On Wednesday, Oct. 14, acclaimed playwright, screenwriter and novelist Ian Weir spoke about his influences, process and experience at the Downtown Kamloops Public Library.
Born in North Carolina but raised in Kamloops, Weir worked as a newspaper reporter before starting out writing radio plays. Weir won numerous awards for his writing for the stage and has worked extensively in screenwriting.
Weir wrote his first novel “Daniel O’Thunder” in 2008 and just last year released “Will Starling.” Both novels take place in 1800s London.
At the event, Weir read excerpts from “Will Starling,” explained his inspirations and took questions.
Weir’s storytelling ability was unintentionally demonstrated as he spoke about the extensive research he had done on Gothic London. Many of Weir’s characters are at least in part inspired by real people, and fictionalized versions of some actual people from the time make cameo appearances. Weir’s explanations of these people were riveting.
The audience of 20 was mostly made up of writers. Before beginning, Weir spoke with some acquaintances in the audience, including a man with whom he’d gone to elementary school.
Weir was heavily inspired by his father, who was a doctor and would often be called out at odd hours to perform surgery. While he stressed that none of the characters were based on him, he called “Will Starling” a tribute to his father.
The novel is told from the point of view of a surgeon’s assistant in 1816, the year Mary Shelley wrote Frankenstein, and he is convinced that the most prominent surgeon in London is doing unholy experiments.
Interestingly, Weir describes himself as squeamish, and said that when he was writing about the old school surgery techniques, he thought “If I can write a paragraph without fainting, then I know it’ll be good enough for the reader.”
Weir enjoys playing with reader perception, as both of Weir’s novels are told by unreliable narrators. He can’t imagine “Will Starling” being optioned for film because he says that film as a medium presents an objective reality, where his unreliable narrator presents a highly subjective, potentially false reality.
Weir spoke at length about the differences between genres. Screenwriting and playwriting has made Weir into a very visual writer, and his imagery is excellent.
When Weir wrote his first play, which was nominated for and won a Jessie award, he had been writing in the headspace of the male lead. Later, when an actress asked about a female character’s motivations, and what the character had been doing right before the scene, Weir had to admit that he had never thought about it. While Weir appreciates that theatre challenges his thinking, he enjoys the way writing a novel allows him to see the world through one character’s eyes.
Weir put great care into creating an authentic environment for the story to take place. “I did two years of research before I even started ‘Daniel O’Thunder,’” he said.
What Weir likes about writing novels is that he doesn’t have as many pressures with time or money as he did in writing for the stage or screen. He found that this extra time sometimes gave him too much editing time, so he found himself agonizing at length over the details.
“The process [for ‘Will Starling’] was more tormented than anything I’d ever written before.”
The next author talk at the Downtown Kamloops Public Library will be Monique Grey Smith on Nov. 4. At 7 p.m.