Waylon: In both House of Sighs and The Fallen Boys, family and the inherent dysfunctions of family play a large role. I’d feel remiss if I didn’t ask, did any of that tension come from your own home experiences?
Aaron: I come from a really great family! This is a tough one.
Waylon: If you want to think it over, we can come back to it.
Aaron: Nah, that’s cool. Let me work through this, stream of conscious style. Which means, subsequently, that it may make zero sense. Let’s see how we go… I think because I value family so highly, I live in constant fear of losing it. That’s its own special kind of dread, one that creeps up on you when you never expect it, or when your defences are down. Like a fever. But I live in real trepidation of being hurt and hurting others. That’s really quite exhausting, though rewarding, way to live. And I think that fear I’m talking about does have have roots somewhere, and here’s what I suspect they may be.
At a young age, I stared into the dark on my own. I had to re-evaluate who I was. And I didn’t ask for that. The coming out process is hell, to be honest. But because I did that, and emerged from it both alive, and I hope, well adjusted, I’ve got a terrible awareness of just how fragile everything I hinge my life on is. And that encompasses the relationships I have with friends, with my family, and with any environment I find myself in, whether or not I want to be there.
I’ve also worked a lot in aged care. I’ve been around a lot of dying people. I’ve cleaned them, I’ve bathed them, I’ve looked after them in ways I never thought imaginable, both whilst they were living, and then again, once they were dead. I know what death looks like. I’ve seen people’s eyes roll back, and the lights go out. It ain’t pretty. It’s fucking terrifying. Not only do I understand how fragile my existence is, I’ve got a very good insight into just how un-peaceful and pleasant dying can be. I think the combination of these things has given me a powerful insight into the nature of dread, of getting older, of risks.
And with all my books, but especially House of Sighs and The Fallen Boys, there’s a strong theme about parents and their children. A lot of people have asked me if I have kids of my own. I don’t. But I know that I’d be a great dad. And I live with a terrible fear that I’ll never get the chance to be one. To some extent, I’m resigned to that fact. And I grieve children who never were. That loss is in the books. And whilst it doesn’t filter into the narratives all that much … it does give me the arsenal to write about parents and children. At least, I think so.
Waylon: That makes a lot of sense to me and gives me even more insight into some of those characters. You showed two very different fathers in The Fallen Boys. Marshall, who would do anything for his son, and Napier, who literally hated his son from birth. Is it as exhausting to write that kind of duality as it is to read?
Aaron: The duality of fathers in The Fallen Boys between Marshall and Napier was exhausting to write. Because each were such polar opposites. You’d think that would make it easier to write. It’s not. Characters can be conflicted and complicated, and those two men are … but their motivations are pure. They are each, in some ways, the other man’s half. But then on top of this, there are moments when their roles switch. That’s complicated to compose. In order for it to be relatable to the reader, the metaphors I make to ensure what I’m trying to convey gets across, have to be very deep. They have to touch every reader, not just one kind of reader. I think I pulled it off, or at least, from what I’ve heard (and more than anything else I’ve written, The Fallen Boys has the most diverse range of readers).
Waylon: That’s interesting. The purity of each of their motives, no matter how divergent those motives might be.
Aaron: I don’t think it’s enough to just tell a story. I want a reader to feel the story. That was very important to me in The Fallen Boys. So it’s a traumatic experience. I know that. Too much for some. But like the characters, be they good or bad or somewhere in between, that motivation had to be pure.
Waylon: One nurtures and one destroys.
Aaron: Yeah. One nurtures and the other destroys. But loving someone too much can lead to destruction. Hating someone can drive them to independence. The circle goes round and round.
Waylon: Speaking of that traumatic experience of reading The Fallen Boys. I don’t think that anything has ever affected me in a book so much as when Sam numbly takes off his shirt and turns around, showing off his scars, to wait for his father to beat him. That moment told Sam’s entire life story so pointedly.
Aaron: I know it sounds bad. But good. That’s the intent. I worked hard to make you feel that way. It’s an awful scene. But his scars defined him. And a person’s definition makes them interesting to know, or read about. It’s that sequence, Sam’s acquiescence to his own upbringing, that I think gives his character the strength to carry on considering what the plot will require of him. An unexpected turn. He needs to feel real, to be fully fleshed out, otherwise the final third of the book won’t ring true. The importance of Sam’s gesture was large in my mind the entire way through. Without it, the book would’ve ended a hundred pages before it did.
Waylon: I don’t think it sounds bad. I think it’s a mark of the type of storyteller you are. You don’t pull punches at all.
Aaron: Thank you. I mean that. But without that scene, the story ends 100 or so pages before it actually does. Because of that scene, the final 100 pages are necessary. It’s a book about fathers and sons. We need to hear the son’s story, to see the consequences of pure love and hatred. If the story didn’t continue on and show the consequences of all this torture, and basically that’s what it is, regardless of “external factors” and other plot threads, the final third of the book wouldn’t be worth the paper it’s printed on. I had to go there. That’s what the book was designed to do.
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