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Interview: The Projectionist

BEYOND WORDS | Continuing to dive ‘beyond words’, we talk to Kirsti Wishart, whose second novel The Projectionist centres film and cinema in many ways – setting, plot and characters. We get to know more about the book and Kirsti’s own connection to the form.

Can you tell readers a bit about your book The Projectionist?

Sure, and thanks for asking! It’s a mystery set in Seacrest, a fictional Scottish seaside town that’s obsessed with cinema. The place is a bit down on its luck with a megalomaniac cinema owner determined to turn it into one giant multiplex. Then famous film critic Cameron Fletcher turns up for the 85th Seacrest Film Festival which causes a stir as he’s been presumed either dead or a fictional character. Whatever the truth, his arrival will change Seacrest and the lives of its inhabitants forever…It’s been described by Alistair Braidwood of the ScotsWhayHae podcast as ‘part Kenneth Anger, part Agatha Christie’ and I honestly can’t do better than that.

Film is a strong through line in the book – whether characters of the Seacrest Film Festival – what drew you to this as a topic?

It was inspired in part by my Granny Wishart who was a great watcher of tv, a love perhaps that stemmed from her keen cinema going when she was younger. She lived most of her life in Kirkintilloch, a mid-sized Scottish town that managed to sustain two decent sized cinemas until the mid-20th century. Edinburgh had an incredible number of cinemas that you can explore here. This shouldn’t come as any surprise as they were the internet of their day, giving people access to a regular diet of entertainment and news. I began to wonder what a town would look like if it had managed to keep a hold of those grand old picture palaces and out of that dreaming came Seacrest.

“The writing process itself has to be enjoyable as that’s the one element you can control.”

Are films something big in your own life? What are some of your favourite films, or genres, or eras of movie?

The Projectionist was written some time ago and on revisiting it after Rymour showed an interest in publication, I was struck by how much it drew on a particular period of my life. I spent eight years as a student in St Andrews and my main sources of entertainment were the New Picturehouse Cinema and the Blockbuster video shop (kids, ask your parents). I ended up watching a lot of films and this book is really a love story to them. Nowadays, the cinema seems to be showing one long Marvel film and I get my narrative fix more from tv. Paying a return trip to Seacrest did remind me of how much I love the films of Orson Welles (who has a strong influence on the book), Hitchcock, Jean Cocteau, Kubrick, American cinema of the 1970s and French film noir (pretentious? moi?). I’m aware that’s a heavily male dominated list and I’m ashamed to say I’ve only recently discovered the work of Agnès Varda, whose films are just wonderful and highly recommended.

There are a wide cast of characters in the book – are there any you particularly enjoyed writing, and why? If you could compare each of the leads to a film or character, what would you pick?

Weirdly, the character I felt most comfortable writing as was Arthur Dott, the slightly seedy, portly, late-middle aged failed actor whose career has dwindled to playing ‘OAP sipping a pint in the background of the Rovers’ Return’ (those who know me might suggest isn’t such a leap for me). Kim, a scarily glamorous cinema owner based on the likes of screen goddesses such as Marlene Dietrich and Rita Hayworth was also a lot of fun to write.

As to other characters, I’m not sure if this entirely answers your question but in my head I always see a Scottish Seth Rogen for Harry, a young Anthony Perkins for Luke or a less-creepy-then-usual Rami Malek and for Jo, Mo, one of the characters in Alison Bechdel’s comic book series, ‘Dykes To Watch Out For’ that hasn’t yet been made into a film but should be. Cameron Fletcher, in a twist that would be so ‘meta’ it might break the screen should be played by Orson himself (they can do wonders with CGI these days). Typing this though, I’m realising the extent to which my fiction is heavily influenced by Scooby Doo…

How did you find the process of writing this one compared to your debut The Knitting Station?

The Projectionist was actually written before The Knitting Station appeared and you can probably tell it’s a first novel with an author keen to cram in as much fun stuff as they can. I was helped hugely by the guidance of Sam Boyce, a writing consultant who has worked wonders with many authors. Without her, The Projectionist would never have seen the light of day. When it came to writing The Knitting Station, I wanted to take a more straight-forward, direct approach and so focused on one main character and a relatively linear thriller/adventure plot (albeit one involving sinister sheep, military themed fashion shoots and hallucinogenic stovies).

“It’s been described as ‘part Kenneth Anger, part Agatha Christie’ and I honestly can’t do better than that.”

What inspires you as a writer, both for this work but more broadly?

Writing a novel is a hugely thankless process in many ways with absolutely no guarantee of getting published or reaching many readers. That makes it all the more important to spend your time writing about something you love or feel strongly about, enough to make you explore themes or topics deeply enough to sustain you through those ‘What’s the point?’ moments.  The writing process itself has to be enjoyable as that’s the one element you can control. With Seacrest I loved creating my own wee film-obsessed world and populating it with characters I wanted to spend time with. I still remember the downer of finishing the final draft and knowing I was saying goodbye to that cast of characters. Thankfully that gave me the spur to create another bunch of oddballs I could get into scrapes and adventures. To sum up, what inspires me is pleasure, both for myself and hopefully for the reader.

What do you hope readers take from your book?

I hope they take away a sense of enjoyment, one scented with popcorn and fish and chips on the prom and a wish to bring Seacrest to life! I also hope they take away a desire to seek out some of the films referenced as the thought of someone discovering a new cinematic treasure having spent time in the company of Luke, Harry, Cameron and Jo makes me very happy indeed. We all need to spend a little time in the comfortable dark, it helps us to see the stars shine…

The Projectionist by Kirsti Wishart is published by Rymour Books.