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Interview de James Lovegrove

Interview de James Lovegrove

Actusf :How the idea of Days did occurs to you ?
James Lovegrove : My mother's family used to own a department store and I'd go there as a boy and the place seemed enormous to me, a whole world in itself. We'd ride up in the private elevator to the top floor, where my uncles worked in the boardroom, but I would also wander the shop floor for hours at a time, alone, looking at all the displays and the ornate water fountain and such. So I saw both sides of the store, the part that everyone sees and the "behind the scenes" part as well. It was both fantasy and reality at once. When I came to write my second novel, the idea of setting it in a vast department store just seemed to appear from nowhere but, in hindsight, it had probably been circulating inside my brain for many, many years.

Actusf :How do you see Frank? How could you describe him ?
James Lovegrove : Frank is a lonely man who is losing sight of why he does his job. He is also losing sight of himself, literally. As a plainclothes store detective, he's meant to be invisible to other people, but now he's becoming invisible to himself. His own reflection in the mirror keeps disappearing. He thinks that if he emigrates to another country, this will solve his problem. But what Frank is actually looking for is someone to notice him, and the main plot strand of the book charts his progress towards understanding this difference between what he wants and what he needs.

Actusf :Why are you so fascinated by General Stores? Have you still some memories fron the one your family owns on Oxford Street ?
James Lovegrove : Definitely, as I've said above, the times I spent in the family department store were an influence on me. But also, I just like the notion of a single place where everything you can possibly think of is available to buy, and that's the claim that Days makes. It's not that I want to buy everything there is; I just like, in a perhaps childish way, the notion that you can walk into a vast emporium and the thing you've always been looking for is there in front of you. I also felt, when I started writing the book, that a department store could be an excellent metaphor for the world of consumerism and commerce that we live in today.

Actusf :In Days, you criticize harshly consumption. What bothers you with this word "consumer" ?
James Lovegrove : I hate the word because it implies that all anyone is here on earth to do is to buy and acquire and own and to define themselves by the things they have. It reduces humans to the status of cattle, eating and eating until we're due for slaughter. Whenever I hear someone use the word on TV, I have an urge to kick the screen in! Likewise, whenever someone says "retail therapy". The phrase used to be a joke, but now it's become a serious thing. People genuinely seem to believe that going out and spending money on some shiny new toy will cure them of what's wrong with them. It doesn't. All it does is waste their income and maybe get them into debt. Something is missing in our society that we regard shops as temples, places to enter with reverence and worship in. Hence all the references to Mammon in Days.

Actusf :How did readers receive you book, and what would you like they keep in mind once finished ?
James Lovegrove : All the readers I've met love it, and so the critics, thank heaven. Clearly there are lots of people out there who are as cynical and saddened as I am by the state of Western capitalism (another word for greed). But I'd also like to think that Days is simply a good, fast-paced, action-packed story. The message is secondary. What counts is that the reader enjoys the book while he's reading it, that he sympathises with Frank and laughs at Gordon and Linda Trivett and is unnerved by the Day brothers' madness and by the war that unfolds between the Books and Computers Departments. Novels are about story and character, above all else. If a message lingers in the reader's mind afterwards, that's a bonus.

Actusf :Science fiction's allows authors to focus on what goes wrong in our society. That's the reason why you write science fiction ?
James Lovegrove : Absolutely. Nothing gets stale more quickly than a novel set in modern-day society that picks at the problems of that society. The author's targets are soon out of date. His commentary loses its bite. Whereas with SF, you can write about the future or a spaceship or a distant planet, or all of those, and always what you're writing about, if you judge it correctly, is the world as it is right now. That's why a novel like George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four has survived and if anything is truer today than it was back in the 1940s. Orwell aimed at universal targets and hit them all, dead centre. The corruption and paranoia he so detested are still with us, perhaps worse than ever. I'm sure plenty of other books, just as good, just as insightful, came out at the same time, but they have aged because their era has gone. SF is eternal.

