Author Jonathan Skariton on His Audiobook Séance Infernale

Author Jonathan Skariton discusses writing Séance Infernale and what it’s like to have it as an audiobook.

What inspired you to write Séance Infernale?
I always wanted to write a story about film. Love of books and love of reading are well represented in literature; love of film not as much. These days the activity of watching a film is more closely associated with popcorn than redemption.

I wanted to write something about this idea that film is an intimate ritual, a mirror that only offers us a sight of what we already carry inside, and that when we participate in this experience we do it with our very soul. I originally sat down to write a ghost story with a warm and sentimental celebration of movies, using “film legionnaires” (like the main character in Séance) to talk about an era of lost innocence. However, that soon changed when my research uncovered that the birth of the medium involved a tragic mystery. Impressions of the past, it seemed, could wreak havoc on the present and leave behind ghosts of an unexpected variety. The ghosts in my ghost story, I discovered, were ghosts of grief and loss, and the era was not one of lost innocence but one tormented by an irrecoverable past.

During my research I came across French inventor Louis Le Prince, a figure I drew from for Sekuler’s character. I came to realize I was looking at the bare bones of a story as old as storytelling itself. The biggest mystery in the history of movies involved a train, a disappearance, a grieving family, and patent wars. It clicked. It was a catalyst.

What was your favorite part of writing the book?
I enjoyed writing about the story from the oblique stance of a character from the world of film memorabilia. The arcane spaces of the film-collecting world are full of bizarre characters trawling through derelict cinema buildings, cockroach-infested basements, and sordid secondhand shops, sifting through endless amounts of junk for days in the hope of finding celluloid gems and memorabilia treasures. For those people, film is an experience, and the simple charms of cinema can send tremors of excitement through their hearts and souls.

I also enjoyed writing about the city of Edinburgh, a particularly strange city. I started writing this book to try and understand it. I still haven’t made sense of it, but during the writing of the book I came to experience how the city reveals itself in the most distant of degrees as long as you pay attention. In this sense, I kept learning. I became fascinated by its dual nature, the beauty and the macabre, and its ability to captivate and haunt at the same time.

What is it like listening to your book rather than reading it? Does it change the way you think of certain characters or scenes?
I was delighted to listen to MacLeod Andrews bring Séance Infernale to life. He captured the characters’ spirits and the energy in the book particularly well. There’s an affective immediacy to his narration; there were times I forgot I knew the story! There are a few metafictional elements in the book as well, which I initially thought would be a serious challenge to the translation, specifically the use of visuals and imagery and interactions with the reader, related to the power of vision established by the interest in a literal film. That is where the very talented Nick Martorelli (producer) and Tony Hudz (director) worked their magic and terrifically translated these elements on audio.

Would you ever narrate an audiobook?
First off, let me say that I narrated an early version of Séance to three of my beta readers. There is something magical about interpreting a tale off the page and immersing yourself in that world. I think the appeal of audiobooks probably has something to do with loving memories of being read to as a child.

So I would love to narrate, although I am unaware of what I would be getting myself into. I can only imagine how taxing (and fascinating) the long days filled with reading aloud in tiny, soundproof spaces can be, and how any slight shifting in your chair or the sound of a siren or a plane from outside will be picked up and necessitate a retake.

What are your go-to things to listen to?
I find it easier to visualize scenes in a cinematic way, so film scores seem to be particularly effective and great companions to writing. My favorites are John Williams, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, and Ennio Morricone.

Film scores aside, I also want to mention John August’s Scriptnotes. It is an addictive podcast and a solid way to hear about storytelling.

Interested in learning more about Séance Infernale? See what narrator MacLeod Andrews has to say about the recording process!