Hello David and welcome to FLY HIGH! I’ve got so many questions for you but, don’t worry, I know I must cut my interview short. What about 10 questions? The first one is: how do you feel at being promoting your debut novel? Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Hello and thanks for having me! I feel a mixture of excitement and strangeness. I worked in publishing for just over six years so it’s odd to be on the other side of things right now and promoting my book instead. I gave my parents headaches with the amount of different careers I wanted – animator, journalist and actor to name a few. Then I wrote something whilst at university and in one way or another it seemed to embody the other career choices. It took a few more years before I started writing full time but when I did I realised it was something I couldn’t do without.
I’m fond of historical fiction, period movies and costume drama series. But, what about you? How does it come that you started with a novel set in the past?
I too love historical fiction and movies. I think there’s something extraordinary to stepping into a world that could easily be science fiction – far flung politics, clothes, food, attitudes, etc. – yet it’s something we have a faint purchase on; it’s in our collective past. If someone asked me to write a contemporary novel about 30-somethings today, even though I am one, I would struggle. I find a comfort in the past and the interest the research provokes is its own motivation.
All Their Minds in Tandem is set in West Virginia in the shadow of the Civil War. What’s the appeal of that place and that time to you?
Although the book wasn’t always set in West Virginia in 1879, I now can’t imagine it being in another time or place. The town, whilst it carries the state’s geography and history, is entirely made up. There’s an appeal to that: to create a town of your own, not just for the benefits of what happens in the book but for the past as well. You’re writing a history of that town and its residents and, whether it makes it into the book or not, I’m convinced it needs to be there.
As for the time, I believe the American Civil War has a unique relationship with memory. Still today, the causes are debated and in the diaries from the time you will find horror on one page, whilst there’s humour on the next. Such a catastrophic war caused a great trauma to the country and played a key role in its identity. After the war, a preacher claimed that ‘a land without ruins is a land without memories’ and I completely agree with this sentiment. It gave a comparatively young country a great deal to remember.
Historical memory and the role of memories in human life are among the main themes in your novel. Why do you think they are so relevant in our lives?
I think it’s a human instinct to understand. We strive at times to reduce things to their base components so we know how they work and memories absolutely elude this. A dozen people can remember an event that affected all of them but it will be rare to hear 12 accounts exactly the same. They are washed over with perspective and, depending on the event, anything from regret to longing to fear to love. I think far more about the past than the present or the future and there’s a great temptation to analyse and rake over things. History is no exception. It’s an interpretation of grand life-changing events delivered without the ‘burden’ of the sometimes millions of people who experienced it. With every historical memory comes a multitude of personal memories.
On a shallow note, if you could time travel, when would you like to be transported? Why?
My immediate response is to say when dinosaurs were alive but I think after the initial excitement, I’d struggle to last more than five minutes. I’ll go for the Prohibition in New York during the 1920s. I love the music of the time but also a cocktail or two! So long as I get a head start when the Prohibition Officers come by.
Let’s see if you are as good at social media as you are at writing, David. How would you promote All Their Minds in Tandem on twitter? (in 150 characters, that is)
#MindsInTandem takes you to a scarred town 14 years after the Civil War and asks if memories are a burden or a balm to a troubled mind
You were lucky enough to work at Faber & Faber with writers such as P.D. James, Seamus Heaney and Kazuo Ishiguro. What is it that you particularly learnt from each one of them?
At the time, I still hadn’t decided to give writing a go so I didn’t outright ask for any tips. But with writers such as Faber’s you couldn’t help but be completely in awe and inspired. They have an incredible list of authors, a lot of whom I wrote essays on at university. What I learned from them the most was the love they have for writing – the opportunity it gives and the enjoyment they get from it.
I’ve also read that you study drama at LAMDA and that you’ve acted on a stage quite a few times. How have your acting skills and your knowledge about theatre helped you with your writing career?
I definitely think it helps with characterisation. When acting, I used to read over speeches or lines in rehearsal and try different things – explore gestures or manners of speaking. I found myself doing this a lot with the characters in the book. Sometimes it can be all too tempting to write exposition to get a scene somewhere so it’s helpful to read dialogue aloud and if my (or someone else’s) mind jars, then it’s a way of knowing it’s not right. The teachers at LAMDA taught me a great deal about performing but also the quiet part of acting; the prising open of a character and finding their personality – whether we see all of it on stage or not, it has to exist.
What is the most difficult aspect of being an actor and what, instead, the most difficult of being a writer?
I found the most difficult aspect of being an actor was making the small feelings big enough for people to see. I would convince myself I knew a character and head to rehearsal certain I was conveying something in the slightest lip tremor only for the director to ask what I was doing. I really envy actors who hit that subtlety spot on – amplifying their emotions so that they’re noticed but don’t become stock expressions of anger, humour, etc. This is something that’s easier with writing as you have the chance to lay your characters’ thoughts out there for people to read. It’s a good sign when the most difficult aspect of writing is one I enjoy but I’d say it’s probably sticking to a plan of some sort – even if it’s just a topic for a new book. Soon the characters or the research have taken me elsewhere and I’m left writing something entirely different.
All Their Minds in Tandem by David Sanger is out in hardback on 7th April (£14.99, Quercus)
About the author
Before writing All Their Minds in Tandem, David worked at Faber & Faber looking after PD James, Seamus Heaney, Kazuo Ishiguro and Peter Carey who he says were incredible at talking to him about their own techniques and the writing of other authors. David moved to Berlin to write the novel and says that Germany’s conscious attempt to remember their difficult history inspired him to explore how the past can be re-formed in the present. David studied drama at LAMDA and says that lessons in impersonating and constructing a character have influenced his writing. David still acts and is a member of the Dulwich Players, with whom he has performed at the RSC outdoor theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in front of Judi Dench. David is a self-professed film buff and is a regular contributor to Sofilm Magazine. David lives with his girlfriend in Canterbury, Kent.
The stunning debut novel from a bright new voice in literary fiction
ALL THEIR MINDS IN TANDEM
the debut literary novel
7th April 2016 | Quercus | Hardback | £12.99
New Georgetown, West Virginia lies in the shadow of the Civil War. Despite the 14 years that have passed since its end, the aftermath of the conflict means the town is half-built and the lives there half-lived.
Into the midst of the townsfolk comes The Maker, a curious stranger whose business is memories. He can help you forget, make you remember, or release you from your most secret inhibitions. The Maker’s arrival sets in motion a series of events that will change the town and its people forever.
Dr Umbründ, the pint-sized physician with a prodigious capacity for sin is looking to build a reliable past. The three sisters on the hill, Blanche, Elena and Kittie Marianne, each striving to replace a family forever lost. The painfully shy Odell, whose dreams and ambitions are crushed again and again, wants only to be accepted, while his beautiful sister Ora suffers the roving eyes of the townsmen only so she can be free of her family’s past. The tavern’s mysterious landlady “The Bird” fuels the townsmen’s fantasies with her spellbinding music, but refuses to reveal her identity to anyone and Clay, New Georgetown's lead cad and chief alpha male, will take anything and anyone he wants until he meets The Maker.
A comic masterpiece, All their Minds in Tandem, is a hugely entertaining and tightly woven novel that explores the unreliability of memory. What would happen if we could control our memories and replace them in order to change who we really are? And if we’re able to replace our memories then we can reform our own past in the present?