An informal interview
Is the action set in the present?
AM – Although the action is set in the present there are many flashbacks to various periods due to the parallel story of the central artefact of this novel, the Babylonian tablet. So this is not a historical novel. And, except for a short snippet in Safed, the mystical city of the Jews, I made the conscious decision not to write in the past. We travel in time with the tablet: from the Sumerian era (in which Gilgamesh epic was produced), the cradle of civilization, to the Destruction of the Temple 1st century CE, the 12th Century when Benjamin of Tudela finds reference to special magical power of tablet; the17th Century: letters are found in Safed. Illuminates renaissance of Kabbalah; the 18th Century in Lisbon and the English countryside. So the narrative isn’t linear, nor chronological… it’s a pleasurable jigsaw. The reader recreates the narrative in his mind. And, as the reader discovers the history of the tablet, he also finds out who the lethal pursuers are & why they’re after the tablet.
The nationality of the characters: why are the main characters Americans?
AM – Some may be surprised at my choice as a Franco-Englishman to have American characters in my story. The main characters are Americans for a number of reasons but especially because I like the American narrative, the fresh, new, “can do” attitude, and the pride in chosen values (vs the Old country), of being American.
Why did you write the book?
AM – I was visiting the Brompton cemetery in London a couple of years ago with my brother and we came across some really eerie monuments. He asked me why I did not try my hand at a novel and particularly a thriller, building on my academic background, sharing my archeological knowledge with non specialists.
How do you balance grounded research & fiction ? Academic vs writer ?
AM – Liberating! In academia, everything has to be backed up. Those time-consuming and painful footnotes. The problem was not so much how to bring the two worlds together, but how to reshape the academic knowledge in such a way that it would be pleasurable to most readers. As an academic and writer I enjoy sharing complex academic concepts with people who either do not have access to this kind of knowledge or don’t have time to explore it. Even as an academic, I sincerely believe that if you are funded by the public to conduct research, you should be accountable to the same public. It therefore your responsibility to find the way to explain why what you do is important.
Any examples of academic particularism which you explain in the thriller?
AM – It’s the small details: when I refer to the 12th century traveler, Benjamin of Tudela, I describe in passing and in a joking manner how manuscripts are transmitted through the ages. It’s actually a very complex problem. And I hope some readers will pick up on it, and want to know more. Another example that comes to mind is the hydrography of ancient qanats, these underground clay pipes that brought water over huge distances throughout the Middle-East for thousands of years. I bring qanats into the story without giving a lecture… just a few elements for the reader to figure out what they were used to.
Narration: why so much direct speech?
AM – I guess the need for speed and action.
In a word, what is the overarching question in the novel?
AM – The grander narrative that carries on in books 2 & 3 is the “what if” question of free will. Is there or not a God’s plan and if there is, how far would we go to get a glimpse into this plan. Of course this is an underlying question not something debated throughout the book. Frankly I’d rather let readers decide for themselves.