Actusf :Could you tell us a bit more about Provender Gleed, your new book.
James Lovegrove : Provender Gleed is, like Days, about greed and corruption and how to live without giving in to either. It's set in an Art Deco world run by huge, powerful families. Provender is the oldest son of one of the hugest and most powerful families around, the Gleeds, but he's also a "black sheep". I don't know if you have that phrase in France, but it means he doesn't subscribe to everything his relatives believe in and wants to go his own way. Suddenly he gets kidnapped, and this is such a disastrous event that the whole of Europe is thrown into turmoil and possibly war.

Actusf :On your website, you told that you had a lot of fun writing it. Why ?
James Lovegrove : Partly it's because I introduced two "Anagrammatic Detectives" into the story, hired to find Provender. They solve crimes using anagrams, and as I am a fan of cryptic crosswords (and have set them professionally) I enjoyed inserting the wordplay into the plot and making it intrinsic to the storyline. Also, I was writing the book shortly after my first child, Monty, was born. I think I was half-crazed through lack of sleep, so maybe part of the fun was simply from my being bloodshot-eyed mad!

Actusf :You've told about a sequel. Is it still up to date ?
James Lovegrove : The sequel didn't work out. I didn't have anything new to say about the characters or the world I'd imagined. This sometimes happens with writing fiction. You start a novel and it just doesn't come together. You don't get the fire in your belly, and it's better to abandon the book, unfinished, than carry on with it and produce something you don't fully believe in.

Actusf :In the meantime you've worked on a couple of other youth projects, especially Kill Swap. Could tell us a bit more ?
James Lovegrove : Kill Swap is one of a series of books being produced by a small Scottish publisher called Barrington Stoke. They cater for kids who have trouble with reading or are dyslexic. The books are short and printed in a special typeface and use language in a strong, straightforward way. It's a great challenge for me as a writer to keep things as simple as I can, and a useful discipline too, which is one of the reasons I enjoy doing this sort of project. I've just sold another book to Barrington Stoke, called The Dead Brigade, which is longer and for adults with reading difficulties.

Actusf :Usually, in your books, there's a secret agenda. Do you work the same way with youth novels ?
James Lovegrove : There's no reason to underestimate or patronised younger readers. They're just as sophisticated, if not more so, than grown-up readers, so it's important that any message your books contain is subtle and well embedded. Kids don't like to be spoken down to. They're smart enough to spot what you're doing, but the most important thing for them is to be entertained.

Actusf :Do you write the same way for kids and for adult ? What do aim with youth novels?
James Lovegrove : The only thing I change about my writing when it's for a teen audience is that I tone down the swearing and the violence and don't use quite as many long words. Otherwise I let my imagination go wherever it would go if I were writing for adults. Teens are perfectly capable of reading adult novels. I did when I was that age. I'd read all of the James Bond novels, for instance, by the time I was 11, and all of the Sherlock Holmes stories too. As a kid you've got more time to spend with a book, and therefore you can put in the effort to understand them. A good teen novel should be as acceptable to adults as it is to its target audience.

Actusf :Some short stories from you are planned this year. Could tell us a bit more ?
James Lovegrove : I've published one short story this year, "The Bowdler Strain", and another one is due to come out soon, but that's about it. Unfortunately I seem to have lost the taste for writing short stories. I've published one collection of them, Imagined Slights, and a second collection, Diversifications, is due out next year, but I can't promise there'll be many more after that. The novels are keeping me too busy right now !

Actusf :Some projects for the moment ?
James Lovegrove : I'm working on a fantasy series for teenagers which is coming out under a pseudonym, and I'm not allowed to say what it is (it's supposed to be a secret, although not a very well kept one). The first volume appeared over here last year and three more are planned, the last of which I'm writing now. I've already sold translation rights to a number of countries, and I'm hoping France will join that list soon. The next "James Lovegrove" novel that will be appearing in French is Untied Kingdom. That's out in 2008 from Bragelonne. I don't know what title they're going to give it, but it's a book I'm very fond of. It's set in England after a massive social collapse and it concerns one man's journey to rescue his wife who's been captured by a gang of skinheads. But it also deals with all the things I love about this country of mine and don't love, and I hope that a French audience will recognise similarities in my feelings about my nation and their feelings about theirs. Or, who knows, they may just enjoy reading about rosbifs having a miserable time !

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