Hopefully by the time you read this entry, PennLive
will have posted this entire interview on their site. It was supposed to be up there yesterday, but wasn't (sigh). You can, however, read my feature article on "Lost Girls" and the surrounding controversy here. You can also read my review of the book here.
Both articles will be posted here on the blog later this week for posterity's sake (PennLive doesn't archive anything). Part two of the interview will be up tomorrow morning.
Mr. Moore spoke to me for about two hours over the phone from his home in Northampton, U.K., and I thank him for taking the time to talk to me. Thanks also go out to Chris Staros for helping to set up the interview.Q: I’ll start with the obvious question first. How did the book come to be? How did it get started?
A: Well, that is quite an obvious question. It’s got a lengthy answer. I suppose that it originally started with me having done a number of mainstream comic books in which I felt that if the character was going to be completely rounded, even if that was a character like Swamp Thing, then there should be a sexual dimension to the character.
So this was something that I had done in a number of my comic works where it was appropriate. And I found myself thinking that it might be possible to actually do a comic narrative that was about nothing but sexuality.
I mean, it seemed to me that if most of the comics that were on the market at that time seemed to be about nothing other than fighting than it should be possible to do a lengthy work that was actually about nothing other than sex.
That was about as far as my thinking got for a number of years because it’s more difficult than it looks to come up with something that is actually erotic or pornographic and which does all the things that that sort of material is supposed to do but at the same time is intelligent enough to interest me in actually working on it.
So I had drawn a number of blanks. Then, sometime about 1989, there was a magazine proposed over here that was I believe going to be called "Lost Horizons of Shangri-La." There’s nothing of this since so I presume it never came out and it was "lost" somewhere.
They had asked me to do an eight page story for them. It was an erotic anthology. They had asked me to write an eight-page story for them. Unbeknownst to me they had also asked Melinda Gebbie, who was then working in London on the fringes of the comic industry, but she wasn’t working in a day job as an artist.
I think [author] Neil Gaiman had stumbled across her and he told me this and I had been an admirer of Melinda’s work for a number of years since seeing her early California underground comics in the ’70s and early ’80s. So I asked Neil if he could give her my phone number with an eye to collaborating with her upon this eight-page script for this proposed magazine.
So Melinda came up and visited for a few weekends. And we just talked about what we wanted to do with an erotic story and most importantly what we didn’t want to do, which was that we didn’t want to do anything that was like the pornography that was prevalent around us at that time. We wanted to do something which solved a lot of the abiding problems that pornography has, in that generally it’s an ugly genre. Ugly in all sorts of ways. It can be aesthetically ugly, it can be morally ugly, politically ugly.
So we actually wanted to kind of rethink the genre to a certain extent. And it took us awhile, thrashing it out; a couple of weeks. And then two half-formed ideas seemed to collide.
I’d had a vague idea that there might be some mileage in taking J. M. Barrie’s "Peter Pan" and actually reworking it as a sexual narrative. I think this was based upon the fact that Sigmund Freud had made much of the fact that dreams of flying were dreams of sexual expression and there were of course a lot of flying scenes in "Peter Pan." Which kind of sounds superficially clever but didn’t really go very far. It was difficult to see how that idea could turn into anything other than a kind of smutty parody of "Peter Pan," which was not really what we were after.
Melinda happened to mention that she always enjoyed in the past — when working on her own stories — working on narratives where there were three main women characters in some sort of dynamic balance.
And these two ideas kind of interbred and I suppose that I started thinking well, if Wendy from "Peter Pan" was one of the women in this three women set-up, who would the other two be? And immediately that led to thinking about Alice from "Alice in Wonderland" and Dorothy from the "Wizard of Oz."
And once we’d got that basic idea it was as if the light bulb switched on. It seemed like a really good idea, right from the start. Just having those three characters together in a single narrative.
And as we thought about it over the next couple of weeks, we realized just how good an idea it was in that in the original stories that those characters come from, what they have in common is that they’re all about girls who are suddenly plucked out of the regular world that they had known and placed into a strange fantasy landscape where all the laws of logic and reality seemed to be overturned.
And it struck me and Melinda that that was a wonderful metaphor for the way that most of us enter into our first sexual experiences. That to a certain degree, because sexual experience is one of the markerposts on the road between childhood and some kind of maturity, then it’s one of the points of which we mark the end of childhood.
