A most excellent event last night, with J David Simons in tip top form (and a warm atmosphere generated by the audience). David began with the provocative (and self-deprecating) assertion that you had to be under forty to be a cutting-edge genius, and that for himself the remaining option was merely to be a wise writer. David has led a remarkably varied life. A partner in a law firm by only twenty two, he nonetheless turned his back on materialism to travel the world, work as a social worker in London, and spend a total of seven years on an Israeli Kibbutz.
Two Ravens Press published David’s first novel, The Credit Draper, six years ago – a historical novel inspired by the life of the uncle of his stepfather, who had traveled the Highlands in the 1920s hawking clothes for Glasgow businesses such as Goldbergs. His second novel, The Liberation of Celia Kahn, was published by Five Leaves (one of whose editors inspired it, by asking what happened to the character of Celia outside the scope of the first book). The entire trilogy will be published in late summer this year.
Celia Kahn boldly explores issues of socialism, women’s rights, and birth control in Glasgow’s 1920s Jewish community (culminating in Celia’s arrival at a Kibbutz in Israel, where book three will take off). David observed that Jews live in a constant state of return, whilst the Scots have specialised in one-way journeys outwards to the many ex-colonies around the world where their talents have prospered. David’s background in journalism (another previous job!) serves his belief that historical research need not be heavy-weight but should be lightly focused around a few critical details.
David’s latest book, An Exquisite Sense of What Is Beautiful, has been selling well – particularly in e-book formats. He wonders if its subject matter (the denial of truth around the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki) was, for him, a way to tackle the thorny subject of the holocaust by a sideways analogy. He made the shrewd observation that most historical novels revolve around the fact that the writer is concealing (and revealing) himself through identification with a historical character who expresses their essential self. The novel is set in Japan, where David worked as a lecturer for many years (after legally absconding from the Israeli army). David had much to tell us of the fascination of Japan, but also of the socialist principles of the Kibbutz which harboured 150 families (600 people) and an egalitarian utopianism that eschewed money. He recalls it as the happiest time of his life.
Finally, David described himself as “An A to C” writer, as opposed to an “ABC” or “A” writer. What he meant was that he knew how his novels began (A) as well as the ending (C), but otherwise he afforded his characters freedom in between (B). Once alive, characters should be allowed to evolve in the erratic and unpredictable manner of real human beings, rather than be too tightly tethered to an overbearing plot – but nevertheless, characters require shepherding towards the already planned ending (C). On the other hand, an ABC writer would be someone who plotted the whole narrative before beginning to write; an ‘A’ writer only knows how the novel begins, then hands the ball over to the characters and lets them run freely with it (B) to an unplanned finale (C).
All in all, one fascinating evening.