"In order to live in the present, we must first redeem the past..."
The Cherry Orchard.
They said William Morgan was a traitor. They said he was a communist. They said he was a CIA agent. They took away his US citizenship and then erased his name from the history books.
Now, fifty years on, a woman's enduring love is about to reveal the truth behind the secrets and lies. Maria Jensen is taking her case to the highest authority in the land - the US Senate. But in taking on the government, Maria must face her own demons and re-live a past long buried.
One man can help. Ray Halliwell was a witness. He shared the good times and the bad. And long ago, he loved her. Together, Ray and Maria embark on a difficult journey - to another place and another time. Cuba, 1957....
American Rebel Book Trailers
Interview with Joss Gibson
How would you describe American Rebel?
It is very much a story-driven book. Structure, that’s where I hide my secrets. I want to make something that is shaped, proportional, more like a piece of music or a sculpture, without ever undermining the essential quality of story, what Gardner calls the fictional dream. What I call reader engagement.
I want my readers to be able to see, to hear, to feel, to smell the story. That’s my job, to find the triggers for that engagement. To exclude anything that does not contribute to engagement.
In a sense, I want to make myself as author, invisible. If not invisible, sufficiently reliable if you like, that I’m an unconscious companion.
There’s a sense in which I’m kicking against the interior voice of many novels, the sense that the author is very much present, fallible but nevertheless, unpicking the psychology of the characters.
There’s a kind of unspoken assumption that their lives as lived, somehow ‘stand for’ bigger issues, pre-occupations of our age and times – identity for instance, isolation, longing, disaffection, dislocation. I’m not quite on the same tack. Rebel is not a psychological dissection of character.
Who are your influences as a writer?
Influences? I suppose I veer towards writers with a non-fictional aspect to their work. I like Swift, Defoe, Zola, Orwell, Gavin Young, the travel writer. There’s often a journalistic element, sometimes even a political element to the writers I like. That’s one side, but there’s another.
I’m not very good at it myself, but I adore great prose stylists too. Those with a sense of rhythm, a musical sense to the words. So, here the usual suspects emerge. Austen, Hardy, Hawthorne, Melville, Twain. Ah Mister Twain!
Now there’s a fine example that ‘journalism’ and great style are not mutually exclusive, far from it. And when they come together, that’s real magic, that’s the real thing, That’s writing.
Of more contemporary writers, I have a love/hate relationship with the novel. I love a lot of the Americans of the last century. Fitzgerald, Hemingway, (with reservations and Joyce, also with reservations – when you’re basically a genius, it’s hard not to become self-indulgent). Faulkner too, was a maestro prone to mannerism on occasion. Steinbeck, naturally - Salinger, Harper Lee for stopping whilst she was ahead with a perfect novel. I often think there should be some restriction on the number of works permitted to any artist. After the quota, growing vegetables and helping others should be the order of the day.
More contemporary still? Jenny Egan, Le Carre, Julian Barnes (for his wit and emotional intelligence as well as his style), and then I have particular favourites that touch me for reasons I do not altogether understand, except by citing necromancy and I assume, incredible hard work. People like Junot Diaz and that sculptor of words, Raymond Carver. A god, or at least, an angel.
But let me be honest. I don’t read that much contemporary literature. I’m not interested in much of it. I think of much of it, as tea with friends, stays in villas and desultory experiences in bed that turn out to be rather disappointing, sometimes disgusting, always dispiriting. I want something more robust, less intellectual in the worst sense of artists preaching to the converted, those seeking solace in knowing they’re not alone.
What about outside the world of books?
Popular culture I guess. I love movies, I’ve worked as a producer and been in the media all my life. I love sixties pop songs for their ability to not just tell stories but create worlds in three minutes or less. I love crooners and jazz. I like emotion, genuine emotion. I’m not good with self-referential work or knowing irony. I like art but loathe post-modern commercialism. I’m contrary I guess, and happy to be so.
How did you learn to write?