So it seemed to us that perhaps these characters could stand as a metaphor for the way in which all of us — to a certain degree, when we first encounter sexuality, it is as if we’ve stepped into a world with unfamiliar rules, where all of the things that we’ve learned in our lives up to then no longer really apply. And where we’re surrounded by strangely motivated, even grotesque characters all of the sudden.
So it was very quick, the actual process of coming up with the whole story. I think that within a few weeks of having that initial idea, I’d pretty much got the whole story structure down, and by then it was very clear that this wasn’t going to be an eight-page inclusion in an erotic anthology. We’d realize that this was going to take a little bit longer and was going to be quite a bit bigger.
Neither of us knew that it was going to take 16 years. But if we had known, we would have still done it because we were convinced that this was a brilliant idea and would make for a brilliant book. That was our intention.Q: Segueing into that, why did it take 16 years? Why such a long gestation period?
A: Well, there were a number of reasons, like for one thing we had three different publishers through no fault of their own collapsing under. I must add this was through no fault of Lost Girls either. It was just that the publishing industry in general in comics was going through a turbulent time during that period.
It also took us a long time to think this through and to make sure that we’d got it right. There were so many potentially wrong ways of handling everything. We wanted to be very careful, to make sure that every image was saying what we wanted it to say.
This involved an awful lot of conversation between me and Melinda where I would perhaps propose a scene, we’d discuss it and we’d discuss what we did or didn’t like about it. We’d revise it, we’d change images until we were both completely comfortable with it.
This was so that the book would stand a chance of being as appealing to women as it would be to men. I mean, actually writing pornography that will appeal to men is not a massive challenge if truth be told. But understandably, women have not traditionally been attracted to the overwhelmingly male pornography that is available. And like I said, that’s quite understandable.
So we wanted to make this something that would be inviting to both genders and to a broad range of sexualities as well. We wanted this to be kind of polymorphous, something that potentially could appeal to just about anybody.
That kind of process took us a long time. And also the actual art work took a long time because of the meticulous way in which Melinda approached it, with these layers and layers of colors for every skin tone. There’s a fair acreage of skin tones in Lost Girls. It wasn’t just that she wore out six boxes of pink crayons. There were greens and purples and browns and all of these other colors worked in there too. Which is partly what gives Lost Girls part of its golden luster, but it was a very painstaking procedure and it did take a long time.
There was also the settling into working together. I’d been used to working solely with men prior to that point because shamefully, there were not a great many female artists in the comics medium to collaborate with. That situation has improved. It’s probably still far from ideal. I hadn’t worked with a woman artist before, though that wasn’t a big problem.
What was potentially a problem was that Melinda had never worked with a scriptwriter before, in that all of her early underground comics had been self-written and self-drawn, which was very much the custom amongst the undergrounds.
So there was Melinda getting these huge scripts which I’m notorious for. A script for an eight-page episode of Lost Girls might be 24 pages. I think that kind of crushed Melinda’s spirit to a certain degree. She was just looking at these pages and pages of type and she wasn’t really used to decoding my panel descriptions.
So after a few episodes of this we asked if there was a better way of doing it. And what we came up with was a way which is unique at least in my experience of writing comics. It’s certainly something that I’ve never done before, which was that I would do thumbnails for each of the pages.
Which is something that I’ve never done with any of my other collaborators because they live in other towns, cities, often other countries. So I can’t sit by their side and explain to them that this deformed blob at the bottom right corner of a panel is actually meant to be the leading character’s head.
Whereas because Melinda was living here in Northampton I could actually explain my thumbnails to her. She could then go away and do the pages of finished artwork. And if she had added anything to my visuals — which she very often did do — then because I’d be doing the dialogue after the pictures were finished I’d be able to fine-tune the dialogue to suit a character’s facial expression or some element that Melinda might have felt like including. And so it was a much more seamless piece of work than a lot of my other collaborations have been. That said, it did take 16 years.
At the same time, I can’t think of a better time for it to come out than at the present moment.Q: How so?
A: Well, if this had come out say seven or eight years ago, then it would have come out under a far more liberal Clinton administration. It would have come out during a period when the world, at least relatively speaking in comparison to today — was perhaps less war-torn. It wasn’t by any means a peaceful utopia back in the 90s but compared to today it wasn’t quite as bad as it is at present.
And I think that while "Lost Girls" might have received perhaps an easier reception, it would have been seen as much less controversial and perhaps even much less relevant.
