Monday, August 28, 2006

On Departures

The interviews for The Book of Lost Things have commenced in earnest, and the common theme seems to be the word 'departure', as in, "This novel is something of a departure for you, isn't it?" (Actually, 'departure' is much better than the word 'brave', which has also cropped up once or twice. Having the decision to write TBOLT being described as 'brave' is slightly worrying, as it brings with it the unspoken words ". . . but foolhardy", evoking images of the Charge of the Light Brigade, or very cold chaps announcing that they plan on leaving the tent for some time.)

I suppose that, for me, the new novel doesn't seem like a complete departure, but instead part of a natural progression. After all, I've been using the story-within-a-story framework since Every Dead Thing, and the fascination with folk tales and fairy stories that comes into bloom with this new book has also been present as far back as that first novel. What, after all, was Adelaide Modine but a version of the wicked witch, the evil stepmother, the consumer of children? In Dark Hollow, that link to folk tales was made even more explicit, and it has since found further expression in a number of the stories contained in Nocturnes, particularly "The Erlking" and "The New Daughter".

Thematically, too, The Book of Lost Things echoes earlier books. The search for an absent parent, and the idea of redemption through sacrifice, have both been present in a number of the previous novels (and, in the case of the latter, underpins them, especially the Parker books). Finally, it is, at heart, an anti-rationalist book, and if there is one thing for which my novels have been consistently criticized within certain sections of the mystery community, it is for their refusal to adopt an entirely rationalist approach to crime fiction.

That's not to deny that TBOLT is, in many ways, a very different beast from what has gone before it, but I suppose I see it in terms of being the next stage in a gradually developing body of work, each book of which has been dependent, to some degree, on the preceding books.

I had a discussion with my Beloved Agent a month or two ago, and he was talking about my freedom, relative or otherwise, to pursue new directions in my writing. He advised me not to use this freedom to do "small things", and I suspect that he was, in part, referring to Nocturnes, which was a collection of small things. And yet Nocturnes is, for me, one of the most important books that I have written in terms of my development as a writer. It allowed me to experiment with a range of voices and forms, to explore different modes of storytelling, and through it I was able to progress. I finished The Black Angel, which was being written and researched contemporaneously with Nocturnes, and makes use of so much of what I learned from writing those stories, and to produce The Book of Lost Things, which is, I think, the best book that I've written. Certainly, it's the novel that, once finished, was closest to the book that I had envisaged in my head before I began writing it, the Platonic ideal that exists in every writer's head but that is virtually impossible to replicate in practice.

What I'm trying to say, and what I've attempted to explain to interviewers, is that 'departure' implies a kind of isolation from what has gone before, and The Book of Lost Things, although different from my previous books, simply doesn't feel like that to me. It is the next step in an ongoing process, and there are mysteries at its heart, but they are not the mysteries of killers and criminals. After all, there are other mysteries worth exploring too . . .

Finally, before I forget, I've picked some winners for the 'List of Lost Books' competition that we were running on the website this month. Can I just say that I found the entries fascinating to read, and we're going to look at the possibility of creating a permanent, dedicated page for them on the site that can be updated with new entries. I've found four or five books that I now want to read simply because of the passionate recommendations that people made.

Anyway, I ended up choosing three entries. The signed proof will go to Heidi G (A Haunting Reverence), while signed first editions of The Book of Lost Things will go to Mark B (Pale Gray for Guilt) and Jesoni (The Devil's Door Bell). As for why I picked those entries, well, I think I was fascinated, in each case, by either the story behind the book's discovery, or, as in Mark B's case, the teasing out of the whole concept of 'lost books'. If those three people would drop the lovely Jayne a line with details of their address, and whether or not they'd like a dedication on their books (although I'd advise Heidi G to leave her book as is), then we can send them off ASAP. Thank you to all who entered. Even if you didn't win, you've managed to turn new readers on to your beloved books!

This week John read

The Religion by Tim Willocks (well, started it!)

and listened to

A Lazarus Taxon by Tortoise
Writer's Block by Peter, Bjorn and John

7 comments:

Yoomi said...

I get the impression I'll be checking out this blog a lot more :)

I find it quite interesting to read your comments about that recommendation of your agent. I think it's always hard to intentionally predict or 'force' what you will write next!

One question: Are you planning to come out to Australia for TBOLT?

John said...

Unfortunately not. I was over for The Black Angel in 2005, and I will be back over again in 2007 for The Unquiet, but the schedule just doesn't permit a visit for The Book of Lost Things. That said, though, I don't do heat very well, so the Australian winter will probably suit me better . . .

OpinionatedMadam said...

All the best to you John and for the new book! Sorry I offended thee with the age reference in a previous post! I was joking, you do know that don't you?

John said...

No offence taken. Someone today commented - and he wasn't the first - that my American jacket photo had clearly been taken a while ago. It's like the picture of Dorian Gray in reverse . . .

OpinionatedMadam said...

When you do hit the big four oh, do let us know! It's something to celebrate! And I, for one, will be there to welome you into that next decade. It's the decade of feeling youth and saying "accept me for what I am; I'll do whatever I like and when I feel lkke it, come what may".

Nice, yes?

Looking forward to you joining in, eventually...

best wishes,

the OM

Yoomi said...

It's strange how people talk about turning forty. A friend the other day turned forty and it was only then I became aware of the way people talk about it but it's definitely something to celebrate!

rossalexander said...

Turning 40 is definitely something to celebrate, to embrace with pride and, in my case, nostalgia. Jeez, I looked like a baby boy back then.....