The novel: what’s it all about, in a nutshell; what the Gentle Reader will get from reading it; why I wrote it; etc.
So what’s The Imagination Thief all about, in a nutshell?
Seven particular themes within it are:
(1) An ever-deeper exploration, tending to theft, of people’s imaginations, memories and personalities.
(2) A web of secrets and lies regarding exactly who may be aware of who may be spying into whom.
(3) The use of creative imagination for the purpose of transcending the everyday world, through igniting aliveness, wonder and beauty, both in oneself and in others.
(4) The iconic aura and allure that filmed and photographic images can conjure up and spin around their subjects.
(5) The disjunction between beauty and happiness: how the many kinds of beauty in the world, within people and outside them, seem to exist independent of the levels of misery/happiness or pain/pleasure in people.
(6) The disjunctions inherent in an onscreen presence: (1) possessing an incorporeal public self, in addition to the real-life flesh-and-blood self; and (2) being sealed off in the small and unreal world of a recording-studio, in order to be minutely visible to numerous unknown viewers in the real and much wider world outside.
(7) The glamour of power—whether corporate or gang-based, physical or onscreen.
But what will the Gentle Reader get from reading it?
I’m glad you’ve asked this. The answer, as best I can give it, is that in the course of celebrating the darkest and brightest possibilities of human imagination, personality and language, The Imagination Thief reflects our varied internal lives in ways they haven’t been reflected before. It unearths surprising beauty and unexpected love, from behind and within the brutality of the world. It demands focused attention, but it repays this investment richly, even in a tough economy. It’s very serious fun. You can read it as a linear novel with a coherent plot, but you can also read it by dipping and diving throughout; and wherever you dive in, The Imagination Thief will shimmer right back at you with love and poison, toughness and light—I promise!
Why did I write it?
In writing it, my intention was to help us illuminate the world, to the best of my abilities, using language, and thereby to leave the world infinitesimally richer and more beautiful than it was before. (Well there’s no harm in trying, and it beats watching television.)
I aimed to illuminate the darkest and brightest corners of human imagination; to wring as much beauty as possible from this harshly-designed life into which we all seem to have been thrown without being sufficiently consulted ahead of time; and then to explore and interrogate that beauty with rigour, sensuality and humour. Although the novel pays unflinching attention to some overpoweringly dark aspects of our existence here, I believe it also manages, in places, to suggest ways in which we may transcend that darkness while still preserving emotional and aesthetic honesty, with love and sensuality and a healthy dose of mirth along the way.
What messages does it convey?
I say, that’s a bit blunt, isn’t it? Oh all right, I’ll have a quick stab at it.
Among many less summarisable things, I suspect The Imagination Thief may be suggesting that one way to increase our chances of raising our heads above the asphalt (our own heads and others’) is for all of us to put active and serious energy into inhabiting and exercising our creative imaginations, in whatever ways we’re able to, because this tends to help the good stuff happen.
Also that there are glorious beauties, sensualities and dark riches in each of us—and those are treasures that each of us should love and own and inhabit, rather than forgetting them or ignoring them or being frightened of them.
Each of us is essentially alone; and unimaginable levels of cruelty and suffering are able to target any one of us at a moment’s notice, if they’re inclined to. Yet love, beauty and humour all continue to insist on arising between us, around us and within us, making riches available to many of us, if we reach for them. But perhaps what’s most bewitching is the glorious, multitudinous, fucked-up fascination of our whole situation here. —I mean, look at it, really: what is that all about?…
The last thing to pick out here is perhaps that there are often two parallel narratives in our lives: the external narrative of coherence, discipline and balance, that we use in everyday dealings and interactions as civilised participants in society (suggested by the more straightforward titles of the novel’s ten Parts, which are numbered I-X); and the less coherent, less disciplined and less balanced narratives that run healthy riot within our imaginations (suggested by the more whimsical titles of the novel’s 120 mini-chapters, which are numbered 1-120).
One big cupcake, cooked up out of film, literary-fictional text, video, photos and audio
For a quick video introduction, head for “What is The Imagination Thief?” within the first menu above headed “The Imagination Thief (novel)”. Otherwise, I’d say this tale is basically one big digital cupcake, cooked up out of film, video, audio, photos and literary-fictional text (this last ingredient being much the most analogue in the whole digital recipe), all baked together into an ebook combined with a website. You can just read the text, which can stand alone; or you can consume the lot, either in linear sequence or dipping and diving at will. The novel is also available in paperback, where the very same text stands alone and self-sufficient.
Its convulsive self-assembly, sharkiness and Napoleonic tendencies
Some of its characters just came knocking on the door from somewhere, demanding I cast them in exactly the form they’d showed up in, such as Evelyn, Angel and Damian; others shimmered tentatively into definition after I’d cast them, such as Pippa, Alaia and Kim. The whole book is strange and extreme and probably shouldn’t be allowed, but in all its media there was an odd quality of convulsive inevitability in its self-assembly, which made me tend towards trusting its own diva-instincts regarding how it wanted to be baked. The book’s narrator Jaymi has an experience similar to this, while he’s dealing with the entertainment mogul Marc in mini-chapter 5: “I observe another inspiration assemble itself in my mind and climb to its feet like a self-erecting tripod. Forget walking with the angels now, we’ve moved on from that. This has the feeling of a shark swimming right through me; those tripod legs have streamlined into fins…” (I think I may have borrowed that shark element there from something written somewhere by JT LeRoy / Laura Albert about his/her enchanting novel Sarah.) Another comparison would be the real-life occasion when an army general told his higher-ups, referring to the young Napoleon: “Promote this man, or he will promote himself without you.” If I was that general, this little book was Napoleon.
My warm thanks to…
The Imagination Thief has been lucky to benefit from the divergent contributions of a number of people, to all of whom I give warm thanks: first, the folks at the Firsty Group and EC1 Digital, especially Darin Brockman for investing an entire publishing team into the innovative assembly of a creatively high-risk project, Andi Rivers for a kick-ass website design and book cover design, Andrew Bennett for his care in filling up those ePub and Mobi/Kindle/PRC files full of fun, and Rosalyn Brockman for moving in mysterious and helpful ways throughout the project; Tiresias Media’s Robert Chilcott and Peter Fraser, for doing a great job of joining me in producing nine of the twelve Films, and for steering us to integrate digital HDV with venerable Super-8 celluloid for Robert’s shooting of all nine and his creative editing of seven (plus telecine labours); Aflame Books’ generous duo Luzette Strauss and Richard Bartlett, and the Firsty Group’s Kay Sayce, for their varied and valued editorial inputs; Simon Trewin, for making the connection between The Imagination Thief and Firsty; Rob Nixon of Boutique TV, for his green screen TV studio and conscientious audio de-hummings; the cast of the Films, as listed in more detail here, namely Nadia Ahmed, Matthew Walters and Paula Brooks, my glamorous friends Mel Khan and Alexis Worrell, my beautiful best friend Jen McFaul, and my beloved boyfriend Cradeaux Alexander; Fanny and Bob, for their friendship and kindness; Mal Torrance, for his evergreen echoes of Maleficness left behind by those New York days; Richard J. (remember?); and my dear friend Michael Halls, for his secular divinity in helping me attune my ears to our higher aesthetic potential and enriching my addiction to aiming them in that direction as best I can.