I’m very pleased to introduce writer, television producer, film maker, and world traveller, Tony Lee Moral. Tony brings his extensive knowledge and love of Alfred Hitchcock’s work into play with his exciting new thriller novel, Playing Mrs. Kingston. Read along to discover more about this fascinating, versatile writer!
Interviewer: Debbie McClure
Q: Tony, so many of today’s youth have no idea who Alfred Hitchcock was, or what he contributed to film. What would you like them to know about this iconic filmmaker and how his style is still being used today?
A: Alfred Hitchcock’s career spanned the history of cinema, beginning with silent films, to the invention of talkies with his film Blackmail (1929), through to the start of the modern horror slasher film with Psycho (1960). I would go as far as to say Hitchcock invented many aspects of film grammar. He was a great teacher, and inspired many other directors, producers and screenwriters. Today, filmmakers who are inspired by Hitchcock include Christopher Nolan, David Fincher, Guillermo del Torro, and many more. I write about Hitchcock’s huge influence in my book Alfred Hitchcock’s Movie Making Masterclass published by Michael Wiese Productions.
Q: As a great follower of Hitchcock, tell us how you’ve used his principles of suspense in this latest novel.
A: Hitchcock often outlined the difference between mystery and suspense. Mystery is an intellectual process like a whodunit. My novel Playing Mrs. Kingston is a murder mystery, but I made sure that it was much more than that and was full of suspense. Hitchcock said that suspense is an emotional process that makes the audience care about the characters and often cited the bomb under the table, which is about to go off. The audience knows about the bomb but the characters do not, and that’s where the suspense arises. I made sure that my readers rooted for the characters and that the story was full of suspenseful questions. Who killed Miles? Will Leiobesky expose Catriona? Will Mario go to jail?
Q: Everyone who has ever tried to accomplish something outside the norm has benefited from the support of a mentor(s), and although we know Hitchcock played a huge role in the direction you’ve taken with your books and movies, is there anyone else in your life who has significantly mentored you or contributed to your success? If so, who are they and why do you consider them instrumental to you and your work?
A: I would say F. Scott Fitzgerald is an enormously important writer in my work. The Great Gatsby is one of my favourite novels. It is the perfect American novel, where the characters are in pursuit of the American dream, rather like my protagonists. Fitzgerald’s prose is so deceptively simple and elegant, and in the many party scenes in Playing Mrs. Kingston, I was inspired by Fitzgerald’s portrayal of rich and beautiful people full of money. I was also greatly influenced by Thomas Hardy as an impressionable teenager and love writing about irony and coincidence in the novel, such as characters being in the same place at the same time. Like when Catriona, her theatre boss Lowry, and the Inspector who is chasing her, are all at the Whitney Museum, and Catriona could be exposed at any time for not really being Mrs. Kingston.
Q: When writing a novel, what do you find is the most difficult area to tackle, the beginning, the middle, or the end, and why?
A: The middle, or the second act is the most challenging, because you have to sustain interest and motivate the reader to continue reading into the third act where the whole story moves towards and everything should start falling into place. The middle section can be very challenging for a writer, but it’s the heart of the novel, full of complications and problems for your characters. My background as a screenwriter helped me literally navigate the streets of New York when creating a road map for my characters through the second act.
Q: You wanted to write a novel that followed the Hitchcockian principles of suspense, but did you find implementing those principles more difficult than you expected, or did they come easily to you?
A: I would say it is harder because you’re creating suspense through language rather than visuals, so I relied on big set pieces when writing my scenes, often in everyday places where chaos could erupt at any moment. Hitchcock loved to set his characters in places like the Plaza Hotel or the United Nations Building, symbols of law and order, where the everyman is thrown into and murder literally takes place. So I set my novel in theatres, art galleries, museums, train stations, where extraordinary events happen in ordinary situations.
Q: You write Playing Mrs. Kingston from a female protagonist’s POV, as a male writer, can you share with us why, and were there any difficulties in sustaining this throughout the writing?
A: Again I was inspired by Hitchcock, who often rooted for the suffering heroine in his film. There’s a wide belief that he was misogynist, but he most definitely was not. He was deeply emphatic with feminine feeling. Some of his best films have strong female characters at the centre; consider Notorious, Vertigo, and Marnie. He loved women and identified with their plight in patriarchal society. Winston Graham, one of my favourite authors, wrote Marnie from a first person perspective. One female critic said it was the best book about a woman written by a man. I tried to follow this with Playing Mrs. Kingston, by identifying with Catriona as a role player who is determined to succeed in 1950s New York.
Q: You are clearly drawn to the dark underside of human psychology, as evidenced in your fascination with Hitchcock and your own novel, Playing Mrs. Kingston. Can you explain what draws you to that genre and why?
A: I have a zoology and psychology background, and I see things from the point of view of instinctual animal behaviour. All good writers are natural psychologists and question the why of human behaviour. Catriona is so driven toward her goals, I think she is motivated instinctually and doesn’t always make the best decisions in the long run, which is why she becomes embroiled in this extraordinary situation of pretending to be someone she is not.
Q: Do you ever get nervous about releasing a new project, or worry about reviews and critics? What do you do about it?
A: I don’t get too nervous. I’m a television producer and have been involved in the media all my working life. As long as I know that I’ve done the best job I can under the circumstances, then I am relatively satisfied.
Q: What are your thoughts on good and evil, and the complex human psyche?
A: Sometimes I’m very sad about human behaviour, and New York where I lived for several months, is full of lonely displaced people. I feel great empathy with minor characters in the book like Leiobesky, the Polish blackmailer, or even Singer, the Swiss bank manager. On the other hand, when I experience acts of random kindness from strangers, it affirms my belief that human beings can be wonderful. Ultimately, we are so precious and unique in the universe that we should really value each other more. We only have one life and should try to fulfill our potential to the maximum.
Q: Tony, you’ve done everything from film, to novel writing, to world travel, what inspires and drives you in each of these various directions?
A: The quest for new stories, sharing human experiences, empathy with my fellow human beings, and telling a good yarn, is what drives me.
Q: What surprising fact about yourself can you share with our readers that they couldn’t discover by reading your bio, books, or watching your films?
A: I’m very dichotomous. The great screenwriter, Jay Presson Allen, who I interviewed, once said that writing is a divorcement from life. I’ve sacrificed a large part of my life in the last few years in getting my books published. At the same time, like the characters in my novel, I love meeting people and going to parties and collecting stories to write about.
Q: What’s next on your plate?
A: Another biography on Alfred Hitchcock, another novel about a girl who falls in love with a ghost, much more travel, and many great experiences.
Literary Agency website profile: http://www.loiaconoliteraryagency.com/authors/tony-lee-moral/