By Adam Roberts | February 24, 2011
A while ago the estimable Scott Wilson interviewed me about parodies and such for Oz's premier genre magazine, The Fringe. You'll find the original here. If you don't do so already then you'll want to keep up to date with The Fringe, for it is good. At any rate, here's the Q & A:
The Fringe, Dec 2010
Scott: Thank you so much taking the time to chat with us here at The Fringe magazine. I’ve recently finished reading your latest novel, The Dragon with the Girl Tattoo, and thoroughly enjoyed it.
Scott: What inspired you to write the parody of the Hobbit, The Soddit, and now The Dragon With The Girl Tattoo, a parody of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo?
Adam: I am inspired by the muse of parody, Pistākia. We all are, all of us parodists. Anybody who says otherwise is a dirty liar. She visits us in the small hours and puts the bat of parody up our nightdresses. Metaphorically speaking,
Scott: I’m a big fan of parody books and novels, especially ones like Scary Movie and the like. Do you enjoy this genre of movie as well or do you prefer the written format?
Adam: I like anything that’ll make me laugh: films, TV, books, anything. With written parody there’s an additional level of admiration—writing properly comic prose is just, technically speaking, very hard, for the simple reason that it’s much harder to judge the timing of a gag when you write it for somebody else to read at their pace. Writers who can do that, like Wodehouse or Clive James, are a marvel to me. On screen, or telly, that’s easier (you control the pace, and therefore the timing). But certainly there are parodic films seem to me amongst the greatest masterpieces of cinema. I’m thinking of Woody Allen’s Love and Death, Airplane!, Shrek.
Scott: What do you think about the latest trend of the Mash Up novel, such as Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? Do you think they require much skill to write compare to a parody where you are recreating the story in a humorous fashion?
Adam: I have nothing but contempt for a writer who would take a classic English novel and rewrite it so as to include zombies. Contempt, I say. Indeed, contempt is too weak a word for what I feel. I need a harder word. I feel nothing but granite for such writers. I feel nothing but diamond.
Scott: With the introduction of e-book readers, like Kindle and Sony Reader, there is a current debate about the piracy of e-books and the loss of the print media. How do you feel about e-books?
Adam: I feel love.
Scott: A lot of new writers often ask about the amount of pages or words that a published author produces each day. How much time would you spend writing on a typical day, (if a typical day exists for a writer that is)?
Adam: I have kids now: my daughter’s nine and my son will be three in a couple of weeks. God knows I love them, but they don’t half knock a dint into the amount of time I have to write, and perhaps more pertinently the amount of energy. That and the fact that I have a day job, to help me pay the mortgage (I’m Professor of Nineteenth-Century Literature at Royal Holloway, University of London) means that my time is squeezed. So the answer to your question is: I write at every opportunity I get. It means, at least, that I’m necessarily more disciplined. About the use of my time than I have hitherto been. If I’m in college, I’ll write at odd moments, usually in the evening. If I’m not, I’ll drop the kids at school and nursery, and go sit in a coffee shop with my laptop. I’ll buy the biggest cup of coffee they sell, a huge porcelain bucket of coffee, plug in my iPod with some suitable music, and then write like a dervish for as long as I can. Well. Not like a dervish, I suppose. Dervishes spin round and round. I don’t write like that. That would make me dizzy.
Scott: What sparked your interest in writing and did you start off by writing short stories or go straight to working on a novel? What markets did you send your short fiction to?
Adam: There are good reasons why new writers start with shorter fiction, to hone their craft, and to get into the habits of submitting work, dealing with rejection, selling stuff, building a reputation and so on, before going on to novels. As it happens, I didn’t do that. I do write short stories, sometimes, but only if someone specifically asks me to. Otherwise I’ll write a novel. There’s something about the novel form, its length and complexity, its elbow-room or its heft, that feels righter to me than shorter modes. So, no, I didn’t start by writing shorts—I wrote novels from the get-go. At first I wrote crap novels. Then I wrote novels that were less crap. Eventually, the crapness quotient of my novels diminished.
Scott: How do you approach your writing? Do you tend to develop a story in your mind and then proceed to conduct some research or is more of an organic method where you write the story first and research any technical aspects later?
Adam: It’s a pretty weak-ass answer (and I know Australians despise weakness), but “it depends”. Generally a medium path is needful: if I don’t know anything about what I’m going to write it’ll turn into sprawl; but if I know every last detail, all plotted and planned in advance, then the actual writing will become a chore, and that fact will communicate itself to the readers. Actual hard research I’ll partly do in advance, and partly as I go along; but the rest of it I’ll have some sense of what I’m doing, but leave myself space to surprise myself too.
Scott: As a writer it is interesting to hear what other writers read in their spare time. It is often surprising to hear the genres and variety of books other authors read. Can you tell us what are you reading at the moment and what you five favourite books are?
Adam: I read all the time: in bed before I go to sleep, when I’m sitting on the loo, on the train, when I’ve an odd moment, sitting in a chair, whilst I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, whilst the telly is on, whilst I’m cooking (a book in one hand, a pan in another, you see how it goes). My wife told me off for reading whilst I was driving, once. I mean, I wasn’t actually reading and driving at the same time; but—well, you know. Waiting at a red light. A book on the passenger seat. Pick it up, read a sentence, read another, hear the car behind me beeping, put the book down … and so on. If I were asked to offer advice to a new writer it would be: read as much as you can, as widely as you can. What am I reading right now? Well, I’m typing this in the evening (UK time) of the 7th December 2010. I’ve just finished reading Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Windup Girl, because the Guardian asked me to review it (it’s good). I’ve also just re-read Edmund Gosse’s Father and Son (1907), because I have to lecture on it, this Friday (it’s really, really good). And, connected with that, earlier this afternoon I read quickly through Gosse’s father’s Omphalos (1857) in Google Books’ collection of out of copyright stuff. Omphalos is an attempt to reconcile Genesis with geological science, marvellously and ingeniously bonkers. I’m now reading David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, which is OK so far, although it’s not really blowing my mind. Or any other part of my anatomy. My five favourite books? That’s a really tough call. The big influences on me as a writer are things like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, which I read first when I was twelve and have read every year since, more or less; Le Guin’s Dispossessed; Nabokov’s Pnin, or some of his short stories; one of the big late Dickens—Bleak House, maybe; or Dorrit—an early Chris Priest novel and … or wait, is that five?
Scott: There seems to be a lot more options available to authors to get published now compared to say a decade ago. What advice would you offer to unpublished writers in approaching publishers for the first time?
Adam: Be professional. It’s probably a good idea to get yourself an agent, but if you don’t: do a little research, treat the publishers as human beings, be professional, show a little respect, and a little common sense.
Scott: If you were stranded on a desert island, what five authors would you like to have as companions and why?
Adam: I’d want five very large, very buoyant writers, so I could strap them altogether to make a raft and come home. G K Chesterton, Dumas père, the rather wonderful Sam Sykes, writers like that. To be honest, I don’t know if I like the sound of this desert island very much. What’s the bookshop situation here? How easy is it for me to get coffee, and new books? Do they play cricket? What am I doing here?
Scott: Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to your next book.
Adam: Thank you! No, it’s a greater honour for me.
I think that about covers all the necessary bases. In the end I finished reading The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, and thought it was OK, although it didn't really blow my mind.No tags for this post.