Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Turner - FAQs

Over time I've been asked various questions about Turner. The build up to Halloween seems like a good time to gather many of these together as a set of Frequently Asked Questions. Let's carve that pumpkin up and see what's inside. (Warning: spoilers abound!) The information below might be useful if you're considering the discussion questions at the end of the novel.


What's the novel about?
See the blurb here.

Why is the novel called Turner? And how does the lighthouse tie in to that?
Read all about it.

What works influenced you to write Turner?
See this blog post.

Is Ynys Diawl / Stawl Island real?
"By the way, I was a bit puzzled... in the author's note at the end of the book you say Stawl Island is a real place. (Unless I've read it wrong). I tried looking for the island on Google maps but without success."

Stawl Island is a fictional island. The author's note is a joke, pretending there really is an English Lord on a Welsh island and implying that things could actually happen - hence the 'muddying the waters' quote in the author's note, because I was muddying the waters between truth and fiction.

However, I did go to stay on Ynys Enlli (Bardsey Island). I went there for the peace, the chance to be on an island, and the opportunity to write the first draft of the novel uninterrupted by the rest of life. The  islands are very different though. Ynys Diawl is much larger, and is also heavily forested, whereas Bardsey Island nowadays resembles a large sheep and cattle farm, rather than the natural paradise I'd expected. There's more background on how Bardsey ties in to elements in the novel in my talk here.

Why isn't the Welsh in the prologue translated, whilst the Welsh elsewhere has been?
It's a deliberate ploy so that (most) readers will be as intimidated by their ignorance as Tom. English-only speakers can identify better with Tom and the strangeness he faces. Whereas Welsh speakers get the bonus of seeing the danger more clearly, sooner. Hopefully the novel is equally enjoyable either way. After the prologue all Welsh is translated, since the game has been given away by then.

The islanders are the baddies: is the novel anti-Welsh?
The opposite, in fact. The anti-Welsh comments made by Lord John are there to show how unlikable he is and make the reader think "Ooooh, I hope he gets his comeuppance!" 

In terms of the island's history, the Welsh people on the island were happy; then the English came in and took over; as a result the English degraded the islanders and messed them up. It reflects what happened with the Welsh Not, killing Owain Glyndwr etc; and also what went on in other countries the English occupied. So the novel is anti-'English occupancy'. The reference to Caliban and The Tempest is also pertinent. Caliban claims he was happy until the outsider took over the island from him and degraded him. This makes a parallel - to the Bwystfil and Bran Ddu. Lord John trained her to hate, via language, and it is his downfall when she (female and Welsh), overthrows his English patriarchy. The real villain throughout is Lord John, and he identifies with the English. 

Can you help me understand the layout of the island?
Here are the scribbled maps I used when writing the novel.
Map of Pentref Bychan (the village)

Map of Ynys Diawl (the island)

Map of Yr Hen Ddyn (the pub)

Why have all the different names for Anne/Bran Ddu/Harbinger/Black Crow? It's confusing
Her real name is Anne Jenkyns, but she gave that up when she started to believe that she was 'special'. She then adopted the 'Bran Ddu' persona ('Black Crow') as a name that connects her with dark rituals. Harbinger is just a title she occasionally uses, since black crows are sometimes described as the 'harbingers of doom'. The variety of names she uses are intended to illustrate her identity problems. She is referred to as Anne in sections written from Chris's perspective, since he wouldn't have any truck with 'silly titles'.

Why does Chris Turner have a potty mouth?
That phrase made me laugh, and was used in one review. I think the fact that the reader didn't like swearing led to them giving a worse score, which is one of the reasons that I've added a warning at the start of the book!

It's appropriate for Chris to swear: he's the anti-hero protagonist with a criminal background and negative attitude to life. But the swearing is relevant to the plot (I'm assuming you've read the FAQ "Why is the novel called Turner? And how does the lighthouse tie in to that?" above, which explains about turning). I foreshadow it by making his first word in the novel a swearword when he's in a bad mood, but later he has two major outbursts, both of them intended to 'unbalance' an opponent (the Bwystfil on the lighthouse first, then Lord John at the end) which is how Chris's 'turning' ability works - turning a situation around by unbalancing an opponent (physically or mentally) so that they make a mistake.

Who is the person in scene x? It's confusing
One reader had lots of issues with understanding which characters were starring in particular scenes, I've included the questions and answers below.