The thing about "Lost Girls" is yes, it has a message that is very pro-sexuality and pro-sexual imagination, but just as strongly there is a very palpable anti-war message there as well. That sort of we tend to put the two side by side you know? The sexual imagination and war, which in many ways is a complete failure of the imagination. And which destroys so much of the culture that the imagination has struggled to create.
So yeah, these present times are I think ones which offer stark contrast [to] "Lost Girls" [so they] can’t help but really be more resonant than they would be in slightly gentler times. It feels like this is a book that is coming out at exactly the right time even though we could never have predicted that obviously.Q: Spinning off from that point, a lot of people who haven’t read the book or who have concerns about it; a lot of stuff I’m seeing either in print or on the Internet, are concerned with the pedophelia and teenage sexuality and the very notion, the very plot of the book is kind of offensive to them. What do you say to someone like that as a defense or to calm irrational fears?
A: Well, if the whole notion of people having sex under what is currently the legal age of consent in their country really disturbs them or any depictions of that, then probably they would be best not to buy "Lost Girls."
But I would point out that I think this is a bit of a chimera really. It’s a bit of a will-o-the-wisp when you actually consider that however we would like things to be, the actual reality is that very often people actually begin at least thinking about sex as soon as they are of an age where their bodies are starting to change and with it their emotions and sensations. Nature doesn’t really pay much attention to whatever arbitrary age we have applied to this.
I mean in Victorian times, in the times when much of "Lost Girls" was set, I think that the age of consent was 12. I mean certainly there were 12-year-old working class children who were marrying and having children by then.
Now, I’m not saying that that’s a good thing. Throughout the world, the sort of age by which we recognize someone as being mature varies wildly. I would point out that we are not actually talking about anything real here.
I have referred to "Lost Girls" as a pornography for a number of reasons. One is that I found it was less pretentious than calling it erotica. Another is that it means something very precise.
As I understand it, pornography means writings or drawings of wantonness. Now, that doesn’t say anything about Polaroid pictures, or home movie footage. Or shared files of wantonness. It’s talking about drawings and writings, which seems to signal to me that this is taking place nowhere but in the imagination. No real men, women, children or horses were harmed in the manufacture of Lost Girls.
So would be OK, for example, to do a comic book in which children or young people were killed? I wonder if that would be more disturbing?Q: It might be. I just got a book in the mail from a Japanese author called "The Drifting Classroom" which has children dying in it and it’s very disturbing.
A: Although I’ll bet that there’ll be less outcry. I didn’t see a huge amount of outcry over [the manga series] "Battle Royale." In fact I think that’s become quite a teen favorite.Q: Yes, it is.
A: But of course that was only children being blown to bits. It wasn’t children in any way involved in sexual activity. There’s something a little bit strange there I have to say. But you know, each to their own.Q: Getting back to the issue of pornography, I could see someone saying well, why be so adamant about calling it pornography? Wouldn’t it be politically smarter if you used a less charged term like erotica or adult fiction? Because pornography has so much weight on it as a term and has such a view of it as being this nasty, ugly thing.
A: Well, the way that I think of it is "Why wait for someone else?" I mean, I could have called it anything that I wanted. I could have called it adult fiction. I could have called it erotica or gentlemen’s reading material. But that would have just been waiting for someone else to call it pornography.
And, like I say, I have no problem with the word pornography as I understand it, as its dictionary definition stands. Not that we were looking for a fight with this. It was just that I wanted to be honest.
I could have called it erotica, but what that actually means is pertaining to love. Now, I doubt that any of the pornography that either of us has ever seen would seem to be more about romance than it is about physical sexual activity.Q: Nor most of the erotica for that matter.
A: That’s it! It is more descriptive, it is more accurate and to some degree it is preemptive. It is not waiting for someone else to come along and call this pornography. It is saying, "Fair enough, this is pornography."
But what we are trying to do is to reclaim the term pornography. We are hoping that through "Lost Girls" we can show that it is possible to do an ambitious and lengthy work of pornography that has all of the things that one would expect from any piece of literature or work of art. That all of the objections to pornography that we considered — and we considered a great many of them — we have tired to answer and redeem in "Lost Girls."
Now, arguments that come from the Religious Right we have not addressed. Because those arguments are actually not coming from a standpoint that I can recognize as rational. It’s seems to me largely to be — and this is just purely my opinion I hasten to add — but it seems to me largely to be unfalsifiable nonsense. And that is not a position that anyone can have a rational debate on. And one of the things about debate is that it does have to be rational.
