Series: Urgus the Scribe
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A city is in decay, and peril. In desperation its aristocratic leader and his troubled daughter turn to the Gatherers, the tax collectors, to defend them. Despised by the citizens they serve, the tough Gatherers, under Hector, their brooding, semi-civilized chieftain, fight heroically to save a culture in which they have little part. And midst it all there is Urgus the Scribe, recording the violence and gallantry about him while wriggling out of every danger. And making time to satisfy - he thinks - the desires of the society ladies
Today I have an interview with Urgus the Scribe author Robert David Boyle and a giveaway for a free copy. You can check out my review to get my thoughts on the book.
Where did you get the idea and inspiration for the book?
I got the idea from the 1970s TV series and book ‘Civilisation’ by Kenneth Clarke. One of his main themes is the essential fragility of civilisation. He describes how western civilisation survived ‘by the skin of our teeth’ after the collapse of Rome, literally clinging on in such unlikely places as the islands off the Irish coast. This really appealed to me. Then I thought about the related idea of who recognises and decides what is worth saving. In my book, I have civilisation saved by such unlikely characters as the despised tax gatherers of ‘the City’.
The title character is somewhat of an anti-hero throughout the whole novel. Who do you think is the real hero in the book?
Though an enigmatic one, Hector, Chieftain of the Gatherers is the hero of this story. Even though he is part barbarian, he sees that the threatened City has much that is worth saving, in spite of the waywardness and indolence of its citizens. He also has the force of character, and in his small army of Gatherers, the means, to protect the City from its destructively hostile enemies.
Do you think if the story continued, Urgus would be redeemed, or do you think he would continue on as usual?
Urgus is irredeemable. Indeed he would be the last to recognise the need for any such thing.
Urgus seems to overvalue his own worth, and is oblivious to the way others perceive him. He is very selfish and self-centered. There are no doubt parallels to a lot of modern people’s lives. Did you intend for there to be any life lessons or parables in the story, or is it more just for a fun read?
I didn’t set out to deliberately teach any morals with this story, but of course any good story has a relatable element of truth in it. It was a lot of fun putting the appalling fellow into situations where his vanity, cowardice and just plain grubbiness could be described. But he was also a good device for illustrating, in his cynical but clear-sighted way, the bravery and nobility of other characters. This helped me avoid the old problem of the good guys becoming a little boring.
As you were writing, did the story or characters go in any unexpected directions? Were you surprised with where the story went?
Yes, a few things changed along the way. For example, Tugg, Urgus’ friend, was originally just a secondary character, a handy representative of the rough and tough Gatherers, but he took on a much bigger – and surprisingly honourable – role, especially after he met the prim and proper Millicent. Maybe that’s because I grew to like them both so much. Characters do that to you. Sometimes they just sneak up on you. I had to be careful that Tugg and Milly did not walk off with the story. Mind you, old Urgus was much the same from beginning to end.
It has been two years since Urgus the Scribe was published. Are you working on a sequel or any other books? There is a lot of the world unexplored, a lot of the character’s pasts and motivations are mysterious, and there is the question of what the characters do after the epilogue.
I am working on a sequel and have completed a (long) short story with Urgus and Tugg. I have not published the short story as it would also make for a good scene in the sequel. Still mulling over this. And, yes, I am a slow writer.
What kinds of things do you like to read? Do you have any favorite books or authors you’d like to share?
My favourite novelists include Leo Tolstoy, W. Somerset Maugham and F. Scott Fitzgerald. I also love the wonderfully imaginative world of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast Trilogy. For humour I’m a devotee of P.G. Wodehouse. I read a lot of history about Europe and the Middle East. I’m also big on biographies, mainly political and military figures, but the odd musician and actor sneak in.
Enter to win a free digital copy of Urgus the Scribe. Contest ends September 6, 2013.