An interview with James Collins
Working on Jason and the Sargonauts
Where did the idea come from?
In 1991 I had an idea for a thriller/mystery story involving a piece of coded music; a kind of ‘The 39 steps’ meets ‘La Cage aux Folles’. It was to be a sequel to a Christmas present, a short novel I had written for and about a group of friends. It started at Heathrow, involved a group of Nazi villains and ended up with a drag queen racing through the canals of Amsterdam on her way to save the Opera House.
I didn’t write it.
But the idea stayed with me.
Then, eleven years later when I moved to Symi, I had time to write. I had Symi to inspire me and plenty of characters to observe. I’d met a ‘Jason’ on holiday in Gran Canaria and, having met some ‘SARGO’ guests on Symi, I just kind of put two and two together. The rest fell into place, albeit slowly.
Is this your first novel?
It’s actually my fourth. The first, Other People’s Dreams, was also inspired by Symi (I was on holiday here in 1996 when I started it) although in that story I call the island ‘Kalados’ as I wanted to take liberties with it, artistic liberties I mean. There are two others, one a farce/comedy about the after effects of having your wishes granted, You Wish and the other a thriller about dual personality, Into the fire. I seem to bounce from thriller to comedy and back again; don’t know why. I just like both genres I guess.
O.k. plug over. What were your influences in writing Jason?
Thinking about it I guess that the first person to influence me was a school friend from nearly 30 years ago. We were both musicians; me piano and composition and him just about everything else. He had a band called ‘Another Language’ and he always said that music was just that, another language. Maybe he’s the Stanley Reah of the story, but the idea that music is a language lends itself completely to the idea of code. I’ve always liked crosswords, puzzles, anagrams, codes and so on and am always looking for the perfect twist or turn in a story. (By the way Jason was started long before we’d heard of The Da Vinci Code or any of the other copy-cat versions.) You don’t have to understand music to enjoy Jason but you would have to be a musician to figure out the code for yourself; luckily the characters in the story do it for us.
And of course friends and people I observe have influenced the story, well the characters. Without naming names there are quite a few bits of people I know in the Jason characters, including myself. And the island of Symi is a great influence – such a lot of history for such a small place and so many perfect locations.
How factual is Jason and the Sargonauts?
I’d say about half of the facts stated are true, but there are many references to other facts that make up the background and don’t get a big mention. Explain? O.k.:
It’s a fact that ‘W’ (I’ll call him W so that if you haven’t read the story yet this won’t spoil it for you – if you have read it you’ll know who W is) it’s a fact that W was in Venice and died there. He was also in Paris for some time. It is possible that Panandreas could have met him because sponge exporters from Symi did have offices and business in these places, and throughout Europe. (By the way, there are two chairs in a villa on Symi that once belonged to W, I’ve sat in them.)
Other historical things are factual: Widor – him of the famous Organ Toccata that people play after weddings – was professor of Organ at the Paris Conservatoire in 1890, as was Caesar Franck before him, students like Dimitris would have studied under them. There is a Panandreas theatre in Los Angeles. The British did invade Symi on July 14th 1944 and concerts were held on the island towards the end of the war, (though not necessarily on the date I used.) Benson and Pollack? Imaginary as far as I can find out.
So you see the story has a mixture of fact and fantasy. Certainly the places I have used do exist though Villa Sargo is actually Villa Papanikola, the SARGO office in Rhodes is Visa Travel and the trek from Vasilios bay to Stavros tou Polemou… well, you won’t meet the soldiers and I wouldn’t advise it – it’s not as easy a walk as the story suggests.
And what about Jason and the Argonauts?
The first great hero/adventure story? Well, there are references to it throughout Jason, some obvious and some hidden. In my story we don’t spend much time on the boat – I wanted the story to happen mainly on Symi rather than at sea, but there are other tributes to the original myth. Jason’s throne was usurped by Pelias (anagram of A. Slipe), the broken sandal, the Golden Fleece and so on. Margaret’s surname is Reah (anagram of Hera who helped Jason on his quest). Harriet has had many jobs and is strong: Hercules. Cassie and Polly the double act: Castor and Pollux the fighting twins of myth. Lesley’s jewellery clashes with her outfit: the clashing rocks (a bit tenuous I know) and there is a reference to mosquitoes being Harpies that I couldn’t resist. There are also other hidden references in there for you to think about if you have nothing better to do one day.
And who helped you in the writing of this story?
Ah, the acknowledgments section!
Well, many people have contributed thoughts and ideas. Neil spent many hours reading the manuscript and the original screenplay version. Hugo lent me his research material from Operation Tenement (July 1944). Dave lent me some books and a couple of ideas for Oliver’s sub plot. As I said before various friends have (unknowingly) lent bits of their characters. And I should also thank Nicholas and Adriana, Carl, Jen and Terri for their proof reading. And anyone else I have forgotten to mention. I’m not doing an Oscar speech here but it is very difficult to write in isolation and so many people have had to put up with me blabbering on about the book that I’m bound to have forgotten some of the people I’ve bored with it.
And so what’s next?
At the time of writing this I am actually suffering from the opposite of writer’s block. I have so many ideas I don’t know which one to start first. The next immediate task is Symi 85600 which is a collection of writings I have done for www.symidream.com. Once that is complete, in early 2007 I hope, I shall be free again to stretch my imagination and put pen to paper, or rather fingers to keyboard. But whether it will be a comedy about ex-pats on a small Greek island or a fantasy farce about time travel, or a ghost story set in an old villa in the forest on Symi or something more serious… I will have to wait and see. Meanwhile the ideas notebook just keeps getting fuller.
Symi is that kind of place, it feeds one’s creativity and, quite frankly, I am full up!