‘Bella's Decision’
Interview with Freddy Milton
by Ingo Milton


Why were you going back to Limbo?

In the beginning, I didn’t think about returning there, but I wanted to tell another story about a group of children and their fate in life. Previously I have focused on individual children, and I’ve had another story dealing with two brothers. The relationship between them was very rewarding, so I wondered how it would be to describe a larger group of siblings. It came to be four.

Did you really have to take the life of the mother?

I wanted to describe how the children would think and act if she died. The series is called the 'Between Life and Death', in which I take up very fundamental critical situations, and I have always wanted to comment on the authority question. It’s a fact that children fall victim to local rules and get pushed through the system if the parents die or not being able to carry responsibility.

Are there any sources of inspiration this time?

During a course in script writing, the lecturer said he had helped to write a story for TV about three children who buried their mother in secret in the basement to avoid being separated. They wanted to stay together. After the lecture, I asked him if he knew the English film ‘Our Mother’s House’ where seven children do the same. He didn’t. However, the situation set me off thinking.

Is your story similar to the plot from the film?

No, of course not. Jack Clayton's film doesn’t maintain focus on the children but switches attention and becomes more a story about the grownups, and it is a pity. I have not seen the Danish counterpart, ‘The Secret’, but I’m sure I hadn’t followed that angle, apparently being more of a teleplay. Besides, I have all the elements from the soul administration including Paragon and Pollux.

But why Limbo?

I thought my story from a reality standpoint was a little sad on its own, so I returned to Limbo to get a more exciting and imaginative counterpart. Now it became a story about the mother's soul, who couldn’t find peace because she is dead but still can’t let go of her children. It’s the care of a mother’s love which persists all the way to the soul realm. I saw an episode of the haunted house series ‘The Spirits Return’ which also dealt with a ghost of a mother who died from her young children and continued to haunt the old apartment because the ghost could not get peace. Helped by a medium she then found the way to the afterlife.

You probably also have some nostalgia for your old soul replacement model?

Definitely, it is really still a fruitful construction. The opportunities I have already theoretically explained in the books about Amelia, but here I use it in a crisis from the real world where Paragon and Pollux play a crucial role. It developed into an exciting intrigue. After writing the book, I saw an interesting movie ‘The Adjustment Bureau’. To my delight, I discovered it was based on a short story by a favorite science fiction author from my youth, Philip K. Dick. If you know his capabilities, smaller spirits like Stephen King can go take a hike.

Then there is August. Why a hobo?

Since my childhood reading of the Danish humorist Storm P., I have had a soft spot for hobos and vagabonds, but it will not only be the romantic and curious characteristics, because I also mention his psychological background, which is an important element concerning the motivation.

What is the motivation?

It evolved as I wrote it. In another book, ‘Matthew and the Downfall’ I also had an incompetent man who experienced a positive personal development when he became responsible for the children, but it was an intrigue model tainted by questionable circumstances. I would change that here, with the engagement is based on something more durable.

There are some villains…

Yes, and I was a little apprehensive about the description. I excuse myself about this part of the story as it takes place many years ago, and of course the social services today are so much more understanding. That does not change the fact that outside authority, people are predestined to dubious roles in almost all dramaturgy, not just in books for young people. Threatening forces are unfortunately a necessity if you want to tell exciting or poignant stories.

There are some songs, too...

It became natural when I gave August a side profile as a troubadour and accordionist. I could defend this minstrel mentality because that part of the story also takes place several years ago. Personally, I also have a weakness for the cultural contributions from my own childhood. There is also a thread back to a previous book, with the boys only surrounded by things several decades old, among other things a songbook with children's songs. Here it’s classical songs instead.

How much of the story had you in place before you started writing?

Not much this time. I had a durable theme that I thought I could develop, and when I got the combination of Limbo in place, I knew that it could be both exciting and fun, touching and thoughtful. I want to feel these motives as opportunities within reach during development. I had purposely taken a position on far fewer elements than usual before I started this time.

Have you become more astute and professional?

