Interview with Mortimus Clay

purloined-boytlc-logoI have a special treat here at Bart’s Bookshelf for you all!  If you visited the site earlier today, then you will know I was given the opportunity to read and review: The Purloined Boy, the wonderful new young adult novel from Mortimus Clay. Probably the only deceased author still writing books today!

Well, when I was given the understandably rare opportunity to interview an author, who was still working even though he is long past this mortal coil, I immediately said yes!

As you can imagine, conducting such an interview is fraught with difficulties, and I can’t thank, Christopher Wiley, Mortimus’ good friend and assistant enough for acting as a go-between, and making everything run as smoothly as possible!

So, Christopher, over to you!

Christopher Wiley here, interviewing my dear deceased friend, Mortimus Clay, for Bart’s Bookshelf. Thanks Bart for providing the thought-provoking questions. The alternative – naturally – are questions that do not provoke thought – and we know you would never be so thoughtless. So here we go!

Where did the original idea come from? And are there any major differences between the original premise and the finished book?

Mortimus Clay: Hmmm now, where to begin? Partly it came from my first reading of Plato’s Republic under the strict tutelage of my childhood teacher, the Earl of Bustleworth. (Long, painful story. No time, thankfully.) Many things to like in the Republic, and many to recoil from. Particularly distasteful are the inhuman views on the family and childrearing. If you have ever read it you know what I am addressing: mothers blindfolded at birth, fathers unknown because of copulation on rotation, children fresh from the womb thrust into state run orphanages that make no provision for affection and familial contact. Plato saw the family as the primary threat to the integrity of the state, you see. You could say Plato was an inspiration for any attempt to pit progeny against parents. Creepy stuff rife with story line possibilities!

Then I died and met Plato personally and I knew I had to write my little book. The other inspiration for the story was a beatific vision of the end of the story. I cannot tell you anything about that without finding a way to have you join me on this side of the Jordan.

As to the second part of your question – well, it is not done yet – so I cannot say. Easily 3-5 books to tell the tale of the Weirdling. I am nearly done with the second installment and have an outline for the third.

Talking of which, were there any fun surprises while writing the book? Plot deviations? Misbehaving characters? – You know, the ones that decide they know better than the author, what should happen next!

Mortimus Clay: Oh yes! Any author who loves his characters knows he cannot make them do what they’re not inclined to do. One must listen to them and try to persuade without recourse to violence. Plot is just character in action you might say. If you don’t see plot as character working out in circumstances then your plot will be flat, wooden, dull and contrived.

Some characters are stronger than others – their personalities I mean. When they enter the room they tend to set the agenda. If two such characters meet – there are fire works! In the beginning of The Purloined Boy, Trevor is very much the character who responds to what others are doing. By the end of book one we see him beginning to be an agent to be reckoned with. His transformation is really what the book is about. I have heard it said that when you tell a story you should tell it from the point of view of the character with the most to lose. I think that is right.

What was your first impression of the fantastic cover art?

Mortimus Clay: When Finster Press commissioned Justin Gerard I was very pleased! The way he works with light and shadow reminds me of London in my day. I knew he could capture the mood of my book. Here is a link to his website.

He actually shared some of his initial concept work with me. I admit, at the time I didn’t agree to the direction he wanted to go. He thought a collage of images from the book would work best and I wanted a scene from the book – something like the cover art for book two. But he insisted and I’m glad he did – it turned out wonderfully. Currently he’s working on a set of illustrations of The Hobbit that I think are very good.

If you could write yourself into any novel, which one would you pick?

Mortimus Clay: Well I did try to get into something by Dickens if you recall but he snubbed me. Oh he’s sorry about it now but when it counted I was persona non-grata.

Having been accused of being a fictional character I have a certain sympathy that your readers may not share. Reading exciting stories is wonderful. Actually being in an exciting story is another matter. I think I should like to be a character that is loved and respected by all and introduces a story then steps out of it only to reenter at the very end when all the fighting is over. I suppose Elrond fits the description. Yes, I should like to be Elrond.

Do you see yourself writing for a long time into the future? Due to your erm… unique position in the publishing world, you could potentially have a career for as long as you wanted.

Mortimus Clay: As you note – I am in a unique position. Time is no object. Unfortunately it is for my personal secretary, Christopher Wiley. Once he’s gone I’ll have to find another assistant. Either that or get on with the business of being dead.

What’s the most difficult thing about being a writer, particularly one such as you?

Mortimus Clay: Holding a pen. Zombies manage for a while but eventually they go the way of all flesh. Dead of the insubstantial sort such as I find lifting anything – even a pen – beyond our ability.

That is why the internet is such a wonderful development! Why it is practically magical. The postmortem community is most grateful to Al gore for inventing it. Of course many of us suspect that the former Vice President of the American Colonies is actually one of us passing as a living person.

You had a rich and rewarding career in another field before turning to writing. What words of advice would you have for the aspiring novelist who is currently making a living in another profession?

Mortimus Clay: Tutoring wayward knitters was not terribly rewarding I’m sorry to say. The factory girls had no interest in Chaucer. (Byron, if you explained him to them.) All they ever wanted to talk about was men and ale. I aspired to publication but was thwarted at every turn. I’d say two things to living authors. First, don’t quit your day job and second, take heart in the truth that your chances of success go up exponentially after death.

Lastly, is there a book or author you think everybody should read?

Mortimus Clay: Certainly. Anything written by me.

About the Author

mortimus-clayMortimus Clay is the most prolific author writing posthumously in the world today. Dead since 1885, Professor Clay’s first book was published in 2009.

While alive Mortimus Clay was a dismal failure as an author. Scorned by editors, laughed at by fellow writers, Mortimus spent his life trying to emulate his hero Charles Dickens, but instead ended up living like a character in a Dickens novel.

During the day he served as Professor of Arts and Letters at Her Majesty’s Knitting College for Wayward Girls, but his evenings were spent writing late into the night in his unheated Manchester flat.

After fifty years of teaching Beowulf and The Faerie Queene to unappreciative knitters, Professor Clay died in 1885, half-starved and grasping the shards of a poorly crafted poem entitled, “Ode to a Grecian Fern.”

It was the best thing to ever happen to the old boy at his writing took and immediate turn for the better.

Mortimus Clay has managed to create his own website (and it doesn’t even stink, which is amazing since it was created by a dead guy) and you can check it out HERE.

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