Five Questions for Author Timothy Taylor

Zoomer sat down with the Giller short-listed author of Stanley Park to talk about his latest novel, The Blue Light Project, the story of how three people are drawn together as a hostage-taking at a televised children’s talent show tears a city apart.

Athena McKenzie:The riot scenes and the crowd violence – are they based on general happenings around the world on something in particular?
Timothy Taylor: From a lot of video watching and Genoa in particular. From Genoa, there is really alarming footage of guys in archetypical protester garb, and they are marching with riot police and then they split off and go down a separate road and it’s really unsettling. That’s where that came from. G20 in Toronto happened after the book was done. I was already in edits. There was one detail I added from an account where a woman was arrested for just blowing bubbles.

AM: I understand that the idea for the book started with the hostage-taking, but when did the concept of “adequate images being necessary” that forms Rabbit’s part of the narrative become important?
TT: Herzog’s conversation? I had been thinking about street art for a long time before the book started to take shape. One of the things I had observed in the street artists that I was following around was this mysterious set of motives. It’s hard to sort out exactly why these guys are doing it. Bear in mind that this is pre-Banksy. Now Banksy kind of hovers over everything and offers an explanation in conventional terms – by saying that this person could be just gunning to get discovered and become the next Banksy. For the most part, what I was observing those guys do, I couldn’t really explain. It didn’t really adhere to why people do things for fame or for money.

I was trying to put some shape around Rabbit and the mysterious motives – to say you can change the way people think with an image is much too aggressive but even just to give them an alternative to the other things that they see all the time. When I heard Herzog say that first, I read it in a Roger Ebert interview, but then I discovered by Googling it that he said it countless times. It’s a motif in his work. He said it most fully in the movie Werner Herzog Eats His Shoe. He says television is killing us and the game shows – I think he says – are killing us and the commercials are killing us. I thought that was a really interesting thing to add. He was suggesting that the massive media machinery that creates most of the images that we look at is very bad for us. It made sense to layer that over Rabbit’s other motives and arrive at a character profile.

AM:Did you work with street artists or is the street art pictured in the book yours?
TT: It’s both, which I think is really curious and unanticipated. At first, I watched street art in the sense of more conventional research. I’d go out and I’d watch somebody put something up and then I’d write it. But then these guys are secretive a little bit – and I was always an outsider, make no mistake, I didn’t become part of the inner circle or anything – and they wanted to see the draft. I would never do that if I was interviewing a chef and they said they wanted to look at the manuscript. That would have been a non-starter. With these guys, I felt it was different. They were letting me into a much more secretive world, and I did let them see pages of a pre-first draft manuscript. And then two interesting things happened as a result of sharing that manuscript. The first is that the pages of that manuscript went up in an artwork. So that was neat. And then, some of the artwork that I had described in the book, that I had created for Rabbit, were made on the street. So work that originated in the book ended up on the street, and work that originated on the street ended up in the book. Which is why I decided to include the photographs.

AM: Why do you think readers react so strongly to idea of KiddieFame, the reality TV show?
TT: We have fewer and fewer things that we all agree on culturally that are important cultural values. Part of that is as we have secularized and dispensed with traditional hierarchies in our culture. One thing we seem to agree on in this point in history is that fame is a good thing and renown and status and that these are the things you strive for. If this becomes a denominating currency in any number of our cultural transactions, then it’s no surprise that people will try to school their kids in it. You want to train them in the way they should go and you want to give them the tools that will allow them to succeed in what apparently is the only game worth playing. So, hopefully, you can sense from my tone, that I am unimpressed by this development. Not that anybody is trying to impress me. That’s the wrong way to put it. But do I have concerns and reservations? Most definitely. I think it’s dangerous.

AM: What was the appeal of using making Eve an Olympic athlete when there are so many arenas of celebrity to draw from?
TT: I liked the construction of an athlete, a journalist and an artist. But I was trying to create in this character of Eve, somebody who the city loved. And when you think about it yourself, who are the people who are unimpeachably good? And it’s an interesting question. There isn’t a politician alive – maybe Nelson Mandela. You really have to go down the list a long way before you find someone who is beyond reproach. Actors? Same thing. There are actors out there who are loved, for sure. Athletes can get there on occasion partly by not being well known personally. If they do something really spectacular and then are otherwise difficult to know, they are only known for this magnificent deed, with which no one can find fault. That’s why an athlete made sense to me. In terms of making her a biathlete, I wanted her to be involved in a solo sport, maybe one that didn’t attract super glamour. I wanted her to be slightly off centre, and biathlons filled that role.