Hopefully, but I also wanted to be completely open to the direction including the detours the story could take as I worked my way into the process. That part has become increasingly more interesting as I have now written several books. Earlier I thought more on the value of rigorous synopses. Now I give my spontaneous imagination more leeway, and you actually get ideas when you suddenly need them. When I start in the morning with an empty sheet on the computer, I don’t have a hard time getting started, and it flows quite smoothly for me. Perhaps it’s due to my many years of working with manuscripts. A friend of mine says his writing process is more comparable to cutting off a sculpture in granite, very slow and laborious. Still, the creative process is a very fascinating experience. Others talk about the writing process as being high on something and the progress around the settlement of climax as a release or liberation. I must admit, that is partly true.

So are you consciously seeking that state of mind?

You could say that. It’s a form of euphoria. The screenwriting lecturer also spoke about the ‘point of no return’ and the fact that many good stories often take control and insist on being written in a certain way. Then as a writer, you should be grateful and let the story write itself and appreciate that you’ve been the means to lead a good story towards the end. When that happens, you sit back with a good feeling of satisfaction, perhaps even happiness. It has been like a small God, who has created something exciting. I had that inspiration with Bella, for starters, I didn’t know what important position she should have at the end, but I felt it had to be something grand, and I figured that out eventually.

What facilitates that process?

Peaceful surroundings and quiet atmosphere provides room to concentrate. People are different. A good friend of mine would preferably sit with his father's old cap on while listening to music through earphones. The screen should be blue with white letters as it is in the old writing program WordPerfect, without which he cannot work. When these things are in place and there are not too many e-mails waiting, he can collect his thoughts. If there are too many distracting circumstances locally, he pulls the plug. He then takes his writing to a writer’s refuge and stays there for a few weeks. It works for him, being an internationally successful crime author.

How do you feel about providing the necessary creative readiness?

I have it somewhat easier. I am divorced and my children have left home. I’m not led astray by all the travels I have to attend to promote my books. A separate new addition to my house I rent out and with my share of the estate from my mother to pay the last mortgage, I can do well financially and often I’m alone for many days in a row. I have everything around me, an okay health, children who behave themselves well and no financial worries. It is ideal conditions for me and that is another reason that I’ve come to write books now in my later life. Previously, there was more distraction and things became hectic and stressful, although I have allowed myself to be occupied with something I choose to do or think about on a daily basis. In this respect, I have had a privileged life.

Do you struggle to find new ideas for your books?

I thought so after the first four titles, but this has not yet proved to be like that in practical terms. Ideas seem to come to me when I sit and think actively and concentrated. I also watch a number of films, and there may even be some good inspiration from a half-bad movie. Anyway, I combine things my own way. Although all my books are different, you can still sense a common theme since I am the one writing them. Most often, I also have a common feature in the use of one or more first-person narrators. In ‘Matthew and the Downfall’ there were three.

Why didn’t you use a first-person narrator this time?

I actually tried with Nina as a first-person narrator, but it turned out that she was only in a few of the chapters. This time, things are not seen as directly through the characters' eyes as has been the case in previous books. Story structure came into play in a way so it didn’t feel natural.

By now, have you been surprised to discover some revealed contexts you haven't anticipated as the story progressed?

It’s one of the reasons that I have needed Paragon and the soul administration. At one point, the reader demands that there will be a reasonable explanation about August’s very handy appearance at that very specific smallholding. It cannot possibly be a mere coincidence, right? Of course, it’s not. With the strong motive of the soul administration’s top brass revealed in the last chapter, we as readers are ready to forgive such a seemingly surprising coincidence.

You have a story element with alternative time developments as you have also used in previous books.

Since I’ve read ‘The Time Machine’ as a boy, I have had the fascination of playing with time. The author is constantly working with the development of fate in his head during the writing process, but then he usually only selects the one choice he will use. I learned the use of multiple parallel opportunities when I conceived patterns to my ‘which way’ books.

Is it not a bit tricky, having to repair on people's fate in life?

Absolutely, and Paragon dislikes it. So does the administration of the soul service, but there is an overlying strong motive allowing the adjustment. On purpose, I don’t get into a comparative assessment of the fate of the plans, but keep the account of the impact of the newly introduced fate line underplayed. It only tells so much that the frozen soul can be freed for reuse.

Are there other reasons for that?

Yes, I did not want my readers to put too many moral judgments into comparison, and I would invite that in, if I did too much in the description of both lines of existence. Now the new line only appears in a kind of summary form under Paragon’s presentation in Limbo.

No, it might well have led to perceived questionable morals about the impact of children being placed in orphanages.