Biggest influence in terms of learning to write? John Gardner. Without a doubt. He taught Raymond Carver, what more do I need say?
I was brought up in a house without many books. But by chance, there was a copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses sitting untouched on the shelf, an unwanted gift to an Irishman abroad from another Irishman still at home, no doubt. There’s a partisan, nationalist pride in literature in Ireland that’s fierce and enviable. A beleagured culture is a cohesive culture.
I didn’t know any better so I picked it up and read it at age 16, without prejudice. From there, I kind of reversed into literature and a lot of what I read was very much easier to assimilate. A lucky accident perhaps.
There was also a little plaster bust of JFK I remember, several Sinatra albums including Pennies from Heaven, and a smattering of Johnny Cash. My father worked for American Airlines and we holidayed here regularly. In fact my parents emigrated to Washington DC in 1980 or 81. I remember Elvis had died the day before we were all sitting on the plane.
As it turned out, I didn’t go with them. I wanted to study English and American Literature. My father wanted me to do business studies. As a result, we fell out, as we always have done, and I paid my own way through university in the UK. He was a very controlling man. And there’s only one way to combat that. By becoming a rebel. I guess that’s what I did.
I refused to go to the States. I remember telling anyone who would listen that America, with no social security system and no healthcare system, was not a place I could live. I quoted Samuel Johnson. Or rather misquoted him, along the lines of ‘the test of civilization is the way a country treats its poor.’ I was young. I was idealistic. I was naïve. But even now? Even though I’ve learned to compromise? Even though I may have been wrong, I still believe Johnson was right.
When did you first decide to write?
I wanted to write from an early age, about twelve years old. I have absolutely no idea why, except for the obvious. Once I realized books were created by writers, as far as I was concerned, these people became the gatekeepers to exotic new worlds. I made no distinction between comics and literature with anything in between. Story. Story, that’s what it was, the infinite wisdom that comes from putting one incident after another in time with the subtle touch of a chef, a seer or a witchdoctor and creating meaning, consolation, truth, insight, even wisdom.
It’s all about story.
And the future? What does that hold for Joss Gibson?
The future? A continuing series. Ray as the main character, America as the main subject, the acquisition of wisdom through painful experience the main theme.
The next is set around the time of Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech of 1963 and is much more Greek in terms of time and place than Rebel. Six months will encompass the action, from the speech to Dallas. Fewer characters, tighter action, this is the Cold War and it’s stifling, frightening and very, very cold. A complete contrast with Rebel and the Caribbean.
This next book is, if I get it right, something of an homage to John Le Carre, a supreme writer in my humble estimation, never afraid of being popular, never afraid of being profound, He – along with Johnny Cash – walks the line.
Are you comfortable talking about your personal life?
My personal life? I don’t know. My personal life comprises my daughters, Megan and Leah. They are the centre of everything. I do not, I hope, rely on them for my personal fulfillment or for support. But they comprise the centre of the universe, they are everything. Writing books? Like practice, like meditation, a beautiful way to live out my life. But a bonus, a plus, an unexpected gift.
Let’s get back to American Rebel. Is there an intention behind the book?
I can’t talk about the structure of Rebel, even the intention without sounding terrifically up my own ass, to put it crudely. But put it this way… I wanted something epic, something mythic. I read Homer’s Odyssey for filmic, cutty, televisual boldness and realized stories could still be told that way. Stories about something larger than life, more than the sum of the parts, something positive, even aspirational, in a world of relative values, uncertainty, spiritually vacuous, and full of anxiety.
Look, this sounds bad I know, but I believe it is still possible to live a good life, despite the example of many of our leaders and our iconic idols of celebrity culture. It is possible to treat others as you expect to be treated, to pay attention, to think right and act right, to make self-sacrifice, rather than self-aggrandizement, the measure of what it is to be a hero in the modern world. Morgan was a gun-runner and a mobster who became something so much more, at least in the manner of his death. If he can do it, so can others, including me. At least I hope so!