About The Author
David Sanger was born in Maidstone in 1984. He has previously worked for Faber & Faber and Scholastic Children's Books. He studied acting at LAMDA before reading English at King's College London and has written for Sofilm Magazine. He has lived in Berlin and London, and is currently based in Kent.
His deliciously gothic debut, All Their Minds in Tandem, opens in 1879 in New Georgetown, West Virginia. A strange figure by the name of 'The Maker' has entered this small community and the minds of the townsfolk. Soon all their secrets will be exposed, from the pint-sized physician Dr Umbrund with a prodigious capacity for sin, to those of the three sisters in the house on the hill; the tavern's semi-mythical siren, 'The Bird', who plays spellbinding music from behind a black velvet curtain, and whom no patron has ever laid eyes on; and Clay, New Georgetown's lead cad and chief alpha male. As the Maker pursues his mysterious mission, it quickly becomes clear that the recent war is only one of very many incidents in their past that the townsfolk are trying to forget.
Exclusively for Foyles, we talked to David about memory and how we are directed by it; being 'twenty kinds of lost in the world', and how the role of women changed during and after the Civil War.
Author photo © Katrin Lamb
Questions & Answers
What gave you the idea for the book?
I had written something about seven years earlier when I was still at university. It was very different, yet when I started to write what would become this book, I found the main character of the old one returning. Gradually other elements from the first book joined her. The idea of memory was new though. I find the very concept of it and how we are directed by it fascinating – whether it’s regret, longing, love or trauma. More than setting out to write about such a theme, this idea crept in and began to spread, soon taking over the whole thing.
It’s been described as Twin Peaks-esque. Is that a pleasing comparison and were you aware of any parallels yourself while you were writing it?
It’s a very pleasing and flattering comparison (one that I will gladly have tattooed on me) but I wasn’t aware of the parallels when writing. I love the show and David Lynch and Mark Frost created something so unique. I do think there’s a similar intimacy between horror, humour and the otherworldly in my book though it’s nothing near what Twin Peaks achieved. I feel you experience it, rather than watch it. It moves under your skin more than before your eyes.
Although the narrative moves along briskly, the underlying plotting is very complex. Did you work out all the details before you began?
Unusually, I was about two-thirds in before I started to write down an extensive plan. A lot of the writing played out in my favour and I later found most of the answers I needed either there or capable of fitting in with the characters’ lives. When I worked on the second draft, a lot was rewritten to become more accommodating of these plot points and then it was a case of trying the separate threads on for size and seeing if they worked as a whole. I do feel fortunate a lot of the plotting worked out as it was a risk to just start like that. Writing my second at the moment, I’m caught between that method and trying something a little different!
Kittie describes herself as being ‘twenty kinds of lost in the world’ and it’s a description that pretty much applies to every character in the book. Is this an inevitability of the human condition?
I think it’s an inevitably of my condition, for sure! I know people who are so secure in what they’re doing and who they are and I find it amazing. But I also think there’s a pleasure to be had from being lost. Personally, it made me try a variety of new things, which admittedly did give my parents a migraine from the multiple UCAS forms!
I think Kittie’s experience is at once something people will relate to but also a condition of the time she lived in. The ‘role’ of women after the Civil War was very confused as they surpassed definitions of their sex, but the expectations from men had not necessarily changed. Being so young post-war, she’s really the first of a new mindset. But also, she has things like grief, jealousy, independence and love to cope with; things most of us can relate to. I think Kittie, like me, feels that it’s hard to stay on course in life, or even to map one out.
The world you depict is full of a casual and shocking violence, and law and order is ineffectual at best, more commonly just absent. Have we really become more ‘civilised’ in the last 130 years or have those murderous impulses just taken different forms?
You’d hope we’ve become more civilised given the steep learning curve humanity has experienced during that time but then I’m not sure. I think we often look back to the most horrifying moments of history and convince ourselves we’ve moved on. In most cases we have but then shocking things can happen and it unties whatever knot we were once certain would hold.
