Sunday, November 15, 2020

Martyn Ford

Martyn Ford is a journalist and award-winning author from the UK.

His debut middle-grade children's book, The Imagination Box, was published by Faber & Faber in 2015 to critical acclaim and has since become a trilogy. This was followed by 2019's standalone title, Chester Parsons is Not a Gorilla.

Ford's adult debut is Every Missing Thing.

My Q&A with the author:
How much work does your title do to take readers into the story?

It sets the tone and subject matter. The story is broadly about two missing characters and the effect their absence has on everyone else. Our focus is on what’s not there and what we don’t see, even when we’re watching closely.

There are also subtler themes around honesty and similar virtues lacking from some of the main characters. And how corrosive, and ultimately catastrophic, such shortfalls can be on a long enough timeline.

Plus, it sounds cool. Which is a big factor when coming up with a title.

What's in a name?

In Every Missing Thing some names and their spellings are deliberate and touch on themes in play, but these are definitely subtle. Generally speaking, as with titles, how the name sounds is most important.

Naming characters can be tricky though, but I think a lot of the process is subconscious. In practical terms, once you know setting, period, themes and a few traits, you can usually get a sense for things on instinct alone. If your main character is, say, a Brazilian astronaut and the story is a serious sci-fi horror, you probably shouldn’t call him Lord Jeremy Baxter.

Once it feels OK, the next stage is simply putting it into Google to check they’re not famous. On the other side of these bottlenecks, we’re free to explore.

How surprised would your teenage reader self be by your new novel?

Probably not that surprised. I imagine he’d like it. I think a lot of my biggest influences can be traced back to things that made an impression on me when I was young.

Also, it seems obvious to say, but the book is very “me” – it’s exactly the kind of thing I’d like to read.

However, I bet my teenage self would be able to deliver quite a sharp critique. I know which bits he wouldn’t like. But then again, he’s an idiot so I’d take it with a pinch of salt.

Do you find it harder to write beginnings or endings? Which do you change more?

Beginnings are probably harder and change more as the story takes shape. Generally, I have an ending in mind when I start writing.

With Every Missing Thing, the ending (and a particular twist) was actually the very first seed of the entire idea. However, some plot points that get us there changed a number of times.

Any mystery is ultimately hanging on its conclusion. But without a strong beginning the rest is irrelevant as few people will even read it.

Do you see much of yourself in your characters? Do they have any connection to your personality, or are they a world apart?

There are certainly similarities. I suppose both likeable and unlikeable characters say something about their creator.

However, there is a great deal of moral ambiguity in the story with even the best of the bunch crossing a few lines. So, I’d have to distance myself.

What non-literary inspirations have influenced your writing?

Film and TV, for sure. Also, having worked in journalism for many years, I consume a lot of news.

The media and sensationalism are major themes in Every Missing Thing. That kind of omnipresent memetic view in the wake of high-profile news stories is focal to the narrative and its resolution.

I’m interested in the way this public speculation often sees truly outlandish theories bandied about and even become something like common knowledge.

This is also prominent in lots of modern true crime documentaries, particularly those centred around an unsolved mystery.

Storytelling in this format deliberately offers the audience a great deal of agency – we are left to decide, even when we don’t have the full picture.

The novel essentially asks the question: what if one of these huge, well known mysteries was brought back into the limelight?

Our protagonist Sam is given one last chance to piece it all together and find the single most important missing thing of all: the truth.
Visit Martyn Ford's website.

--Marshal Zeringue