you couldn’t stop even if you wanted to, then you’re definitely on the right path.
And if you’re writing because you think of publication as a necessary validation, you should never pick up a pen again.

What is the most important thing you have learnt along the way?

Writing one’s first book is of no help at all in writing one’s second book.

To learn more why not stop by Andrews website Burned By Love

Photograph of Andrew Davidson by Deborah Feingold


Paul Burman said...

Interesting and thorough interview - thanks Kerri-Anne and Andrew. The Gargoyle sounds like an intriguing book, as does Andrew's journey towards completing it. Cheers.

Kerrie Anne said...

Thanks Paul
The book is a definate must read, so pleased you liked the interview.

ccwrites said...

Have read this book and I agree it's a must read. A great combination of gripping read as well as beautiful writing. Thanks to Kerrie Anne for the interview, this book deserves alot of attention in Australia.