Magical Realism for Men? No swords or flowing beards here…

allonymbooks author Cadell Blackstock chips in with a few words of his own about magical realism.

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Reading fellow allonymbooks author Evie Woolmore‘s blog for the Magical Realism Blog Hop this week, and surveying the other intelligent and fruitful discussion on the subject, I was struck by two things. One, that the majority of participants in this blog hop are female authors. And two, that when I talk about magical realism to other men they tend to think – rightly or wrongly – of fantasy and magic, more than the realism. Even the guy who cuts my hair – a 30 year old new dad with a serious devotion to beer – has abandoned his customary delight in sharing his favourite zombie movies to tell me about his latest enthusiasm: Game of Thrones. ‘I’ve never read the book – I don’t read books, me,’ he informed me with great pride, ‘but the telly series is magic.’

Crash Cole in 'The Rake Spared' coverWhen I wrote Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’, I didn’t want just to write about a failing TV star, ensnared quite literally in the trappings of his own celebrity. I wanted to blast down the walls of privacy that tenuously protect us as individuals. I wanted to push the idea of loving fans to a new level. I wanted to take an actual situation that was covered very prominently in the media (British TV personality Richard Hammond’s high speed dragster crash in 2006) and explore it from a different point of view – the subject, not the observers. In my novel Crash Cole, a motorcycling TV actor (no resemblance to Mr Hammond is intended whatsoever (nor even believable), let me be Absolutely Clear), has a serious accident and wakes up to find that all his fans have literally loved him back from the brink of death. But there’s a price. He can hear every one of their voices in his head.

But there’s no magic wand here. I don’t think it’s a huge leap in imagination to appreciate the pressure that a figure in the public eye must feel at times. Even this very morning, with the birth of the Prince of Cambridge, third in line to the British throne, questions are already being asked about what it will be like for him to grow up in a world of unprecedented public interest. All I did in Crash Cole was to manifest that interest as real, to make the pressure physical, identifiable, tangible.

Some of the bloggers on the blog hop have talked about alternative realism, rather than magical realism. That seems like a good label for what I’ve written. Crash Cole is a contemporary satire on celebrity, sex and scandal. I’ve said elsewhere it has a supernatural twist. Which I suppose it does, if hearing voices counts as supernatural. But for men who would be put off by flowing beards and long swords, I think alternative realism is a good way of describing a funky twist on the world we know.

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To find out more about Cadell Blackstock and Crash Cole, visit Cadell’s page.

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ is available on all Amazon sites, including UK and US.

To read the other excellent blogs in the Magical Realism Blog Hop, visit these links:

Zoe Brooks (and Zoe’s second post and this one) – Kirsty Fox – Karen Wyld (and this one)

Leigh Podgorski – Tad Crawford Lynne Cantwell – Murielle Cyr (and this one )- Joel Seath

Edie Ramer – Laura at Curated Bookshelves Christine Locke – Susan Bishop Crispell

Jordan Rosenfeld – Eilis Phillips – and Evie Woolmore’s first blog hop blog

Love him or hate him, you’ll want to get to know him: Cadell Blackstock on his creation Crash Cole

You only have to turn on the TV or flick through a magazine to see how much attention our wicked sides are getting from the media and advertisers. Soap operas love their villains, newspaper column inches are devoted to moral ambiguity and the thinner sort of woman’s magazine is full of headlines including the word ‘cheat’. Doesn’t everyone love a rogue?

Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ began seven years ago as the collision, literally, of two quite distinct ambitions. One of them was to concede at last the love-hate relationship I have with opera, that normally loiters in the shadows. Opera’s affinity with darkness is often revealed as compellingly as any movie and though I might never admit this down the pub, some of my favourite anti-heroes are not Loki or Blofeld but the operatic bastards: Mozart’s Count Almaviva or Puccini’s Scarpia. Operatic stories tend to be very good ones, if at times  laboriously realised for those of us who are tone-deaf or ignorant of German, and I had long felt that an operatic libretto might retell and translate effectively in novel form.

My other motivation was to try to process the increasing hysteria that follows people in the public eye, to try to understand it and fashion it in such a way that it became the backdrop to a story. The extreme reactions people show to public phenomena and public figures has only been exacerbated by twitter in recent years, but in 2006 one event in particular caught my attention. After the near epic reaction to the death of Princess Diana in 1996, the dragster accident which nearly claimed the life of British TV presenter Richard Hammond presented a different kind of challenge to the British public. Hammond was lucky enough to live, but he was seriously injured, and his rescue, recovery and rehabilitation were  exhaustively covered by the TV and newspaper media. I was fascinated by the level of interest shown in Hammond – a popular personality who, with his good looks, good sense of humour, knowledge of cars and bikes, and suitably British sense of self-deprecation, was appealing to both men and women – and by the way people responded quite personally to his situation. It wasn’t particularly that it could have happened to one of us rather than to him – he was driving a jet-powered dragster at 288mph when he crashed – but that his real life persona, his lack of artifice, and the fact that he wasn’t playing a character in his work made his accident very real to us. The inability of audiences to disassociate the real person from the fictional has always interested me, but here was an example of a very real kind of empathy. People literally felt for Hammond. After the emotional tidal wave around Princess Diana’s funeral it was a small step for me as a writer to imagine how that might manifest in a different way after an accident like Hammond’s.*

So, back to the story. Which opera to retell? I wanted to write about a huge character, big in the public consciousness. I wanted someone who inspires sympathy, empathy, envy, hatred and attraction. Someone men want to be and women want to be with. Someone who, when suffering a near tragedy, will inspire most of those people to want him to survive, perhaps in spite of their rational selves. Yet success does not generally come to those who have been entirely nice, good, or well-behaved. I wanted this figure to be divisive, dramatic, compelling but not necessarily in a good way. So who else but Don Juan, recast as Don Giovanni by Mozart in 1787? A great lover, adored by so many for what he is, not who he is, a man who takes what he wants without thought to the consequences. What men among us don’t secretly harbour a version of Don Giovanni inside them?

And so Crash was born, a mostly popular public figure, a façade, a construction of, by and for his fans, who has an accident which nearly kills him. Only is it an accident at all, or is it the consequence of Crash’s own actions, the wilful desire to have his own way finally caught up with him? On the verge of his passing, Crash is saved by the literal adoration of those same fans, their love and affection hauling him back from the brink of death. But what is the life that Crash almost left behind? And as he races the press to find out the truth about his accident, what will happen to the co-dependence between him and his fans? Can they keep him alive or will the truth kill him?

Seven years on since I first wrote the book, that intimate overblown relationship between star, media and public has become even more extreme than it was then, and perhaps it is a shame that twitter and facebook were not as strongly established at the time the novel was written to merit reference, though they would not have changed the story. Bringing the novel to publication in 2013, I decided not to update the novel to include reference to social media, because it was a detail that did not alter the central premise. It is not that the novel belongs to its time but rather, like Don Juan and Don Giovanni, that the story of love, hate and revenge stands the test of time.

Love him? Hate him? Crash is a divisive figure who feeds the public consciousness much as they feed his need to be alive. I hope you’ll want to get to know him though. He remains one of the best characters I have ever written, and I am delighted to let him out into the light.

To buy a copy of Crash Cole in ‘The Rake Spared’ by Cadell Blackstock, visit Amazon UK or Amazon US or search the European Amazon sites for Cadell Blackstock)

*It should be noted that this is not a novel about Richard Hammond – if he will forgive me, it was only his accident that inspired me to write this story, and not the man himself. I was as relieved as anyone that he made a full recovery.