So we’ve not addressed any of those issues. We have however addressed most of the feminist arguments and critiques regarding pornography. Because those, even though many of them I didn’t actually agree with, they’re at least rational. They are at least putting forward ideas that can be challenged and discussed. We’ve tried to make this something which does not do all of the things that pornography has traditionally done.
And when we talk about say, you know, sex with minors in "Lost Girls," this has to be seen in a context of the fact that what we’re doing is we’re exploring the whole of the human sexual imagination. Clearly the idea of sex with minors is a very big part of that.
We’ve got magazines like "Barely Legal" on both sides of the pond. And yes, we are told that these are all sort of just young looking people who are in fact over the age of consent.
Whether that is true or not, I mean, we all remember Traci Lords. Most people, if they’re told that these people are over the age of consent, that makes it all right. Whereas the intention is obviously exactly the same as with anybody with pedophile inclinations.
This stuff has to be discussed. And I think that it’s important that we come up with a form of pornography in which these ideas can be discussed openly because there seems to me to be a way in which pornography functions in societies and it depends upon the relationship of those societies to their sexuality.
When you have countries like America and England. Well let’s look at the other side of the coin first. You’ve got countries like Denmark, Holland and Spain, where they have a very liberal attitude toward pornography, where quite hardcore pornography apparently is freely available in regular family bookstores and nobody pays it any attention because it’s so ubiquitous.
In these countries they might have their houses wallpapered with pornography. What they don’t have is anything like the amount of sex crime that we get here or in America. And certainly not the amount of sex crime against children. They look at countries like us and the U.S. with horror.
Now that suggests that there is some difference in the way we regard our own sexuality between sort of more liberal countries and countries like ours. I wonder if it might not be in our culture pornography mainly functions as a control leash.
We live in very, very sexualized cultures. Every advertisement on television, whether it sells cars or perfume or pop noodles is liable to be slathered with sexual ideas, sexual imagery. Now this is not just selling cars and pop noodles. Sex is also selling itself. It is increasing the sexual temperature of the culture if you like.
So when you’ve got somebody who has been inflamed by the sheer amount of sexualized material around them, [they will seek some sort of release]. In America, generally speaking, the moment that release has been obtained there will be inevitable feelings of wretchedness, self-loathing, shame, guilt.
Now this is a bit like a kind of a really sinister Skinner rat experiment where you’ve got the rat so that they will respond to the stimulus by pressing the lever to get their reward. But these Skinner boxes are wired differently so that the moment they get their reward, they also get their punishment, they get this electric shock of guilt and shame.
And I suspect that rats actually kept in those conditions would probably go a bit crazy after awhile. And I suspect in healthy cultures, pornography might even be providing some sort of vital safety valve, as evidenced by the lower sex crime figures of those countries where they do have a liberal attitude towards pornography.
It strikes me that if there was a way to sever that instant connection between sex and guilt then I think we might be healthier cultures because of that. I think that if we could actually own up to the sexual thoughts that may pass through our mind, realize that we are not monsters for having these thoughts, realize that these thoughts are in no way connected to reality, that it’s perfectly O.K. within the confines of your mind to think whatever you want.
And if you are in a culture that tells you that is not so, that keeps that pressure cooker lid on, then the only possible kind of relief is an explosion. An explosion into actual real violence of real abuse of real people in the real world.
So it strikes me that in some ways it is the very prudishness of our cultures and the shame-faced guilty way that we perceive sexual material that actually causes a lot of the sexual problems that we seem tormented by.Q: Well, let me talk about that for a minute in the context of "Lost Girls," because certainly the issue of fantasy versus reality seems to be one of the major themes of the book. And I think you go about it in a really fascinating way which is to kind of flip back and forth between the erotic and the real life with the characters, starting with the sequence where Alice starts to tell her initial story where she’s molested in the beginning, which is a haunting, very haunting sequence.
A: It’s not presented arousingly.Q: No. It’s quite disturbing.
A: It’s one of the two examples of actual abuse in the book. Of actual nonconsensual sex in the book. The other one is the rape of Tinkerbell or the Tinkerbell-like character in the Peter Pan narrative.
