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April 16, 2009

Worlds within worlds

I hope these musings on the origins of Dante’s Numbers have provided a little enlightenment and amusement over the past week — and thanks to the people at Bantam for letting me ramble on about the strange process of bringing a tiny idea into the reality of a book.

Dante’s Numbers was a fascinating and challenging project for me on many levels. It tested my ability to take my characters out of their normal location yet keep them whole and accurately portrayed. It was also important for me to keep their Italian point of view. I want this to be a book in which San Francisco — a familiar location for many of us — is seen through eyes that view it as strange and foreign. I didn’t want to ‘westernise’ the story, as it were.

I also hoped to reflect the tone of Hitchcock a little in the narrative, through the use of slightly surreal notions — identical twins, curious characters, strangely coincidental events. Lots of books seem to be written as if they were wannabe movies. In some way I wanted this to be a movie that had somehow found itself trapped inside the pages of a book.

I hope it works for you. And if you’re a regular fan missing your shot of Rome, don’t worry. The cast are back there with a vengeance next year, and in the title that follows which has been on my laptop in first, very rough draft as I travel around the US promoting Dante’s Numbers at the moment.

Writers are a bit like movie directors. We’re completely absorbed in the project of the moment, and totally unaware that the time frame that enfolds us is nothing like the one that enfolds you. While you are walking with Nic Costa through the San Francisco of Vertigo I’m actually following him through the back alleys of the Roman ghetto, in search of a real-life tragedy from the late sixteenth century.

Hitchcock, funnily enough, never seemed to think twice about Vertigo after he made it. All those famous props — the painting of Carlotta Valdes, the fake mission tower, the dresses — disappeared soon after it was made, and he was onto his next project. It never even made much impact when it was premiered. Instead it took a while before people recognised it for the masterpiece it is.

I can’t hope to stand in Hitchcock’s shoes. But if you like Dante’s Numbers you might want to get the DVD of Vertigo out and take a look at that. Hopefully it will give you a little chill again, because in some ways this is a ghost story, one about people haunted by the past, their own and that of others. And chills is what I’m about.

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