The Treeman is one of those novels, whose pages transform into scenes on the screen of your mind. You are thrown in the middle of strangers with the advantage of having an open a window into their lives. As the story progresses, you are subjected to the emotional whims of each character and in the process, you end up truly caring about them.
You may notice a few words misspelled by our American standards, but today's author is a terrific British lady, and since the Queen's Land owned the tongue first, we will be treated to not only a slightly different expression than what we're used to, but also to what's behind the pages of Kaye Vincent's The Treeman.
How were you able to keep track of all the subplots?
KV: Part of the excitement for me is the puzzle and it doesn’t get better than trying to knit together a community of people. I love large cast novels – George RR Martin’s Game of Thrones takes my breath away. I’m primarily a theatre writer, so The Treeman was originally a musical script with TV in mind. Scenes were already mapped when I began work on the novel. To test for gaps, I listed chapter events and narrative sequences for each separate character. Repetitive re-reading is essential if you want to keep it tight, so I figure you should write what you enjoy reading. Putting it down for a couple of weeks always helped – I came back to it fresher and could be more objective.
It's amazing what getting away from the manuscript does for that author's perspective. Kaye, what's behind the pages of The Treeman?
KV: I was working with my theatre collaborator, a talented composer called Kaye Tompkins. Stumped by a difficult lyric, I suddenly whispered “I’ve just had an amazing idea.” KT went pale. She didn’t need any more of my ideas at that point, she just desperately wanted to finish the one we were on. My vision was of a reclusive tramp living in a tree outside the window of a converted barn, into which an uptight middle-class girl has just moved, seeking solitude. Cue for conflict. Gradually she would mellow and festoon his tree with all the mod-cons of contemporary living. Where the plot would eventually go, I didn’t know. Where exactly this vision came from, I don’t even remember (although I did once help to ‘build’ a tree from fallen tree parts for a stage production – I was ridiculously proud of that set!). But the vision wouldn’t leave me alone. Or rather they wouldn’t …Izzy and the Treeman. I had to get to know their story and I’m still living part of my life inside their world.
Which makes the novel character driven. I really think the characters are the real authors of any drama. It happened to me once or twice. How did you decide on adding the element of the magic and Gypsy lore?
KV: My reclusive tramp needed to be culturally open to a hardy outdoor life and a past Romany heritage seemed a natural fit. His harmony with the forces of nature and Izzy’s brittleness with the entire world were catalysts for conflict. Once gypsy lore entered his existence, the Treeman’s ability to ‘influence’ others was a simple step forward. From there, huge flashes of the story arc and the preternatural location of Hanningdon just fell into place – a portal opened into another world where people and places whirled in a kaleidoscope of events. A wonderful time. I don’t think I actually invented anything - they all came to me and wouldn’t stop talking. That was the real magic.
An author's dream, when the story virtually writes itself. I had a difficult time picking a character for this next question. Although Jodie is my girl, and although I identified with some of Fergus' conflicts, I have to know... Is there a real Izzy?
KV: Lord, I hope not…poor girl! Actually, that’s not entirely honest. I have to admit to drawing on the traits of several people I know (shhh…) and I would include a few of my own worst inhibitions in that list. But there is no particular individual. Izzy interests me. She is not a typical heroine. She’s uptight and easily fractured. She’s the girl with everything who can’t quite grasp hold of life, representing how we can all hold back sometimes through self-doubt . Maybe that’s why she’s irksome, because she makes us itch a little. But she’s warm and kind at heart, and I hope by the end the reader is cheering her on. She comes a long way in The Treeman and finds some release from her wariness, but it’s not the end of her story. There’s more to come in the sequel and a fuller explanation of why Izzy ‘is’. And why she has been fighting herself for so long.
I've the feeling that if she could, Izzy would box your ears for everything you put her through. I ended up cheering for everyone. I love stories where it's difficult to pinpoint a villain, and although some of the characters we meet initially fall in that category, they evolved and evoked different emotions. Was that your plan all along?
KV: No-one is all good or all bad – unless deranged. Human beings are just not that chemically accurate. And everyone has a slightly different moral boundary in life – it’s the flexing of those boundaries that enables people to interact (sometimes well, sometimes badly) and allows a fictional character to develop. The greatest joy a writer can have is to make a reader feel an emotion about a character, then change the reader’s reaction through revelation or unanticipated behaviours. If I managed that at any point, I’m delighted.
I'm happy to say, I can entirely relate to that. It's fun to create a hot mess of a character, but you did something special with the men. Are these men entirely fictional?
KV: Yes and no. All characters need to be informed by life, but I suppose some are more romanticised than others. Bottom line, this is a romantic tale and therefore aspirational. However, something my husband said when we first met really stuck…that when men shut down emotionally, it’s often mistaken for indifference. He felt that the male tendency to internalise only made the hurt worse and could be very isolating. Others would assume all was okay, because the male habit of keeping pain hidden meant their wounds rarely had a chance to heal openly. I wanted to explore this within a romantic narrative, to see cause and effect – to rip the plaster off the wounds and allow the men in my story to be vulnerable. Rather than having the all too familiar invincible male lead, I wanted to allow all the men of Hanningdon to falter, to hurt, to show weaknesses and have hidden layers. How much more impressive would their moments of strength and power be, when reflected against a more natural instability? This is certainly true of Jay, the title character of The Treeman, but I hope all the male characters are revealed as human.
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It wasn't a stretch to play out the scenes and allow the characters full control of my emotions. Sometimes, they'll frustrate you and you're screaming at the page to just stop thinking and do it! And when that kiss finally takes place...
Javier A. Robayo
Javier A. Robayo
The characters of The Treeman truly own the story, and your trip to Hanningdon will be memorable indeed.