Interviews

Published interviews and personal profiles

The Hidden Interview

Mark Thwaite

2007

W  hat made you decide to write The Hidden?

Fear. When I was a teenager I studied ancient history at the local girls’ school. There were two of us who made the journey, twice a week, and we were the first boys to attend the school. We were excited and nervous before we ever got there, and alarmed by the beauty and cleverness of the girls when we did. Then our classes began.

I don’t know what I expected of ancient history - something gentler and more civilised than I got at my own London comprehensive, probably. But the ancient history we studied was not gentle. The peoples we learned about were cruel, duplicitous, and brutal as children. Their histories were dangerous. Most dangerous of all - and most frightening - were the Spartans, who turned their backs on all other ways of life to master the art of killing. It was all one experience to me, this: my awe of the girls, and the awfulness of the ancient world.

That wasn’t when I decided to write The Hidden, but it is one of the things that inspired it.

 

You use Ben’s archaeological studies to explore the wider themes of the book: buried secrets, our connection with the past.  Was this something you were you previously interested in or did you have to do a lot of research? 

Yes and yes again. Hidden things, lost things, secrets and lies...I find them fertile ground. When I wrote The Love of Stones I saw it as a story about people who are possessed by possessions (a house or a car would have done, but a jewel crystallised the impulse), and when I was drafts-deep in The Cryptographer I felt it to be a narrative of trust and distrust; but with hindsight the common themes are those which I’ve returned to in The Hidden. Secrecy and revelation - the why of the secrey, and the how of the revelation.

There are three quotes at the beginning of The Hidden, but my favourite is the shortest: every thing secret degenerates. At the heart of the novel is a group of friends who share a poisonous secret. The story is that of the secret; the slow spread of its toxicity.

I tend to research for a year before I sit down to the writing of each novel. There are always old interests and bits of knowledge involved in the stories I write, but I never know enough, and the research itself is fertile. Often I find new discoveries taking the narratives in unexpected directions.
 

The book has an exciting narrative drive, as well as being beautifully written.  Did you find these two aspects conflicting?  Which is more important to you?

Like some of the best contemporary novelists (several of them Canadian, for some reason - Atwood, Ondaatje, Michaels), I come to the novel from poetry. When I began publishing prose, the term ‘poetic novel’ was still less an accolade than a cuss; but I think the mood has changed. There is more consciousness now of the precision and muscularity a good poet can bring to the crafting of a novel. If that poet also has a talent for storytelling, and something to say, and characters who push themselves up and come storming off the pages...well, then that poet has the potential to be a really interesting novelist. Atwood is probably the best example; beautiful writing, combined with a natural talent for yarn-spinning and for unforgettable character creation. That’s the balance I aim for.

 

What other writers did you draw on for inspiration in writing The Hidden?

John Fowles’s The Magus and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History were magnets: they attracted and repulsed me. Or I repulsed them: I needed to keep both at arm’s length while I wrote Ben’s story. The concerns of the three novels are different, but their landscapes and characters echo one another. They cover the same ground but go three different ways.

The Hidden is the story of an outsider, too, an innocent imagining himself loved and in love with people he doesn't fully understand. That’s a story that has always mattered to me, one that leads back through a long line of novels - The Beach and The Lord of the Flies, Le Grand Meaulnes and Great Expectations.

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