Congratulations on your new book, 'Dueling the Dragon'! Very different from your first book!
Well, Yes and No! At first glance, '...Dragon' is a memoir, and 'Obama's Dream' an epic poem. So in that sense, yes of course, very different. But on the other hand, they have in common an otherworldly journey that brings to light political, spiritual, and historical themes. Certainly, I have poured my love into both books.
Do you think you'll be let back into China after all you've said?
[laughs] Well, I doubt I shall ever be welcome at China Radio International or China Central Television! But then again, I never really was! And I wouldn't want to set foot in them anyway! As for China as a whole, who knows? At least, being barred is better than indifference!
And would you want to go back to China?
For sure! I have dear friends in Beijing, and there's lots for me to enjoy there. But I won't stay for such extended periods as I used to, maybe a few months at a time.
So going back to 'Obama's Dream', you have named a key character after you? Why is that?
No, it's the other way round: I'm named after him! After I came across Abdiel in Milton's 'Paradise Lost', I was so inspired by his example that I not only officially changed my name to Abdiel in 2013 but brought him back as a leading character in my own epic poems. So it really is a case of Life imitating Art!
And what is it about Milton's Abdiel that so inspired you?
He is pivotal to the story of 'Paradise Lost', first appearing in Book V. In brief, when Satan commands his legions to rebel against God, Abdiel is the only one among that multitude who refuses. Later, when the two great armies face off, he strikes the first blow, hitting Satan with such force that "Ten paces huge/ He back recoiled". Good stuff, isn't it? And Abdiel's example has continued to inspire me ever since. I refer to this backstory in 'Obama's Dream' and again in the next epic poem.
You seem to know the Bible very well.
Yes, there was a time in my life when I was studying avidly, even to the point of writing my own thematic concordance! And the otherwordly scene in Ezekiel 1 has always thrilled me.
And what role do Biblical themes play?
Many, but the answer is really summed up in Love - love of the Father for the Son, love of the Son for Mankind and, through Him, love of the Father for Mankind. And that Love appears as Grace, Mercy, and Forgiveness, and its fruits include Joy, Dancing, and Transformation.
And what's the role of Satan here?
Paradoxically, villains serve heroes in storytelling and in life. They help us to find our inner strength and come to a deeper understanding of who we are. The three key characteristics of Satan that I get from the Bible are: Accuser of the Brethren; Father of Lies, and that he masquerades as an angel of light. He helps to tear Obama down in the poem, so that by Christ's intervention Obama can be restored, reborn, and reclothed! I have also borrowed Milton's image of Satan whispering into the ear of Eve for the opening scene of 'Obama's Dream'. And I love playing with the tension whenever Abdiel and Satan are in proximity.
So does Obama represent more than himself?
Yes, he plays a kind of Everyman role here - representing the universal failings of humanity yet redeemed by the merciful intervention of God. And you could even say he represents the entire political apparatus of the United States - corrupt, fallen, and false - and badly in need of reinvention.
Other than the Bible and 'Paradise Lost', which are referenced extensively in the footnotes, what other sources inspired you for 'Obama's Dream'?
Well, Charles Dickens' 'A Christmas Carol', of course. Obama's journey in this poem - with Abdiel and Plato as his guides - is certainly reminiscent of Scrooge's journey led by the spirits. There's also the idea of going through portals to move between different universes, which is a staple of some storytelling, such as the wardrobe into Narnia or Alice's Rabbit Hole and Looking Glass, and so on.
Do you see this poem changing the world?
Woah, big question! Can Poetry change the world? Or should we take Auden's line at face value that "Poetry makes nothing happen". Thing is, I think Auden was being ironic. Consider the beginning of Creation: God said "Let there be Light!" Everything that is, came to be because of this line of Poetry! So if Poetry can create worlds and universes, then of course it can also change them! Also, in this era, when there's so much illusory information running around, we NEED Poetry to cut through, or transcend, all the meaningless verbiage and connect directly to the heart, to communicate what's real!
OK, but do you see THIS poem changing the world?
Well, let me just answer by paraphrasing something from the Bible: if it is from God, it will prosper.
What are you working on next?
Another epic poem, one I have had in mind for many years. It describes the miraculous journey of a major Old Testament figure. I won't tell you who just yet, but I can let you know that the great angel Abdiel is again a key player, as he was in 'Obama's Dream'!
What is the greatest joy of writing for you?
Creating imaginary worlds, taking readers on an imaginary journey.
What is your writing process?
Basically just sit down and do it! If I have any process at all, it's probably in writing political poetry: I hear something on 'Democracy Now' and make some notes, perhaps jot down a few phrases. Later, I will go to my computer and piece it together.
What do your fans mean to you?
I am delighted when someone tells me my writing has transported them.
Who are your favorite authors?
Shakespeare, of course! And Milton. Also among my favourite poets are Homer, Virgil, Ovid, Chaucer, Tennyson, Yeats, Auden, Dylan Thomas, and C.S. Lewis. Favourite novelists include Charles Dickens, J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, and Neil Gaiman.
Do you remember the first story you ever wrote?
Probably some vampire story I wrote at school. I was really into the 'Dracula' films with Christopher Lee when I was a boy, and got to watch them only when my parents were away, and my grandmother was looking after us. Or maybe it was an account of the Battle of Hastings from the point of view of a Saxon warrior.
When you're not writing, how do you spend your time?
My other careers are Acting and Voiceover. I even have a go at stand-up comedy sometimes. Meanwhile, I have danced Argentine Tango for some 20 years and take classes when I can. I'm a serious swimmer and compete in Breastroke events. And a keen yogi!
You have included many footnotes in your books. Why is that?
I draw deeply on Biblical and Shakespeare sources in all my writing. And with these so embedded in memory, of course they pour out of my heart in my writing. I like to give readers an insight into these sources of Inspiration. And when there is a political context, it may be helpful to future readers when yesterday's news is forgotten.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts today, and best wishes with the new book!
Many Thanks. It's my honour!
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