Precisely. But the negative publicity surrounding those institutions dates back to Charles Dickens, and there is also still so much statistic truth in that image of growing up in a real family, ceteris paribus, is the best for children, even if some of the members may be ‘bonus parents’, ‘plus relatives’ or ‘step siblings’.

Why is it actually like this?

Because people employed to handle the emotional attachment in institutions cannot be quite as faithful, loyal and passionate as they are in a nuclear family. I have an example on that in another book, ‘Randi’s Restlessness’ about a boy who related to an adult in an orphanage on being desperately unhappy, because this man was moved to another institution. A violation of emotional ties is one of the worst things, especially in childhood. I couldn’t get around this serious issue.

So, should you have known from the beginning how the book ends?

No, only that August was allowed to continue as guardian of the four children. The end of the Limbo part I didn’t know until the very end.

It does sound impossible. Is it a dominant climax, which must justify the need for all this trouble just that way?

It is nevertheless true. I had a feeling along the way that Paragon just had to deliver the lost soul back to soul center and that he would get praise or a medal or a pay raise, but luckily then I realized that would be totally ordinary and thus an anti-climax. At one point, I also thought that Paragon should go back to headquarters and be allowed to make a few adjustments to fate that were introduced, but it would slow down the pace of action. When the story takes off one must keep pace with new developments which maintains or raises the pace and expectations to a surprising conclusion that doesn’t disappoint. As an author, you sense that along the way and adjust to the demands.

Then you introduce an incident plotter to do all you happen to need?

Undeniably, and avoiding a repeat of the facile hyper hops with the Cleopatra II I had already used in the previous book was an advantage. To compensate for the digital collapse at the beginning, I had to introduce a lavatory, an old steam train as the Heavenly Express and a worn dimensional scooter. It also made it a whole lot more fun.

Why the use of the circus elements?

Because circuses tend to be liberating, playful and childish. It’s a development of August's personality with the funny expressions, stories and music. These qualities can be quite positive but also maintain a state of immaturity and irresponsibility in him, as he finally has to realize and comply at an advanced stage in his life. In a way, his development as a human being is the true core of the story. These conditions remained as intentions of a figure in the previous book, ‘Matthew and the Downfall’ but here it is carried on to a resolution with a character we have seen develop through the story. The circus element also adds a much needed moment of merriment and relaxation. One shouldn’t need to cope only with all that serious stuff.

So, you start out by killing Bella, but you end up saving Connie’s life? Does that fate adjustment then obliterate the pre-existing life- lines?

That’s certainly a good question, which I don’t answer accurately in the book. I refer to Paragon’s explanation of the network of many parallel destiny levels, but I don’t determine how that pattern is otherwise organized. It could end up being awfully complicated and dilute the honest intention of the theory.

Is it on purpose we don’t get to know so much about the adjusted reality versions of the children as adults?

It is. If I chose to enter the career fluctuations of the individuals and the strength of their relationship and how many of Bella’s grandchildren who might be children of previous relationships, I would open up a veritable deluge of possible considerations and comparisons as consequences of the timelines. I concluded that it lay outside the book’s real theme. The only thing necessary was to present as much of a reality that it could be accepted by a caring and concerned mother figure. It was the psychological plug preventing the action from moving forward and therefore removed.

We get in the end a comment that the completed soul liberation is occurring at the very last minute. Why have you abstained from playing on the time factor along the way as a torque?

Because it becomes irrelevant in a universe that can have jumps in time. You should always economize resources. If I turn too much to the effects of temporal shifts the story would lose intensity in its suspense curve. If you get too much into that mindset, you weaken the excitement of reality. You have to limit yourself when it comes to the use of time shifts. It can very easily get to be too much.

Will there be more reports from Limbo?

It may very well be. With the introduction of the new digital technology at soul service, I have to comment on some interplanetary hackers who will break the management of the Great Plan. A possible development of this distant threat could be the presence of regular pirates or buccaneers in Limbo, which appears to implement an alternative agenda of reincarnation. It could lead to some dangerous situations. Yet, I haven’t gotten the hang of that idea yet. Admittedly, it would be enough for one of the numerous genre thinking fantasy authors who let their stories take place in a bell jar of escapist self-sufficiency. Perhaps that kind produces increased sales, but it’s not me. I need a durable relation to some intriguing reality from our own world before I can commit myself.