Pretty much all I knew when I started writing Large circle in 2014, it would be a novel about a female pilot who disappears in 1950 while trying to circle the world north-south, over the poles, and also about a struggling modern movie star playing the pilot in a biopic. I had no idea what else would happen or how these two sons would come together, but since I seem constitutionally incapable of planning my novels in advance, I had to get used to taking leaps of faith.
I began my research by reading books by and about pilots, but as the novel progressed and expanded in scope and complexity, I found myself amassing a quirky reference library covering not only theft, but also Antarctica, historic Montana, contemporary Hollywood, ocean liners, smugglers. , plate tectonics, the dark battles of World War II, the Canadian and American landscape painters of the 1930s, and other equally disparate subjects. Often times, I came across fortuitous details that took the plot in unexpected directions, spurring a chain reaction of years of research, inspiration, and hard work.
However, not all of my influences were based on fact. I also relied on works of fiction that I felt had the same kind of wit that I wanted Large circle, and I usually kept a volume or two on my desk to tap into whenever I needed a little boost, like starting a car with another author’s battery.
The ice ball by Alec Wilkinson
In 1897, Swedish aeronaut SA Andrée set out to cross the North Pole in a hydrogen balloon, departing from the Svalbard archipelago in the Norwegian High Arctic and, he hoped, landed somewhere in Asia or North America. North. It did not work. Andrée and her two co-explorers were lost, fate unknown, until their remains were discovered in 1930, with a photographic film that miraculously produced ninety-three images of the doomed expedition. Not only does Wilkinson elegantly balance a detailed account of Andree’s attempt with a beautifully concise history of Arctic exploration in general, but it also offers a finely-distilled insight into the motivations of those who risked (and often lost) ) their lives in pursuit of the geographic unknown. . I photocopied a paragraph from The ice ball and I kept it hidden under my computer for years, referring to it when I needed to remember why my pilot would have done what she did: “These people act because the gesture seems right,” writes Wilkinson, “or because they feel provoked, convinced by the obscurity, the persistence and the vitality of their desires, the self-persuasion and the unmistakable correctness of something they see in a vision.
Speedwell by Mary Gaitskill
I first encountered Gaitskill’s novel in 2005 a year or two after it was published when I was in graduate school, and it’s one of those books that I pick up and open at random. , then I find myself reading to the end. The first-person narrator tells two stories that are not so much intertwined as they are porous to each other: Her current existence as a housekeeper battling hepatitis is densely marked by vibrant memories of her past. rising and falling model in Paris and New York. Sinister and transcendent, ugliness and beauty never cancel each other out, and what makes the book so compelling is its unsettling and pervasive suggestion that these things, far from being opposites, are often the same. I wanted some of the intensity, coarseness, and metaphorical reach of Gaitskill’s narrative voice for my movie star character, Hadley, and I also searched Speedwell like a master class in creating resonance between different timelines.
The signature of all things by Elizabeth Gilbert
Gilbert is mostly famous for his non-fiction work, especially Eat Pray Love, but she has always been a fiction writer as well. This novel is bold and satisfying and while it is not without heartache, loss and strangeness, the omniscient narrative voice has a bubbling authority that I find irresistible. Alma Whittaker was born in 1800 to a wealthy immigrant family in Philadelphia and grew into a woman who (to her lasting sorrow) lacked beauty. As romantic love escapes her, she turns her brilliant mind to the study of moss, a neglected life form that holds deep information about the nature of, well, nature. An unattractive, foam-obsessed woman may not seem like a promising premise, but The signature of all things varies widely across the world and through life and has been one of my totem books for Large circle because what I felt was what I wanted to make my readers feel.
Up by William Langewiesche
For my money, Langewiesche is hands down the best aviation writer working today. A pilot himself, he brought decades of practical experience and a lifetime of knowledge to this strikingly clear and captivating collection of long-running journalistic essays and articles, first published in 1998 and set updated in 2009. (Incidentally, his father Wolfgang was the author of a classic. 1944 book on theft, Staff and rudder, which I also spent time with.) The two chapters of Up this deep dive into history and the difficulty of just spinning an airplane and the complex psychological relationship between pilots and their instruments changed forever and influenced my way of thinking about flight.
Love, sex and war: changing values 1939-1945 by John Costello
I don’t remember what question I was investigating when I found this 1985 book (I may be thinking of something about an all-female Soviet bomber squadron known as “Night Witches”) , but it turned out to be the kind of text that satisfies and excites curiosity at the same time. Without apparent judgment, Costello combines personal memories and data-driven sources to elicit a wide range of human experiences to show how and why the war acted as a profound accelerator of social change. Basically it washes away all the dirt, covering, to name a few, gay life among soldiers, venereal disease, prostitution, the role of sex in espionage, and war brides. A paradoxical truth that Costello arrives at is that a catastrophic global frenzy of death and destruction has undeniably caused untold numbers of people to love (or at least Make love) with abandon. When you have decided to agree to kill people, does extramarital sex always seem so immoral? When life is uncertain, why not grab what fun and what human connection you can? This book made me think of the so-called war novel not as a whitening sentimental fiction, but as an affirmation of life and an act of resistance.
Spread my wings by Diana Barnato Walker
I read this, Walker’s Memoirs, in one sitting, captivated by its vivid storytelling and huge, vibrant life. Born into extreme family wealth (diamond mining), Walker endured the beginner’s moves but channeled her natural daring into fast horses and cars and, perhaps inevitably, airplanes. During WWII, in his twenties, Walker flew for the British Air Transport Auxiliary, an organization of civilian pilots, male and female, that transported fighter jets between factories, RAF bases, repair depots and, towards the end of the war, between Great Britain and continental Europe. The job was neither easy nor safe – ATA pilots died at rates comparable to RAF – but Walker, despite many nearby scratches and the loss of a fiance and then a husband in flight crashes , survived, having flown something like 80 different planes. types and 260 Spitfires alone. In 1963, she became the first British woman to break the sound barrier. I knew I wanted my pilot, Marian Graves, to carry fighter jets, but at first I couldn’t decide if she would fly for the ATA (26 American women did) or stay in the United States and fly for a comparable, all-female servant. a service. The drama and the scope of Walker’s memories made me decide to put Marian on a boat bound for Liverpool.
Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead is published by Doubleday