Monday, 18 June 2018

Etienne de L'Amour: Meet the author, Part 2

Q: The front cover design of Escape From the Shadowlands is “different”, shall we say. What was your thinking behind that?

A: Let's wind back a little. Originally, I came across a black and white photo of the Museum of Antiquities in Antwerp, and I was quite taken by the male figure standing there in the archway and casting a long shadow on the cobbles. That's actually how I see Marie picturing the young stranger she meets in one of her lucid dreams.

I liked the image because of its olde worlde appearance, the link to the dream, and the shadow cast by the character. No matter how fast you run, you can't escape your shadow, as the saying goes. I used that image in the first edition of the Escape From the Shadowlands. However, I felt that perhaps some readers might recognize the museum in the “real world” (or what most people think of as the real world, our everyday world of steel, concrete and glass, that is), and that might partially break the spell, since the book is set in another, parallel and yet familiar world.

Wanting a replacement for the image, I went hunting on Wikimedia Commons which hosts photos with Creative Commons licences that can be freely used as long as you do things like attributing the work to the author. As soon as I came across the painting Schattenspiele (shadow games) by Lovis Corinth (1858–1925), I knew that was the one for me. Yes, it's a landscape image and so there's no way that it would stretch across the entire cover, but that was actually an advantage, because I wanted something that hinted at what you might call “Plato's Cave 2.0” with people mesmerized by the shadow play, living in their own little world of appearances, as it were, which is far removed from and a mere similitude of what the mystics would advisedly call the Real World. With the image as a box beneath the book title and above the author's name, it also hinted at what is, by and large, our confined thinking. And the text on the front cover of the book, again using fonts that are free for commercial use (Englebert, with the word “Shadowlands” in grey Berkshire Swash), was meant to be as legible as possible, especially in thumbnail images, but not so bold or ornate that it detracted from the image itself.

So, yes, the front cover was meant to be different, and I deliberately chose a licenced image and fonts. The last thing I wanted was for the book to be seen as yet another (of thousands) of books with fashionable, formulaic front covers, like so many, many romance books (just for example) that show male protagonists with bare chests and six packs.

Q: Could you say more about the Shadowlands itself?

A: It's not a new idea, really. It's something that mystics and philosophers have talked about, or hinted toward for centuries now: a world of illusion, appearances and confined mental concepts; a mass hallucination about which most people agree, you might say. Well, I say world, but of course it's really down to flaws in our own personalities – to things like ignorance, confined thinking, over-intellectualization, opinion, beliefs, over-emotion, impatience, distrust, pride, envy, greed, hypocrisy, and so forth (and of course their corollaries or virtues, and at the expense of things like inner-tuition and authenticity) – and so reading the book may reveal not so much what other people or situations are like, as having a mirror held up to us and seeing what we are like, both externally and internally. Actually, I should really own that and say “what I am like”.

As for the title of the book itself: Escape From the ShadowLands – EFSL (or EFShL) as I sometimes refer to it in shorthand – it's no coincidence that the initial letters are anagrams (nor that Sher Point is also an anagram, by the way). The book is about escape from the clutches of what the Sufi mystics like Idries Shah term the lower self or the Commanding Self. On the face of it, the book is about Marie and Dillon's escape from the Shadowlands, but the phrase “escape from the Shadowlands” is more broadly an invitation to each reader to do just that, because behind the scenery and the stage props of the fictional aspects of the book, is something very real and vital to our continuing conscious evolution, both as individuals and collectively. Unlike Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, much as I adore those books, there are viable and very real alternatives to ending up in a straitjacket or a pine box, and this is something that may be achieved in our lifetime, not as a threat or promise in the hereafter.

And, at the same time, EFSL is meant to be enjoyed simply as good old-fashioned entertainment; escapism from the daily grind we often face, and from the incessant fear-mongering and bad news broadcast to us 24/7. Again, thank you. May we all make it safely Home again!

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