Mark: Crystallized is quite an interesting story. You’re talking about two people who are both on truly different paths in life. Reshma is clearly on a track, she’s on the doctoral track, she’s going somewhere. And then you’ve got this guy, who is a bit like me when I was younger, you know, kind of the office boy – you go to work, you do the job, you don’t take it seriously and you kind of laugh a bit, because it’s just a job isn’t it, it’s just a way of making money. And it’s that particular tragedy where you’re really close to someone in a certain setting but you can’t take it out of that setting, you can’t take it somewhere else – you can’t take the experiment out of the lab – because then it doesn’t work anymore. It’s kind of where unrequited love comes from, you know, you fall for someone in a certain situation but it just doesn’t go, in any way, further. I don’t know if you’ve read lately Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad. Conrad is one of my favorite writers. He’s buried down in Canterbury and I lived in the city of Canterbury when I was in my teens and I’d often get into the graveyard at nights, I suppose I was about seventeen, eighteen, and I would just go and sit on Joseph Conrad’s grave and talk to him, basically. But the reason I mention it is that Lord Jim is a really scary novel because it’s about a guy who makes one really bad mistake in his life and everything that goes wrong after, is because of this one big mistake. And whatever this guys does, he can never ever get away from it. He’s locked into this pattern of behavior that ends, five hundred pages later, in complete disaster. It’s totally inevitable, and Conrad presents it as totally inevitable, and it’s really depressing but it’s a brilliant novel. So, I wouldn’t say that things are preordained but it’s like you can see that disaster coming. The guy in ‘Crystalized’ he’s never going to get with the super-bright chemist, is he, he’s never going to get with her. She’ll eat a doughnut with him, but that’s it.
Elena: Part of what I love about that story, is the fact that as much as he knows that, it never deters him from Reshma. He is so sure that the way he is experiencing the situation – so confident that he can get her – is the actual reality. And it’s not. And, in a lot of ways, he is very truly hurt when he realizes that his reality is not hers, that her experience of the situation is that he’s just some kid and has no actual bearing in her life.
Mark: I think that there is a kind of dark side to being attracted to someone, especially someone who is in a relationship with someone else. What the narrator does in ‘Crystalized’ is he’s always knocking down her boyfriend saying he’s this kind of geek, he’s got this weird macrobiotic diet, he’s got mad ideas about having children with her and the dark side of that is that when you’re attracted to someone, you think that you really wish them well, you think that you want all good things for them, but you hate their boyfriend, you want them to get away from their boyfriend, so in other words, you want something bad to happen in their life. So you’re actually wishing bad about someone you love – you say you love them but you’re wishing bad about them. And I’ve done that, and lots of people have done it, and it’s not good, really, you’re just kind of thinking, oh why doesn’t she just leave that jerk, well yeah, but what sort of heartache are you wishing upon her, you know, in order for that to happen. You can’t always have what you like, and I hate not having what I like.
Elena: It’s like that saying, ‘I want to have my cake and eat it too.’
Mark: I want that cake. And I mean, I think one of the reasons that I end up writing about relationships quite a lot, is that it’s something that you never quite get over, you know, not having the person that you want. You never get over the unfairness of it – you cannot just square that in your head – it’s something that really twists you up inside. Developing this story, I was thinking about how lots and lots of things have crystalline structures, including things like diseases, and it was this whole idea of structure that came out of that. And of course, doughnuts have ample structure, in fact they’ve been designed to do a certain job, they’ve been designed in a certain way. And those connections just fire off in my head, and I’m not sure what it is that does it, but those connections just kind of arrive out of nowhere.