What gave you the idea for character of the Maker?
I wrote a short story a while ago about a man called Tobias who travelled from town to town telling stories for money. I liked the Brothers Grimm feel to it but soon I got to thinking about why he would do that and what his motivations for telling stories would be. Was it to escape a reality or even a past? Gradually the idea of him not just telling stories but rewriting our own – memories – became a pivotal one in creating the Maker.
Umbrund says he needs a past, pretty much everyone else would be better off without theirs: the backstories enrich our understanding of the characters but seem unassimilated by them. Would that be too great an expectation in those pre-Freudian times?
If you think of the war as a reset, these people are now trying to figure their lives out – almost as if the memories they have are new ones implanted by the Maker. A lot of history in the book is hidden or swept away so a good deal of the characters have an appetite to remember. But also, there’s a neglect of the memories they have. I think the lack of assimilation is intentional on their part – there is a lot of trauma there waiting for them and as a result they look to forget and embrace the opportunities this period of reconstruction gives. New Georgetown is hidden away in a relatively new state – reinvention and the chance to start again is what the majority of the people there want. In the novel, the town’s theatre is nearly destroyed as some enraged townsfolk decide the very idea of a theatre (because of its association to Lincoln’s assassination) is offensive to them. This attitude is commonplace. Why probe and understand; why come to terms with, when you can raze and hope to forget?
At the back of the book you thank your parents for their encouragement and support. Clearly your father has not provided the model for the many absent, negligent and downright useless fathers in the book. Where did they come from and why?
Whether the fathers in the book are good or bad, present or absent, they all of them cast long, often uncomfortable, shadows and I wanted to explore how the characters dealt with these. Despite their freewill they are haunted by a responsibility that is very present, even if the parents are not. Their parents draft a faint blueprint of their lives and its effect on them can encourage all sorts of reactions: rebellion, embrace or even fear. More so, when the parents are gone the ghost of what they intended or wanted still remains – not on paper but in the minds of their children. It may change a little and become distorted but it rarely leaves.
I’m equally intrigued by the idea of roles. When Horace hears of his wife’s death he flees his home with barely a thought for his children. He becomes adrift in his grief and right then, he’s a grieving widower, not a father. I don’t excuse it but I’m interested by the roles we have to adhere to, father and son included, and whether the heart and soul can even be aware of those.
How much of a novelty would three unmarried women living alone have been at the time, or was the Civil War responsible for many new and unconventional arrangements?
The Civil War was absolutely responsible for new and unconventional arrangements. The idea of family and home life was very stubborn before the war and with its reliance on patriarchy the sudden absence of men meant things changed a great deal. I never read of three sisters living together alone but believe that it could have happened with the unique circumstances the Mariannes suffer. With their parents dead, the sisters would inevitably come to rely on a dependable relative or parents-in-law – none of which they have. Blanche in particular is a victim of the war and her age when it happened. It is a small town but more than that, war has taken away a lot of the men. So few were potential suitors after the war that there was a considerable fear of spinsterhood with accounts of women swarming around any potential suitor (which goes some way to explain the appeal of Clay).
A good deal of women were rightly resistant to the idea of being rescued too and this is something I think all the Marianne sisters have in one way or another. During the war, a lot of wives contradicted their husbands’ wishes and stayed in their own homes without staff or any help, caring for children and even farms. One of my favourite stories was of a New Yorker whose husband reluctantly left her with the family farm. When he returned expecting ruin, the farm had been so well managed it had instead increased in value!
Is there a book you return to again and again, and what makes it so seductive?
The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami is the book I return to the most. There’s something incredible about it, which I initially put down to a neat coincidence of feeling when I first read it. But then I read it again and again and each time it changes, adapts, to your way of feeling. The book introduces us to a normal and often humdrum life and what happens when the otherworldly or our own world’s madness is fleshed out and knocks on the door. It gives you the sense that despite its millions of readers the way you, just now, read a sentence or understood a phrase, is absolutely unique to you and that is something very special.