Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Q&A with Tim Mason


Tim Mason, photo by David Kelley
Tim Mason is the author of the new historical novel The Darwin Affair. He also has written the YA novel The Last Synapsid. A playwright, his work has been produced on Broadway as well as Off-Broadway and regional productions. 

Q: Why did you decide to write The Darwin Affair as a novel rather than as a play?

A: It never occurred to me to write this story as a play, it's much too vast for the confines of the stage. The stage has its own expanses; one can leap from locale to locale and travel in time theatrically, but not in a Dickensian story-telling mode, which is what I was intending. (The brilliant National Theatre adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby astonished the world, and me, in the 1980s with its seven-hour length, and was worth every minute, but Trevor Nunn had the budget to treat himself to a very, very large cast).

Q: What did you see as the right blend between your fictional story and the actual historical figures included in the book?

A: I wanted The Darwin Affair to be as historically accurate as possible. I tried to insert my fiction into it as though it belonged there.

Q: How did you research the book, and what did you learn that particularly fascinated you?

A: I researched the novel by reading lots: biographies of Victoria and Albert, Dickens, and Darwin, and accounts of the publication of Origin of Species and its reception.

In London I visited Sir Richard Owens' old domain, the Hunterian Museum at the Royal College of Surgeons, and viewed its remarkable displays of anatomical aberrations. I visited the old St. Thomas Hospital, and the 19th century operating theatre there, and in Oxford, at the University Museum, was let into the room, no longer open to the public, where the famous Huxley-Wilberforce debate took place.

The diaries of Victoria were put online and available to the public for a brief period, and they were invaluable for documenting the trip she and Albert took to his childhood home in Coburg, Germany, and the near-fatal carriage accident Albert suffered there, which became pivotal to my fictional elaborations of the event.

Q: What initially intrigued you about Charles Dickens' character Inspector Bucket, an inspiration for this novel?

A: The Inspector Bucket of Bleak House is seductive. One marvels at his skills, seeming to appear in rooms without ever entering them, and knowing the minds of his investigative victims better than they know themselves. And then, later in the book, he does something that's hard to forgive. I thought I'd base my Inspector Field on Bucket, but ended by making mine less morally ambiguous.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: A couple of times in The Darwin Affair an earlier case Inspector Field tackled is mentioned, and the very mention makes people blanch. That case, and its aftermath 12 years later, is what I'm working on: The Nightingale Affair

--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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