Based on the Q&A with David Heidenstam on Goodreads.

Q: How would you compare your treatment of men and women in Tales for my dog?

David Heidenstam  Well, I’m clearly pretty hard on the men! Their portrayals range from old cultural distortions (the man who talks about “keeping a ‘mistress’”) to sudden violent domestic insanity. In between, there are the stupid, the naively optimistic, those ready to beat people into submission or to death, and those happy to have embarked on world conquest because it’s finally made them feel loved… The women are not shown in such positions of power, because that’s still usually untrue to people’s observations, including my own. Instead they are mostly shown trying to deal with circumstances with intelligence and sensitivity – including turning the tables on someone who’s using authority to threaten them. But, to even things up a bit, there’s a woman with a very emotionless approach to marriage; and – humorously – another who tries to turn a profit from her ex-lover’s heart!

Of course, there’s always the danger that some readers may not be well attuned to satire – e.g. in the case of the man who thinks it’s easier to keep a ‘mistress’ than a dog, because you don’t have to walk her every day… They might like to remember Swift’s bitter satire, in A Modest Proposal – suggesting that the Irish can deal with poverty by selling their children as food to the rich… As a writer, I have to guard a carefully ambivalent attitude to ‘political correctness’. Changing what words are acceptable has clearly played a vital role in changing attitudes and behaviour. But changing what writing is acceptable can distort truth-telling. There are two overlapping dangers. One is a modern version of Victorian bowdlerisation, where some topics are censored. The other is a modern version of Stalinist literature – in which the job of the writer is distorted by the importance of presenting favourable role models.

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Q: How would you defend your portrayal of Christian theology, in Tales for my dog and In the Beginning…?

David Heidenstam  Oh, I don’t think I would! I happen to be religious, in the sense that I think that the material world is superficial. That consciousness is the underlying nature of the universe, not a rare result of a physical brain. But Western attitudes to religion – both favourable and critical – are grossly distorted. They are distorted by the Abrahamic tradition of God as an all-powerful person – who then has, ridiculously, to be capable of being everywhere and knowing everything. And they are distorted by Christian theology – driven into a cul-de-sac by the issues of the divinity – and parentage! – of Jesus of Nazareth. Which requires that people commit to believing unlikely things – and that they must do so by the exercise of faith. So then religion becomes something necessarily at loggerheads with science. I don’t think Westerners realise how odd Christianity is, how much of an outlier, in the spectrum of world religions. And one which clearly has nothing to do with anything that the historical Jesus actually taught.

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Q: Where did you get the idea for Tales for my dog?

David Heidenstam  The individual stories came in many different ways. Some years ago, I started trying to tap the unconscious by setting out to write stories in five minutes – with no ideas beforehand… That worked. “The moondreamer” came about in that way, at a hotel café table on Djerba. One minute it didn’t exist, and I had no inkling of it; two minutes later it unalterably did.

Many of the stories in Part One happened like that. Others came deliberately, from memories I wanted to explore. Sometimes the two things came together. The title “The archipelago of the dead” came out of nowhere – and was too good to waste! At first, it seemed it would have to be some kind of fantasy about the afterlife. But then I realised how it could bring together experiences both from sailing and from childhood – with only at the end a nod to the looming consequences of age and to those who’ve gone before.

As for the overall concept, “Tales for my dog” – that started as a jokey title (and a potentially dangerous one – since people might expect them to be stories about dogs). And the justification only comes in the very last words of the last story – with the claim that most people might have had happier lives as dogs… Which then allows one to look back, and see the stories as a kind of education, for, perhaps, a canine audience, in the various strange psychologies of humans.

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Q: What’s the best thing about being a writer?

David Heidenstam  You can do the writing anywhere. Yes, at some point you’ll probably have to type it up on a computer. But the creative part, that can be sitting at a café table with pen and paper. Or talking into a pocket recorder as you walk – or when you wake in the night.

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Q: What’s your advice for aspiring writers?

David Heidenstam  Only do it if you have to. Some can make a living from it: but that’s mostly if you’re in contract writing, or (for a successful very few) creating genre fiction, or working in some non-fiction genres – business, health, self-development. Thanks to modern self-publishing & self-promotion, you can bypass the old gatekeepers. But that doesn’t mean anyone’s going to read your stuff. So then it’s a lifestyle choice; sometimes a driven one. Which is fine if you can fit it into the corners of a life that makes you happy in other ways. But if not, you may be facing unhappy choices.

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Two scripts available

In the Beginning…

**Now published**

A stage play set in the Garden of Eden.
A four-hander (God, Satan, Adam, Eve) with quite simple staging requirements.

Written 1978-82. Well received by script readers, but never produced, apart from a rehearsed reading at the Sheffield Crucible under the direction of the late Clare Venables.

Reactions to the original 1980s script:-

– “a lovely play..”
Michael Fox of Manchester Royal Exchange Theatre Company.

– “one of the most arresting openings I can remember for some time..”
Alan Strachan of the Greenwich Theatre.

– “a funny, fluently written and well-constructed play..”
Graham Whybrow of the Royal Court.

– “The staging of this play would be a challenge, and director and designer would accept with glee. It is imaginative, intelligent and vastly amusing… The sound person would have a glorious time making up the appropriate tapes… God’s smugness is riveting and Satan, wary, enigmatic and sceptical, is obviously the centre of the play… Eve.. is sharply defined, clever and very much in control… a play with tremendous potential.”
Reader’s report for the New Playwrights Trust.

And a recent review:-

– “…reimagines the first chapters of the book of Genesis with wry humor… [It] evokes sympathy for the Devil with a clever combination of naturalistic action, humor, and engaging, thoughtful dialogue… [Eve’s] compassion for Satan turns the moment when she and Adam eat the apple from humanity’s greatest failure… In Heidenstam’s telling, Eve is not tricked; rather, she makes a moral choice… A feast of challenging ideas for those who are willing to taste of it.”
Bryon Reiger in Rain Taxi, issue 98.

Please click HERE for purchase links to Amazon – but also available free to theatres and drama groups. Please send a message via the form on the Contact page

SATAN: No, well I’m not as good in the mornings as you are…

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One day

A short script written in about 1971 for possible television production as a ‘silent comedy’ – a kind of combination of silent movie and “Monty Python” comic sketch.

But it might have been better conceived as a short animated film, using plasticine characters and sets, in the style (if they’d been around at the time) of “Wallace and Gromit”.

Indeed, the atmosphere, of class-bound 1950’s conventionalism and repression, is very close to that of “Wallace and Gromit” – though not so affectionately remembered!

It could also make a short stage production – a combination of mime and slapstick that might appeal to amateur drama groups.

It’s a script – never intended for ordinary reading. But it’s available as a free pdf to anyone interested in using it. Please send a message via the form on the Contact page and mention what you have in mind.

(Permission to use will be free in the case of amateur drama production, and by agreement for animation.)

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