Tuesday, June 29, 2021

Mama's Little Prince: The Mårten Melin Interview

Interview with Mårten Melin about his book Mama's Little Prince.

My brother Mårten Melin is the author of the Swedish book Mammas lilla prins (Mama's Little Prince), a novel about Elvis Presley's childhood. Yesterday I published a sample of it in English here on my blog and today's post features an interview with Mårten where he talks about his book.     

First, can you tell me a little bit about your relationship to Elvis?

Well, I've been a fan since our brother Staffan bought the German 2-LP collection Elvis Forever. My favorite song was "King Creole" so the first album I bought with my own money was the King Creole soundtrack. Elvis has always been important to me, and I would say I listen to him almost every day.

Why did you decide to write a novel about Elvis childhood?

As a writer I always look for good stories. And I realized that Elvis' childhood is exactly that, a great story, with his still-born twin, his constant singing and his over-protective mother. I first wrote a more poetic script with snapshotlike scenes. That version became a short story for Swedish Radio, narrated by actor Sven Wollter. But my publisher Rabén & Sjögren wanted a story that was more like an ordinary novel. So I gave it a try and it worked out well. They did publish it, at least!

What ages is it aimed at?

The publisher says 9-12 years, but I'm sure it works for adults as well.

How did you go about your research?

I thought of going to Tupelo, but I don't think that would have helped since I guess it just doesn't look the same anymore. But I read a lot of books, the most important being Elaine Dundy's Elvis and Gladys. I also found some interviews with Elvis' friend Sam Bell, and photos and maps of Tupelo from the 1940's. Dundy found out about Elvis' obsession with the comic book character Captain Marvel, Jr. So I use that in the book.

How did you plan the plot?

The first version of the story was much about him getting ready for his performance at the Mississippi-Alabama Fair and Dairy Show. But then I found out that a lot of interesting things happened after that, so the story pretty much follows his life from the first day of school in September 1945 to the family's move to Memphis. Then I thought it would be effective with a short epilogue from his more famous days, where he for a few seconds looks back at his childhood.

Elvis is one of the most famous persons that has ever lived. What challenges did that entail when writing the book?

Strangely enough there is not really that much known about his childhood. But I guess the challenge is to not think about fans reading the book and complaining that some details are made up. Which brings us to your next question ...

The novel is based on true events. But how much is truth and how much is fiction?

I would say of the things in my book that didn't occur in Elvis' real life, that they could have occured. A lot of stuff did happen: he did win fifth place in the fair show, he did jump to the black people's seats at the cinema, and he must have thought about his lost twin a lot, being a lonely (and only) child.

What were the biggest challenges in writing the book?

To try to find Elvis' own voice. Since it's written in the first-person point of view that was very important. How did he really think about things? How did he express himself? Also, since it is a novel based on truth, how much can you change the facts without straying to far away from the real life of Elvis? 

There are many topics in the book that are as relevant to youngsters today as they were when Elvis was a boy: your first love, the relationship with your parents, racism, bullying, being popular and so on.  Was it easier or harder to write about that with the help of Elvis?

It helped a lot, I would say. He wasn't very popular in school, so I thought: Why was that? And he did attend a Halloween costume party, so that set my brain going: What did he wear? Who did he meet there? Some of the facts of Elvis' childhood is very brief, so it's ideal writing a novel about it. Why on earth did he wear glasses on that talent show in 1945? There are no other photos of him wearing them! I had to find the answer to that. (Or rather, make it up!)

The book ends with Elvis on stage in 1971, remembering his childhood. How much of the boy do you think was left in Elvis by then? Was he still Mama's little prince?

I think the life of Elvis Presley would have looked a lot different if his mother hadn't died when he was so young. He did go back to Tupelo in 1970, showing his wife some of his childhood sites, so he must have remembered something. But I also think he didn't want to think too much about his poor days. He was a person that lived very much in the present. (Otherwise he would have taken care of his economy a bit more, as well as himself!)

What do you want the reader to remember after reading the book?

Maybe that your childhood is important to who you later become. That even famous, larger-than-life people have once been children. And that wishes and life-goals can come true if you really believe in them.

You have said yourself that this is probably the first novel about Elvis' childhood. Why do you think that is the case?

For a lot of adults, being a child is just something you are before you grow up. And, as I said, not too much is known about Elvis' childhood. Other writers have just not been too interested in that part of his life.

Which reactions do you hope to get?

It would be great if my readers, adults and children, will become more interested in the life and career of Elvis. But I also hope they think it's just a good story!

Additional reading:


Molly said...

There is at least one other book -- a novel, that is -- that deals with Elvis's childhood, and that is "Graceland" by Bethan Roberts. It is absolutely well worth reading and seems to me to be a very sensitive piece of work.

Thomas said...

Hi Molly! I looked it up on the Internet, and it sure sounds interesting. Thanks for the tip!