"The woman nervously placed the bowl of cawl in front of the man. She wore an old-fashioned thick black dress with a large collar, the lack of any brightness continuing upwards to her curly black hair and dense eyebrows." Who is this woman?
Peredur's wife - we never find out her name since it is the only scene she appears in, giving a flavour of what it is like to be a villager at that time.

"From the sandbar to the deep, sea caves, it was all his domain. All. And today everyone would know that fact, and tremble." Why is everybody supposed to know this and tremble?
Because that night Lord John is going to have all the non-natives killed. Everyone on the island is a native or non-native, so everyone will be aware of it in one way or another. And they will tremble at the horror and audacity of what he plans, as well as what will happen afterwards (the bit he is confused about, since he is off his trolley with hereditary madness).

Why do they keep blood in the fridge of the school and why put blood on each boundary stone?
The blood is for the ritual to prepare for this night of sacrifice. Of course it is really all nonsense, made up by Lord John after reading dodgy occult books, but he believes it, and in turn everyone else does.

"The combined testimonies of the resident policeman and the Lord of the island would deal with the rest." Is the 'Lord of the island' Lord John? Talking about himself?
Yes, that's Lord John. He's referring to how effective their spin will seem to an outsider.

Who is the Mancunian? Was he Ken (Patti’s boyfriend)? Or the guy from the prologue?
The Mancunian is neither of those. He drove into town with his girlfriend in a scene that does not appear in the novel, and both got captured. Ken and Patti just camped with backpacks, both were killed (Patti while running). I avoided putting in anything that made one couple resemble the other, but I suppose I can see part of where the confusion comes from. The Mancunian and girlfriend were the ones in the sacks, which is why they couldn't be Patti and Ken.
The Mancunian's first appearance was in the sacks (the reader won't realise that at the time, it's unimportant). Appearance two was when he was gagged and going to have his blood pumped out. That's it. His girlfriend only got a mention. They don't even qualify as minor characters since they never speak. They were nothing to do with Patti and her boyfriend.
Osian spits on the sacks and says 'Mancunians', and when Lord John tortures the guy he refers to the fact that 'at least he isn't in a sack any more'. That ties those two together. It means the Mancunian guy can't be Tom, because Lord John refers to him having driven into the village with his girlfriend (whereas Tom cycled, two months earlier); and he can't be Ken, because Ken is dead. Therefore he must be a new, unnamed victim. Did anyone else find this confusing?

"Instead, on His orders, the men had dragged in some other woman they had caught. Someone unwilling." Who does this refer to? Megan? And When Lord John says: "Then take this one to the tomb, and the other to the chapel. Don’t allow any outsiders to see." who is he talking about?
They took the Mancunian's girlfriend to the chapel. The Mancunian is put in a sack, and later Lord John prepares to torture him in his tomb.

"His head ached, throbs of expanding pain reaching his skull before echoing back to the centre of his brain, non-stop and almost blinding." Who is this?
Constable Huws, David's senior on the island who is retiring. He's making sure no help comes because he is 'in on it' as one of the islanders.

I want to know more about the 'religion' Lord John created
A reader emailed me with this: "The 'religion' Lord John created. I know it was all nonsense he made up to brainwash the villagers. It was small comments about the 'religion' itself that interested me. At one point, I thought it was some kind of black magic sheep religion. Why? Because Lord John names men 'rams' and women 'ewes', but only once. Or is that just the way he views them? As little more than animals. I'm probably the only person who actually wondered this, but, because I was reviewing the book, I tend to notice small things that others may not. There was also a point where I thought the 'religion' may have been based on the 'Green Man' myth. But that only lasts for a couple of paragraphs. It's irrelevant really, seeing as how the entire thing was a sham, but I'm interested in what exactly Lord John worshipped. He clearly had his own religion, and I wonder how much of it is in sync with what he told the villagers. Like I said, not really relevant at all, considering the entire reason behind the events of the book was one man's extreme insanity."

The reader was right, Lord John is pretty confused. Sometimes he partly believes things, sometimes he scoffs at it all, and usually he forgets he ever had another view. The scene where the ceremony fails and he switches his views around to make the world ‘fit’ him again is the kind of thing he has done all along, but only dramatized in that one place. It's true that he views other humans as being below consideration; he basically despises everyone but himself.


What are the themes of Turner?
“Even when you try your hardest, you can’t always save everyone”, or maybe “If you don’t try to do good, you’ll hate yourself.”
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