Former New Perspectives Artistic Director and Newly Announced Live Theatre Artistic Director Jack McNamara talks about audio book ‘Voice of the Fire’

Spanning over a 6000 year time period, acclaimed comic book writer Alan Moore’s first novel Voice of the Fire, published in 1996, marked the author’s scale, ambition and imagination. Located in Northampton, the novel’s 12 part structure follows the lives of 12 people in various eras, each of which bringing the narrative forward in time. Moore is known for works such as V for Vendetta, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and Watchmen amongst others, and is celebrated for his literary contributions. Bringing to life Moore’s first novel 25 years later, former New Perspectives Artistic Director, and now newly announced Artistic Director of the Live Theatre in Newcastle, Jack McNamara tells us more about working with various well known performers including Maxine Peake and Toby Jones to produce an audiobook version.

Hi Jack, New Perspectives present Voice of the Fire, an audio book marking the 25th Anniversary of comic book writer, Alan Moore’s first novel. What inspired you to explore this particular work further?

It always struck me as one of the truly great fiction works this country has produced. The visionary quality of the language, the ambition of the whole enterprise. Mining such epic material from such a culturally overlooked place. He basically tells the story of England, or a version of it, by looking at a ten-mile radius that no one else has looked at.

I came to Alan Moore’s work through the novels (this one and Jerusalem) whereas most people know him for the hugely influential comics. So for me he has always been a prose writer foremost and I found it baffling that this wasn’t more celebrated. It’s almost like people couldn’t quite accept that a comics writer could create something of such huge literary merit. But I can think of few British novelists who can genuinely compete with this level of vision.

So quite simply I wanted to bring this work, and the place it talks about, to wider awareness. As it is written as a series of voices it lent itself very easily to be being spoken aloud by actors. So the idea of an epic reading with 10 performers and a full cinematic score became super exciting and a perfect realisation of what this piece of work is.

Was Alan heavily involved in the project? If so, how have you collaborated to realise the novel?

He has been known to say no to so many requests about his work, so I was overjoyed when he phoned me up and said he was really up for this. I had just made a ten-part podcast with the writer David Rudkin (PlacePrints) and Alan was a fan so we had an immediate common language. What followed was some really detailed discussions about each chapter and (the fun bit) drawing up a list of our dream actors to read each piece. We agreed that Alan was always going to read the final chapter, as it’s a kind of first-person overview of the whole novel set in Alan’s house on the day he finished writing it. It’s a great reward to the whole work, to finally hear from the voice that began all of this. And he’s magnificent at saying his own words.

Split into 12 chapters, each chapter is spoken by various performers. What did this part of the process involve?

Once we had our wish list I set about approaching people and, testament to Alan’s great following, pretty much everyone bit my hand off to do it. The first person we got was Maxine Peake, who delivers the most incredible story (the Cremation Fields) in the voice of a murderer from the bronze age. We then got Toby Jones to tell the terrifying story of the man who built Northampton’s church, Mark Gatiss to voice the severed head of Gunpowder plotter Francis Tresham, Ailsing Loftus to tell the story of the last woman in England to be burned for witchcraft and Tom Edward Kane to play Northampton’s 1930s murdered Alred Rouse. We were really accumulating some incredible narrations and voices; Pamela Nomvete, Nathaniel Martello-White and Jonathan Slinger all joined the pile. Last of all we got Jason Williamson singer of Sleaford Mods. Super smart band that both of us loved, so knew we wanted his voice on the project. He started by giving us a story about an ancient fishermen who loses his family in the Roman invasion but he did such a good job we got him back to play the doomed 19th Century poet John Clare; a casting that makes me very happy indeed.

Last year, New Perspectives experimented with various forms of tech including online streaming, WhatsApp and currently audio. Your first work during the pandemic deviating away from tech and playing out via a six part post card series. How have you found experimenting with theatre form this past year?

It has been refreshing, maybe even a bit essential. Of course the losses are huge and the restrictions an endless headache. But for us it came at a time where we were wanting to expand beyond our usual parameters, so in a sense it gave me license to really push things in the direction I was already going. As conventional stages were shut new concepts for stages started opening up everywhere. In homes, in letter boxes, in ears, on phones, on screens. My first venture was to sort of reject the digital and work with postcards; something tactile and live in its own way. We launched a postcard drama called Love From Cleethorpes that took off and has now been posted to 26 countries worldwide and have followed that up with a new one now called Dare To Look Down that tells the very strange story of the development of Alton Towers through the ages.  We were then asked to contribute to a festival Signal Fires about conversations around fires, and I decided to write a horror story that took place live through a WhatsApp chat; a space that I saw as a kind of modern day campfire (and also, in some cases,  a site of horror). So the experiments have been rewarding and my hope is that they permanently alter our thinking about how we make and share dramatic work going forward and hopefully put to bed some of the awful exclusivities that have hindered our art form for too long.

You’ve been New Perspective’s Artistic Director for almost a decade, within that time having toured rurally, nationally and internationally. You’ll now be moving on to become Live Theatre’s Artistic Director.  What will you take away from your time as New Perspective’s Artistic?

I look back on the many shows and projects we have done at New Perspectives and there is not a single one that was not a huge risk, or where we knew what we were doing in advance. From working with a crime novelist on his first play (Darkness Darkness) to writing a children’s musical or putting a show out on cassette tape, we have always been map-less and that seems to be the spirit that has driven each endeavour. So I suppose what I take with me is a sense of trusting the unknown, of welcoming uncertainty and knowing that I would rather fail in new terrain than succeed in the familiar.

What can listeners expect from the audiobook?

12 absolutely mind-blowing stories in language that has hallucinatory powers against a soundtrack that will lead you to heaven (via hell).

What would you like for listeners to take away from the audiobook?

That every forgotten corner of our earth is teeming with narratives and voices waiting to be discovered.

Questions by Lucy Basaba.

Voice of the Fire is now available to listen to on various platforms, find out more here…

To find out more about New Perspectives, visit here…

Written by Theatrefullstop