This is presented as something which is appalling. And yes, with Alice, what we wanted to suggest was that this was something that is done to her and it shatters her psyche. It has a tremendous effect upon her and the rest of her life. And almost everything springs from that.
Now, I don’t think that is — all right it’s described in fantasy terms, but I don’t think that that in and of itself is unrealistic.
In fact, one of the best reactions that we’ve had so far to "Lost Girls" was from this journalist over here, a friend of ours. She’s very much involved with the sexual politics scene over here. And she had read one of the blotty, gray and white photocopy editions that I’m sure you squinted at as well.
And she was very impressed with it and she was talking with a couple of friends of hers who were both women. She was talking to them independently. But they were both women who had been sexually abused as children. And she was talking to them about how the three protagonists in "Lost Girls" seemed to have taken elements of their early abuse or early sexual encounters and to have reworked them into a kind of distancing fantasy. And apparently both of these women independently said "That’s exactly what I did. And I shall really look forward to seeing this book."
Now, all right, everybody who is unfortunate enough to have been in those circumstances has got a different story and they’ll have a different reaction. And I’m sure that there might be a lot of people who would have a negative reaction to "Lost Girls."
But in that instance I felt to a certain degree vindicated. I felt that we had treated all of the material here as sensitively as we could. And as with as much compassion for the characters as we could.
In the scenes like the one you mention, it was important to us that we didn’t make those scenes erotic. That there were scenes being not at all arousing about nonconsensual sex of any kind.Q: It was a quite shocking sequence actually, because I came upon it after I had been reading these erotic trysts and then Alice starts telling her story, it was a 180 degree reversal. And when I kept reading the book and got to the sequence in the hotel, where the proprietor tells his story and you have that marvelous sequence where you have the erotic story going on up top and then he’s telling his story on the bottom.
A: I think that one of the women present is commenting upon the erotic story that he is reading out and saying "But isn’t this wrong, this is people with children" and "This is a disgrace, this is horrific."
And he replies, "Well if these children were real of course you’re right, it would be monstrous. This would be a terrible thing. But these children aren’t real. They are purely in this pornography that I am reading to you. Now, I am real and this young girl who is servicing me is only 14 so I am doing something that is very, very bad. But the pornography is innocent."
What I was trying to say in my muddled, roundabout fashion was that of course the material that is purely in the mind, how can it be anything other than innocent? Especially when contrasted with the stuff that we’re seeing on our televisions every day of children being carried limp and bloody out of rubble. These are real children in a real world.
With "Lost Girls" we hoped to have a sense of perspective on this. There is nothing as terrible as war. And whatever our current moral panics might say, even child molesting is not as terrible as war. And the imagery and the concept of child molesting is certainly not as terrible as war.
That is not to say the abuse of children is not terrible. Of course it is. The abuse of anybody is terrible. I don’t know if sexual abuse is more terrible than any other kind or whether it’s because we seem to apply a huge amount of power to the sexual realm. Like the whole idea of rape as a fate worth than death.
I remember talking to Kathy Acker, the late, lamented Kathy Acker about that issue. I remember her saying that she had been raped and she says "You go home, you have a wash, you feel kind of messed up for awhile but you’re glad that you weren’t killed." There is no fate worse than death.
What we wanted to do was actually raise these issues so that they can be discussed in an actual, rational way by adults. What does it mean when we have one part of our tabloid press howling for the blood of paedophiles or anyone who lives at the same address that a paedophile used to live at, which is what happened over here when they started publishing the addresses of paedophiles. Or anybody who is in a profession that perhaps sounds a bit like paedophile if you’re really, really stupid, like pediatrician, one of whom was run out of town by an anti-paedophile mob in England after a tabloid newspaper campaign.
Now on the one hand we’ve got the tabloid press doing that, on the other hand we’ve got the tabloid press eagerly involved in the sexualization of children. Pictures of the 14-year-old princess Eugenia and her younger sister on the beach in revealing swimwear. Gloating remarks about the swelling chest measurements of the then 15-year-old Charlotte Church on the same page as they were lambasting the brilliant and vitriolic comedian Chris Morris for his "Brass Eye Special," which was a show lampooning the paedophile hysteria.
And of course with the Spice Girls, everybody liked Baby Spice. They all liked Britney Spears in her school girl uniform.Q: Well over here you’ve got Web sites devoted to ticking down when Mary-Kate and Ashley Olson will turn 18. Or take your pick of the teen pop starlets. There’s a real unsavory atmosphere towards it.
