Pick a card. Any card.
Now put it back anywhere in the deck.
I know which card is yours because I know the order of the other cards. I know where everything should be. I know the structure of my pack.
I think about structure a lot, about how a story should be told rather than simply why the story happens and who the characters are. In GIRL 4, I wanted a slightly disjointed, non-linear structure to the narrative. The reader would discover what happened to each victim from every angle – the detective, the killer and the victims themselves – and they would have to piece together the information in the same way a detective would. Often they would have more information than my detective, January David. Often, clues and evidence are not presented or uncovered in the order that is most useful. They are fragments.
In THE TWO, the events follow the timeline of the Pagan calendar. There is a cyclicality to this belief and to the lives of the characters involved in this story. The structure reflected this, often revisiting a scene to glean more information than on the first outing – one section was even written in reverse, an anti-cycle that provided the first big reveal in that story. THE TWO also dealt with strictness and regime so, while the structure may have been viewed as repetitive in places, it was to give a sense of realism in a story that was my most unreal. I think most people can get to Wednesday and look back at the first two days of the week to realise they didn’t do too much that was different on either day . . .
DEAD SET called for something new.
Eames is back and he is different. Still cold and removed. Still narcissistic. Still hungry to kill. But he is also still locked away after the events of GIRL 4. He can’t go traipsing around London, sleeping with women than killing them. This time, he has to be more precise, more planned. This called for a more linear narrative, because nothing that happens in DEAD SET is spontaneous, it can’t afford to be. However, my mind does not work in this way – my thoughts and ideas rarely travel in a straight line – so this was difficult for me. But necessary.
I solved this dilemma by reflecting the theme of the book in the narrative format: I split the story into five parts, labelling each part like a section of a magic trick. These headings also describe what that section is about for the characters it is chronicling. In this way the reader is informed immediately of the aims of Eames and January and Audrey. They are also told that they are being misdirected for fifty pages. It is even conveyed clearly that the moment masquerading as the end is merely a prequel. A gift.
Nothing is straight forward – and the fragmentation and misdirection are entirely deliberate – and I’m completely upfront about that. The reader begins to realise that they cannot believe everything they see before them . . .
The way the reader is presented with the story is as important to me as the actions that take place. Indeed, they are intrinsically related: style and form create the story, as much as convey it. I wanted it to be a complete experience – the reader not just being told a tale, but feeling part of it – working everything out just as the characters themselves strive to make sense of what’s happening to them.
DEAD SET is, ay Arrowlishedbfter all, a book about MAGIC. Nothing you see or feel should be believed. What’s true is not always what is real. Everything you are being told is sending you the way you need to go.
I’m doing it right now.
You are listening to a joke when you should be looking at the magician’s hands.
You think the ball is still under the cup when it has actually been moved to his pocket.
And maybe none of what I have told you is true. Maybe the structure is not important. Perhaps it is another misdirection so that you don’t guess what will happen. Or it’s part of the performance to entice you to guess, to see whether you can unravel how the illusion is performed.
A magician cannot reveal how a trick is executed.
But the bullets are not always real.
And the ball has moved into my pocket.
Dead Set is published by Arrow