Book Talk: Journey back in time with Jake Arnott

Wed Jun 24, 2009 7:09am EDT
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By Michael Taylor

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Homosexual gangsters, movie directors and glam rock stars are all characters that best-selling writer Jake Arnott has used to dazzling affect in his books.

Taking the reader to a bygone era and blurring the lines between fact and fiction, has won Arnott many plaudits and several television adaptations.

His latest novel "The Devil's Paintbrush" has a plot that includes both distinguished British Empire hero Sir Hector Macdonald and occultist Aleister Crowley.

London-based Arnott, who counts David Bowie as a fan, spoke to Reuters about legal dangers, future projects and his disappointing acting career.

Q: Your novels are often a mix of fiction and history. How did you choose the subjects for The Devils Paintbrush? A: When you start to write a novel, you don't quite know whether it's achievable. I always feel like I'm going off on some sort of fishing trip and seeing what will turn up. It's not an academic project, as I don't have to stick to any kind of brief. With Devils Paintbrush...I was interested in looking at high Empire and the contradictions, particularly around sexuality and the emotional life of the great empire men. It is strangely untouched. For the past 10 years, the idea of writing about this period has developed in my head. But finding a character (Hector McDonald), who has sort of been forgotten with huge gaps in what we know about him, that to me called out.

Q: Your novel "Johnny Come Home" about a 1970s glam rock star had to be withdrawn due to legal issues. Has this experience made you more cautious?

A: One of the things about Devils Paintbrush is because you can't libel the dead, no one is going to come after me! With Johnny Come Home, I feel it was like poetic justice because I had sailed close to the wind previously. It was completely unintentional and by accident. I happened to give the name of this character, the name of somebody who is still around in the music business and could have had grounds to sue me. It's a fair cop but what aren't fair, are the libel laws in this country. We withdrew the book and eventually got very little change out of 25,000 was quite a business, and I wouldn't recommend it. But it's iron in the soul - you survive that and go onto the next thing."

Q: "The Long Firm" is a 1960s based crime story loosely based on infamous London gangsters, the Kray twins. Did you get any unwelcome attention from the underworld, after its publication?   Continued...