FEATURE: Daniel James – My Inspiration | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Acclaimed debut novelist Daniel James has his new book The Unauthorised Biography Of Ezra Maas out now. He is part of an evening with at Waterstones, Newcastle on Wednesday 30th January. Before that, he joined us to talk through the inspirations on the chilling new literary piece.

I still remember the darkness of the tunnels beneath the city, the rush of sound, my face against the cold glass, the maps that looked like a circulatory system, I still remember my mother’s voice, “What if the train gets stuck in the tunnel? Do you think there are monsters in the darkness – waiting to come out?” She wasn’t trying to scare me during those regular journeys on the Metro, she was simply trying to get me to see beyond the ordinary and to ask, ‘what if?’. At night, I’d sit up late watching old movies and documentaries with my father, always with his unique brand of meta-commentary – the inside stories behind each film, the real lives of the actors and directors, the feuds, the scandals and love affairs, the social and political backdrop, the secrets between the lines, the truth – he knew it all. He had such detailed knowledge you would have sworn he had been there himself. He didn’t realise what he was doing (or maybe he did), but his stories were teaching me the secret history of the world. In their own, unique ways, my mother and father inspired me to look at the world differently, to ask questions of the reality we are presented with, and to uncover the hidden worlds that lie beyond the everyday. If not for their influence, if not for my father’s knowledge and my mother’s imagination, would things have worked out differently? Would I have still been drawn into the labyrinthine world of Ezra Maas, would he have chosen me, if not for their inspiration?

“It started with a phone call in the dead of night.”

That’s how I tell the story of how it began in my debut novel, and every word is true. After all, real life was the inspiration for my book. It was that phone call that set me on the trail of Ezra Maas – a once famous artist who had been missing for seven years and was presumed dead – in an investigation that would take me around Europe and America and change my life forever. It was 2011 and I had been a journalist in Newcastle for just over a decade. As any reporter will tell you, truth is stranger than fiction, but what happened next was something altogether darker and more complex than anything I could have imagined. The anonymous call I received that night offered me everything I had ever wanted, if I could discover the truth of what happened to Maas and write the untold story of his life. It began as a biography, and in the beginning the incredible story of his life was all the inspiration I needed. A child prodigy whose family had been scarred by tragedy, Maas became famous in New York in the late 1960s alongside the likes of Andy Warhol and was renowned for his extreme secrecy. He didn’t give interviews, no verified photos of him existed, and there were rumours he employed actors and lookalikes to attend his gallery openings and events. He was an enigma his entire career, right up until his mysterious disappearance in the early 2000s, and I soon became obsessed with discovering the truth about his life and death. I retraced Maas’s footsteps in New York, LA, Paris, and Berlin, re-living the story of his life through six decades of secret history, but things soon began to fall apart. The pieces of Maas’s life didn’t fit together, the stories I was being told were contradictory, people were lying to me, following me, watching from the shadows, I was being drawn into a world, somewhere between fact and fiction, art and life, populated by doubles and fractured selves, and I no longer knew what was real and what was not. Maas’s sinister followers believed he would return. Could I discover the truth first, before time ran out? Was Maas alive or dead? Was this real or fiction? The answers are in the pages of my book, but be warned…

“Some stories are more dangerous than others, and true stories are the most dangerous of all.”

The Unauthorised Biography of Ezra Maas is out now from Dead Ink Books. Daniel James will be signing copies of his debut novel at Waterstones Newcastle on Wednesday 30th January from 7pm. Tickets are £3 and can be booked here.

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