A: Melinda and I have not created these ideas. What we’re trying to do is talk about them because we think it is important that they be talked about. And pornography is a wonderful vehicle in which to talk about those concepts.
As it stands at the moment, the only two possible arenas in which those ideas can be discussed are contemporary pornography, which is ugly and vile for the most part. Sort of seedy happenings on distressed looking sofas and strip lighting that looks like it’s been set up for brain surgery.
That’s on the one hand. On the other hand you have the clinical and asexual sex manual. And I don’t think that really either of those areas are ones that we traditionally think of if we’re thinking about our own sex lives.
So it struck us that pornography potentially could be a new form of pornography. A more liberated form of pornography could provide something that was invaluable in discussing these ideas and not giving them a chance to — because they are so hooked up with guilt and shame — just slink away into dark corners where they can fester and become something genuinely toxic on a personal and a social level.
Now of course there are still a lot of people who will not like the idea of "Lost Girls," and that is perfectly fine.Q: Well, you were saying how it could open up discussion but I can see a lot of people — and not even the idea that it’s porn but just that as soon as they hear that it’s Alice Dorothy and Wendy they’re gonna go "But those are children’s books" and they’ll shut down right there.
A: Well there have been a couple of people who have said that when they first heard about the book they imagined it was gonna contain distressing scenes of an eight-year-old "Alice in Wonderland" involved in sort of horrendous sexual activity. As anybody who has read the book will tell you that is not the case.
All of the three main protagonists are teen-agers who are sexually mature. Whether they might be under the age of consent today or probably over the age of consent for which those books were written, which those stories were set, is kind of immaterial. They are young women. They are not children.
And with regard to anybody who feels a love and attachment to those characters and fears that we may have degraded or debased them in "Lost Girls," I would like to say that I doubt that there are any bigger admirers of those three books than me and Melinda.Q: Yeah, I felt reading the book that you had a real admiration. In some ways the characters feel closer to Baum’s work or Carroll’s work than some of the Hollywood adaptations.
A: Well that was what we went for. We know those characters. We all know those characters. We read about them when we were very young and very impressionable. They’re part of our childhood. They’re part of us. So we wanted our characters to be as faithful as they could to the originals, emotionally and intellectually.
Alice has still got that slightly dreamy, surrealistic turn of thought. Alice is also semi-addicted to laudanum. But again, that is, while there was no suggestion that Alice was addicted to drugs in Lewis Carroll original, it is a rather drug-saturated text. Alice was certainly swigging down bottles labeled "Drink Me" and wolfing down cakes labeled "Eat Me" and sort of talking to hookah-smoking caterpillars as Jefferson Airplane remarked. It struck us that it didn’t seem entirely out of the question for our portrayal of Alice.
We portrayed Dorothy as, she’s probably the most adventurous and bold of the three and the most in charge of her own destiny. I mean, any problems with Dorothy, she’d probably strode boldly into them herself. She’s very headstrong and she’s very adventurous, which I think is in keeping with Baum’s original.
And Wendy is every bit the kind of prim little mother of Barrie’s book in that she comes from a very middle class and repressed sort of Victorian world.Q: And, of course, the three are at different stages of womanhood too.
A: This was very handy. When we first worked out that we were going to have these three characters in the narrative, we tried to work out a kind of spurious timeline for them, based upon publication dates of the original books. And we found that that gave us Alice as the oldest of the three and Dorothy as the youngest, Wendy somewhere in between.
To have a time period in which our main narrative would be set, in which Dorothy would not be too young, nor Alice too old, we found that gave us a time period around 1913, 1914, as the best possible window, which was very useful in terms of how we set the book and how the themes emerged from it.
It also gave us these three different ages of women. They’re from three different social backgrounds. Alice is an aristocrat, Wendy is from the middle classes and Dorothy is from a rural blue collar farming background. They’re three different body types as well for that matter.
And we wanted to do this because in most pornography, sex seems to be the domain of the under-25s only. And everybody has got to be buff and conform to the current standards of physical beauty. And that is not how real sex is. So we wanted to make "Lost Girls" something that was a bit more inclusive.Q: Let’s talk about the timeline for a minute. You bring in World War I and "The Rite of Spring" and those kind of cultural issues that are going around that period. What was the thinking bringing those issues in? You talked about war and how it’s the opposite of imagination, of pornographic imagination.
A: Well, as I said we wanted "Lost Girls" to be a pornography and yet at the same time to be able to do the same things that any work of literature or work of art would do. That meant that it would have to have characters and a plot and themes and even fancy French sounding things like motifs and metaphors. And it would have to have a meaning.
Now, when we started looking at the timeline for a period when these women could have met when, as I say, Dorothy wouldn’t be too young nor Alice too old, and we started to see that it was around 1913, 1914.
And this was really suggestive because we realized that Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" had cause riots at the Paris Opera in 1913 less than 12 months before the Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo, which of course led to the entire first world war.
With the benefit of hindsight, it looked to us very much as if "The Rite of Spring" or the reaction to it rather, as a kind of premonition of what was going to happen in Europe. It was an indication that Europe’s heartstrings were at a very dangerous pitch. If something like Stravinsky’s "Rite of Spring" could spark the reaction that it did, then it looked to us that it was almost prefiguring the kind of primal conflicts that would come.
When we realized that this was the kind of time period that "Lost Girls" was taking place against a backdrop of, we thought of the first world war, that pretty much set the tone for the remainder of that century and probably a great deal of this one. It a blow that Europe has probably never completely recovered from.
It was sort of an apocalyptic time and we thought what better backdrop to set this kind of delicate art nouveau erotic fantasy against? What starker contrast could you hope for?
So we decided to place it in an imaginary art nouveau folly of a hotel, in the Boden region which is an actual region that is exactly on the borders of Austria, Germany and Switzerland, with the borders of France about a short ride away.
So that struck us as being right at the heart of Europe, at this point in time when everything was just about to explode and we thought it would serve to make the human sexual activity and the human sexual imagination and the art and culture represented in the hotel, it would serve to make that seem much more fragile and much more precious and tender and it would also serve to make the war look every bit as brutal and ultimately pointless as it genuinely was.
Like I say, we could not have asked for a starker contrast. It gave us, if you like, the message of the book, which we realized fairly recently was actually, "Make love, not war." And if we had gotten ourselves one of those badge making machines 16 years ago we could have probably saved ourselves a great deal of time.
But in that 16 years and 240 pages we have perhaps unpacked that basic concept a little bit and we’ve explained why you should make love or think about making love rather than thinking about making war.Q: Just getting back to the themes because I think the book is about more than that. Reading the book, it seems like the story is also about these three, and correct me if I’m wrong, women who’ve been either been abused or who have had really awkward or painful early sexual experiences. And through meeting and telling each other their stories are able to heal themselves.
A: Absolutely. As the title suggests, they’ve lost part of themselves, which is something that probably happens to all of us.
That when we eagerly enter into the jungles of adolescence lured on by the promises of all these wonderful new delights that are soon going to be available to us, we don’t realize at the time that there’s a kind of trade-off involved. That we will not be the same people at the other end of that process as we are going into it. And that perhaps our golden glowing childhood that will end. We will have different information. We will have different agendas. We will not be those people that we were.
And in the cases of Dorothy, Wendy and Alice, who have had pretty cataclysmic entries into the sexual world, it struck me that in the course of "Lost Girls" it’s by telling each other their stories, by actually talking to these other women, in a way that they’ve probably never been able to talk to anyone else, that enables them to kind of reintegrate with these lost parts of themselves, as you say, to heal themselves.
There’s a scene towards the end where we have the three girls in front of a mirror in a sexual configuration and in the mirror they are their childhood selves or their teen-age selves.
And there is a sexual pun where one of them says "We are coming together" which is talking about it in a sexual sense, but it is also talking about reintegration of these parts of ourselves which we’ve lost or discarded or misplaced that we can connect with them again. They’re not dead. We need to reintegrate with those parts.
In Wendy’s case her entry into the world of sexuality, although she has been the strongest and most triumphant of the three women, in how she dealt with her assailant if you like, has been such a frightening experience for her that she pushes sexuality away into the shadows and launches into a fairly sexless marriage as a way of avoiding this dark, wild territory that she had stumbled into and had a very narrow escape when she was younger.
Yeah, a lot of us, for various reasons, we distance ourselves from our sexual imagination, through fear, through shame, through guilt. It probably is one of the most pleasurable parts of us and in a world that is so beset with painful things, it strikes me that we would perhaps all be a little bit happier if we didn’t make our sexuality one of those painful things with which to inflict harm upon ourselves.